Sunday was Chareva’s birthday. When I asked several days ago what she wanted for her birthday, she thought for a minute, then replied, “You know what I’d really like? I’d like us to start finishing the inside of Sara’s cabin this weekend.”
I immediately recognized how considerate she was being. Instead of shopping for an hour and spending, say, 100 bucks for a present, I could now spend several times that amount on building materials, then put in two long days of manual labor to start, with several more to follow. You’ve got to love a wife who doesn’t take advantage of her husband’s generosity. So I enthusiastically agreed to the plan.
She then informed me that building materials are supposed to “acclimate to the environment” for a few days before being installed. When I asked for a translation, she said it means we should buy the building materials no later than Wednesday and put them in the cabin.
Well, okay then. It’s Sara’s cabin, so it was up to her to decide what we’d use to finish the inside. Some kind of paneling? Vertical planks? Horizontal planks?
Chareva was rooting for horizontal planks because she likes how they look. I was rooting for horizontal planks because I have no flippin’ idea how to cut and fit paneling around windows and doors. After much hemming and hawing and walking around Lowe’s looking at different options, Sara decided she liked horizontal planks. Whew. I did some quick math and estimated that 100 pine planks would do the trick, with enough to spare for the inevitable mistakes. We also picked up several rolls of insulation, an extra hammer and a shootload of panel nails.
The primary task was to cover the inside of the cabin with the planks. Here’s what the inside looked like before we started.
But before tackling that job, we needed to build a set of stairs. In its previous location, the front of the cabin was near the ground. Now it’s on a hill, and without stairs, that would be quite a step up.
We began the interior decorating with the back wall. The planks aren’t as long as the wall, so we had to choose where to join them. Sara was quite opinionated about where the joins should go. She wanted them staggered. Here she is explaining the correct pattern.
We’re not exactly what you’d call experienced carpenters, so I wondered how many panel nails we’d bend and have to yank out, then try again. I’m happy the say the answer is: only a few. Sara hammered away all day and did a fine job. So did Chareva. I did some hammering as well, but my primary job was to cut the planks with a miter saw.
The insulation is 18 inches wide. That’s because in houses, the 2x4s are 18 inches apart. In the cabin, the distance between 2x4s varied from 16 inches to 24 inches. So we ended up turning the insulation sideways and cutting it to fit, then stuffing it behind the planks.
By the end of our workday on Saturday, we had the back wall done. Here’s Sara pounding in the last nail.
Even though Chareva was happy to make the construction project her birthday present, I suggested we head out Saturday night for a nice dinner. October happens to be Wild Game Month at Rodizio Grill in downtown Nashville, one of those awesome Brazilian steakhouses where they keep bringing meat to your table until you tell them to stop. In addition to the usual variety of meats, we got to sample wild boar and rattlesnake sausage. That’s the sausage below.
Here’s the birthday girl with her husband outside the restaurant.
On Sunday, we decided we’d best tackle the front walls of the cabin, which include the front door and the windows and therefore require a bit of precision.
I observed the measure-twice, cut-once rule to avoid wasting wood. I also did more hammering on Sunday, and managed to only smack my thumb once. Not bad for a amateur.
By the end of the day, the front walls were done and looking pretty good.
We still have the side walls to cover. I don’t expect those to be much trouble. The interesting part will be figuring out what to with the upper part of the cabin. Here’s why:
I have no idea how we’ll cover those angles. But I’m sure we’ll figure it out. And I’m sure when we’re done, we’ll be enjoying a state of Dog-Tired Satisfied.
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Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …
Everything causes cancer. Or prevents cancer.
But we already knew that, right? You can hardly open a newspaper without being told this-or-that is “linked” to a higher or lower rate of cancer. Some researchers with a sense of humor decided to randomly select ingredients from a cookbook and see how many of them have been associated with cancer in observational studies. Here are the opening paragraphs from the study:
Background: Nutritional epidemiology is a highly prolific field. Debates on associations of nutrients with disease risk are common in the literature and attract attention in public media.
Objective: We aimed to examine the conclusions, statistical significance, and reproducibility in the literature on associations between specific foods and cancer risk.
Design: We selected 50 common ingredients from random recipes in a cookbook. PubMed queries identified recent studies that evaluated the relation of each ingredient to cancer risk.
A “highly prolific field” … yeah, that’s one way to phrase it. Anyway, here’s what the researchers found:
At least one study was identified for 80% (n = 40) of the ingredients selected from random recipes that investigated the relation to cancer risk: veal, salt, pepper spice, flour, egg, bread, pork, butter, tomato, lemon, duck, onion, celery, carrot, parsley, mace, sherry, olive, mushroom, tripe, milk, cheese, coffee, bacon, sugar, lobster, potato, beef, lamb, mustard, nuts, wine, peas, corn, cinnamon, cayenne, orange, tea, rum, and raisin.
We found that 80% of ingredients from randomly selected recipes had been studied in relation to malignancy and the large majority of these studies were interpreted by their authors as offering evidence for increased or decreased risk of cancer.
So darned near everything causes or prevents cancer.
However, the vast majority of these claims were based on weak statistical evidence.
No kidding. But I’ll bet most of them also led to big headlines.
At least okra doesn’t give me the munchies.
This is an old CNN story, but only came to my attention recently when a reader warned me that Chareva’s okra might lead to a raid by cops.
The grower was alarmed when the police helicopter swooped low over his property.
Soon, Bartow County, Georgia, deputies — “strapped to the gills” and with a drug dog in tow — converged on his doorstep. They had the grower dead to rights.
Except the plant that the chopper cops had spotted from the air was … okra.
The helicopter was combing the area in search of cannabis plants when it came across the five-leaflet okra plant, the station reported. Marijuana plants can have anywhere between one and 13 leaflets per leaf, depending on maturity and health, but they generally have seven or nine.
“It did have quite a number of characteristics that were similar to a cannabis plant,” Georgia State Patrol Capt. Kermit Stokes told WSB.
If you haven’t already heard Kermit the Frog in your head, explaining how okra looks a lot like marijuana, something went very, very wrong in your childhood.
“Here I am, at home and retired and you know I do the right thing,” Perry told the station. “Then they come to my house strapped with weapons for no reason. It ain’t right.”
Upon realizing that it had dispatched officers to confiscate a popular gumbo ingredient, the Georgia State Patrol, which operates the task force, issued an apology, both to Perry and publicly.
I’ll bet Mr. Perry was so annoyed with the cops, he gave them each a bag of okra.
How nutritionists deal with contrary evidence.
Yet another study recently declared butter not guilty of the crimes it’s been accused of, as reported in HealthDay online:
Spread the news: Butter may not be the unhealthy food many Americans believe it to be, new research suggests.
“Overall, our results suggest that butter should neither be demonized nor considered ‘back’ as a route to good health,” study senior author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, said in a university news release.
The new study was funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Mozaffarian’s team reviewed data from nine studies that included more than 636,000 people living in 15 countries.
The findings showed that eating butter was only weakly associated with increased risk of premature death and not associated at all with heart disease. There was a slight association with protection against diabetes, the study found.
I’m sure those findings won’t surprise you. Unfortunately, this probably won’t surprise you either.
One nutritionist said her views on butter remain unchanged, however.
“Despite the findings of this study, I am not about to make a huge shift in the recommendations I make about consumption,” said Dana White. She is a dietitian and professor of sports medicine at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.
“Butter remains a very high-calorie and high-fat food with little nutrient density to offer, and therefore still needs to be consumed in strict moderation,” White said.
In other words: I’ve been telling people to strictly limit their butter intake for years, and I’m going to keep on doing it, no matter what the evidence says.
Head. Bang. On. Desk.
The FDA plans to poops all over poop transplants.
If you’re a regular reader, you know I think our government’s regulations are often full of poop. So it seems rather appropriate that a branch of the government wants to regulate poop, as reported by BuzzFeed.
Gastroenterologist Colleen Kelly performed her first poop transplant eight years ago, on a young woman with a life-threatening gut infection who had run out of options. The bacterium Clostridium difficile had invaded the woman’s gut, bringing her constant diarrhea and pain, and antibiotics weren’t working.
Kelly’s patient persuaded her to try a fecal transplant, in which poop from a healthy person is put into a sick person’s colon in the hope of resetting the mix of microbes there. The patient’s boyfriend provided fresh stool, and Kelly introduced half a cup of it into her patient via a colonoscopy. To Kelly’s surprise, it worked — by the next day, the woman’s symptoms began to wane.
Kelly, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, has since performed some 300 fecal transplants for C. diff infections. These days, she usually buys healthy stool samples from OpenBiome, a nonprofit “stool bank” in Somerville, Massachusetts that launched in 2013. “It’s really unlike any therapy to date,” she told BuzzFeed News.
So this spring, when the FDA announced that it intended to tighten its rules on the procedure, known as fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), making it harder for doctors to buy stool from banks, Kelly was among the commenters who wrote back, opposing the proposal.
It’s the typical pattern. People working in a profession find something that works. Businesses spring up to provide that something at a reasonable price. Then the feds, seeing something successful happening that they don’t control, step in to regulate.
“If the FDA makes it prohibitively difficult for clinicians to work with stool banks, I believe this will actually make the procedure less safe, and of course, less accessible,” wrote Sarah McGill, a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina Medical School who has performed about 30 fecal transplants on C. diff patients in the last two years.
Yes, of course that’s how it will play out. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said at least twice: most of the “protect the public” regulations that come along are backed by businesses who want to leverage the coercive power of government to stifle their competition. Public safety is merely the excuse. The BuzzFeed writer, unlike most media writers, actually understands that.
But one company, at least, welcomes more government regulation of stool. Rebiotix, a startup based in Minnesota that is developing an enema treatment of bacteria extracted from poop, told the FDA to shut down the stool banks and adopt the strictest regulation possible in dictating how samples are procured. The company contends that this is for the patients’ own good, as stool banks may not be fully screening their samples for diseases.
And now for the real reason …
Rebiotix is also worried about its bottom line. If the company’s poop-like drug for C. diff makes it through the rigorous clinical trial process before anybody else, it would win the rights to be an exclusive seller of the product for seven years, gaining a huge lead in a market expected to be worth $1.5 billion by 2024.
Anyone who tells you the FDA is imposing this limit on patient choice to protect the public is full of unregulated poop.
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Dang, I love this time of year. The daytime high temperatures have dropped into the 70s. The leaves are just starting to wear their fall-fashion colors. There are plenty of good pro and college football games to record and watch at night. The ticks and chiggers are retiring to their winter quarters and won’t return until spring. Soon it will be Chareva’s birthday, then Halloween, then Sara’s birthday, then my birthday, then Thanksgiving.
I slept like a stone on Friday night, then woke up Saturday with an urge to go out and work myself into a state of Dog-Tired Satisfied. So I did.
When we moved to the farm and Chareva took up gardening, we created a fenced-in area in the front pasture. Here are some shots from that project in 2012:
Eventually, Chareva decided she wanted the big garden out back, behind the house. Then she decided she wanted the chickens behind the house. Then came the Big Spring Project of 2015, when we created a single fenced-in area for the chickens and the gardens.
Meanwhile, the abandoned garden in the front pasture became a jungle. We removed some of the fencing and t-posts earlier in the summer, then removed the rest a few weeks ago. But the jungle remained:
This would normally be a job for The Beast, which would tear right through all that mess. Unfortunately, after all my bragging about The Beast’s toughness and reliability, it decided to give me a headache. The headache looks like this:
Darned thing won’t start. When I pull the cord, it comes all the way out and stays all the way out. I can wind it back up – and did several times – but the same thing happens every time. The engine sputters for a second without starting, and the cord just sits there. I opened up the top and fussed with everything that looked fuss-worthy, but nothing made a difference. So I guess it’s time to take The Beast to a repair shop … despite the threat to my status as a Born-Again Tool Guy.
With The Beast out of commission, I whacked down the jungle in the former garden with the brush-cutter attachment on my Weed-Whacker. That certainly provided a better workout than pushing The Beast around. With that step completed, the former garden looked like this:
I didn’t want all those vines just sitting there rotting all winter, so for step two, I ran over the whole mess with the new Cub Cadet mower, a.k.a. The Bear. That reduced the mess to this:
Next on the agenda was the old chicken yard. We’ve tilled it and mowed it, but of course the jungle keeps trying to grow back. So I took the Weed-Whacker in there as well. (I neglected to take an “after” picture, but trust me, the jungle has been whacked.)
Before the Big Spring Project of 2015, we fenced in the new garden out back as a stand-alone project. Now that it’s enclosed within the Big Project, with chicken moats and all, Chareva decided the inner fence isn’t necessary. Any deer or other garden-munching critters that manage to breach the outer fence and nets won’t be deterred by the inner fence. So she took it down. Then she harvested the remaining bounty, which looked like this:
We’ll be eating a lot of peppers in the next few weeks.
The other garden out back is pretty well played out too. Even the okra has stopped growing. If I appear to smiling in the picture below, it’s only to mask the pain of knowing our dinners will longer feature fried okra, baked okra, roasted okra, okra stew or okra surprise.
With the inner fence gone, Chareva asked me to run the tiller over the entire garden to prepare it for cool-weather crops.
I manhandled the bucking-bronco contraption back and forth a few times and dug up plenty of large rocks, along with plenty of weeds.
The roots of those weeds would make good ropes. Chareva was on de-roping duty.
When we were done, the garden was ready for those cool-weather crops — which Chareva and Sara planted on Monday while I was sitting in an office writing software code.
There was one more Saturday chore to tackle. The area in the photo below has been home to goats in one year and hogs in another. Both species did us the favor of keeping the jungle trimmed.
We don’t have any plant-eating tenants living there now, so the jungle has been growing back. After tilling the garden, I took the Weed-Whacker in there and whacked the jungle. (And once again, I neglected to take an “after” picture.)
It was a long day of manual labor, the kind guaranteed to produce a state of Dog-Tired Satisfied. With the weekend work done, we took Alana to Red Lobster so could amaze us, as always, with her appetite for crab legs. (Sara was out of town on a class trip.)
Chareva’s parents joined us as well, since they had something to celebrate: after weeks of looking, they found a house in Franklin that’s perfect for their needs and bought it. They’ll be just a few miles down the road from us, with a view of a pasture. Quite a change from suburban Chicago.
Speaking of houses and such, you may have noticed Sara’s cabin has migrated to an area near the garden. During the long stretch when she doing extra chores to earn “cabin cash,” she had a vision of sitting on the porch, reading a book and drinking iced tea with the dogs curled up at her feet. It was a good vision.
Unfortunately, the dogs didn’t share the vision. They’d much rather bang around inside the cabin, jump on Sara as she’s walking to the cabin, etc. They’re Rottweilers, after all. So after discussing the matter with Chareva, Sara decided she’d enjoy the cabin more if was located near the garden – meaning where the dogs can’t get to it.
The same people who delivered the cabin came by last week to move it.
The view is certainly better from up there. Sara may yet sit on the porch, drinking iced tea and reading a book. Chareva plans to join her while taking a break from gardening and feeding the chickens.
And I’ve already been informed that the next project is to finish and decorate the inside of the cabin.
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As you’ve probably heard, there was quite a stir across the pond last month when two British medical journals got into a verbal war over statins. Hostilities began when The Lancet published a study claiming that by gosh, statins are indeed wunnerful, wunnerful drugs — which means that people who raise doubts about them are killing babies and should perhaps be silenced.
No wait, let me check my notes … okay, slight correction: The Lancet suggested that statin skeptics are killing adults, not babies. Sorry for the confusion, but when The Anointed trot out the “we must shut you up because your skeptical opinions could kill the planet—er, we mean people” line, I sometimes get brain-lock.
Anyway, The Lancet specifically warned that those who question the effectiveness and safety of statins might be killing adults with heart-disease risk factors (defined in such a way as to include almost every adult with a pulse) by scaring them away from statins.
Here are some quotes from a U.K. Guardian article that appeared after The Lancet published its pro-statin study:
Statins to lower cholesterol prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes every year in the UK, far outweighing the harm from rare side-effects, according to a review of the evidence which aims to put a heated controversy to rest and reassure the public that statins are safe.
The review is published by the Lancet medical journal, whose editor, Richard Horton, likened the harm done to public confidence by the critics of statins to that caused by the paper his journal published on the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine in 1998.
“Controversy over the safety and efficacy of statins has harmed the health of potentially thousands of people in the UK,” he wrote in a comment published with the review. In six months after the publication of “disputed research and tendentious opinion” on the side-effects of statins in 2013, a study estimated that over 200,000 patients stopped taking a statin. It predicted there would be 2,000 extra heart attacks and strokes over the next decade as a result.
“Disputed research and tendentious opinion” means there are scientists and doctors out there who – egads! – dared to examine the research and conclude that The Anointed are wrong. Worse yet, those researchers have managed to catch the ear of the public through books, blog posts, documentaries and even some articles in major media outlets.
The Anointed don’t take kindly to being questioned, which is why The Lancet’s editorial included this gem:
Some research papers are more high risk to public health than others. Those papers deserve extra vigilance. They should be subjected to rigorous and extensive challenge during peer review. The risk of publication should be explicitly discussed and evaluated. If publication is agreed, it should be managed with exquisite care.
Let me interpret that gobbledygook: Research papers that suggest We The Anointed are wrong should be squashed – for the sake of public health, of course. We can’t have the little people doubting us.
What we’re seeing here is a ramping up of the Save The Statins Campaign – which is very much like the Save The Grains campaign. Both are a reaction to the fact that people are deciding those wunnerful, wunnerful products they’ve been told to consume might not be so wunnerful after all – a result of the Wisdom of Crowds effect, which actually is wunnerful. The Anointed are fighting back with articles that say, in effect, “Damnit, people! Those negative effects you think you’re experiencing are all in your tiny little heads! Stop listening to people who disagree with us! We’re The Anointed, and we know what’s best for you!”
The British Medical Journal has been critical of the statins-for-everyone position taken by The Lancet. So after The Lancet slammed the critics of statins, the British Medical Journal chimed in to slam The Lancet. This is almost as much fun as a good football game. (I’m talking about the kind of football where wide receivers make acrobatic catches, running backs collide with linebackers and touchdowns are scored, not the kind where men in shorts run around for two hours, during which perhaps one goal is scored.)
Let’s have the U.K. Daily Mail pick coverage of the game – er, the controversy from there:
Patients who take statins were plunged deeper into confusion last night after the country’s two leading medical journals went to war over the safety of the drug.
The row was triggered by a major review in The Lancet last week that concluded the pills are safe and their benefits far outweigh any harm. It was the biggest ever review into their use, but now the rival journal The BMJ has cast doubt on the assertions by claiming ‘adverse’ side effects are far more common than the study implied.
Professor Rory Collins, lead author of the Lancet review undertaken by a team of Oxford researchers, concluded the pills were so beneficial that six million more adults should be taking them.
Collins and his cohorts, by the way, receive a ton of research money from the pharmaceutical industry. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you.
The Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton, also launched a strong attack on research published in The BMJ that had warned of the possible side effects of the pills. He said two studies that had appeared in the journal in 2013 resulted in 200,000 patients stopping their statins, potentially harming their health.
Or potentially avoiding diabetes, joint pain, permanently damaged muscles, liver damage and memory loss.
But last night The BMJ defended this research and questioned The Lancet’s claims that the pills are safe and effective.
Writing for the journal, Dr Richard Lehman, a retired GP and Oxford University academic, said muscle pain and fatigue were ‘prevalent’ and ‘recurrent’ in many patients on statins. And Professor Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at Yale University in the US, said many scientists still had ‘persistent concerns’. Also writing for the journal, he added there was a ‘lack of good evidence’ for the pills’ benefits in elderly patients.
Health experts urged the two journals to resolve their differences so they could work together to uncover the truth about statins. Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘I find it unbelievable that the medical establishment should be at loggerheads over whether they are worthwhile or not.
Say what? I find it entirely believable that there’s an ongoing battle over statins. It’s believable for the same reason that the Save The Grains Campaign will fail and the Save The Statins Campaign will fail: once people know something, it’s impossible to persuade them to not-know it – especially when it comes to their own well-being.
I’ve mentioned that I have a co-worker whose wife suffered from migraines for years. She went from doctor to doctor looking for relief. One prescription pill after another failed to provide that relief. Back in the dark ages of, say, the 1990s, that’s where the story would have ended: with her suffering from migraines and hoping for the magic pill to come along someday. That’s because in the dark ages, access to information was limited and it generally flowed from the top down.
But we’re not in those dark ages anymore. Thanks to the internet, the average person has access to almost endless information, and that information flows in every direction. So here’s how the story ended: at a dinner party one night, a friend-of-a-friend mentioned that some people have gotten relief from migraines by giving up grains. He knew this because he’d done some online research on migraines. So my co-worker’s wife stopped eating grains as an experiment and – voila! – the migraines went away.
She now knows that giving up grains put a stop to her migraines. She’ll never not-know it – no matter how many pro-grain articles the Save The Grains Campaign manages to place in media outlets. Likewise, I’ll never not-know that after giving up grains, I waved goodbye to psoriasis, arthritis in my shoulder, a mild case of asthma and frequent belly aches.
The promoters of the Save The Grains Campaign and the Save The Statins Campaign apparently haven’t figured out how the game works now. They still think it’s the old game, where most people only know what the officially-sanctioned experts decide they should know. That’s how we ended up with pretty much everyone believing low-fat diets prevent heart disease. Several prominent researchers disagreed, but the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! crowd won the war and became the information gatekeepers.
That strategy doesn’t work anymore because the gates are gone. Yes, there are still official proclamations handed down from on high, but those proclamations are easily undermined by the Wisdom of Crowds effect. If you suffer from migraines and someone who’s done a bit of research online suggests that giving up grains might cure them, you’ll probably give it a try. If the migraines go away, you’re not going to be persuaded to eat grains again because a researcher funded by the Save The Grains Campaign releases An Official Study saying grains don’t cause migraines. You know your migraines went away when you dumped the grains, and you can’t not-know it.
That’s why the Save The Statins campaign will fail. We may be outraged when journals like The Lancet insist side-effects are rare (I saw plenty of outrage on the internet), but seriously, it’s no big deal. Let the industry-funded hacks at The Lancet and elsewhere publish all the b.s. studies they want. It won’t make any difference.
My mom dutifully took her statin despite the muscle and joint pains for only one reason: she didn’t know the statin was the cause of the pains. But once she knew statins were the cause (because I told her), she couldn’t not-know it. In fact, I didn’t have to convince her that statins were absolutely, positively the cause of her muscle pains. I just had to convince her they were a likely culprit. Going off the statin and experiencing the happy result was the final convincer. Hundreds of thousands of people are being similarly convinced.
The Save The Statins Campaign is already a failure – although the hacks at The Lancet may choose to not-know it for some time.
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It’s been a bit busy around here, what with the full-time job, trying to make progress on the book and film, four extra people living in the house, etc., etc.
I thought I’d finally have time tonight to write a post I’ve had in mind, but a client discovered a little bug in a software package I sell to law firms. Fortunately, the client is also my best friend of 40-some years, so he told me about the bug over dinner and a couple of beers, as opposed to, say, in an angry email.
Now that I know I’ve got a bug, I feel obligated to track it down and kill it as soon as possible … before a less-chummy client runs across the same issue. So there goes my evening.
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My jungle-battling efforts on the farm require a division of labor, at least as far as the equipment employed. I use The Beast to take down wannabe-jungle areas like this:
The Beast is awesome for tearing through nasty stuff, but the lowest setting is about four inches above the ground. So for ex-jungles that have been thoroughly reformed and seeded with grass, I’d been using a Toro mower.
Trouble is, the Toro was apparently designed for tame suburban lawns. After about a year in service here on the farm, it broke apart on me. Based on looks alone, I thought the base of the engine was made from some kind of metal. Nope. I’m pretty sure it’s just hard plastic disguised as metal. Here’s the evidence:
Other parts around the engine also shook themselves loose recently:
I didn’t smack the Toro into big rocks or fallen branches. The snap-crackle-pops were caused by nothing more than running it over our bumpy back pastures and hills. So I decided it’s a case of you get what you pay for and went looking for a beefier mower engineered for rough terrain.
After reading reviews, I settled on a Cub Cadet model and ordered it online. Based on the pictures (I didn’t look for the dimensions), I figured it would be about the size of a souped-up mower with a more powerful engine and bigger back wheels. I knew I’d figured wrong when I picked it up at our local Tractor Supply. The thing just barely fit in the back of the van with the seats down. It was also way too heavy for the clerk and me to lift. He went back into the store for a ramp, and the two of us pushed the thing into the van.
I was almost home when a thought occurred to me: I’m a moron. I don’t have a ramp at home. How the @#$% do I plan to get this out of the van? I should have bought a ramp while I was still at Tractor Supply.
I finished driving home and shared my theory about being a moron with Chareva. She disagreed with the moron part, but did wonder how we’ve managed five years of small-time farming without a ramp in in our repertoire. So it was back to Tractor Supply to get one.
As you can see, the new mower is juuuuust a smidge bigger than the old one.
It’s actually about the size and weight of The Beast – which makes sense, since it cost nearly as much as The Beast.
As a red-blooded male with a new engine-powered toy, I of course had to take it for at least one spin around the back pasture right away. I turned the key …. Ohhh, yeeeahhh! Listen to that engine. We’re talking about some serious power.
Unlike the Toro, which I had to push up our steep hills despite the self-propelled mode, I simply followed this thing uphill. Those big back wheels kept right on gripping the ground.
Since I was only going once around the property for the maiden voyage, I didn’t bother wearing long sleeves or spraying myself with Deep Woods Off. I paid for that sin with several chigger bites on my hands and arms. Lesson learned.
I was impressed, but unsure what to call this new machine. Beast II? Son of Beast? Since it’s made by Cub Cadet, I eventually settled on The Bear.
Yesterday was the first weekend day where I had both the time and the weather to put The Bear into action. Compared to a wimpy ol’ suburban mower, there are pros and cons. The pros are the power, the big wheels, and the wide cutting base – 33 inches, as opposed to 21 inches with the Toro. The wide cutting area comes courtesy of two blades instead of one. That means fewer hikes around the property to get the job done.
The cons are the weight, the weight, and the weight. If I cut sideways across a hill, the thing wants to drift downhill and I have to manhandle it into holding a straight line. If I cut straight up and down a hill, the uphill part is a piece of cake. But going downhill, I have to lean back and resist with my legs to keep it from accelerating downhill. It’s also not easy to pull it out of a corner. There’s a reverse gear, but I like being able to back up by just pulling backwards.
Those cons aside, it’s exactly the kind of mower we need on this property. It rips up sticks and small branches easily and, unlike the Toro, it tears through deep grass without becoming clogged. Even though we had heavy rains on Saturday and the deep grass was still damp on Sunday, I never once had to stop and yank clumps of grass away from the blades in order to continue.
I did, however, manage to drive The Bear over a big rock hiding in some tall grass. Something went WHAM!, then I heard the blades bang against each other and stop, then I smelled burning rubber as the belts continued trying to turn blades that could no longer turn.
Since the rear wheels can turn with the blades disengaged, I steered The Bear back to the house. As I suspected, the rock had jammed one set of blades, while the other set of blades continued turning until they collided. The manual told me the blades should be at 90-degree angles to each other. It also told me if something causes the blades to collide with each other, the cure is to take the machine to a Cub Cadet dealer for service.
Well, to heck with that. I’m a born-again Tool Guy, after all.
I was pleased to discover that The Bear, like The Beast, has a top cover that lifts off to expose the drive belts and such. I was equally pleased to discover that Alex, Chareva’s younger brother, was outside and curious to give it a look. Like his dad (builder of the train line), Alex is quite adept with tools and all things mechanical.
After poking around for a minute, he pointed out the spring that keeps the timing belt tight. I loosened a nut that locks the spring in place, then Alex shoved the spring aside so he could rotate one set of blades independently of the other. Bingo, they were back at 90-degree angles to each other. Yeah, I would have figured that out. Eventually. I think.
Alex also noticed something called a “stop nut” wasn’t extended far enough to do any proper stopping and took care of that for me. Then he oiled some stuff that needed oiling to prevent rust.
Bing-bam-boom, cover back on, and it was back to the mowing while listening to an audiobook. The Cub Cadet mechanics will have to wait for something more serious to happen before getting my business … at least as long as Alex is here.
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