Steven Gregersen, the author of this blog, lives with his wife on a 20 acre (almost!) self-sufficient, off-grid homestead in the mountains of northwestern Montana. His goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible on our 20 acre homestead.
And we end another summer defined by forest fires and their attendant dangers and restrictions. Most of these areas are in dire need of serious thinning and logging. The lack of maintenance leaves them overfilled with fuel that makes the fires burn hotter and longer, spewing tons of ash into the air and sterilizing the soil. To complicate things, access is severely restricted due to closed roads, many of which are now overgrown and almost inaccessible.
This shows the location and size of the Ten Mile Fire soon after it began.
Note the blue square with the circle around it.
This map is larger showing fires on the west side of the Lake Koocanusa as well as the fire in the photo above. Note the location of the blue square and compare the extent of the fire zone around the original fire and now several smaller fires. We live near the blue square.
This is the inset to the map above showing more detail of the Sterling Complex and Ten Mile fires. The blue square is circled.
We had some business to do in Libby and while there took some time for Scott to play at their water park. It was a nice break for him during the hot day.
I don't remember what was so interesting for the dogs but they sure are in agreement that it's worth watching!
The smoke along Lake Koocanusa.
I was asked to check out a hot zone spotted by satellite the night before. It's located in the blue square on the map above. The dog and I hiked in to look for evidence of fire. (None found.)
Lots of bears in the area this year. I should have put something down for a size reference. I was armed with my 357 Magnum just in case. A lot of wildlife has been displaced by the fires.
A small lake in the blue square (State land) near the hot spot.
Oregon (wild) grapes.
This is what I was hiking through. There was no trail over the boggy ground. I tend to avoid this area because you can hear water running underground in many sections of it.
On the way back out Rose tangled with a skunk with predictable results. She rolled in the grass and dust trying to get the smell off. She also rode in the back of the truck on the way home!
We headed south to Nevada to do some hunting. I drew an out-of-state license for the archery mule deer season. (Didn't get one but it was still a good hunt.) I believe this is at Twin Falls, ID.
Scott relaxing on one of our stops.
One of our favorite rest stops. There's a creek flowing through behind the camper. If it's late enough we spend the night there (we did this time).
We went through multiple construction zones and in one of them someone threw a rock up that broke the side window on the pickup.
It's kind of a shock when the window basically shatters at 50 MPH. It took a week to get the parts and a 300 plus mile trip to pick it up. I put it on myself so it cost us less than $60.00 plus gas to fix it. Gotta appreciate EBAY and the USPS.
One of our camp sites in Nevada.
Poor Scott! His school work follows him wherever we roam!
One of the peaks I was on while hunting.
Another stopping point!
I hiked back in here. The four-wheeler is down the canyon a ways. The top of the mountain to the left is where a fire went through. The orange color is fire retardant dropped from a plane.
Looking the other direction up the canyon. There are springs everywhere (that's why some of the trees and brush are bright green).
That's an old mine in the center. I was on the ridge in the distance where the first photo of the four-wheeler was taken.
It was a long ride to the top on the four-wheelers. Buttercup loves taking trips on them. It was getting late and we had about 15 or so miles to go down a winding road to get back to camp. It was definitely dark when we got there!
We purchased a used 5th wheel to put into use as our winter home when we go south in the fall. We prefer to "boon-dock" when we travel which means we camp out in the "wild" without electric, water and sewer hookups rather than use campgrounds that charge a nightly fee.
As a result we tend to modify our rigs to be pretty much self-sufficient. They have water storage, propane for cooking, the furnace and for powering the refrigerator and water heater. The generator is powered off the propane bottles and wired directly into the wiring system. It has both 12 volt DC and 120 volt AC systems installed.
One of the most important changes we make is to install solar panels for charging the batteries (and we increased the number of batteries from one to three), which power the 12 volt DC system and also power an inverter to supply 120 volt AC current when we are not running the generator.
In this instance we installed two 160 watt solar panels on the roof of the RV.
One of the first things I do is take a photo of the specification plate on the back of the solar panel(s). In this case both panels are identical units rated at 160 watts each (320 total). This should supply far more power than we need even on cloudy days.
I purchased eight "Z" brackets to mount the panels to the roof. Four for each panel. You can use more if you desire but four has been adequate in the past and we've weathered some pretty strong winds.
The mounting holes from the factory are larger than needed and placed too far inboard for my tastes. So, I move the edge of the bracket to the edge of the panel and mark where the new holes need to be drilled.
NOTE: Do not make the holes so close to the inside edge that you cannot install the bolt that holds the bracket to the panel.
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: put some kind of stop spacer on the drill bit to keep it from going so deep that it contacts the solar panel surface. When the drill bites through the aluminum frame it will bind and try to drive itself through and into the solar panel below. Obviously you don't want that to happen! I used a 1/4 inch drive deep socket as a drill stop. They make special tools just for this purpose (I even have one!) but in my experience this works just as well and it's faster.
First bracket installed! Seven more to go!
Once I have the brackets bolted to the panels I need to install them on top of the 5th wheel. (Actually, you should have done some measuring first just to be sure that you have room.) You want to have the panels clear of any tall objects like the AC unit and/or antennas. Any amount of shade will decrease the charge rate on a solar panel. Be sure that the panels can get the maximum amount of sunlight every day.
You can use strip caulk purchased at any hardware or auto parts store for the first layer of leak protection. I had a vent installation kit with a roll of caulk left from a previous project and elected to use it.
Tear off a section about the size of the "foot" on the "Z" bracket then put it under the bracket.
Now drill hole down through the bracket and install a screw or lag bolt. When you torque it down it will squeeze out some of the caulk. Trim the excess caulk away before the next step.
I used a caulking gun and sealer to thoroughly cover the bracket and bolt. Be sure it seals tightly to both the roof and bracket.
One of the biggest challenges can be finding a way to get the solar panel wiring down to the charge controller and batteries. In this instance I'm utilizing the holding tank vent. This pipe goes down through the storage compartment which is also where the batteries are.
I ran the cables through the pipe then reinstalled the vent cap. I'm using a MPPT charge controller so the panels are hooked up in series.
If I was using a PWM controller I would have to hook the panel wiring up in a parallel circuit using another cable for splicing the two panels together. The splices are available at any solar power supplier.
For really big systems you may have to use both parallel and series wiring to get an acceptable combination of voltage and amperage.
The panels and wiring installed on the roof.
This is the vent line from the holding tank. It's 1 1/2 inch PVC pipe. I just cut a section out, ran the wires through and measured them, then ran them through the "T" and glued the "T" back into the vent pipe. There should not be anything except the odors from the tank in the line. I drilled a couple of holes barely larger than the electric cable through the plug. Ran the wires through the plug then glued it in place.
Next I used sealer to completely seal off the vent and wires.
Next I ran the wires from the batteries to the charge controller. You want to hook the battery wires up first because many charge controllers sense the battery voltage then automatically select the 12 volt or 24 volt options from their programming. It you hook the panels to the controller first it can get "confused" about whether your system's battery bank is 12 volt or 24 volt. The input voltage from our solar panels is about 35 volts. The charge controller reduces that down to around 13.5 volts (depending what charge "mode" the controller is using at the moment) to keep from overcharging the batteries. A charge controller's only reason for existing is to properly charge and protect your batteries from over charging or being discharged too deeply (although other systems bear more responsibility for that).
Three batteries should be adequate for our needs. They are hooked together in a parallel circuit.
You can see the charge controller installed to the inside wall near the opposite side in this photo. You need to leave plenty of clearance for air circulation around it.
You can see the back of the inverter on the left side. The large black "box" is our inverter which changes the 12 volt DC current to 120 volt AC current. This one is rated at 1,750 watts.
It's been a busy spring here. Fortunately it began and stayed wetter than last summer so the fire danger has at least been delayed a bit.
This little guy lives in the neighborhood. He's been spotted several times. Don't know if mom's around or not. He is big enough to fend for himself if need be.
We ordered a small battery operated chain saw for trimming up the trees. It wouldn't be much use for cutting a winter's supply of firewood but it works great for cutting the low-hanging limbs off the trees around the cabin.
We've been thinking about doing some rappelling. These are some climbing cliffs on the highway on the west side of Lake Koocanusa. This is a "close up" of the person hanging on the cliffs above.
This is taken from the same spot without telephoto. Yep, that's the cliff way up at the top of the photo.
This is one of the rock walls near the highway. There's a climber on it too! This area is so popular that the highway department or Forest Service or some other organization set up a porta-pot for climbers to use. A local climbing club installed anchors in the cliffs and at the tops of the most popular climbing cliffs which makes it much easier and ultimately saves the cliffs since people won't be pounding in their own all over the walls.
This was taken at the top of the cliffs in the photos above. We used the trail to get up there though. That's Lake Koocanusa below. It was a windy day and the waves on the lake were impressive. Normally it's placid and a deep blue in color.
Scott has been wanting to try some rappelling off of cliffs. (He learned doing it down the side of our camper van.) so we found a location with a little more modest walls to try out first.
And ... over the top he goes!
And he obviously hates it! Haha! He climbed back up the wall (barefoot!) three more times before calling it an evening. I only had to assist him once on the first climb. (I was on top manning the safety rope.)
What can I say ... it's northwestern Montana!
The batteries in my GPS went dead and really corroded the battery compartment on my unit. I found out that they clean up well with just soapy water and a toothbrush. I love my GPS. It gives me a lot more freedom to roam. A compass is good and a map is good but our timber is tall and thick. You can seldom see anything except trees ... no landmarks. Even climbing to the top seldom helps because the trees are tall and thick there as well. So I use the GPS to get a compass heading back to home or camp then use the compass to point the way.
There are lots of turkeys this year. This guy was still trying to impress the hens tagging along.
I parked the car in it's usual spot then I noticed a couple of days later that the tire was flat.
When I got it off I noticed that the inside of the outer tread had been kind of ground off. I have no idea how that happened. It isn't alignment nor is it rubbing anywhere on the wheel well. The good thing is that the new tires seem to be doing well on it.
Scott over playing with his brothers. Sand is always a good "toy" when kids are involved!
Out on our 4-wheelers doing some exploring. We visited some areas where I used to get a lot of my firewood then we tried out a few more roads. A lot of the roads are gated most of the year but some are opened up at certain times in the spring and summer.
Our neighborhood is in the valley below.
An old clear cut.
We spotted this rig for sale along the highway. Our motor home is showing it's age so we've been kind of looking around a bit for a replacement. We never looked at 5th wheels for various reasons, one of which was that we didn't have a truck to pull it with. This guy was selling the truck and trailer together. We bought it. I swore I'd never own a 5th wheel camper or a rig with slide-outs or a diesel pickup. Now I have all three. It is a nice rig though and all set up and ready to hit the road. Getting it home up our "road" was an adventure I hope to never do again! We're getting it all set up for winter. (More about that in the July blog.) We'll take it down south with us and leave it there in storage next summer. It's got us antsy to hit the road!
That's our son in the white T-shirt. This is a grizzly that the FWP trapped and tranquilized at the golf course where he works. It's getting radio collared and moved to a new location. Saw a video on You Tube where they tried releasing a different grizzly from a culvert trap. The bear was a bit angry and went directly for the game warden on top of the trap. He had to shoot it with his sidearm to stop the attack. It all happened rather quickly! Usually they run away ... usually!
Scott holding his new baby sister at the hospital. She has three older brothers to watch out for her.
Look like it's been awhile since my last post! A lot of our winter time is spent far from internet service so we end up hot-spotting our cell phones when we need internet access. Posting the blog takes a lot of data due to the photos posted. We have "unlimited" data but when we reach a certain point the phones get very slow so we try to avoid using them for posting the blog or other high data uses such as movies/you tubes/and games (our grandson!). We can sometimes use WiFi at libraries and fast food outlets but then time is limited. So, the blog gets neglected
On any case, we're home now and I'll attempt to get caught up some.
This was taken at the wildlife management area at Overton, NV. We often see turkeys, rabbits, quail, coyotes, burros, and waterfowl there but this is the first time we've had peacocks strutting through our camp site. We often use the WMA as a sort of staging area when we first arrive to get our motor home out of storage and again when we're ready to put it back in storage before heading home again in the spring. It's close to town so if we need anything we can get it.
This is probably in Montana along I-90 between Butte and Missoula.
Our turn off I-90 and heading north on the last (190 mile) stretch.
When we got home we found out that we had a broken elbow in the water supply line to the sink. That's the first time that has happened. I drain the pipes and tanks each winter before we head south.
One of my projects was to get a mower running (we have two gas powered mowers, three reel mowers, and a recently acquired electric mower for close to the cabin, we power the electric mower using our solar power system).
This particular mower quit suddenly a couple of years ago when I hit a stump while mowing. I was almost finished and it was the end of the season so I just parked it and finished up with the string trimmer.
I suspected it had sheared the flywheel key and I was correct. The slot in the upper crankshaft and the key slot in the flywheel should align but they don't. This throws the timing way off and the mower won't run.
Back in the old days the factory cut screw threads to use a gear puller to get the flywheel off. They decided to cut corners on that so if you have to pull the flywheel you have to cut threads for the bolts needed to pull the flywheel off.
This is the sheared key on the mower. The can tab is for size comparison.
This is the way it should look. I had a couple of crankshaft keys on hand but I had to file one down a bit to make it fit. I installed it and put it all back together, checked the oil and filled it with gas and it fired right up. I got the rougher part of the lawn mowed and it worked fine through two tanks of gas. I used the old reel mower to cut the level sections of grass and on the road to the shack (storage) on the back corner of the place. I tried out the electric mower in the yard near the cabin. I prefer the reel mower because it doesn't stir up the pollen, dust and weed seeds. I often have to spend some time on my nebulizer after mowing (asthma and allergy problems).
We've put a few miles on the four wheelers since we got home. This is just outside (south) of Fortine taken from some state land.
Susan, Scott and Buttercup (our Pomeranian) admiring the scenery.
Same place as above but looking southeast instead of southwest.
This is about a mile or so (as the crow flies) south of our cabin on timber company land.
Buttercup enjoys travelling whether by car, bicycle (she rides in the front basket) or four-wheelers.
Doing some rototilling on our long neglected garden. We are going to plant a few things this year but mostly I'm going to keep tilling it up to get rid of the weeds and grass.
We need a new fence but don't want to mess with it this year so we had a couple of old trampoline frames laying around and decided to use them for a temporary garden fence. In typical Scott fashion anything that will hold him is obviously made for climbing and playing on.
Scott and I are putting the fence wire around it.
Susan began transplanting while we were working.
She's putting the greenhouse to use this summer too.
And she planted strawberries in one of the raised beds.
Gardening is iffy here. The cold is always a problem and in the past we have had frost every month of the year but the major worry is a relatively new one. We've had ground squirrels move in and take up residence on the property in the last few years. Despite my efforts to trap and shoot them (and the dog's constant harassment) we have a very healthy population of the little rodents. The fence will keep the deer out and the garden will be finished before the bears become a problem in the fall but the ground squirrels can pretty much wipe out a garden in a couple of days. We'll see what happens!
Susan had to get her driver's license renewed which called for a trip to Libby (the county seat 80 miles each way ... but only 40 miles by air ... if you have a helicopter!). This is along the Kootenai River a few miles outside of Libby.
While we were there on a second trip for another issue, Scott took some time to play in the water park in town. They have all kinds of fountains to play in.
Now he's at the lower pool at the hot springs. It's about a 120 mile drive each way. The Symes Motel has four pools. One upper pool is hot (about 15 minutes in it and you have to get out!). The other upper pool has a privacy fence (clothing optional) and is also hot. Below the first pool is one that's about like hot bath water. Below that one is a full sized pool where we spend most of our time. It's heated also but not as hot as the others. When we were here this time the two upper pools were closed for repairs so they had heated the lower pool up quite a bit but it was still fun.
In case you haven't noticed there are two things Scott likes more than any others: those are climbing things and playing in the water!
We got him a new game for his "half-birthday." When he was younger we told him he could celebrate half birthdays. He didn't have much concept of time so about once a week he'd spout out that, "It's my birthday!" so we'd have a birthday party ... again!
Scott wanted a hummingbird feeder so he and Susan got one and put it up at the edge of the porch. We have at least three different hummingbirds feeding there now.
He still likes riding in the wheel barrow.
He's raking up leaves with Susan.
I ordered a new bow for him but despite what the advertisers claimed its still a little too big for him. He did, however, love the release that came with it so he's using it on his old bow to thunk arrows into my new 3-D deer target.
Sunset on lower Stillwater Lake on the way home from Kalispell one evening. That photo was taken at 9:22 PM. It is still light out until almost 10 PM around here.
I decided to post some of the game photos taken from cameras on our property. Except when noted they were all taken in our driveway or next to our porch.
A bobcat at the same place the photo below was taken.
This was taken below the cabin on our property. We have does and fawns coming in the yard quite often in the summer.
This bobcat photo was taken about five feet from our porch door. The photo below this one was from the same camera but it's light out so you can get an idea of the location.
I'm still playing catch up on my blog so this is the condensed version.
I bought a canoe two summers ago and haven't
had it out on the water much. We picked up two dogs last summer and hadn't had them out on the water either. Rose road in the canoe with me. I had to lift her in because she had no intention of going willingly! Once got going she calmed down and enjoyed the ride.
Scott was on his kayak tethered to Susan's.
He has our second dog (Butter cup, a pomeranian), with him. She had no qualms regarding the water or kayak.
We decided to modify the van a bit by taking out the bathroom and building beds. The front bed over the driver and passenger seat will be used for storage.
The beds are almost finished. Scott's is above mine. I built storage space under mine.
A couple of the boys decided to shoot some clay targets.
We went through a couple hundred rounds before we were finished.
This is the condensed version since I am so far behind.
Scott taking in the campfire at the Overton Wildlife Management Area.
This is an old picnic area near Overtone. It was quite a ride up to it. At this point we are near the boundaries of Valley of Fire.
Getting ready to hit the road. The hamburgers are for consumption that evening. The pork chops will be frozen and taken with us on the road. They make great meals on the road. We don't have to heat them up. We just set them on the dashboard for a couple of hours to warm up and eat them that way.
I got a call from my mother that a tree was going to fall on our camper we have stored in her yard. No one could take care of it for a couple of weeks and she wanted it down before it fell down. I took a plane out of Vegas then spent a week at my mother's. Day one I took down the tree. After that there was another project.
My sister's grandson started a fire behind their garage. By the time the fire department got it out it had burned a bunch of siding off the back of the garage. My mother (who is in her 80's) and I cleared off the burned siding and underlayment then began putting new siding on.
A couple of days later we were finished except for the painting which they would finish up.
We began heading toward home again. Here we are at the Dave Deacon Campground at the Kirsch WMA in central Nevada. It's one of our favorite places because of the free camping (with water hydrants available and outhouses) and it also has a hot spring there for swimming.
We had our four-wheelers with us and did some exploring in the area. The dust we kicked up was kind of bad and the sun was pretty direct so this is how I dressed for our daily rides. I also wore gloves to protect my hands from sunburn.
On our rides we were going several miles each way to the mountains to ride the trails and roads so we moved our camp out there. There was no water but we packed enough to get us by awhile and just rode to the campground when we needed more.
It was a really great time. Our campsite was sheltered in the trees from the wind and private. We were the only people there camping and we saw only a couple more on our travels over the miles and miles of old dirt roads that laced the area.
There were springs all through the surrounding desert, valleys and mountains. They were all fenced off to keep livestock out and the water piped down to stock tanks so that critters in the area could have fresh, clean water to drink.
The sun hanging low in the western sky.
Winter killed? Disease? Predators? The cause of death is impossible to ascertain but even in death nothing goes to waste in the wild.
This guy was a daily resident at the campground. Every morning we'd watch it come flying back with a fish then sit on this power pole to enjoy his meal.
Back home in Montana. We took the U-Haul camper to a local lake for a few days of fishing, kayaking, hiking and camping. Buttercup, our Pomeranian that we acquired through animal control, is anxiously waiting in the basket to hit the road on a bike ride.
One of the small waterfalls near the lake.
Scott and Susan float past an old beaver lodge.
We did some exploring and some fishing and just enjoyed our time on the lake.