Notes from Windward: #55

The Never Ending Quest for Storage

Looking back, it's very clear that we should have diverted cash flow towards better storage facilities, but at the time, that was a hard sell. The natural focus is on acquiring the things you need to do what you want to do; the need to have adequate storage for all that stuff is neither obvious or sexy. Building the organizational support for buying something like a tractor or a dehydrator is comparatively easy since people can imagine all the nifty things you can create with good tools, but storage is one of those awkward, hum-drum concepts that nobody seems to get excited about.

The best solution we've found to this perpetual problem is shipping containers. 8 feet wide by 8 feet high, they come in two basic lengths - twenty and forty feet. Built to securely contain ten tons of valuable merchandise on a trans-oceanic journey, they're more than capable of storing our stuff. While the rigors of a winter in the woods isn't to be taken lightly, it's way short of the conditions such a container faces crossing the ocean on the deck of a ship. Essentially, they're a rust-resistant steel box with twin sealed steel doors and a wood-lined floor.

From another perspective, they're also the perfect storage container for Windward since they're vermin proof. The hard reality is that any structure built from wood will be accessible to rodents, which around here range from field mice to tree rats (what the city folk call "squirrels"). While we do use poison bait to protect food storage areas, we try to avoid pesticides and insecticides as much as we can. Our chicken flock does a good job of keeping the bugs down, and now and then, they even deal with a tree rat or two. One day we heard a ruckus going on in the one the goat pens, and upon investigation, it turned out that half a dozen hens had caught a tree rat stealing an egg. By the time the dust settled, all that was left was a sad bit of bloody fur which went to prove that one luckless squirrel was no match for a clutch of angry hens.

The containers are hauled up to Windward from Portland, a distance of some 90 miles. Since Portland's a major seaport, there's a steady stream of containers coming and going, and there are always some for sale. We got a good deal on these two since one was damaged on the side and the other on the door. Since neither of these problems will interfere with the use we have in mind, their flaws are essentially cosmetic. From my point of view, a substantial discount covers a lot of cosmetics.

They're brought in on a specially-built trailer made just for hauling empty containers. The trailer's rear axle is constructed so that it can slide forward some six feet. That makes the trailer easy to haul on the highway, and once the axle is brought forward, easy to back into tight places. Even empty, a container weighs five tons, so it pays to put them where you want them the first time. Unfortunately, we weren't able to do that this time, so we settled for having them close to where we plan to use them later. One reality you get used to at Windward is that there's a time for everything, which is also to say that there's also a time when you don't want to do certain things. In late summer and early fall, our ground is hard and you can drive almost anything almost anywhere without worrying about getting stuck. By contrast, in the spring you have to stay on the gravel roads or risk sinking in up to the axels.

The other nifty thing about this trailer is that it's articulated at the front. Once the driver has backed the container into the spot where he wants to unload it, he jacks up the front until the back is resting on the ground. Then it's just a matter of driving out from under it in stages. While the driver incrementally lowered the trailer, Bob2 and I positioned short lengths of railroad ties under the container. Since they're probably going to be in this location for a number of months, we're going to want to jack them up and level them. That's a whole lot easier to do if you don't have to start from flat on the ground.

It's so quiet at Windward that we're able to hear something like this truck coming from a couple of miles out, more than enough time to draw a goodly portion of the crew to watch. From the left that's Bob1, Karin, Joyce, Dominic, Cindy, Bob2 and Ian. The delivery of a container might not be everyone's idea of an exciting event, but it fits the bill for us. With the leaves on the trees starting to turn and with the increasingly chilly mornings, we know that winter will be setting in long before we're going to be ready. Having more storage will make a real difference.

One example of how we'll use the container in the short term is that Bob2 and I will stash away another ten tons of hay while the roads are still easy to travel. We buy our hay some 20 miles away, and what's a lovely drive through the county in fall is risky business over snow packed roads. We'll still make hay runs while the weather remains nice, as sometimes it does almost all winter. If it doesn't, well no matter since we'll have plenty stashed away. Some winters are a breeze and some are a blizzard, but when the pantry is stocked and the wood shed is full, we just don't worry about it. City folk talk about the pleasure of having "money in the bank" but it pales in comparision to the solid satisfaction that comes from putting away a fruitful harvest.

Step by step,
the container is lowered
to the ground.

All Done!

At Windward, we name almost everything. The general consensus was to christen the new containers Redbox and Graybox. Now, we'll see how long it takes for them to start filling up.

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