Thursday, November 15, 2012

Another Fine Mess

No sooner did the hurricane finished the nor'easter blew in, dumping 4 inches of damp snow all over the place. Yes, we are talking about inconvenience snow here. The Bloody Long Island Railroad lost no time in making the most of the situation and canceled its post-hurricane minimalistic service 1 replacing it with a super-minimalistic service. All trains were canceled in favor of waiting around on freezing open-air platforms for hours at a time.

It was all very trying.

So I still had all the wreckage from the hurricane line around including some pieces of siding from the house, but now everything was covered in slushy snow. The only bright side was that I couldn't actually do any work on the house to fix any of the things that had broken off in the hurricane. Result!

Of course Mrs. Stevie is getting a little tired of not having a garden gate and having to lob the trash cans over the fence to get them from the back garden into the driveway, so I shall have to begin amateur carpentry on a grand scale in order to put it all again the way it was before hurricane Sandy blew through. Actually, with a little effort I might be able to make it better than it was.


I actually did get started on Veterans Day, although I didn't get very much done on account of the job suffering from the usual handyman annoyances: hiding tools, improvised skills, incompetence etc.

I decided to start work on the driveway part of the fence, the part that used to be a small gate, a freestanding post attached to the driveway by an inch thick pin set into the post and the driveway containing the shackles into which the gate bolts slid, and the larger eight-foot wide gate (used when we need to move really large things onto the patio, like a car).

The small gate had been ripped off the side of the house pulling the lag bolts fastening the gate post and hinges of the brick work, lead anchors and all. The freestanding post had split at the base, shattering the post and leaving only the pin firmly embedded in the concrete.

This pin was poking up at an angle owing to the fact that when I had originally placed it I had actually put the pin into the post first and then set the whole thing down onto wet concrete filling the socket into which an older post had been fitted, and in which it had rotted away because the water table was so high the old post was actually permanently immersed. The pin would either have to be straightened or removed. To this end I gave it a few blows with the sledgehammer, and the pin obliged me by adopting a very-near vertical stance without the concrete shattering.

Color me amazed.

My new plan would be to eschew the nice-looking structurally short-lived Cedar posts I had installed on all the other parts of the fence for the rather more sturdy (if more unattractive) pressure-treated pine posts are used on the stockade fencing at the rear of the house. Should these prove as ugly as I suspect they will I have a few ideas for disguising them as Cedar (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

I would strengthen the freestanding post by augmenting the pin-in-concrete construction of the previous post with an archway connecting it to the post on which the hinges to the small gate would be fastened, that post being screwed firmly into the brick wall of the house (hopefully more sturdily than the original was).

It took all morning to locate three fenceposts of suitable quality (two to become gate posts, one to be chopped up to form the arch which would be actually a half-octagon rather than a circular or elliptical arch proper), along with sundry fastening devices, metal sockets in which to seat fenceposts when they can't be buried, metal threaded rod to form the long bolts that would hold the gate post wall, and since I have the vague idea that I might be using my .22 caliber nail gun to fasten various pieces of metal to the concrete of the patio and/or the driveway, a container of 2 1/2 inch "ram" masonry nail loads along with a box of yellow (high power) cartridges with which to fire the nails into the concrete.

I decided to tackle the gate post on which the small gate would swing first, and drilled three holes into the brick work to take the threaded rod which would hold the post to the wall. Into these holes I placed a special kind of anchor (the lead ones no longer being legally available in New York) which consisted of a steel tube one end of which was threaded to accept the rod, the other having vertical slots cut in it which would be spread by driving a special tool into the anchor, depressing a pin held captive inside the anchor.

This process naturally cracked the bricks.

I then cut the poster size, and put a 22 1/2 degree bevel on the top to begin forming the arch. I had also decided to set the base of this post in a special socket made for the purpose, a metal construction which would hold the base of the post an inch off the ground which would require fastening to the concrete with a bolt if possible, or nails if not.

I had bought a bolt for the purpose pre-fitted with an expansion anchor similar to the ones used in the brick wall but which expanded as a result of tightening the nut at the end of the bolt. This required me to drill a half inch hole in the concrete to a depth of 2 1/2 inches. Naturally, I hit rebar at a depth of 2 inches, forcing me into the position of dismantling the special anchor and cutting down both the sleeve and the bolt to match the hole using my Dremmel tool, a carbide cutoff wheel-point and some class three words of power.

By some miracle, once the bolt was driven into the hole and the nut tightened down over the socket, it all lined up as I wanted it to and not - as is the usual case - in some completely unhelpful orientation requiring a lengthy and involved bodge, a dozen otherwise unnecessary tools and some class four words of power. To compensate for this, I screwed up the cutting of the metal rod forcing an unwanted trip to Home Despot in what was rapidly becoming the fading light of the closing day.

after this I finally got a clue and instead of trying to drill the holes in the post to match the slightly off-horizontal orientation of the anchors (the realities of drilling holes in a brick wall by hand being what they are) I simply screwed in oversize lengths of threaded rod, applied some professional strength construction adhesive in the probably vain hope that it would help prevent the anchors letting go and stop the brick splitting completely, and bent them until they were horizontal ones that were properly seated.

This made the job much simpler, and I was able to bolt the post to the wall just as the sun began to set and the unusually warm day began to freeze down. I trimmed off the rods using the Dremmel tool and ground the sharp edges down with another wheel-point before mounting the old gate to the post and finishing for the day.

It's quite underwhelming what can be achieved in only a day of exhausting work.

  1. one train each hour serving all stations between Penn Station New York and Ronkonkoma 2 if we were lucky
  2. Those poor bastards needing to go to Flatbush Avenue having to change at Jamaica (not the good one) and in the case of the eastbound trains having to fight for a place on an already overcrowded train

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Real Happiness is a Full Tank of Gas

Convoys of ships, sailing bravely toward New York heedless of the danger posed by U-Boats, each laden with gallons of wonderful, refreshing, thirst-quenching gasoline!

I just saw this on the morning news. It was just like those old WWII newsreels they used to fill Sunday afternoons with when I was a kid so we'd remember why it was great to be British, except the boats were going the wrong way.

Soon the lines of idiots sleeping in their cars for days on end so they'll be first at the pumps will be gone.

And I'll have gas for my car again in time for Christmas!

Cue: "When They Sound The Last All Clear"

Cut to sunset over the ocean

Fade to Black

Happiness Is A Warm Light Bulb




LIPA reconnected us late yesterday and we have a warm house and a cold fridge and lights and TV and Internet and no ice-cream truck parked outside the kitchen or extension cords through the window.

It's indescribably beautiful.

It's like the fourth of July.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The In-Laws Have Power Again!

I, however, do not.

I have a generator and a cunning network of high-capacity extension cords with which to pipe oodles of Mr Tesla's Alternating Current to my fridge, laundry, TV and interwebs where they are needed most urgently, a testament to emergency can-doism, forward planning and the deployment of large amounts of cash to ward off inconvenience ('tis the American Way).

What I do not have is a good supply of gasoline, now rarer than Americium on Long Island and which the mere hint of a supply will cause of not a little violence and civil disorder in the populace (most of which is from out-of-town it seems), with which to run said generator.

It's all very annoying.

Singin' Th' Blues

Don't know why there's my shed up in the sky
Stormy weather
Just hope the damn roof holds together,
Keeps rainin' all the time

Lawn is bare, trees are torn up everywhere
Stormy weather
LIPA can't pull itself together,
I'm blacked-out all the time
In darkness all the time

When the wind dropped away the wife came in to get me.
Our pool was propped up on the neighbour's black Humvee,
I would have let it sit but she wouldn't let me,
Hide in the house no more.

Can't go on, now the gasoline is gone
Stormy weather
Can't even run my generator,
Keeps rainin' all the time.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

My Hurricane Tropical Storm Super-Storm Sandy Experience, Being The Absolutely True Account Of The Exceedingly Annoying And Very Inconvenient Weather Hereabouts Recently

More stupid weather has happened.

Things began well on Monday when, with no sign of any sort of storm the Bloody Long Island Rail Road bellied up to the bar and cancelled all trains. The rest of the MTA, like a bunch of cattle from a Sergio Leone movie, spooked and stampeded to cancel service too. No trains, no subways, no buses. No work on Monday then.

And no sign of bad weather until about 6 pm when the wind began blowing and rain began spotting - but not in the biblical deluge quantities we had been promised by the hysterical shrieking of the weathermen now indistinguishable from any tent-show revival preacher in their assurances of hell on earth about to pour out of the cracks in the ground that would soon be forming.

Around eight thirty one of my neighbours from the side street to which our power is connected banged on the door to inform me that the trees owned by the guy on the other side of the road from Chateau Stevie were brushing the power line, had caught fire and were showering Chateau Stevie with burning embers driven by the gale force gusts.

I raced outside and was greeted by a sight that elicited a half dozen level 3 Word of Power. It was true. The howling winds were fanning three different glowing patches on one tree and two on the other into incandescent glory, producing a blizzard of glowing flakes that bounced gaily off my roof and siding.

We had been told to expect heavy rain, which would have solved the problem at the source, but we actually got just enough wet to short the power line to the trees and heat them to flash point.

A small crowd gathered to watch the whole thing from my front garden, speculating all the while on the likelihood of a roof fire chez Stevie, when suddenly the power line finally gave up the ghost and broke away from the splice at the main road, dropping to the street where it arced away merrily with sound effects stolen from Son of Frankenstein. About thirty seconds into the display some fubleepwit drove up to see what was going on and parked with one wheel on the hot end of the power line.

We all roundly cursed the neighbour whose lack of tree grooming had caused what would undoubtedly be an unnecessary power outage of several days duration and each retreated to take remedial measures - in my case wheeling out our generator, chaining it to the swimming pool so it wouldn't wander off and stringing half a dozen heavy duty extension cords from which I would fashion a makeshift power grid for lights, fridge, laundry, TV and internet.

Now I don't mind all this froofaraw, but I could live without the stink of gasoline and I get splashed with the stuff every few hours when I refill the genny or refill the gas canisters from which I refill the genny. It is all very tiresome at the best of times, but panic spurred partly by previous experience with Hurricane Irene, partly by being home from work with nothing else to do has made the business of refueling fraught with angst and bad manners. Nothing beats being yelled and screamed at while trying to fill a can with gas presumably because it makes the pump pump faster. Today, Wednesday, I was almost rammed by a truck whose driver was so incensed by my trying to get between him and a fuel pump for which he was queuing it didn't occur to him I was merely trying to pass between him and the guy already fueling so I could exit the forecourt. Madness.

I decided that this time I wouldn't try running the generator all night, but would conserve fuel by running it only in the morning, evening and night till around 11 pm, shutting it down at all other times. It was during these experiments over the course of the next two days that I discovered that if I filled the tank more than 3/4 full the gas would drip out of the float chamber of the carburetor until the excess had drained off. I calculate about 3 gallons of gas, maybe four hours of light-load running, and a number of class four Words of Power were wasted before I properly diagnosed the issue. No sooner had I figured this out than I realized a number of bolts had wiggled loose because of the ferocious vibration and gotten lost in the gasoline-soaked dirt under the machine. I used one of my rarely deployed class fives and went groping after nuts and bolts which I eventually found and reattached before firing up the rattlin' beast this afternoon.

The major problem is that large sections of Long Island have been shredded by the high winds that brought down trees, smashing property and tearing out overhead power cables. This in turn has disabled other infrastructure components like sewage treatment and water purification.

Water inundation has also added to the toll of damage and disorder. Widespread flooding has affected almost every tunnel in Manhattan and disabled power generating plants. The south shore of Long Island has been leveled by tidal surge.

All of which means that out little street with it's one broken power cable will be way down at the bottom of LIPA's1 to do list.

I've often wondered in these pages and other venues why the Bloody Long Island Rail Road cannot trim trees away from the right of way until the wind knocks them over and disrupts services. Now, after looking at my neighbour's trees which were an obvious short waiting to happen and seeing dozens of similar situations in almost every street, I find myself wondering why LIPA didn't trim more actively during the summer and why it is still legal to plant trees under power lines.

Time to shut down the generator for the night.

  1. the Long Island Power Authority