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washing dishes, a memory

I found out recently that Steve Bailey died in 2013.  There were some pictures in the in-memory section of the reunion builder website for my high school class, and a writeup about the man I knew as a high school kid.  Steve had worked in food service – maybe all his career – and it seemed he had done well as a chef at some prestigious restaurants.

Naturally I am not aware of this when he calls me one summer day before our junior year of high school and asks me to cover for him at his job washing dishes at a local lunch and dinner place I drive by all the time but at the same time have no plans to visit.  I want to say no, out of a tendency to avoid new experiences, especially ones that mean hard work.  But Steve parries all of my excuses with pleas that he must find a replacement, and I show mercy, not because I am a merciful person, but because I can’t figure any way out of it.

Every summer in the small Oklahoma town of Bartlesville seems to bring at least one case of poison ivy, and the summer of 1968 is no exception.  I have a raging dose of it when I show up for the first day of a week of labor.  The restaurant is dark and cool compared to the cicada-buzzed humidity just outside the door.  I walk cautiously into the dining area as my eyes adjust, and I meet the man who runs the place, one Al Jay Kester.  Al Jay is in his prime, 28 and chubby, either by nature or lifestyle.  He cooks me a sandwich at some point, a grilled cheese and ham sandwich that he opens up to insert crisp iceberg lettuce and Miracle Whip before serving it to me.

Later in the year, on a fine October day, Al Jay will kill a woodchuck while hunting along the banks of the Caney River.  His picture will be in the local paper, the Examiner Enterprise, on Halloween Day 1968.  He will not yet be 29 years old, and he will be just beaming with pride displaying his kill.  I will tear out and save the small newspaper article and goof with my friend Steve about how the caption makes it unclear whether the woodchuck or Al Jay was climbing a tree when he shot it.

Al Jay leads me out of the dining room and into the kitchen and then further into another area that is my work place, the dish washing station.  Heat is bad news for the sufferer of poison ivy.  It makes the rash bubble and blister.  I have it on my forearms and torso, but it is really bad on my legs.  What is worse than the general heat of the kitchen, the water in the metal sink for washing dishes is heated by an open gas burner at about knee height and right under the sink.

Al Jay will give me no instruction on operating the sink.  For all I know, the burner is to remain on the entire time I am in the restaurant.  The water will be so hot that I will be scalded multiple times in the week ahead, especially when I reach to the bottom of the sink to fish around for the stainless ware, plates, and kitchen utensils.  The heat from the burner will turn my usual bad case of poison ivy into my worst experience of this allergy.

After showing me my work place, Al Jay takes me to where a small primate, maybe a rhesus monkey, lives behind the restaurant, tethered by a chain to a stake in the ground.  He tosses some bits of food to the monkey.

When I learned about Steve Bailey dying of cancer, I thought about that restaurant where he worked and about some of the old times, and old places in and around Bartlesville, about another restaurant called Marie’s that was near the go kart track, and not far from there the road that used to go over the memorial bridge over the Caney, right before you would get to Floyd’s gas station where we always stopped to fill up.  I thought about driving around and knowing all the back roads, to places like Hudson Lake and Hula Lake, and places in Osage County I didn’t know, but that I knew how to get to.  I thought about Circle Mountain, and going there for a bonfire with my brother and his friends and girlfriend Roni back from college, drinking Boone’s Farm into the night, and remembered not remembering them helping me to bed, back home at my folks’ house.

From what I can tell, Al Jay is still in the area.  There is a webpage entry from February about him on a Bartlesville website, and he was preparing to write his memoir at the time, according to the entry.  I wonder if Al Jay remembers things the way I do, whether he remembers about Floyd’s, about the lakes and Circle Mountain, and about cicadas and the restaurant where Steve used to work.

 

Birthday Birdhouse Feeder

We have a bird feeder that has been deteriorating over the years, and the ongoing process of patching it up has been a running gag around here.  The feeder is shaped like a little house, reminiscent of a log cabin with two porches and a pitched, gabled roof.  The string that held it up broke first, then as the wood dried out, the long, wire staples connecting the pieces of this little house together started slipping out.  I replaced the string with plastic-sheathed wire, and put screws or nails in as the staples failed.  One of the two boards that comprise the roof had split in two places, and now these separate pieces of wood are linked together with bits of flattened out metal found objects and tiny screws, looking sort of like hinges, but barely holding things together.

I decided to build a new bird feeder modeled after the old one, using redwood fence wood and 3/4 inch garden stakes.  When I started drawing up this plan, I was mistakenly thinking the wood was a 1/2 inch thick, but it is more like 3/4 inch, so the drawing is not exactly to scale.  The side walls will be made out varying lengths of 3/4 inch garden stake wood, and the end walls under the gables will be clear Plexiglass.

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I started by making the base, which has railings to keep the seed in.  The fence wood is 3-1/2″ wide, so the seven-inch wide base is two pieces of fence wood tied together by the railings.  The length of the base is 11 inches.

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I used 1-1/4 inch screws on the railings to keep the screws from going all the way through the wood.  I had to adjust the length of the end pieces, so I sanded them a little to fit.

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After making the base, I built the “log” walls out of six inch and eight inch pieces of redwood stakes.  I pre-drilled the clearance holes, staggering them, and leaving room for slots where the Plexiglass would go.

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I used 1-1/2 inch screws, which are a bit longer than the thickness of two pieces of wood, the 3/4″ wood actually being more like 11/16″ thick.  I ran the risk of the screws going all the way through two boards and hitting the screw head two layers down, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter, probably because I don’t drill very straight.   As usual, I would drill one pilot hole and attach the first screw before drilling a second pilot hole for the second screw.

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After the walls were built, it was time to cut the slots for the Plexiglass.  I used a saw in a miter box, which kept the saw straight up and down.  Still, this was an unforgiving process, requiring two cuts to be made, and then breaking out the little wall between the cuts.  It was hit or miss, but somehow I got it done.

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After the walls were made, it was time to attach them to the base.  First I marked the base where the walls would go.  Since the 1-1/2 inch screws poked through the wood a little, I could press the screw points into the railings of the base to register where they would go for the next step of attaching the walls.  I drilled the clearance holes from the top of the base to get them as centered in the rails as possible.  I used 2-1/2 inch long, #8 screws, so the clearance holes were bigger than the ones for the #6 screws used elsewhere.  I would have used #6 screws for the longer screws, but #8 was all I could find at the store.

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This was a tricky part, because the walls needed to be vertical when drilling the pilot holes for the 2-1/2 inch screws.  The pencil marks and registration afforded by the screw points in the side rails of the base helped locate the walls.  I did the best I could with getting the wall straight up and down.

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In this picture, the screws are going in to attach the base to the walls:

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I decided to put braces between the walls for later, when the gables are attached.  All the weight of the feeder transmits through the gables, so it is important that they are connected into the structure well.

Here is the feeder with the walls up and the braces in place:

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I bought a piece of Plexiglass at a local glass store, and I measured and cut it to fit.  Plexiglass is similar to glass, but cutting it requires scoring a line on the surface over and over with some kind of blade and snapping it.  I used a linoleum-knife type of tool to score the Plexiglass, and snapped it by holding one side down on a box with the scored line along the edge of the box, then quickly pushing down on the overhanging side.  In some cases it didn’t break cleanly along the scored line, but I was able to snap off little pieces by grabbing them with a pair of pliers and breaking them off that way.

With the Plexiglass cut, it was time to make the gable ends.  I had planned to use the miter box to cut the 45 degree angles this step would require, but the 3-1/2″ board was too big for the miter box’s clamps, so I used the rafter square to mark the 45’s by lining-up the bottom of the board with equal numbers on the two halves of the square, 4-7/8″ in the picture below.  I marked the wood and cut the upper right hand corner off, then measured the distance for the base of the triangular gable, repeating the process above to make the second 45 degree angle cut.  One more measuring and another 45 degree cut later, and I had the two gable ends.

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I thought the braces were too far away from the Plexiglass to prevent the birds from being able to climb behind the gable and into the space where the seed goes, so I decided to move the gables in a little.  This required a fair amount of care when drilling, or else the pilot holes would miss the brace pieces.  It also was not too easy to keep the gable from sliding when trying to drill through the clearance hole in the gable and into the brace.  So I used the smallest drill bit to get a pilot hole started in the brace, then once it was drilled with a small drill, increased the bit size to 5/64″ for the #6 screw pilot hole.

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Even using 1-1/2 inch screws, the brace and gable were not connected that well together, so I decided to remove the gable and brace pieces and put in another screw, this one straight through the brace and into the gable to secure the two together better.

While I had the braces and gables off, I put in small brass screws to hold the Plexiglass into place.  This will keep birds from going under the Plexiglass and getting trapped in where the seed goes.

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Here is a picture of a 1-1/2 inch screw going in to strengthen the connection between brace piece and gable end.  Note the slotted screw near the apex of the gable.  This is where one of the wires will attach to hold the bird feeder up.

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With the gables attached, it was time to make the roof.  I had decided on nine inches for the length of the roof, but found three boards I had from before that were about 9-1/4 inches, and decided to make the roof 9-1/4″.  One more cut and I had all the pieces I needed for the roof.

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I used big hinges to connect two board together to make one half of the roof.

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And I used smaller hinges to connect the roof pieces to the ridge beam – made from the end of a garden stake.

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I had to be careful about the placement of the smaller hinges in order to allow space for the wires that had to go through the ridge beam and tie to the slotted screws in the gables.  I filed little flat areas on the beam to make places for starting to drill the holes for the wires.  I did this very gradually, first using the smallest drill bit, and working up to 1/4″ holes.

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I straightened two pieces of plastic coated wire about 13″ long, stripped back the coating, and attached them to the slotted screws.  Then I was ready to thread the wires through the roof holes and attach them to a hanger I’d made.

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I made the hanger out of some really heavy steel wire I found in the garage and attached the green plastic coated wires to the hanger.  Here is the finished bird feeder suspended from a cabinet pull.

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And here is the reverse angle.

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Here is the feeder ready for use.  I left the pointy end of the garden stake as part of the ridge beam.  It’s a nice touch I think, and reminds me of something that might be done when building a barn, to have a place to attach a pulley for raising hay bales into the loft, or a block and tackle for pulling an engine out of an old pickup truck.  The smaller hinges function very well when putting seed into the feeder.  With the old feeder, the whole roof had to be lifted up.  The hinges make it a lot less cumbersome.

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Bees and Owls

I had made a couple of nest boxes for western screech owls.  The first of these produced two fledglings in its second year.  Here is a picture of the two, shortly after leaving the nest.  A full grown western screech owl is not much bigger than these juveniles.


When cleaning out the first owl nest box around the end of October that year, the box fell apart, and a second owl box had to be made.  Here is a picture of that second box, in the same location as the first, about 12 feet above the ground in a large mesquite tree.

This second owl box went up in November 2010, and had visitors over the winter and spring, but no takers in terms of nesting in spring 2011.  There was considerable interest in the box by spring 2012, and I was sure a male screech owl would attract a mate to it.  That might have happened, had it not been for bees moving in – in April or May of 2012.

As with the first, the second owl box was starting to crack that spring.  The weight of bees and honey didn’t help, and it was in rough shape by the end of the summer.  In October 2012 I had a live-bee-removal service come out and take the box and bees away one evening.

The bee man came by in an old Ford pickup truck with the driver’s side door missing, and got the now bee box down.  One side of the box was split almost wide open, honeycomb filling all the gaps; the 3″ opening in the front was solid propolis, some mysterious product bees make.  The bee man used a smoker with weeds as the fuel, and put in ammonium nitrate fertilizer which decomposes to nitrous oxide to keep the bees from being too agitated.  Except for one bee that got in his ear, he seemed to get them all.  But the next day I saw a handful of bees buzzing around the area where the bee box had been.

Oh well.  Time to make a new owl box!

It was not easy to get the second bee box down, because the stainless steel screw in the mesquite tree was frozen in place.  Because of this, I decided to make it so the new box could at least in theory be brought down without any tools.  Also, I was motivated to make a box that would last longer than two years and to use relatively inexpensive wood.

I decided on 3.5″ X 11/16″ redwood fence wood with 5/8″ X 1  3/8″ redwood boards to bind them together .  We have some adjustable clamps and exterior wood glue.  Here is the basic process:

After cutting all of the pieces, it just took glue, screws, and drilling clearance and pilot holes, to make the individual boards.


There are websites devoted to such things as screech owl nest boxes, and I used the same basic design I had before.  The back board is 22″, the sides and front are 16″.  I glued three pieces of the fencing together, making the width of each of these boards 10.5″.  I used four boards for the top so there would be overhang.  The bottom piece fits inside, between the sides, so has to be cut to fit.  It is better if the bottom piece is a little short.  Gaps in the bottom will allow drainage should water find its way inside.  Drainage holes are also drilled in the bottom for the same purpose.
I did a dry fit with the bottom, sides and front to line up those pieces before attaching them.  Here are the bottom and one side:

Somewhere in here I decided to use a piece of cardboard to have an even surface to work from.  Here is the bottom with both sides:

Once I had everything line up just right, I put on glue:

I quickly attached the front with four screws to locate and hold things together.  This took a little doing.  I predrilled the clearance holes in the front for the screws.  Then I put on the glue and set the front on the sides and drilled one pilot hole in the location for one of the four screws.  The pilot hole is small, 1/16″ for a #6 wood screw in soft wood.  One at a time I put in the four screws shown below, realigning things before drilling each pilot hole.

After this, I quickly drilled all the pilot holes and put in all the screws before the glue set up.

After attaching the front to the sides, I attached the bottom.  I had to use two-and-a-half inch screws because of the thickness of wood.  I didn’t use glue.

After attaching the bottom, it was time to attach the back, the 22″ board.  I lined up the sides to the back board, and put a temporary cross piece to “remember” where the bottom was when things were lined up.  After doing that, I flipped over the part that was already assembled.

Then it was ready for glue and attaching the back.  You can see the temporary piece that helped in lining up the back to front-side-bottom assembly.

Here is the box, almost finished, with the top set in place.  Rather than have hinges for the top, I made it so the top interlocks under a cross piece attached to the back.  In the front I put screw eyes and used wire to hold the top down.  I made a handle out of wire to help in carrying the box.

I got wood shavings at the pet store.  The owls like a few inches of shavings in the bottom of the box.

I carried the box while climbing the tree, setting it different places on the way up so I could use two hands to climb.  I had made a slot in the bottom of the back board to make it easy to slip over the stainless steel screw left from the earlier owl boxes.  I put a bracket on the back board to reinforce the slot.

At the top, I used wire to hold the box to a branch, and longer wire to pull the box to vertical.  It is important that the box is not tilted.  The owls want it to be vertical.

Here is the new box, ready for owls to find it.