Monday, January 11, 2010

Driving to Town

This past weekend, my husband and I had to go into town to get prescriptions filled. I took a few pics. This is the most snow I've seen since I've been here. We had more a couple of weeks ago but I was out of state visiting relatives.

Here's a beautiful scene snapped out the window on the way to town. This might become my desktop background, despite the fact that it's not too clear.

The creek is doing its best to freeze over nice and solid. I've never been ice skating on a pond or a stream. I would love to try it! Skating on a stream is especially attractive to me, because I'd get to see the area from a new vantage point.

Icicles!! There were much more impressive ones than these, but these were convenient and we were going slowly, so these got photographed.

After we arrived in town, the back of the truck looked like this. It's interesting how clearly the wind patterns show up in the drifted snow. Now I understand why, when I forget and leave my back window open on the highway in the summer time, all those leaves and/or hay blow out of the bed and into the cab!

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Snow Pics

My poor laundry.

Rolf making his rounds and checking everything out while Louie looks on from the porch. This photo was taken in November before Louie died at the end of December. Rolf has always been a conscientious worker dog, helping feed the chickens and rabbits and generally getting underfoot no matter what you're doing and no matter what the weather. Louie was more of a supervisor during snowy weather. The ice and snow caked up in the long fur between his foot pads pretty quickly. He liked the snow, but only for quick runs and romps.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Power Outage

We had a big storm come through here Wednesday the 11th. We lost power for three days, almost to the hour. It was pretty fun, actually, and very relaxing. It was very quiet and we could hear the coyotes on the hill with crystal clarity. Our place is pretty quiet, we don't have sirens or traffic or manufacturers near us. Still, losing power for an extended time does give one the opportunity to realize how much noise is created by the fridge, freezer, computer fans, well pump, and other daily power activities that happen in the background without our being conscious of them.

The easy stuff - we sat by the window and read a lot during the day, we got some stuff done around the place outside once the weather settled down, we lit candles as night fell, we ate canned soups, chili, and similar heated on the gas cooktop.

The manageable stuff - we ran the generator occasionally to keep the fridge and deep chest freezer cold, and during these times we filled water containers for the rabbits and chickens, for ourselves, and made coffee in the coffee maker. We filled the bathtub so we'd have water with which to flush.

The stuff that concerns us - the gas pressure here is poor and the gas fails when demands are placed on it. Our generator runs on natural gas but we only got 7 to 15 minutes out of it at a time before the gas would fail. In extremely cold weather we'd be unable to drip water to keep the pipes from freezing, even if we put out the pilot lights on the two heaters and the hot water tank.

We're re-committed to getting the solar panels up and the control panel in place, so we can run the freezer, fridge, and well pump off of solar. The batteries are in place and the rack is on the roof, so much of the work is done. We have the materials to do the rest. And so it goes.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

ATVing in the Snow

We have some beautiful snow on the ground. A couple of days ago we decided to go out on the ATVs and look at animal tracks. We went late in the day, shortly after 5:00 p.m. The light was fading and we ended up circling back to the house with our headlights on.

We saw some tracks but they'd been filled in by snow so they were only divots in the surface. It was impossible to tell what made them. We had a ton of fun anyway, and I only got stuck once!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Deer from my Greenhouse

This photo was taken from our greenhouse which, interestingly enough, is also the bathroom. Hey, *I* didn't design it! Actually, there are a lot of good ideas in it - the greenhouse space is heated, and water is readily available. It does make one feel a bit exposed when stepping out of the shower though :)

Closeup of deer showing how clean and lovely my greenhouse windows are :p

Thanks to everyone who sent kind and helpful comments about Louie. He left us on the 31st of December. It was time. He was hurting and grumpy. He had a very happy, rich life and his last moments were with people who loved him feeding him his favorite treats while he snuffled the breeze contentedly. We grieve his absence from our lives but we celebrate the time we had with him.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sawing Lumber - part III

The last of my sawmill (and related) photos.

My Dad puts the cut off rounded sides of log on this table/bench/shelf thing he made. Rather than having a solid top like a table, it's an open structure with occasional supports going front to back. He has it marked at intervals, and he uses his chainsaw to cut through the entire stack of scrap and make them regular lengths so they fit well in his wood stove. Clicking the photo for a larger view makes it much easier to see how it works. Simple, yet ingenious.

Sometimes the wood is flat on both sides but the edges are too wiggly and non-uniform to be suitable for lumber. Or sometimes it's flat on both sides but of an odd thickness, due to shaving off the "extra" in order to get all 2x or 1x thicknesses. He uses these odd pieces to make "stickers" which are used for garden stakes or for stacking wood. The stickers can be of non-uniform width, but they have to be a consistent thickness.

Here is a stack of 1x lumber of varying widths. This lumber will be used for siding on sheds or board-and-batten construction. To stack wood, Dad places cinder blocks, rocks, or whatever on the ground and then puts cross-pieces of wood in place; he'll lay the lumber on these cross-pieces. This is to keep the lumber off the ground so it stays dry and doesn't rot or get infested by insects. The lumber stack isn't exactly level; it slants ever so slightly toward one end. This facilitates air flow and drainage of any water that should get into the stack of lumber.

He puts the cross-pieces of wood at about 30" intervals. Then he lays a layer of lumber on the cross-pieces. Then he puts stickers on the layer of lumber directly above the wood cross-pieces. Then a layer of lumber, a layer of stickers, etc. until all the lumber is stacked. It's important not to get the stickers too far apart, and to get them placed directly over one another so that the lumber doesn't dry in a warped fashion.

On top of the whole structure he puts old tin roofing. He overlaps it, with the top piece being on the "uphill" end of the stack (remember, it's not quite level). Then he weights the tin down with cinder blocks or rocks to keep it from blowing away. Lumber stacked like this will stay good for years if the weeds are kept out of it.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Sawing Lumber - part II

As always, you can click any of the photos for a larger view.

Here the log is in place and the first cut is being made. Getting the log positioned properly is, to me, the most tedious part of the whole thing. A log that looks straight can turn out to be surprisingly crooked when you try to line it up for cutting. All those lumps and bumps where branches used to be get in the way and have to be dealt with, too. It takes some turning and jostling to get it lined up so that your cuts go straight down the log and produce the most lumber possible.

The log has been turned so that the flat side is flush against some vertical dogs. Wooden wedges are seen holding the log in position for the second cut. These first two cuts are critical. After this cut the log always lies on a flat side and things square up pretty well. Dad said the first log he cut, it took him a couple of days just staring and turning, turning and staring. Now he does several in a day. He sees a lot when he looks at a log.

Here the wood is being cut to two inch thicknesses. In all these pictures Dad is using a 2x2 (more or less) to help push the blade mechanism forward. Lots of times he just wedges that stick between his hip and the mobile portion of the mill and walks slowly forward. He's figured out a lot of little tricks to make the sawing less strenuous on both him and his sawmill.

Pure magic! 2x4 lumber from a tree trunk.
You see how those boards are raising up? I didn't know this but trees have a lot of internal stress and as you cut them, they like to twist and turn. So when you see warped lumber it's probably not that the sawmill did a poor job cutting the lumber, it's more likely due to internal stress within the wood itself.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dad's Sawmill - a close up view

You can click on the pic for a pretty darned large version (2272 x 1712) where you can see the letters and what I'm describing.

I wish I'd thought to take more photos of how this amazing machine actually works, but this will have to do.
A - This jar holds either water or kerosene, depending on what kind of wood is being cut. More about this later.
B - A 5 gallon plastic bucket hanging by a rope; it catches excess sawdust and has to be emptied regularly.
C - A square plastic box that holds fuel. The little cylinder on top is where you open it to put fuel in, and the bent wire thing is the fuel gauge. It's on a float inside the fuel tank and you can poke on it and bob it to see how much fuel you have left :)
D - A silvery yardstick. This is used to calibrate the height of the blade so you get 1x or 2x or 4x lumber. My Dad had to make special marks on it with a permanent pen, to allow for the kerf (the part of the wood that gets eaten up by the saw).
E - These horizontal logs/branches are at the bottom of the step-like area on the hill (the hill is to the right of this photo) where the logs are rolled down and onto the sawmill. They roll down the hill, across these pieces of wood, and onto the metal frame of the sawmill.

Under the log you can see the metal structure that supports the logs (Dad welded it around a construction I-beam), one of the wheels (it's a portable sawmill), and on the ground you see what looks like scrap wood. The scraps are triangular and are used to wedge the log in place while it's still round and the first cuts are being made.

Although it looks cluttered, every bit and piece serves a purpose. The only part my dad didn't assemble is the gray part that shields the saw blade and has the big wheels in it that propel the saw blade.

This is looking from the other side of the sawmill, at the blade going around a big wheel. This is inside the gray plastic shield (temporarily removed while the blade was being changed). See how the sawdust wants to build up on that little black roller? A buildup of sawdust causes the blade to stretch and slip - and it can break, too! Dad says it's spectacular when a blade breaks. And very dangerous.

Remember the jar marked 'A'? There's a hose running from the jar to this roller. Dad drips kerosene or water on this area to wash it clean. Kerosene for sappy softwoods like pine, water for hardwoods like oak (or Weekend Farmer's walnut :)

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Sawing Lumber - part I

My Dad has some logs lying in his field. Folks in the area know he has a sawmill and when they clear land sometimes they bring him the logs. They do this because they don't need the firewood and it's a good way to get rid of the logs... and besides, they like my Dad :)

First you have to figure out what type of lumber you're going to need. 2"x4"x12'? 1"x3"x10'? Then you go hunt up a log that's about the right length. We had figured out what lumber I'd need to build a chicken coop, and we marked the appropriate logs with red spray paint. We measured twice, just to be sure.

Then my Dad dragged the logs over to the sawmill with his tractor and the tongs.

This photo is taken from the hill to the right of the sawmill building. It shows some extra logs to the left of the ladder (foreground), and the area where my Dad rolls the logs down the hill to the right. The area where he rolls the logs has lumber laid out on it, to make sort of like a staircase. He rolls the logs one or two levels at a time, and uses bits of stump or other scrap wood to stop them from rolling all the way down at once.

A log is amazingly heavy. It could break your leg or crush you before you even knew what was happening. So you want to keep it under control.

Also, if the log rolls down the hill all in one fell swoop, it gathers speed and can roll onto the sawmill and right off the other side of it. Or jump partway off and get lodged awkwardly against the sawmill. It would be a royal pain to fix that kind of a mess.

So, my Dad has created this staging area and it works great. Click the photo for a larger view, where you can see the engine/sawing part of the sawmill and the metal frame that the saw rides on down there in the shadows of the building.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dad's Sawmill

This is the building that houses my Dad's sawmill. Like his garage, it is a pole structure and he built it himself with wood that he cut on his sawmill. The sawmill lived in the field until this structure was built.

The left-hand bay currently houses a flatbed trailer. The right-hand bay houses the sawmill. It's on wheels so it can be towed, and my Dad made it himself. The only part he got already assembled was the blade housing. He welded the I-beam and a bunch of parts together, and attached the axles, and put on a motor, and a bunch of other stuff I don't pretend to understand. It's a COOL thing. I didn't really appreciate it until I got to help him saw wood with it. Well, he sawed. I stayed out of the way and dumped the sawdust bucket when it got full.

The big white barrel halves hold sawdust. Behind them is a big fan, to blow the sawdust away from you while you work and help you breathe; it also keeps you cool on hot days. The sawmill itself is back in the shadows (click for a larger view) but you can see some of it, orange and black and white. To the right is a clever shelf thing with some scraps of wood on it. I'll talk about the clever shelf thing in another post.

The sawmill building is built next to a hill (to the right of the building in this photo) so Dad can drag logs over with his tractor, then roll them down the hill and onto the sawmill. He can do everything from start to finish by himself.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Logging Tools

My Dad has a sawmill. When I visited in May, we cut some lumber. These are a couple of the tools we used.

This Peavey was my great-grandfather's. Dad has a couple of them. They're used to maneuver logs.

A "cant" is a squared off log. A "cant hook" looks like this but it doesn't have a pointy end (so you can't stick it in the ground and tell it to wait for you). A peavey is a cant hook with a spike on it.

These tongs are used to haul logs with the tractor. You just open them up, put them on the log, and then when the tractor pulls they close automatically. It looks simple but they're big and heavy and I was pretty retarded looking the first few times I tried to get them to hook and unhook.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Clever Shelf

Our old house has two closets. They were added into two of the bedrooms after the bedrooms were built, so they intrude into the room. They're pretty small, about 4'x6'. Maybe not that deep. We have no coat closet, no linen closet, no place to hide the broom and vacuum cleaner, no place to put aspirin and bandaids, no place for board games or toys.

Evidently, the prior owners also felt the need for more storage space, and they had some very clever solutions. Here is a shelf in the mud room, fashioned of a piece of board and some baling twine. I wouldn't have thought it would be stable if you described it to me, but it works like a champ.

Clever, huh?


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cherry Picking

Here's Louie with a haircut, supervising the cherry picking preparation. He's completely shaved except for a mop of hair on his head and a fu manchu beard. Well, technically, a fu manchu is a mustache but I couldn't find out what the beard part is called.

We used to use rickety ladders but now we use the tractor.

We let the kids climb in the loader, then we lift them up and they pick their little hearts out. Rolf is getting in on the action. My husband says we should have named him Visa, because he's EVERYWHERE we want to be.

We have three cherry trees here. This year two were absolutely LOADED and the third had practically nothing on it. Same type, same location. We picked 6 pints our first picking and there will be lots more as they ripen over the next few days... as long as we get to them before the birds and chipmunks!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008


What's that in the canopy of the tractor??

It's a bird nest, and it's been there since Spring 2007. This is its second year and I swear I think it's grown, so I think it got used again this Spring. I don't know how a bird can get into that nest, or how it likes having its home moved around. Spring is a busy time for a tractor.

This is a bit of my garden, one of the beds I haven't yet yanked the weeds out of and planted. I *should* have cleaned up last fall but I didn't and this is the result. Yuck! But look what's tucked into the cattle panel by the T-post (I use cattle panels as a trellis for my peas, cukes, and tomatoes).

It's a newly hatched baby house sparrow, with three eggs still to hatch. Needless to say, this garden bed will stay weedy a while longer - or at least this section will!

A cropped version of the above pic, that I didn't scale down. You can click on it to see a larger version. The little bird's leg is clearly showing and its head is in the shade. Before I ran to get the camera it was sitting up with its tiny mouth wide open, waiting for mama to bring it some food.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Dad's Garage

Yay! I can upload images again. Let's hope this time it stays fixed.

This is the garage my Dad built with wood he sawed himself on his sawmill. He still plans to put doors in the big openings but it works just fine like it is. This particular opening is actually used more for walk-in access; the drive-in access is from the right as we're viewing the garage now.

Here's where you drive in. Plenty of room for a pickup and a tractor.

The garage is framed with large timbers and then 1-bys are put on the outside. Kind of like a board-and-batten structure without the battens.

This is a closeup of the support beam on the right-hand side of the previous picture. Dad charred the post to prevent insect damage. He also doesn't let the wood walls go all the way to the ground; the bottom portion of the wall is tin roofing. This prevents rot and insect damage by keeping the wood dry and away from the dirt.

He made window flashing above his windows.

Inside view of the windows. They lock closed with a piece of wood that turns, and they open only so far, thanks to a bit of string.

My Dad is an unbelievably clever "can-do" type of guy.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Water and Cold Weather

When it gets real cold here, the water gets a skim of ice on top. If it's snowing, sometimes the water turns slushy. If it's real cold, the water freezes pretty thick on top (an inch or so). Thick enough to support a rabbit, anyway.

The rabbits leave the water dish all nasty with muddy footprints and little poop berries frozen into their water.

We got these little three gallon rubber dishes from our feed store. They were $8.99 each. We use one for the rabbits and one for the chickens. They stay very flexible even in extremely cold weather. I just turn them upside down and step on the bottom a bit. The water and most of the ice come out. Then I pick it up and, holding it upside down, I flex the sides and the rest of the ice just pops out. It couldn't be any easier!

I take them fresh water to the animals in the morning and evening, summer and winter. In the winter if it's REAL cold, I take water at midday too.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy (Belated) New Year

It's cold and snow covered, but sunny at Palazzo Rospo. I went to Atlanta for a week and saw relatives. I stopped at the amazing Harry's Farmers Market on the way home for some Organic 365 Truffles. I think I got a dozen boxes. Those things are killer and I haven't found them anywhere else.

I also stopped at a liquor store and got some good Scotch. We don't drink much but our local liquor store has never heard of Tonic Water. Need I say more?

This morning it was 4F. Our home has two natural gas heaters; we also cook with natural gas and have a gas hot water heater. The gas pressure is low so when it gets real cold and there area lot of demands on the gas, it fails. We woke up to a 33F bathroom (pilot light gone out) and a 58F kitchen (heater struggling). We fired up the woodstove and fought back the chill.

Right now we have an open pot of water on the stove, for adding humidity to the house, and a tea kettle, for teas and hot chocolate. That tea kettle is as old as I am. My grandmother gave it to me and I love it even though it's aluminum and probably makes us more senile with every cup of tea we drink.

I love our woodstove. It has glass doors so we can see the fire burning inside. It is a soapstone stove, and all that stone has to warm up before it starts radiating heat, so it takes a while before you feel the effects of the fire. But once it's going, it will radiate for a long time. It's beautiful, too.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Baiting a Trap for Raccoon

We have a friend who slowly lost pretty much his entire flock of chickens to raccoons last year. So when we had raccoons going after our chickens, we called him up and asked his advice. Using this technique we caught five raccoons in five days (using two live cage style traps).

Cut off the bottom one-fourth to one-third of a soda can. You can bend the sharp edge in to make it easier to handle and to increase its strength if you like (we did).

Poke two holes in the can bottom, opposite one another.

Fill the little "cup" on the bottom of the can with peanut butter, and wire the can bottom to the cage with any old wire you have lying around. Thread the wire through the two holes.

This gives a large yummy-smelling peanut-buttery surface to attract the raccoon. Also wiring it in place is important because raccoons will barely enter the trap and reach as far as they can with their little "hands" and grab the bait and run away with it if it is not wired down. They can do this without tripping the trap mechanism.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


Here's a letter I'm sending to the editors of my two local newspapers and my state and federal representatives (with the last bit changed, urging them to change NAIS so it does not apply to animals raised for personal consumption). If you are like-minded, please feel free to plagiarize and modify (or not) for your own use as you see fit.

I am writing to voice my concern about the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) being promoted by the USDA. This program, implemented in 2004, is designed to identify and track every livestock animal in the US, to “protect American animal agriculture from foreign or domestic disease threats.” (USDA website). The goal is to be able to track a diseased animal back to its place of origin within 48 hours. It sounds great. It sounds safe. Reading the USDA and WV Dept. of Agriculture literature makes me want to hop right on the bandwagon.

But wait. After brushing away all the hype and rhetoric, what does NAIS really entail? Every farm gets a premise ID, uniquely identifying it in a national database. In addition, animals must be identified. Large groups of livestock which are always moved as a unit get a single animal ID. Small farmers who may sell a few sheep at an auction must ID each animal individually. The movement of the animals is then tracked. That doesn't sound too bad.

How might this affect me? I have a flock of chickens for eggs and meat for my own consumption. I have to register my premises and pay a fee. I have to fill out paperwork and note when every chick is born, and pay a fee for that too. I have to figure out how to uniquely ID each chick and pay for that. If a chick wanders off or gets killed by a coyote I have to fill out paperwork and report that. If I sell or trade a rooster, I have to report that. If one of my children wants to show an attractive chicken at a fair or use it as a 4-H project, we have to fill out paperwork and document every time the chicken leaves the premises. That sounds pretty expensive and time consuming.

Animals subject to NAIS include cattle, bison, horses, goats, poultry, sheep, deer, elk, llamas, alpacas, swine, and aquaculture. If you take your horse to a horse show or a riding trail, you have to fill out paperwork documenting that movement. Any time one of your animals leaves your premises and comingles with other animals, it must be reported.

I can see how this is a good program for large producers of our nation's beef or pork supply, despite the fact that we haven't had a single case of mad cow disease or avian flu in a human the US. It makes good management sense for them and, because they move and track huge groups of animals at a time, it is not cost prohibitive. For the small farmer, or backyard farmer, it makes no sense at all. If I buy one of my neighbor's pigs, I know exactly where that meat came from. There is no need to have it entered in a national registry. The small farmer who is already working on a tight margin will likely be driven out of business by this program because he simply does not have the money, time, or staff to deal with the required fees, tagging, and paperwork.

This program is slated to be mandatory by 2008. I urge everyone reading this letter to educate themselves about the NAIS. Excellent starting points are (pro) and (con).


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Location, Location, Location

A bird has built its nest above our mud room door. This area gets a LOT of traffic. We walk by every time we go to the car. We walk by every time we go to check on the fruit trees and work on the fencing we're putting up around our "orchard" (deer have decimated our pear trees!). We walk by every time we take laundry to or from the clothes line. In short, this is a high traffic area. The poor bird explodes from its nest several times a day and flies off in alarm when we go by. We're concerned that the eggs aren't being kept warm enough to hatch.

On a couple of cool mornings, though, I've seen the bird barely peeking over the edge of the nest, so perhaps it knows what it's doing. I'm not sure what kind of bird it is, as it's either huddled or exploding and it's hard to get a good look. I think it's a house wren.

Today, I was dying of curiosity so I further antagonized the poor thing and climbed up in a ladder to take a very quick photo. Not good quality; I couldn't even see what I was photographing, really, because it's so high up. I'm happy to have gotten the eggs in the frame!

Five eggs seems like a lot. I hope they hatch. I love the melodic song of a house wren.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

My Grandmama's Canner

When I went "home" for Christmas, my Grandmama gave me her old canner. She said she doesn't have the strength/desire to use it now that my Granddaddy is gone, and she knows I'm putting in a garden and plan to start canning again.

This thing is so cool! I was reading through the guide so I can set it up, clean it, and test it. That should give me time to order any replacement parts before I'm up to my eyeballs in rotting produce, waiting on a part to arrive.


The book that comes with it indicates it was made in 1944. There is a section about cleaning the cooker that says "This Cooker is manufactured from the best material we are permitted to use under the allocation restrictions, and with ordinary care will give many years of satisfactory service. However, there are various alloys in the metal upon which the physical properties of water and certain foods willl react causing the inside of the Cooker to darken." Then it goes on to tell how to deal with discoloration.

Wow, the allocation restrictions.

There is another section that talks about all the various containers that can be used to can produce, following modern scientific methods. It shows the two piece cap we're accustomed to seeing (rings and flats). Also:

Bail or Lighing Type Cap - cap with separate rubber ring, held in place by a steel wire clamp.

Three-piece cap - Metal screw band, glass lid, and separate rubber ring.

Mason cap - Made of zinc with a porcelain lining and separate rubber ring. Screws on with threads.

There is a section on tin cans, too, and the different sizes (number 2, 2 1/2, 3). Also it shows how to cut off the top of a tin can after one using "and still have a sufficient amount of tin to make another seal".

This is SO COOL!!

There are lots of high quality photographs, and the woman is wearing what looks like a white lab coat (you can only ever see her hands and wrists).

It discusses canning on a gas or kerosene stove, electric stove, and coal or wood stoves.

I won't use this manual for the recipes and canning times - they've been adjusted many times since 1944. But of course I'll use it for cleaning and maintenance information. The photos and verbal content are wonderful!


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