Category Archives: Homesteading

Washing Machine Troubleshooting

Oh, the things I’ll do to save a buck.  Courtney and I bought a washer/dryer combo last April from a used appliance place in the nearby town.  The prices were great, but now it is not working. And it gets better, the guys who sold me the machine won’t return my phone calls.  I’d love to go down there and let them know what  a great job they are doing, but I’m not really the confrontational type.  Instead, I’m fixing this myself and telling the world, so that we can all be independent of those unhelpful, fly-by-night sales guys with their “warranties”.

I’ve had trouble locating resources on how to fix, so I’m writing this to help others.  We have a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II, which I think was a late 1990’s model.  The problem was that we had standing water in our washing machine.  It stopped working mid-way through a cycle.  The timer ran it’s course, though and was in the off position. Pulling out the start button yielded a bunch of clicking and buzzing, so I suspected that I needed a new timer mechanism.

A local appliance parts guy was very nice and helpful and talked me though the troubleshooting.  He wanted to save me a few bucks, because the timer was a $75 part.  That is nearly what I have in to this machine, by the way.  I think we only paid $260 for the washer-dryer pair.

Steps in troubleshooting the timer:

1. Verify that the pump isn’t jammed.  To do this, pull the drain hose out of the wall and lower it into a bucket.  If water flows freely into the bucket, then the pump is likely working and not jammed/frozen.

2. Inspect the wiring harnesses to be sure a mouse didn’t chew through wires, or that something wasn’t exposed to vibrations, wearing through a wire to cause an electrical short.

3. Verify proper operation of the lid latch button.  This is the button that the lid presses on to let the washing machine know that the lid is closed.  It should stop operating while the lid is open.  There is a pretty complex way of removing the outer sheet metal to inspect/replace this button.  I bypassed this step because we found our washer with the timer in the Off position.  That tells me that the timer kept going after the problem occurred.  If the lid latch was sending an open (meaning, stop) signal, the timer should have stopped in mid-cycle too.

In the end, I found a timer on eBay for $39 delivered.  It arrived in three days. I was so proud of myself.  I slapped that new timer in and … nothing!  I was wrong.  The timer did sound better than the old one, but the machine still didn’t work.

Frustrated, I turned the machine upside down again.  It was at this point that I decided to take the hoses off of the water pump and stick my fingers inside.  I wanted to verify that the impeller was spinning freely.  I imagined that water would still flow through the pump if it was frozen, so I could have gotten a false-positive on troubleshooting step one.  Much to my surprise, I felt something different, and pulled it out.  It was a tiny little pink sock to fit our four month old bundle of joy.  I put everything back together and the machine has worked just fine for several laundry loads now.

I should now add something to troubleshooting step one: water should come rushing out, rather than trickling out.  I was filling the bucket at a rate of one gallon per minute, and it should have been more like three gallons in thirty seconds.

Yes, I’m officially an appliance repair guy educated in the school of hard knocks.  Does anyone need washing machine timer P/N 3953553?  I’ll make you a deal!

Thanks, Robert.

The Deliberate Agrarian

Many of you already know that I’m a huge fan of Herrick Kimball, author of the Deliberate Agrarian blog and also many books including Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Chicken Plucker and Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Apple Grinder and Cider Press.  He also has a monthly blogazine called The Deliberate Agrarian. 

This month’s article was about a very inspiring answer to prayer.  He has finally landed the deal of his dreams and will soon close on sixteen acres of farmland.  Oh how Courtney and I would love to do that too.  I congratulate Mr. Kimball.

Later in his post, Mr. Kimball made a reference to an article he wrote in January 2008 titled An Agrarian Style Economic Self Defense Plan.  I really liked that article and it helped me better define the way I felt and set a plan about what to do.  At the time I was concerned (and I still am) about the direction of our country’s economy and wanted know how to better prepare.  This is why we spend our spare time reading and applying what we learn about gardening, animal husbandry, food preservation, etc.

At the bottom of that article, please also read the comments section.  I always read the comments at the Deliberate Agrarian because they are also usually chock full of useful information or advice.  One person linked to an article by Mark Cuban titled, The Stock Market Is for Suckers.  I couldn’t agree more.  Another commenter recommended Survivalblog for more information.  I did get stuck there for more than four hours as warned in the comment and became a daily reader.   Find your way to the precepts page on that blog to find out what it is all about.  There is always practical, useful information posted about self sufficiency.

Thanks, Robert.

Sinus relief

The past month has been very low on blogging activity here; since the birth of our daughter, we’ve been quite a bit busier.  In the mean time, we also had a very bad cold run through the house.  This cold started with a sore, scratchy throat and then ended up settling in your sinuses for a few days doing the runny/stuffy combo.  Pressure was created to the point where your nose feels as if it is six times bigger than it really is.

I started doing a little internet searching about prevention of sinus infections, because I wanted to steer clear of a doctor’s visit and antibiotic medication.  I was very surprised to find tons of natural remedies out there.

Here’s what I did: several times daily make yourself a hot cup of tea.  Green tea or black tea, whatever your preference.  A little caffeine will help you feel better.  After steeping the tea, add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, a dash of cayenne pepper and a little honey to combat the sour taste of the vinegar.

I’ve always known that hot beverages will help drain sinuses, but the apple cider vinegar does the same thing.  Especially when hot, those vapors rise and do their magic.   Spicy foods also make your nose run, and so that was the cayenne’s contribution.  The main point is that you want to get as much of that stuff out of your sinuses as you can and it will help to alleviate the pressure too.

It made me feel a lot better and so I did this several times daily and continued a day or two after I thought I was better.  A few days later, Courtney started with a sore throat.  I immediately made her one of these doctored-up teas.  Much to our surprise, her symptoms disappeared!  I had also read that taking a little apple cider vinegar soon after noticing symptoms of a cold can completely change the course of a cold and shorten its duration.

I’ve also read that a neti pot can help to remove a lot of that sinus junk, but I didn’t try that.  Maybe next time.

Thanks, Robert.

Harvey is back

One of my favorite websites is active again.  The Modern Homestead.  The author, Harvey Ussery, took some time off to write a new book, but now he’s back at it, writing all sorts of interesting articles.  He centers mostly around raising poultry and fowl, but also has an extensive gardening advice section as well.  I really like his idea about setting up worm bins down the middle aisle of your greenhouse.  I spent a fair amount of my spare time last summer reading everything on that website.

Thanks, Robert.

Cider press update

I had quite a bit of time to work on my apple grinder and cider press this past week.  The press frame is all put together now.

That press frame required lots of sawing, for someone without an electric saw.  I do have a Black and Decker scroll saw, pictured here in my post about mechanical tools.  But that blade won’t cut the notches required to piece this frame together.  I guessed I put about three or more hours into cutting out the notches, as pictured below.

I used that hand saw to make 1/4″ deep cuts at 1/2″ intervals and then chiseled out the pieces.  Then I used a rasp to smooth everything out.  The 2×4 uprights had notches on both sides where the 2×6’s are mounted.  There are also notches in the center 2×6’s where the press shaft goes through.  And can you believe I passed on a Dewalt circular saw at a garage sale for $12 a few weeks ago?  I’m kicking myself for that one.  The bottom plate was slightly bent, but it would have been fine for a job like this.

Thanks, Robert.

Other Apple Grinder/Cider Press Posts:

Project Introduction

Cutting a Keyway


Being Bold: Apple Collecting

Inaugural Cider Batch

Apple Cider Vinegar (future post)

Hard Cider (future post)

Fiestaware makes me happy

Looky what I got in the mail today. 

A case of  retired persimmon dinner plates from Fiestaware.  I love Fiestaware.  You have probably noticed from most of my food posts that I already own a turquoise set with a few persimmon pieces here and there.  Well, we were always running out of plates so I decided it was time to order more.  Only problem is that persimmon is a retired color and they are really hard to find.  While my mom was visiting we were online shopping next to each other on the couch and found an entire case of the plates.  She instantly offered to buy them for me and I was delighted.

Here are some links to some great places to buy Fiestaware, other than Macy’s.  The prices are usually much less, maybe 2nd quality but all the plates I got look great.  Except the one that arrived broken.

And if you live in West Virginia they have an outlet store where you can buy firsts and seconds.  That would be an fun road trip someday.  I know there are dozens of other places to find this stuff, like Ebay but I found that these two sites had the best prices for retired colors.

So, thanks mom!

Next project: Apple Grinder and Cider Press

I recently posted about my hugely successful apple cider experiment last fall.  I loved it so much that I’ve decided to start working on a plan to produce larger quantities.

Herrick Kimball wrote a book called Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder & Cider Press.  He’s the same guy I’ve written about before who has written a number of how to books, namely the book on how to build your own chicken plucker.

Mr. Kimball continually challenges his readers to “be a scrounger” and find parts as cheaply as you can.  This past week or so I’ve started collecting parts.  I found a craigslist ad for free lumber scrapped from a home remodel and all I had to do was pull out a few nails here and there.  I also visited a “ReStore” nearby that sells construction supplies that were taken from homes being torn down, remodeled, etc.

It was at that store that I found the prize: the Insinkerator 333-SS!  It is a garbage disposal that is all stainless steel on the inside.  To buy new it would be over $200 but I only paid $5 for it (the store owner made me a special deal with the stipulation that I take him some cider).  I tore into it and found it all to be in good condition.  I just have to clean it up a little.  You must have stainless steel parts rather than galvanized internal parts because the acidity of the apples will rust that steel in a hurry.

We plan on making sweet cider, hard cider and perhaps even applesauce with my new toys once complete.  I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

Thanks, Robert.

Other Apple Grinder/Cider Press Posts:

Status Report

Cutting a Keyway


Being Bold: Apple Collecting

Inaugural Cider Batch

Apple Cider Vinegar (future post)

Hard Cider (future post)


The Art of Garage Sale Bargain Shopping

I have always been a bargain shopper.  I have also always loved going to garage sales and now thrift stores too.  I like walking through a mall as much as the next girl, don’t get me wrong.  But I really love to find bargains and treasures.  I recently realized though that not everyone was raised to appreciate the art of dumpster diving as some may think of it.  In fact when sharing my love of garage sales with a fellow believer she mentioned that some people even turn their nose up at garage sale shopping.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Some people find it beneath themselves to dig through others discarded belongings, not me though.  And I really think they just don’t know how to garage sale and thrift store shop.  So here’s my list of garage sale how to’s.

1.  Get up early

2.  Have plenty of cash on hand, at least $100 in case you find some furniture or something big.

3.  Look up garage sales on craigslist or I suppose you could use the newspaper.  I always find enough on craigslist, plus you can search for specialty items like canning jars.

4.  Have a good map or navigation system or both.

5.  Write down a few more sales than you will think you have time for.  Once you get going you may not want to stop.  At least you will be prepared.  If the ad writes directions, jot them down, they are trying to tell you their house is hard to find.

6.  Map out a somewhat logical path so you can save gas.

7.  Don’t just go to the one closest to your house first.   I always go to the one that has what I am looking for first.  And then I start my loop there.

8.  Arrive at the starting time, don’t be rude, but don’t let the good stuff get away.  Serious collectors are out there before you even think about getting up.  If they see a listing that has items they want they will show up 1 hour before it opens to get first pick.

9.  Never pass up a deal.

10.  This is not the grocery store so don’t go with a list and don’t feel you have to stick to a list.

11.  Let the seller name the price first.If you offer first you could be offering 10x what they would have said.  I am always surprised when I would have paid $3 for something and they say 25 cent.

12.  Only offer less if you are serious about the item and don’t be rude.  Some people never offer less than the asking price, especially among small items.  Big ticket items are another story.

13.  If you are even somewhat interested in an item always ask how much they want for something, it will help you build a price catalog in your head.  And you never know they could be asking so little that you have to buy it.

14.  If the price is too high for you, then never feel obligated to buy even though you showed interest by asking the price.  Just walk away.

15.  Don’t pay more than half or what you could buy the item for new.  In fact most items should be much, much less than half of their original price.

16.  Heading to a sale at the end of their day can also be an advantage.  At that point people are willing to just give you stuff so they don’t have to take it to the thrift stores.

17.  Finish up at a local thrift store and collect more bargains.  The prices will be much higher but there are still deals to be found.

18.  Always keep in mind that you can resell the item on craigslist or Ebay.  I made a business out of this in grad school.  Sometimes I come across items that I don’t really need but are too good to pass up.  Evaluate if you can make a decent profit for your time and then go for it.  For example:  I came across an older model Bernina Sewing Machine for $75 at a sale recently.  These can easily fetch $800 on ebay.  That would have been a perfect resell item, but someone else beat me to it.  There is a risk that it might be broken or a unwanted model so be careful.

This sounds like it takes all day but really only a couple of early Saturday morning hours.  We are early birds and like getting up and out of the house before the town wakes up.  Give it a try and if you have fun, hey you have a new hobby.  If not then we understand it’s not for everyone, plus that leaves more canning jars for me to discover.

By the way when Robert and I met he had never been to a garage sale.  I think he thought they were icky.  He would just stand there and watch me dig through boxes and find arm fulls of treasures.  It wasn’t until I bought a bunch of Polly Pocket toys for 25 cents each and sold them on ebay for $40 a piece that he got the bug.  Now he’s an old pro.  He favors the bundle approach.  I often overhear him saying “How about all this for $10?”  He makes me so proud.

Thanks,  Courtney

Old Tools

Why the interest in old stuff?  That is a theme that runs through many areas of our blog.  The simple answer is that we believe that the older ways of doing things are better, and older things were built better.

Case in point: my Ace Pro Series screwdriver set with the rubber grips that I received as a Christmas present from my dad a few years ago.  They have really come to be very handy around the house and vehicles.  Look what happened, though:

I am not so strong that I can break a 1/4″ piece of metal with my bare hands.  In fact, by BMI is rather bad right now, but for good reason.  I’m working on gaining my “sympathy spare tire” for Courtney since she is currently pregnant.  It helps her feel better about the normal weight gain that everyone experiences during pregnancy.

Anyways – back to the screwdriver.  I don’t know what kind of weird alloy it was made from, but it should not have broken like this.  Granted, I was using it to pry something very heavy which is not the intended use of a screwdriver, but hey, who hasn’t done that?

I’d rather keep my eye out for old screwdrivers at garage sales.  They are stronger and can take a beating.

Thanks, Robert.

Pitting Cherries Without a Cherry Pitter

Cherries herald in the summer stone fruit season.  And boy am I glad they do.   I suppose any fruit would do after a boring winter of canned this and dried that.  But it was cherries that received the special honor (I know rhubarb is really first but actually it’s a vegetable I think).  Recently I received 6 pounds of organic sweet cherries from a fabulous mail order fruit company.  What to do with so much fruit I wondered?   Because you better believe that I was not going to let one single cherry get moldy and be thrown away on my watch.  Off I went to my canning books.

But before I could even get the book open my son popped a cherry in his mouth, chewed and swallowed it all, I managed to grab the stem as he was swallowing.  Okay now I had a new problem, I needed a way to pit the “balls” as he calls them, so he could actually enjoy them too.  I started cutting around the seed but that was unacceptable to an almost 2 year old boy because then they weren’t “balls” anymore and he wanted “balls.”  I remembered reading in Cook’s Illustrated about using a wine bottle and a chopstick to pit them.  Hmm sounds strange.

All we had was a beer bottle, go figure, so I gave it a try.  To my surprise it actually worked.  Here’s what you do.

1.  Gather your supplies

2.  Position cherry upside down on the top of the beer bottle.

3.  Using a chopstick, poke a hole right through the top of the cherry into the bottle.

The pit should fall into the bottle and the cherry remain intact.

I found that it worked better if the cherry was upside down and you aimed for the tiny mark on the bottom left by the flower.  When the cherry is rightside up I had several bottom halves of the cherry rip off and fall into the bottle.  Losing any bit of my cherry was unacceptable and turning it upside down solved the problem.

My son was pleased with the “balls” and I was too.  Now onto canning.  FYI I will be making Cherry Preserves from The Art of Preserving.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Thanks, Courtney.