Thursday, August 1, 2013

Home again.

My last tour of duty at work was challenging, to say the least.  Wearing my medic cap, I ran a major trauma call on the haul road, a few miles above my work site.  It involved a privately owned pickup truck that left the road at a high rate of speed.  At the moment the vehicle left the roadway it performed a series of interesting aerobatics before coming to rest in the trees.  Both occupants survived, and two of my non-medical co-workers earned my undying respect for their great work.  My new partner proved that he's a keeper by keeping his head together and providing vital communications throughout the run, and our night patrolman put his emergency trauma technician skills to work.  For those who live Outside, Alaska's ETT is our equivalent of "First Responder" in the Lower-48. 

As usual, that occurred in the middle of the night, so I was a bit short on sleep the next day.  Fortunately, my biggest project of that day was putting the ambulance back into shape, which included a serious ceiling to floor scrubbing of the rig.  All I can offer in the way of details is to say that there was a lot of blood involved. 

Meanwhile, in my role as security officer, it was just busy.  Very busy the entire two weeks.  Other than the above mentioned call there wasn't much that happened that was unusual, but the efficiency and effectiveness of the usual routine was stretched tight due to the volume of work that had to be done. 

That's enough of that work stuff, though.  Now I'm home for two weeks of much needed R&R, and I plan to take full advantage of the time while the weather is nice enough to do so.  If I don't the projects I've planned for this year just won't happen and if they don't get done it will eat at my brain for months and months to come. 

Since last fall I've been planning to mount dog boxes on my trailer.  The dog truck has only 8 compartments, but we have 20 dogs on the property and even if we exclude Shadow (the house dog) and retirees, we still have more dogs than transport capacity.  My goal is to be able to transport all of the animals in a single trip if necessary, for example, if evacuated due to a fire.  Obviously the evacuation order came a bit earlier than completion of the project.

In any event, to do the project as I envision it, I needed to have the trailer widened a bit so the dog boxes can extend beyond the side rails of the trailer and over the wheel wells.  To do that safely I decided I wanted a steel framework to support the bottoms of the boxes.  It's a simple and easy enough idea, but there was only one little problem with it's execution.  Though I am a man of many skills, welding and metal fabrication is not among them. 

My friend Malamute Joe Henderson is best known for his extreme North Slope dog sledding expeditions, but he is also a man of many talents, and among those is welding and metal fabrication.  "Well, I'm not a welder, but I can weld." he said when I first approached him with the project.  He agreed to do the work for a reasonable price, and I dropped the trailer off at his place.  Unfortunately, the project was delayed as his place was in more danger than ours, and he also had to evacuate his family and team.

Once he was back home from that adventure he went to work on the trailer, and did an excellent job on it.  I picked it up after my return from work Tuesday, and I'm really delighted with the work he did.  It was exactly what I wanted and the workmanship is excellent.  For a guy who doesn't claim to be a welder, he's a helluva good welder.

Trailer, modified with framework to support heavy dog boxes over the wheels.

Projects or not, yesterday was a day for doing fun stuff rather than work.  After kennel chores, Trish and I headed into town for a few errands that couldn't wait.  We stopped in at Cold Spot Feeds to order a ton of dog food and check out some chicken raising equipment. We did our grocery shopping, storing the frozen and refrigerated stuff in a medium sized ice chest so it would keep through the afternoon.  After filling the fuel tank we headed up the infamous haul road to one of my favorite, super-top secret places for harvesting wild berries.

Although Trish has lived in the area for a good long time, she had never been further up the Elliott Highway portion of the famous Haul Road than El Dorado Gold Camp.  That's no longer the case.  She got a first hand view of the road I drive to and from work every two weeks, past Hill Top Truck Stop, past side roads with names such as "At Your Own Risk Road" and "Himalaya Road", past the old gold mining town of Olnes (Population 1).  We rolled over the Chatanika River bridge, waved at someone picking up their mail at the base of Haystack Mountain, and onward, winding our way up to the very top, near Wickersham Dome.

From there, well, I'm not going to tell you where we turned off the Elliott and headed into the woods.  After all, the location of a prime berry patch is a secret guarded as closely as one's best fishing spot or moose hunting camp and this is a public blog.

This year is one of the best blue-berry seasons I can remember and there is nothing about store-bought blueberries that even comes close to the flavor or nutritional value of wild Alaska blueberries.  We parked the car, enjoyed a picnic lunch of cold chicken and potato salad, and went to work.  In short order we had a nice stock of berries in our buckets, all picked within 50 feet of our parking spot.

Trish shows off her beautiful smile and a few of the berries we harvested within just a few feet of our parking spot
About four o'clock we reluctantly headed back toward town, figuring to get home at a reasonable time to care for the dogs.  Near Old Murphy Dome road I saw a couple of light trucks parked in a little pullout that caused me to reach for the brake and turn around to return.  Mushers Brent Sass and Mike Ellis had run across each other while Brent was headed back to Eureka from town, and then Trish and I ran across them.  As always we enjoyed some great conversation, and Trish got the opportunity to meet Brent's famous now-retired lead dog and father to our pup Thowra, Silver.  Silver is looking good in his retirement, by the way. 

After a brief delay, we hit the road again arriving home only slightly later than originally planned.  Trish dealt with the groceries while I took care of the dogs, cats and chicks. 

Oh, I didn't mention the chicks?  Well, while I was work Trish and I were gifted some brood chicks to start a small flock of laying hens.  Trish got them comfortably situated in a jerry rigged brooder (the best kind), and they seem to be doing quite well.  That leads to the first project I need to complete during this R&R.  I had planned to build a hen house during my last R&R, but with all the excitement of the Stuart Creek 2 fire and the inconvenience of being evacuated, that was among the projects that had to be postponed.  Now, with the birds in the brooder and growing fast, I can't postpone it any longer.

So, today I plan to move one of the re-purposed shipping crates I scored last year up to the upper dog yard, where I'll convert it into a nice hen-house.  It won't need a lot to make the transition.  I'll need to mount a door on it, install some nesting boxes and a roost, and then figure out how to safely wire it for a light on a timer (necessary for egg production during our dark winters) and a heater to keep the bird's drinking water from freezing.  I'm planning on two days for that project.  I'll let you know how accurate that estimate is as the project progresses.


  1. Of all the animals we had on the farm, I miss the chickens most. Chickens have wonderful personaities and the eggs are an added bonus. Did you plan on putting any insulation around the crate? And think of the amount of natural Furtilizer you will have for a garden spot, next year.

    1. The guy who gave us the chicks overwintered his flock last year, and had enough eggs to feed his family of three all winter long, with an uninsulated house heated with just a couple of heat lamps, and of course providing broad spectrum light on a timer. I see no reason why we can't do the same. He did notice that egg production tended to fall off when temperatures dropped below minus-40, though.

    2. These guys have an interesting history of their own. When forced to bug out, he had 27 eggs in the incubator. Of course while moving to and from his evacuation site, he didn't have power to heat the brooder. These five are the only ones to actually hatch out, even though all of them contained embryos. So, by my reckoning, these five are probably the toughest of the lot, and this breed is noted for hardiness.