May 26, 2008 – Memorial Day in Parkersburg Iowa

Sunday night the most powerful tornado (EF5) to hit Iowa in 32 years obliterated half of Parkersburg, Iowa.  The tornado picked up headstones at a cemetery and carried them 1/2 mile, took houses off their foundation and ripped tile and carpeting from floors. In a stroke of good fortune, the town installed a tornado warning siren in the section of town that was destroyed just 10 days before the storm hit, no doubt sparing many lives.

The devastation was total.  200-300 homes, the high school and many businesses were swept away.  Parkersburg is a couple of counties north of us, we escaped with only a window blown out in the chicken coop.

When we heard about the storm in Parkersburg, our thoughts went to our good neighbors, who have lots of family in Parkersburg.  We tried calling them Sunday night and again Monday to find out how their families were doing.  Later on the news, we saw that one of their family members was listed as a fatality.  She died in the basement of their home, in the arms of her husband, who is in University Hospitals in Iowa City with a broken neck and other injuries.  He has trauma-induced amnesia and can’t remember the tornado.  Another brother and many nieces, aunts, and in-laws lost their homes as well.  I can’t imagine the grief of simultaneously dealing with planning a funeral, caring for loved ones in the hospital, and arranging for salvage and clean-up of you belongings, all without any familiar surroundings.  This Memorial Day is especially poignant for the residents of Parkersburg and their families.  Keep them in your thoughts.

one year ago…”Half-Rainy Day”

May 25, 2008 – Skystream Summary

Doesn’t she look good up in the air? I’ll try to use this post to summarize some of the most-commonly asked questions about the Skystream. It is on a 70 foot tower (although they are commonly mounted on 35 foot towers in more crowded locations).

The machine is connected to the utility grid so excess power goes back to the grid (for example, on a windy night when our home load is low). The grid intertie leads to a couple of things people don’t immediately think about – when the grid goes down (when power goes off) so does the turbine. Like a generator, you don’t want current going back down the lines when linemen may be out repairing the lines. Nor does this unit have batteries. If you were in a remote location, far from the grid, that may be an option, but the batteries add substantially to the cost and only last about 10 years, so that configuration is not nearly as “green” as the straight grid intertie.

The unit recently had a software upgrade that changed the top speed before automatic shoutdown from 27 mph in the old one to 30 mph in the new one. It may seem like a small difference, but each time a gust goes above the upper limit, it turns off for 15 minutes before retesting the wind. So, if there’s a 25 mph wind blowing, a 29 mph gust won’t stop it and there is so much more power in the higher wind speeds that the latest upgrade has improved some installations by 20%

There’s also an optional RF USB device that you can plug into your computer and get a read-out of all the data coming out of the turbine. Eventually, the company would like to get this info via an internet connection where they could troubleshoot many potential problems without lowering the tower. Those units have recently been upgraded and the installer wants to wait a bit before I consider getting one to make sure all the bugs are out first. I do find myself going out quite often to look at it and the last few days have been very windy and it has been too windy numerous times.

One thing that struck me is that in a strange way it makes me much more conscious of my energy use – It’s fun those times the household load is lower than the turbine production and electricity goes out into the grid. Like the Prius drivers in the mpg drive challenges, it makes you look closer at the electricity you do use. And it is a treat to know that sometimes the computer is being powered by 100% clean and quiet wind power!

So in a way, I do get more enjoyment than the simple economic payback the turbine provides. I like that what used to be a monthly hole (paying the electric bill) now goes towards paying for a capital asset. Anytime you can convert a monthly payment into building equity (in this case, future “free energy”) it’s good for the long term.

I like the way it looks when you drive up the road to the farm. Like may things, I imagine the first few that go up, people think you might be a bit crazy – but after 5, 10, or 15 go up, then people start wonder what they are missing out on! We’re the third one in our county, so we’re on the way.

Today’s drudge job was piling the excavated soil back on top of the trench. Anytime you move wet soil by hand, it isn’t a fun thing, but in today’s heat and humidity (85 degrees, dew point in the low 70’s) it was less fun, but since there is a tornado watch and flood watch out for tonight, I thought it would never be easier or better than now.

one year ago…”Cute Chick”

May 24, 2008 – Flat Martin (aka Flat Stanley)

Flat Stanley is a popular children’s book where Stanley has the misfortune of being flattened underneath a billboard that falls down on him. He soon discovers that life paper-thin does have its advantages, like being able to slide under closed doors, being used as a kite, and being able to cheaply mail himself for traveling.

The story has been adopted by many elementary teachers to a fun project. Martin’s teacher traced his outline on a piece of paper, Martin colored it to look like him, and then was laminated and sent off to Auntie Kathy in California. The recipient of a Flat Stanley has an obligation to take Flat Stanly with them and document what Flat Stanley does and where he goes, then send him back in the mail with the stories of his journey.

Clint Eastwood brought his daughter’s Flat Stanley as his guest to the Academy Awards. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brought his son’s Flat Stanley on the campaign trail.


We were very surprised to see that Auntie Kathy had made international travel arrangements for Flat Martin! Here is Flat Martin at a train station in Frankfurt, Germany with a co-worker of Auntie Kathy. Also as part of his European vacation, he visited Amsterdam.


When Flat Martin got home, he went for a ride in the real Martin’s car seat!


Flat Martin hangs out with Martin in the barn.


Flat Martin was getting too lazy, so we made him mow the lawn!


We tried to show Flat Martin how to drive the tractor, but he wasn’t so good!


He was good, however, wrapping around the wind turbine pole where his flatness really helps!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #73″

May 23, 2008 – Oil Change Girl

Ok, farm girls need many skills! One of group of skills consists of basic mechanical and maintenance tasks.

It was time to have Emma do her first oil change. An oil change is a big step in a young teen’s life, if nothing else, to get to do something very few of her classmates have done. Here she is grasping the oil drain plug while she watches the old oil pour out of the oil pan.

The oil filter coming off is always messy!

Finally adding the new oil. We even let Emma try to work the clutch in the yard a few times to get ready to drive in a few years!

one year ago…”Gearing Up for Soap Making”