Three Wheeling

Chugging up the Grade in our 1977 Chevy C-10 short bed with a yard and a half of Ojai Lumber’s finest top-soil in the back, I heard a god-awful grinding and sensed the truck leaning awkwardly towards the center of the road.

I was on one of those Grade curves that turns left but provides a generous turn-out to the right - which is where I headed. I got out of the cab in time to see the back left wheel taking off down the hill. It had sheared off the axle and the truck traveled its last few yards on three wheels and a brake hub. I retrieved the wheel which came to rest against the cliff wall on the inside of the curve and collected the wheel nuts that were scattered across the road.

The potential injurious or deadly scenarios that this mechanical malfunction could have created are too numerous to catalog. Simply put, the accident (and my demise) could by now have been memorialized by a simple white roadside cross rather than my writing about it on this blog.

This is the second time that this truck has shed a wheel. The first being about eighteen months ago while my son Griffin was driving home (when we were living in Ojai) from Happy Valley around nine at night. He had just crossed over Lion Canyon Creek and was headed up towards Dennison Park. He too found a convenient turn-out and retrieved the wheel - and got on the phone. (The white-cross comments above apply equally to this drama). We drove up to the scene, called Triple A and had the vehicle towed to CJ’s automotive on the corner of Bryant and East Ojai Avenue.

Doubly-lucky then, given the strange propensity of the truck’s wide mag wheels to become un-tethered. CJ is perplexed, but blames the cheesy mag wheels that, for my son, were a big attraction when we purchased the truck.

The latest misadventure was concluded when: Abbott’s towing schlepped the truck down to CJ’s; Kim Maxwell happened by just when the truck had been successfully hoisted behind the tow-truck and drove me home; and this morning I picked up the truck with a loaner wheel attached and successfully delivered the soil to our house on Koenigstein. From Ojai Lumber the trip took about 45 hours.

This evening I wheel-barrowed the soil from truck to planter-bed. Eighteen barrow loads. The planter is now full (I had already dumped about 6” of dirt and wood chips in the bottom).

Griffin and I dry-laid concrete block on a gravel bed foundation with gopher wire beneath the bottom block across the width of the planter, it is two blocks high with a 2” cap, we grouted every other cell. We bagged it with a self-colored stucco (an Australian technique whereby a skim coat of stucco is applied with a piece of hessian - hence bagging). Four foot by sixteen. It now awaits seed.

This is a token gesture towards grow-your-own. My version of Back-Yard Romance (2010-05-13). I understand that I’m not saving the world, more like a few bucks every Sunday avoiding the more rapacious sellers at the Ojai Farmer’s Market.

We live in straitened times. A dollar saved is a dollar earned. But first we have to make back the hundred bucks spent on soil, and the two hundred and fify for block, wire and cement. Twenty bucks for seed. Say four hundred with truck repairs, gas etc. Our water costs what we consume in electricity to pump it. In time I hope to set up a 1000 gallon corrugated tank which will be fed from the pool cover pump. But at $1500 plus the cost of installation I do not expect to live long enough to recoup the outlay - but you cannot put a price on the feeling of self-righteous satisfaction that I wil have every time I water the raised bed with harvested rain water.

More immediately, I hope that the garden produces say $25 of vegetables and herbs a week. So we can offset the $400 in 4 months. The tank must be amortised against the cost of pumping water from the well. A few bucks a week, maybe 100 or so a year. I take it back: goddam it, barring white-cross events and mountain lion maulings I will too live to make back the cost of the tank and enjoy it for a further fifteen or twenty years before I or it rusts out. The well pump, by the way, is metered separately from the house and is thus not part of our grid-tied PV system. Ideally, we could make back enough from Edison to pay for that bill too. The pool cover pump runs on our house power so theoretically comes under our net zero-energy equation.

We were about $700 shy of reaching our goal last year but there were extenuating circumstances (Are We Green Yet  08-24-25), Dirty PV’s and insufficiently seasoned fire-wood for the Rais Wood Burning Stove are a part of the explanation. We were also not using the clothes drying hoist for the full year. We installed it sometime towards the end of last summer.

This last energy saver is critical. The original rotary clothes line was developed and marketed by an Australian, Lance Hill in 1945 and finally patented in1956. The Hill’s Hoist is as emblematic of the suburban Australian backyard as the barbie - at least when I was there during the 1970’s. There are now more sophisticated lighter versions than the original steel contraption and we chose to install a Swiss aluminum model manufactured by Stewi. Because the house is all-electric, clothes drying is otherwise an energy expensive proposition using the Whirlpool electric dryer.

Lorrie is now atuned to the advantages of line-drying. I grew up in a culture where the linear clothes line (usually hoisted high with a forked clothes prop), with clothes attached with rustic pegs sold door to door by gypsies, was the norm. In summer, clothes customarily went through an extra rinse cycle on the line courtesy of the endemic English ‘showers’. Timing was everything. In winter, they could go through days of thaw and freeze cycles before the perfect moment arrived for their retrieval - having achieved a state that my mother called ‘rough-dry’. Further days in the ‘airing cabinet’, a cupboard warmed by the chimney, would result in clothes that if not dry, were not actually moist to the touch.

If Tehachapi is the windiest place in the world (Dreaming 2010-09-01) then Upper Ojai in summer must rank as one of the fastest clothes drying venues on the planet. But here too, timing is important. Clothes must be retrieved before the evening chill sets in, otherwise it’s an extra day on the line.

Hot days and chill nights are the perfect prescription for a passive solar strategy with regard to interior thermal comfort. And mostly it works, but our house has too much glass to operate without a little Air Conditioning. AC is inherently inefficient - operating at about 10% of the theoretical optimum energy exchange. The only efficient air conditioner is the one that’s turned off. We try.

There is a profound connection between frugality and sustainability. We are where we are because of excessive personal consumption accross the board: Clothing, Food, Water, Energy, Transportation, Entertainment and Security. As our collective revenue streams diminish the theoretical practice of sustainability becomes financially compelling. Being ‘Green’ is a lot like practising for your retirement - getting by with less.

Our generation has put this delicious spin on genteel poverty - it has made the worn-out, the recycled, the old bicycle, the vegetable patch in the back yard and the AC set at 85 degrees - chic. And the old truck?

The Chevy doesn’t get such great mileage, but it exists in the world and will, perhaps for another twenty years. It’s a work-horse. Like Christine, the psychopathic-killer-car from the mind of Stephen King (Viking, New York, 1983), it’s had a couple of tries at decimating the family. I think it just wants respectable wheels again. CJ is on the look-out for an old set of steel rims.