It’s been a very long winter

This has been a very rough and long winter here at Downeast Thunder Farm. As I type this on March 26th, 2014 at around 5pm local, we are experiencing a full scale blizzard with total white-out conditions and the temperature outside is well below freezing. Tonight, the temperature will be sub-zero. We are expecting 16″ to 18″ of fresh snow by midnight. Did I mention this is March 26th??

The temperatures have been so cold, the maple sap has not been flowing. Looks like the season will be very short when it does begin, so the maple sugar season this year is a bust.

This is a just a short update. Gotta run and take care of all our critters. They need to be fed and and get another round of fresh water. I also have to make sure they are all secure for the night so predators don’t get to them – we lost two roosters this past week to a skunk (we think, judging by the tracks).

Semper Fi,

- Paul B.

Lean, Mean, Farming Machine

That would be me ;)

I realized that I’ve put on way more weight over the years than I should. Getting older only compounds the problem. I had to do something about it.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been eating significantly less food, and exercising more & on a regular basis. I also began drinking a lot of water before and after meals. The result? I’ve lost about 50 pounds and look much trimmer. Just as importantly, I feel better and have more energy. I can work around the farm faster, harder, and accomplish much more in a day.

I began by cutting my meal portions in half. I would do this even in a restaurant when away from home, then ask for a “to-go” container and the saved half of the dinner made another meal. I then began paying closer attention to the types of foods I was eating and eliminated all the junk food or unhealthy foods. Exercise began with a 15 to 20 minute walk once every day. It progressed to two 20 minute “power walks” per day. It’s now a power walk in the morning and a 20 minute jog in the afternoon.

On weekends, I go on hikes with my wife and daughter on various hiking trails that abound in Downeast Maine. We generally choose loop trails up to or around 3 miles or so in length. We are gradually looking at longer hikes in the future with increased levels of difficulty.

Farming is a lot of physical labor, but it is no substitute for a regular cardio-exercise regimen. Add the cardio workouts along with fresh organic veggies and fruits from the farm, fresh, organically raised chicken meat & eggs, and I’m on the right path to getting my personal health back in order.

Okay, so maybe I’m just a little full of myself (according to my wife), but these days I do indeed feel like a Lean, Mean, Farming Machine.


Downsizing Poultry Flocks

Our local feed prices continue to soar and are now beyond reasonable rates to allow for a minimum profit from egg and meat sales. Local customers used to paying supermarket prices for eggs and chicken have been experiencing “sticker shock” from local farmer’s market price increases lately. Such price increases have exceeded the limit that the majority of customers are willing to pay and the artificially lower prices farmers are forced to accept in order to move product are below the farmers cost.

We have recently experienced the same thing. As such, we’ve decided to reduce the size of our flocks to satisfy our own personal needs and just a small handful of customers willing to pay the higher rates we’re forced to charge.

We have chickens and ducks up for sale (egg layers), and this weekend, we are processing our flock of 50 meat chickens. We also have roosters and a drake for sale as well.

We’ve decided to dedicate some of our land to growing various grains we can harvest to produce and blend our own poultry feed, reducing costs. Of course that’s another project to add to the list of ongoing jobs around here (it won’t happen this season).

We still plan to raise a flock of meat turkeys this year, timed to have them ready for market at Thanksgiving, however we will only raise a small number this year. We will have turkeys for our own family, and only enough to fill advance customer orders. We won’t raise any more turkeys than that based on speculation of sales like we have in the past. If you are local and plan on having a locally raised, farm-fresh turkey for Thanksgiving, get your order in now within the next couple of weeks.


Two Drakes Too Many

Latest update as of July 9th, 2014: The two boys up for adoption were claimed earlier today. They will be getting a new home on another farm about 2-1/2 hours drive from us. It was just after the noon hour today when a lady came rolling in with a dog crate in the back of her car. The two of us cornered the drakes and unceremoniously picked them up and placed them in the crate. The lady cranked up the air conditioner in the car so the ducks would not get too hot, and off she went. Thanks to all who expressed interest.

NOTE: We now have three drakes and two of them are up for adoption. Disregard the adoption fee below. They are now absolutely free to anyone who wishes to come to the farm and pick them up. The two drakes up for adoption have been isolated from the rest of the flock and get along great together. They make great pets or you can use them as breeders – or have them for dinner. It’s entirely up to you – you may have them without any strings or conditions. You just have to travel to “Downeast” Maine to get them (about an hour from Bar Harbor). Use the contact page if you are interested.

With a flock of five female ducks, three frisky drakes are a bit too much for them. And particularly for Dilly, our physically challenged duck. We are looking for a new home for Puddles. Puddles is a Pekin drake, almost one-year old. He’s a good duck – very handsome as ducks go. At least I think. He’s quite strong and healthy, and we hate to see him go.

There is an adoption fee of $15 to ensure you are serious about having a duck (and to cover past groceries!). Contact us if you live nearby and are interested in opening your home/pond/yard/wadding pool to Puddles.

Puddles aka "Puddle Buddy" a drake less than a year old up for adoption.

Puddles aka “Puddle Buddy” a drake less than a year old up for adoption.

The Work Goes On

We just finished our maple syrup season and are cleaning & stowing away our equipment for use again next year. In the meantime, we’ve taken delivery of 50 Cornish X-Rock meat chicks (receiving them in the mail at 2 days old) and have had them in our brooders for the past week. The first week is the most crucial and the chicks require a lot of attention several times per day to make sure they have plenty of food & water, the temperature in the brooders are maintained at 95 degrees F. and their litter is changed as necessary. We also have to observe them to make sure they are not in distress, and to check for signs of illness – this is the time they are most vulnerable until they build up their immune system. We practice “bio-security” with our flocks, and so far we have not had any problems.

I was able to get back to work on my broken backhoe yesterday, and removed the hydraulic cylinders, disconnected hydraulic hoses, and several small parts in the way of making the repairs. I still have to remove the main pivot bracket (the part that had cracked and was ripped apart) in order to repair it properly, but it is now easier to access it after having removed several other components in the way. Of course, cutting firewood for our outdoor wood boiler is a constant chore that takes time from every day, along with the usual chores taking care of our critters and other farm work.

As the weather warms up, ground work will resume along the timber/logging spur and siding for the Downeast Thunder Railroad. More gravel will be brought in to build up the ROW rail bed. There is a good chance we’ll have some rail installed this summer for a good part of the timber/logging spur if it isn’t completed entirely.

The sky is bright and sunny this morning, but clouds are moving in. We are expecting between 2″ to 4″ of snow this afternoon (on April 12th!) so I have to hustle and get as much work done outside as I can before the snow begins to fly.

I’ve been working on my turntable plans and came up with a fairly good design to meet the needs of DTRR and have been working on the drawings package, but that project has been shelved temporarily while trying to get all of our farm work done. I’ll try to get back to the turntable drawings as soon as I can so I can post the plans package as a free pdf download here on this site.

As always, your thoughts, comments, and suggestions are always welcomed. Thanks for reading.

Paul B. – Downeast Thunder Farm & Railroad

Busy, Busy, Busy

Yes, I know I have been lax with posting updates lately. This is a very busy time of year around Downeast Thunder Farm. There are the usual chores every day, taking care of livestock, collecting and processing fresh chicken and duck eggs – then packaging and labeling them so they can be sold to our customers. We continue to clear woods of trees and brush where the railroad lines will be  going, and the wood has to be cut up and stacked as firewood for our wood boiler, or brought over to the sawmill area for milling. The addition of chores this time of year comes in the form of maple sap (sugarin’) season – we have to go through the woods and collect maple sap every day and empty it all into storage containers in our garage. Very shortly, we’ll be boiling the sap down into fresh, pure, Maine maple syrup (I can taste those pancakes now – made with Maine wild blueberries). We are also in the process of erecting our greenhouse so we can get it ready to start our seedlings as the weather begins to warm up. As the ground thaws, we’ll begin installing fence posts to support the fence sections for our new hog pen & shelter. We’re also getting our brooders set up so they will be ready for our first batch of 50 meat chicks, and another brooder for some new egg layer chicks to add to our existing flock. The days are getting longer, but they are still not long enough for us. In the meantime, I still have to repair my broken backhoe so I can resume digging up tree stumps. That’s the latest from the farm folks. By the way, prices have soared this year for maple syrup. Around here it is going for $80.00 per gallon ($20.00 per quart, $10.00 per pint, $5.00 per half pint). Considering it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, that’s still a bargain!

Backhoe Broken

I broke my backhoe:

I was digging out tree stumps in a right-of-way I cleared yesterday. All of a sudden I felt and heard a couple of loud snaps. The boom for the backhoe collapsed on the ground and my controls were useless.

I shut off the tractor and investigated, only to find the base unit that holds and pivots the boom had snapped, and an end of one of the hydraulic cylinders also snapped clean off. It took me the remainder of the day to get the tractor out of the area I was digging, dragging the backhoe along the ground, getting it up to the shop, and removing the backhoe from the tractor.

Now I have to disassemble the backhoe so I can begin repair work on the broken components. This will set me back for awhile in building and prepping the rail bed, and I hate losing  the next few days because the weather promises to be clear and mild.

Oh well…..

Snapped backhoe support and pivot assembly.

Snapped backhoe support and pivot assembly.

Broken Backhoe

Broken Backhoe

Present Plans for Farm & Railroad

For many folks around the country, the beginning of March is the start of the Spring season as their local weather begins to warm up. Of course in this part of Maine, we are still very much in the dead of Winter. In fact, it snowed all day yesterday (the 1st of March) and it’s snowing today.

We can’t make any large expenditures on railroad supplies or equipment right now. In order to maintain farm operations (our main source of income), we have to allocate funds for livestock & seed purchases, plus other farm supplies required to allow us a productive season when the warm weather finally arrives. We already have our fencing and shelter materials for the new hog pen. We’re just waiting for the ground to thaw so we can set fence posts. In the meantime, we are negotiating with local pig farmers for some feeder piglets.

Today’s job involves cleaning all of our maple sap collecting equipment. We’ll then be out in the woods tapping maple trees to begin our sap collecting later this afternoon. In about three weeks, we’ll take all of the maple sap we’ve collected and boil it down to fresh Maine maple syrup. We use Silver Maples, so it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

By the end of “sugarin’ season,” we’ll be getting our brooders all cleaned out and set up with heat lamps and fresh bedding, making way for our first batch of freshly hatched meat chicks (about 50 at a time). Some time in April, we’ll take delivery of 2 day old meat chicks at the post office (ordered from a large, commercial hatchery), and get them situated in the brooder.  They’ll live in the brooder under a heat lamp for the first 4 weeks before moving outside to the meat bird coop & run. When the chickens are 8 weeks old, they will be processed right here on the farm. They will average around 6 pounds each (dressed) after processing. If you are local, you’ll want to get your order in now because they go fast (as do the turkeys).

The yearly cycle will continue with other batches of meat turkeys and more meat chickens. There will be more egg laying chickens and ducks to add to existing flocks, and of course there will be lots of work prepping our green house, starting plants from seed, getting outside fields and raised beds prepped with rich compost and getting plants in the ground. Deer fencing will be erected everywhere to protect crops, and a new crop irrigation system is being installed this year. there is no shortage of work.

Somewhere in between all these activities, we’ll be working on our railroad as well. Good thing the days are now getting longer. Even so, there never seems to be enough hours in a day around the farm.




Free Plans for Brush Tine Attachment (clamps onto tractor loader bucket):

I have just completed a plans package for a tractor loader bucket, clamp-on brush tine attachment. The package is 11 pages, 9 of which are drawings, all in pdf format. These plans are available free from this web site. Just hover your cursor over the “about” button and scroll down the drop-down menu. Then click on “Farm Project Plans & Drawings.” Then select and click on the Brush Tine Attachment plans hyperlink – that will begin the pdf download, and as always – it’s FREE.

I put these plans under the farm heading because that’s where this attachment will see the most use over the years, but it’s a very handy attachment to have when clearing land for a new right-of-way. After dropping trees and cutting off limbs, there is (almost always) a huge pile of brush to contend with. This attachment will save hours of backbreaking physical labor.

You might have to alter some of the dimensions to fit the loader bucket of your tractor, but it’s a simple attachment and this can be easily accomplished by most folks capable of steel fabrication work.

I designed this attachment based upon my tractors loader bucket dimensions and the steel scraps & pieces I found laying around my shop. When finished, I’ll have less than $50.00 invested, yet similar attachments bought at retail go for between $1000.00 and $1500.00

Here are the plans (free). Go make some arcs and sparks!

Paul B.
Milbridge, Maine


Un-Scientific 18″ Gauge Railroad Survey Results

Un-Scientific 18″ Gauge RR Survey Results:

A little while back, I posed a dozen questions entitled: “Questions To The Yahoo 18″ Gauge Forum.” I also posed the same questions to certain individuals with 18″ gauge railroads overseas (not already part of the forum). I only received a small percentage of responses from the 18″ gauge forum with respect to the total membership.

I’ve decided enough time has gone by and I haven’t received anymore feedback in the last few days, so I’ve decided to tally the results and share them with all of you. Please bear in mind this was not a scientific survey, and there were no weighted questions. I was simply
curious about what others in the 18″ gauge forum are doing with their railways. You may find the results interesting as well.

I owe many thanks to all who participated and shared information about their respective railroads. I very much appreciate the time and effort they took to respond.

You will see the same questions that were originally posed to the group below, with each question followed individually with my summation of the results from responses received:

(1) What is the most common diameter wheel you use for locomotive drivers?

*Several respondents omitted answering this question. Of answers received, the most common diameters for driver wheels of steam locomotives ranged from 20″ to 22″ and the most common diameters used for non-steam locomotive driver wheels ranged 12″ to 16″ (with most at or close to 16″).

*(2) What is the most common diameter wheel you use for your rolling stock?

*This question was also omitted by most respondents. Of answers received, the most common diameter wheels used for rolling stock are in the range of 9″ to 12″ with only a few being a bit smaller or larger outside that range.

* (3) What size rail do you use for most of your railway (i.e. – 12#,
16″ etc.)?

*It seems that 12#, 16#, and 20# rail is the most commonly in use, however 12# rail is overwhelmingly the most popular rail in use for mainlines.

* (4) What size in cross section and length are the ties that you use?

*4″ x 4″ ties are the most common in the results received, and the most common length is a toss-up between 32″ and 36″.

* (5) How far apart do you space the ties on your railway?

*Some respondents reported their tie spacing at 12″ O.C. and others reported tie spacing much wider at up to 24″ O.C., but the most common tie spacing is a toss up at 16″ O.C. and 18″ O.C.

* (6) What type of couplers do you use?

*There were a few reporting the use of knuckle type couplers, and European style chain & tension w/buffer type couplers, but the overwhelming majority uses link & pin, draw bars, or a combination of the two.

* (7) Do you use air brakes & if so, what type?

*There were almost no air brake systems in use. Many in fact have no brake systems at all. Some reported hand brakes, and that’s about it.

* (8) Do you have both steam & diesel locomotives or just one or the other, and if so – which type?

*When I posed this question, I should have been more specific. Rather than specifying “diesel,” I should have said “non-steam, motor driven” such to include gas, electric, air, and so forth. For the results I received I’ll just refer to non-steam as “motor.” There were only a couple of steam locomotives reported. The majority of respondents use motor driven locomotives of various types. The steam locomotive respondents also had motor driven locomotives.

*(9) Does your railway employ trestles, Warren truss, or other types of bridges & which one(s)?

*There not many trestles or bridges reported. Most were simple beam spans, but there were a couple of short trestles and a simple truss reported in use.

* (10) Is your railway based on industrial, park train, grand scale, or other “rules of thumb” and which one(s) (if a combination)?

*Not surprisingly, it seems that several railroads are based on park train systems, and an equal number based on mining/industrial specifications, with a few being a combination of park train and mining/industrial. One reported “totally freelance.”

*(11) How long in actual feet (not scale feet) is your railway at present?

*The average railway length reported by respondents is about 1000 feet, give or take.

* (12) Do you plan to expand your railway anytime in the near future?

*Less than half of the respondents plan to expand their railway and of those reporting the length of the planned expansion, about 2000 feet is average.

There you have it folks. The results are in no way intended to be regarded as a set of standards. It’s just a “window” to the 18″ gauge forum group, peeking in on what the “other guy” is doing or planning. It satisfies my curiosity, which is of course my original intention. I hope you will all find this as interesting as I did. Once again, I just wish to express my thanks and gratitude to all of the participants. I hope you’ll all continue to share information about your railroads. I find this sort of information exchange motivating in many ways.

Paul Bennett,

Downeast Thunder Railroad, Milbridge, Maine