Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dog Box Project

My current project also qualifies as "Arctic Redneck Engineering", and I'm afraid that since I have to return to work tomorrow morning, it's a project that's going to have to await my return before it can be finished.  I've been trying all summer long to get my "stuff" together to build dog boxes for the trailer.  The goal is to be able to transport all of the dogs in the kennel in a single trip.  With 20 dogs on site, that's a pretty major feat.

This project has been in mind since June of last year, when I purchased a fairly heavy duty two wheeled equipment trailer at an auction.  At that time I was thinking in terms of having a heavier trailer available for moving equipment around, and for mounting dog boxes.  Much of the winter I mulled over various designs, and finally decided what I want to accomplish. 

It's important to be to be able to load and unload the dog boxes easily.  The trailer gets used for a lot of utility purposes around the place, and I don't want to negate that utility.  That's a problem with the dog truck, I can't just drop the dog box to haul a load of dog food or take equipment to town for maintenance or repairs.  Permanently mounted dog boxes would create the same issue on the trailer.

It's generally recommended that dog boxes be constructed of 3/4 inch exterior plywood, which is HEAVY stuff, and if I'm at work while something happens here requiring the movement of so many dogs, Trish needs to be able to mount or dismount the boxes herself.  To make that more feasible, I decided that I'd build two half-boxes, one for each side of the trailer. 

I also decided I'd like the boxes to extend beyond the side rails of the trailer, out over the fenders of the trailer.  That will make it easier to see the trailer in the mirrors when trying to back it and to keep an eye on it while rolling down the road.  To accomplish that, I needed the help of a welder to fabricate steel 'shelves' extending from the tops of the side rails out over the fenders.  That's where my friend Joe Henderson joined the party.  For a very reasonable price he did the welding and fabrication work that is beyond my own skill level.

Shelves off the top rails extend out over the wheel wells to support dog boxes
 Materials are expensive, and it is usually less expensive to buy and refurbish a used dog box, even if in poor condition, than to build a new one.  When one of my friends offered a used 10-compartment dog box in exchange for caring for his kennel while he vacations in the Lower-48 I jumped at the opportunity, knowing that the box would have to be almost entirely rebuilt. 

Used dog box on the trailer for transport home
The primary value of the used box was in the framework and hardware.  It was originally lightly built of 1/2 inch rather than 3/4 inch plywood.  Having sat out in the weather for several years much of that plywood was delaminated and rotting.  Some of the framework also suffered from dry-rot, but was easily replaced. 

Removing the roof and using a reciprocating saw to cut through the 2X4s and 2X6s rafters was easy enough, and resulted in a matched pair of 5-compartment boxes, though both required more extensive rebuilding than I first though. The roof, floor and ends of both boxes needed to be replaced.  One of the partitions between the compartments had to be removed, while the other three needed to be moved to make more room in each compartment.  A lot of that work was tedious, but by the end of the first day of serious work on the project, the first of the two boxes was ready for a new, 4 compartment front.

First box ready for a new front
 The second box required more work than the first, as some of the framework was dry rotted and needed to be replaced.  That wasn't particularly difficult, but it was rather time consuming.

New frame to replace one that severely dry-rotted.
By the end of the day yesterday The second box was also ready for a new front.  I cut out the plywood for the fronts of the boxes before finishing for the evening. 

Unfortunately, that's where the project has to be stopped for a couple of weeks.  I still need to cut out four holes for doors, which needs to be done precisely with a jig saw.  Then I'll need to cut out the doors themselves, and cut out a window in each door for ventilation for the dogs inside.  Each window will need a stout steel screen (salvaged from the old box), hung on hinges, and latches installed. 

I'll need to fabricate pedestals to support the bottoms of the portion of the boxes that will extend to the inside of the trailer, mount everything, and then paint them with several coats of non-toxic exterior paint, to protect the wood from the ravages of the weather that so severely damaged the used box I'm converting.

I'm estimating that I'm about 1/3 of the way toward completion of the project, with about four more days of work to do.  For now, I have to move the project aside, tie up some loose ends around the place and prepare to return to my job for the next two weeks.  Let's just say I'll be taking a little break.

Fire season continues to plague the Interior of Alaska, with another new fire burning to the east of the Stuart Creek 2 fire that gave us such a bad time last month.  The fire started Sunday afternoon on state Mental Health Trust land just north of the Salcha River, 24 miles east of the Stuart Creek 2 fire. It’s listed as a human caused fire, meaning it wasn’t caused by lightning.  We are safe from that fire, as the Stuart Creek fire has already created a fuel break for us.  This has already been the hottest summer on record, based on average temperatures rather than extremes, and it looks like that trend is going to continue for at least the next 5 days. 

I'm hopeful that by next R&R it will remain warm enough for paint to dry on the new dog box, but cool enough we can start running the dogs regularly.  A new mushing season is fast approaching and I'd love to get a jump on the next season. 

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