Thursday, November 20, 2014

Montana Creek, Big Dreams, And Last Wishes.

Eureka Ck. Yukon, late June, 1980.
      We had been sluicing all day at the remote placer-gold mine, and had fueled up and checked-over the equipment after a well earned dinner.  The days are long this time of year, and as long as things were not broke down too badly there was often some spare time in the evenings. Our sluice-box tender that season was a good old character named George, a box-tender is responsible for keeping large rocks moving down the sluice line, using a long handled, two pronged tenders hook, and guides the dozer operator on how fast to feed material.
    It was a great evening and I suggested to old George we take my Landcruiser for a drive up top of Eureka Dome to where we have a good view down over the Montana Ck. watershed.
"I'll drive slow" I assured him.  
"No you won't, ya young bugger, I told you I wasn't riding again in that goddamn hot-rod of yours!"
George had taken a few days off awhile back and I had given him a ride to Dawson City. I was in a particular hurry to get there. I forget the reason, but I was usually in a hurry to get there, and for a couple terrifying hours, a wide-eyed George gripped the dash of the open roofed, broad-sliding Toyota Landcruiser. He didn't say much the whole way, but on arrival requested I drop him off at the nearest establishment. I skidded up to the front door of the old Westminster Hotel in a cloud of dust, George calmly unstrapped himself, and on shaking knees disappeared through the swinging saloon doors and probably for the first time in his life, really had a good excuse for a drink.
    A local character around Dawson City, he had been knocking about the country for decades, spending the off season as a regular at the Westminster, and during the mining season outfits would take him on in some capacity to get him out of town and dry up to some extent.
I liked to call him a 'recovering' alcoholic, I'm sure he kept a bottle stashed away out at camp that he would go and 'recover' later when no-one was looking.
"I'm serious" he states, "I'm not getting into any for'n hot-rod with some young orangutan."
"OK then." I said, "If anyones looking for me, I'm just going up to look off the dome over that area we have those claims staked, have a beer and look at Haystack Mtn. for a bit, I'll be back before dark!"
That was an inside joke around the country, it didn't really get dark.
George suddenly showed some interest in the excursion, "How many you got?" he asked eagerly.
"Well, let's see..." I pondered, "Theres those claims on Stowe,....and the leases over on...".
"How many beers!" he says, cutting me off.
"Oh..., just the two." I lied.
We tried to run a dry camp, except for one night of the week. This wasn't it, but it was alright to go have a beer someplace else. 
"Aw always wanted to see that there Montany valley." he tells me with renewed interest, "...but you got to put the windshield up, I don't wanna get hit in the face by a grouse or something!"
   There was a road bulldozed up and around Eureka Dome that serviced a few small mining outfits over in the Henderson and Black Hills Ck area, and once up the side of the Dome we had a commanding view of the next drainage. I needed to bushwack off the road a little to see over the crest and a better look down into Montana watershed.
"What in hell are you doing?" my passenger asked as I engage 4-wheel drive and start to crawl over the roadside berm.
I explained to him I wished get a better view.
"Theres no road!" he exclaims.
I told him we didn't need one,  pushed the windshield down onto the hood and away we went, bouncing over the hummocks and ducking branches.
George is hanging on for all he's worth and bouncing in his seat, but had his priorities in order though..."Your foaming up my beverage!" he hollers.
We got out to a crest for a better vantage and bumped to a stop, I reached in back for a tube of staking maps I carried around, fished out the one marked Haystack Mtn., and spread it out on the Landcruiser windshield.

I got out the binoculars and scanned the region below then offered them to George.
He takes them and looks around for some time, his head swinging in great arcs, muttering to himself.
"I can't see a dang thing out of these!" he finally grumbles.
"Turn them around," I suggested, "...your lookin' through the wrong end!".
"By jezuz," he says, "...that's a little better".

   In our youthful optimism, my partners and I had staked up nearly 25 miles of claims and gold exploration leases scattered around the distant drainage.  From our vantage I pointed out the different creeks, benches, and old channels we had staked to a near-sighted George. 
   As late as 1900 much of the region appeared on maps as unexplored. Captain John Jerome Healy and his 'Montana Boys' had a brief foray into the area in the early years. John Healy was a well known pioneer in the untrodden American west, soldier, prospector, whiskey trader, businessman, and one time Sheriff of Chouteau County Montana, and later operated a trading post on the Yukon River called Fort Cudahay. Healy and his boys didn't stick around the area very long before stampeding off to better prospects.
   The turn of the century found a few hardy individuals working in the Montana Ck. area. Placer gold had been discovered on our Stowe Ck. in 1901 by an A.F. Stowe, there was a minor rush into the area, with discovery claims being staked on Bismark, Black, and California. In 1914 Prospector Chris Fothergill discovered a gold-bearing hard-rock conglomerate deposit on upper Stowe soon after and blasted a few test trenches and 2 deep shafts before moving on. Like many placer and hard rock discoveries, the pay was too lean to work by methods of the day, or maybe they just missed that elusive golden pay-streak and the country was left to the wolves, bear, and moose once again.

Shafts and the remains of old cabins were still evident out there.

  A most obvious feature across the valley was Haystack Mountain, sticking out like its namesake and visible from the Klondike area to the north. There was a miner named Carl Hafstad who arrived in the country about 1901. He owned the Gay Gulch Saloon and held several small claims around the Klondike. From his workings at Quartz Creek he could see distant Haystack Mountain.
He passed in a Dawson City infirmary, June 24 1915, age 55, after a 2 month illness.
Carl, being a practical man, and knowing the end was near, had a strong, lightweight coffin constructed to his specifications, and left instructions for his burial.
He wished to be laid to rest on the top of Haystack Mountain.
   He must have been a great old guy, 40 miners attended a service at his roadhouse at Gay Gulch, and half of those volunteered to take him to the distant hill, a feat that must have taken several days to accomplish. Crossing the Indian River, and following the McKinnon brothers pack-trail up McKinnon Creek they hauled old Carl as far as they could by horse and wagon, but it was all manpower from there on. He had known the effort involved, and knew the guys were going to need some special inspiration at this point in the procession. Carl, I'm sure with a certain degree of humor, made arrangements for a barrel of beer to be brought along to be cracked open here. A gallant effort was made to lighten the barrel as much as possible before the next part of the journey.
   His friends, the younger ones I would imagine, picked up his coffin, and with sloshing beer barrel in tow, trekked overland with him towards the base of Haystack Mtn., stopping on occasion for further barrel lightening. From there, the tipsy bunch alternately carried, pushed, dragged, and literally rolled poor Carl up the steep 1000' climb. A grave was ready when he arrived, these were men accustomed to hard work, and a crew had gone on ahead to pick and blast one out on the small, rocky flat top of the hill. He was laid to rest there, and a Union Jack was raised that blew tattered in the wind for decades.
   In his final days, Mr. Hafstad had a plant by his bedside that he had become very attached to, as were his wishes, his beloved flower was packed along and set atop his grave.
He must have been a great old guy indeed.

   That was 65 years before, almost to the day as George and I sat across the valley in our bucket seats swatting mosquitoes.
"That reminds me!" says George, "Wheres them beers?"
 So we toasted old Carl, resting over there in his rocky cairn. He had the region pretty much to himself all this time, but within a year, that would change, a tote-road would be roughed-in down the side of Eureka Dome to the valley bottom, and a helper and I would be roughing-it out there test-drilling the frozen gravels of the remote Montana Ck. tributaries.
But that's another story. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Backup Genset, Making Life Easy.

   If you have been reading me for any length of time you will be familiar with the water powered pelton-wheel that provides the power around here, and my preoccupation with keeping it running.
(I heard that collective sigh out there, "Oh no, he goes again.")
As I went on about in a recent post, if it should go down in the Spring or Summer its not too big a deal, but if it happens during cold weather things go bad quickly. Pipes freeze and burst, hot-tub freezes, shop gets cold, and various other calamities that I prefer to do without. That little wood-stove in the main room doesn't reach very far down to the other end of the lodge, and the shop and guest cabin are heated with baseboard heaters as well. Everything but the propane stove is run on power generated off the creek. Although it runs for 99 percent of the time, come Fall time, that other 1 percent possibility takes up most of my available thought process.  
   I've been froze out for about 15 of the 20 years I've been here. If I don't, it is because of an unusually mild Winter. I had the worst freeze back a few years, I wrote about it then, (Dark January, Feb. 2012) It was a major one, I was down that time for 3 weeks. The last 2 Winters it never missed a beat, meaning it never got cold enough for my screens up the mountain in the intake pond to clog up with ice crystals, (frazzle ice) or there hasn't been severe monsoons that blow my screens right off.
I figure one season soon I'm going to get all that back threefold in nasty weather, or plain old rotten luck. A lot of other things can go wrong as well, from the intake pond up the mountain, to the pelton-wheel and generator, to the electronics back in the lodge that manage it all. And you can bet if something goes wrong, it will be when you really don't want it to. There is regular weekly guests in the little cabin, right through the Winter, and I'm enough of a slum-lord already without making the girls huddle over there in the dark with a frozen toilet. 
Some sort of backup power had moved to the top of the list.
  I've had a succession of small gensets around here over the years for construction purposes, but during an outage, are not much more useful than running the fridge and a few lights.  So I started looking for some good deal on a larger unit. I looked until I was sick to death of looking at generators, and of course I'm a bit of a cheap ass too which always hinders the process. I couldn't picture myself buying gasoline for a generator, for very long. I had settled on a diesel unit, but on both counts I hate handling the fuel. I ran across the odd one of these home backup units on propane. I was pretty leery of something on propane, the main reason if one day it doesn't start, now what do you do. I've always been well versed with gas and diesel systems, but never had much experience with engines running on LPG. Back at the Honda shop we used to get in the odd mall floor polisher that had been converted to propane, but I was never converted to the idea of propane myself, and have tried to steer clear of the stuff most of my life.  One day I was standing out front and saw a big propane truck go by, headed for the small village down valley. It hit me then that it was a lot easier to get him to stop in than it was for me to pack fuel all the way from town. 
And that fact alone sold me on the idea of a LPG powered genset.
   I located a 10kw unit way up north, but decided it was too far to go. Shortly after, one came up in the interior in the Kamloops area. A gal over there had used it on her hobby ranch to charge solar batteries for one season back a few years, then stored it away when she moved to a place that was on the grid.  It wasn't a whole lot of money, even by my standards. The big problem was how to get this thing home, it was not a big generator, but it wasn't a small one either. After I entertained several schemes to load this thing in the back of my truck, I finally brought my old motorcycle trailer out of retirement, greasing the wheels, some new tires, and even springing for licence and insurance. I still had to get it on the trailer somehow.
   Back in October I did a day trip out to retrieve it. I hoped. 
Arriving out in the mountains east of Kamloops. I backed up to it and disconnected the trailer, then chained a come-a-long to the tongue, hooked it to the lift holes on the genset and stood the trailer up on its taillight's and started winching. The 400 lbs. genset skidded up there just like it was meant to. 
It all worked out better than planned for a change, and I never had to resort to much swearing at all.   
Hitting the Trans Canada Hwy. for home.

Once home, it went straight into the Hotspringlodge workshop. I can't leave things alone.
I got in there polished it up like new and gave it a full service, not that it really needed it, I did find a couple of tight exhaust valves though, common with LPG engines. There was some wiring for remote controls I had to rewire without frying something.

   So after terrorizing the poor thing for about a week I backed it out and up next to the big LPG tank.
I had plumbed in a dedicated propane regulator, valve and flex-line that hooked right up, and I was pretty proud of myself. If my grade 4 teacher could see me now.!
(*Don't attempt this at home, always consult a qualified gas fitter, ...don't listen to this guy)
   Any feelings I had of self worth hit rock bottom when it came time to hit the start button. My worst fear had been won't start. Now what do I do? Its not like you can pour gas down the carburetter to get it going, and just about killed a new battery trying. At that point, and for much of the preceding week, I had no idea if it was the propane supply, or something gone wonky with the sensitive digital controls of the genset. Considering the yahoo that was in there with his ham hands and soldiering iron, and hooking into the propane system, the possibility for snafu was considerable. So back in the shop it went. Everything seemed to check out with the engine and controls. Everything pointed to the propane system. Oh lord. Being way out here, its not like you can phone some expert to come out, and you got to try hard to sort stuff out yourself. Like it or not.
   I'm going to save you the whole drawn out story of my education. But eventually, I keep coming back to the inlet pressure the genset needs to run on, measured in 'inches of water'. Eg., how much the pressure can raise a liquid in a tube. Well I stewed over this for awhile, then remembered back in the motorcycle business we used something similar to balance the carbs on mutli-cylinder bikes. 
Although it worked on vacuum, it seemed to me the same principal. After a quick surf on the satellite Internet, there is indeed a similar tool that pipe-fitters use to adjust regulators to the proper setting.
Well it was a pretty fancy looking rig, with brass fittings, a valve and a clear tube filled with liquid.
Where the hell do you find one of those?  They had a fancy name for it too, a 'manometer'. I was going to have to drive quite a ways to put together all the parts for one of those. I thunk myself really hard for as long as I could, which wasn't very long, and in my usual cheap ass style, decided to improvise with materials at hand.
(*Don't attempt this at home, always consult a qualified pipe fitter,...don't listen to this guy.)
     I dumped out several boxes of fittings I had around here, coming up with enough bits and pieces to do the trick, a chunk of brake line and substituted cardboard and motorcycle fuel-line for the gauge, marking it off in inches with a felt tip pen.
My manometer creation. 
I couldn't wait to try out the manometer and see how I measured up.!

   I added kool-aid in the clear line for contrast, something a qualified pipe fitter probably hasn't thought of. My first few attempts at turning on the main LPG valve resulted in the kool-aid being shot out the tube and me standing in a red, sticky rain. Subsequent attempts to set the regulator were not much more successful, and I had to keep re-filling the thing, and all the time you are standing in a cloud of propane because theres a hole drilled in it to replicate the needs of a running generator. 
Or else it didn't do anything. Calling it names didn't help any. I wasn't getting anywhere, and felt buggered all over again. 
   Time for another think. I recalled another regulator kicking around, as a last resort I installed it and turned on the gas. Immediately, the procedure smoothed right out and I adjusted the inches of psi right to the desired setting, holding the kool-aid 6" down the looped tubing and 6" up the other side, that's 12 inches of water. Wouldn't you know it, I had tried a bum regulator first, as if a guy doesn't have enough problems. I re-connected the LPG flex-line to the waiting generator, turned on the valve, crossed my fingers and pushed the start button. If it didn't go now, old Robin was dead in the water as far as anymore smart ideas go, and I was starting to regret not having brought in more firewood this Fall. She turned over a few times and roared to life, much to my relief, and no little amount of surprise.
   To put a 10kw (10,000 watt) generator in perspective for you, that is enough power to run 2 hot tubs, 2 hot water heaters, 100 x 100 watt light bulbs, or say 10 microwave ovens. 
I can burn up 6 or 8kw pretty easy around here just with baseboard heaters going in cold weather, and the hot tub alone demands 4500kw when its heating. I'm depending on the in house digital load controls to shuffle the power around on a priority basis.  
10kw around here is just enough to keep the chill off.
Running at close to full capacity, it will burn almost 2 lbs. of propane an hour, so its not cheap to operate either. That 500 lbs. tank full would run it for 2.5 weeks if it had to. Consider that same tank just hooked up to the gas stove lasted for 8 years! 

Years ago, we had strung a power line all the way down to the campsite, there was about 60 feet left over that I had been saving all this time for just this kind of project. I rolled it out, dragging it under the lodge and shoving it up a hole drilled in the floor and up to the main panel.
(*Don't attempt this at home, always consult a qualified electrician, don't listen to this guy.)
The main panel and the load control center. The brains of the outfit.
 The cable from the genset goes directly into this knife switch I wired in, when I throw this, 240 volt power from the genset energises the main panel.
So, according to plan, some bitterly cold night, if the screens up the hill choke up with ice, the system will shut down, altering me to a power failure by the smoke alarm going off in the hallway, which is un-nerving enough. I need to get out of bed and go over and turn the main valve off and a few things. Then come back and run the cable over to the generator and do the connections there. Turn on the propane, push the start button, then go inside and knock off some non-essential breakers then throw the knife switch for the first time in need.

And if all goes well, this will happen.
I'll let you all know how it goes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Airstrip De L'Amor

   There was a period years ago when I spent quite a bit of my time down at the hot spring campsite keeping a handle on things and visiting around. One evening I decided to head down and check on things before dark. I'd probably walked down or rode my mountain bike several times that day and decided to run my pickup truck down to the end of the airstrip and walk from there, that would save me an airstrip worth of walking anyways. I got down there and backed it into a spot in the trees, then took my flashlight and headed to the campsite.
   It was a Friday night I recall and outfits were pulling in and setting up. I guess I must have visited around for a bit then decided to head home. I wandered out the back trail to my waiting pickup truck.
On occasion, for a lark, I would sometimes drive home up the strip with my headlights turned off. This was back in the days when headlights turned off, and I just had to aim for the bright light out on the Lodge deck. So I hop in, fire it up, roll the window down, and pull out onto the airstrip then begin to slow cruise in the direction of home.
   My only possible concern would be deer feeding out there at night. So once during the ride I would reach over and flick the headlight switch on and off quickly so I don't bugger my night vision. Any deer out there would be looking at me by then and their eyes would reflect in the brief flash. 
So I'm cruising along, not fast, but aiming for the front deck spotlight way down at the end. I get a little ways into the trip and figure I better give a scan for deer and gave the high-beams a quick on/off. During the half second of illumination, an unexpected scene unfolded before me, and after the lights went out it took me a moment to piece together what I had just seen. I could have swore I just saw a couple pairs of boots piled up on top of each other, and some rumpled up clothing, and a tuft of hair or two. What the hell? I fumbled around in the dark for the headlight switch, finally locating it and flicking it on. The scorching high-beams came on. Several truck lengths away, the pile of boots is still there and rather active, the pointing up boots have not quite realised whats happening, but the pointing down boots are flailing around while he looks over his shoulder with saucer like eyes at what he must think are the landing lights of a passenger airliner, all the time trying to roll over and get his jeans up. About then, the pointing up pair of boots has opened her eyes and realised they are about to die, then begins rolling around on the airstrip grass trying to get her garments back up, with the same wild eyed look as her friend. I didn't know whether to leave the lights on or off. I shut them off. As I rolled by the startled, embarrassed, scrambling couple, I felt kind of bad and thought I better say something...
"Get a room!", was the best I could come up with out the open window.
Well that was a first, and I couldn't help but laugh all the way home. 
That poor couple, they probably needed therapy after that experience.