Generator Rebuild

Hurricane Michael hit our area hard and took out power for almost 5 days. Luckily the small generator we already had was enough to keep the fridge running and some lights on, but not much else. The small generator is 120V only, so it also was not able to power the 240V well pump; 4 nights without running water was not fun. It’s not likely we’ll have another outage that’s this long for a while, but we have had a number of shorter outages that seem to indicate that this will be an ongoing problem – a bigger generator would be nice.

With that in mind we started looking at options; there are a number of ‘off the shelf’ options out there for whole-house standby power, but most of them are very pricey both to install and to run (propane particularly) and we couldn’t justify the cost for something that gets used so infrequently. What did seem to make some sense though was rolling the dice a surplus military generator; the prices are very low (when the condition is unknown), they’re way over-built, and are made to be repaired easily.

I bid on and won an online surplus auction for a diesel generator and picked it up outside our friendly neighborhood military base. It was a fairly easy move at ~1200lb; at pickup I just dragged it onto the trailer with a winch and to offload I tilted the trailer and winched it back down with iron pipes underneath as rollers.

To get it running I first put in new batteries (2x 12v car batteries) and troubleshot some miscellaneous electrical issues (broken connections, dirty switch contacts, etc.). From there it would crank but not run; bleeding the air out out the fuel lines fixed this and it started OK. Once running there was an erratic low frequency rattle that I traced to a bad rotor bearing on the generator head. With this bearing replaced it then ran smooth/quiet. The last issue was twitchy voltage regulation that I traced back to a dirty potentiometer; with this cleaned it held a stable 240V @ 60hz under a variety of loads. Along the way it also got an oil/filter change and a coolant flush/fill.

Altogether this was a very quick project, just a few hours to get everything sorted out. Up next will be setting aside some space for it (probably combined with a new area for trashcans and firewood) and getting it wired in with a manual transfer switch. It’s a “10KW” generator but that rating is on the very conservative side; in reality it’s closer to a 15KW or more consumer unit whose ratings are on the optimistic side. This should be enough to run the lights, TV, well, microwave, and at least one zone of HVAC.

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Shop Insulation

The shop is coming along well and this weekend the bulk of the insulation was installed. Friday night we picked up R15 Roxul batts for the walls and installed in just few hours. The attic was another story though and all of Saturday and Sunday AM were spent crab walking over attic joists installing baffles. The baffles are needed to keep the blow-in insulation from falling out of the attic area and into the soffits. The roof over the garage has a shallower pitch towards the edges (if you visualize a pizza hut roof you’re not far off) which made it especially tricky to get access.

Once the baffles were up we picked up the blow-in insulation Sunday mid-day and had it all blown in in couple hours. The high pallet of insulation looked really odd on the trailer, but was secured well. Even compressed it’s not very dense, this was ~900lbs maybe ~1100lbs with the machine.

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The Bridgeport has landed

I’ve had my eye out for the last few years for a milling machine to expand on machine shop capabilities. Finally this weekend I was in the right place at the right time to see the right listing come up and jump on it. As Bridgeport-style milling machines go it’s on the smaller side, but for my purposes this will be ideal. It was built in 1942 and is one of the early the “round ram” style machines with an “M” head. The previous owner has a makeshift rotary phase converter installed; consisting of a larger 3phase motor and a rope to pull-start it. This works fine for now but I may eventually replace it with a variable frequency drive.

How to move a mill had always been a concern when considering getting one. It weights in at ~1800lbs (the bus is ~2300lbs for comparison), which is exactly at my trailer and tow vehicle’s listed rating after adding the weight of the trailer itself. I think the rating has more to due with structural limits though and it did fine with plenty of power/brakes on the ~30mi trip. Loading was a breeze since the seller had an overhead crane.

The mill’s weight is concentrated in a small footprint with a lot of the weight being relatively high-up; 2×6’s were used to distribute the load across the trailer structure rather than the weak mesh floor. I had not considered the height and got lucky that the top of the mill while on the trailer cleared the garage door by about 1/2″. It wouldn’t have been a problem really, but this made the difference between unloading inside vs outside. During unloading the trailer and ramp were supported with wood cribbing and the mill was inched along using ratchet straps and a long metal bar. As long as you don’t get in a hurry with moving heavy stuff the worst that can happen is that it takes forever.

(Also shop is in-progress in the background, walls starting to go up)

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Spring Gardening

Lots of yard work lately, the tilling and composting last spring definitely seems to have paid off and grass is finally growing even in the shadiest areas. The bus was enlisted into the effort as plant transport, and we also  picked up a big landscape boulder. A big spider joined in with guarding the garden hose, see brick for scale.

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