On to the T

“Don’t laugh,” Burkhard said as he opened the container door.

It’s a Ford Model T he plans to restore. Notice the little round springs – those are aftermarket additions. Apparently the T had a rigid suspension. Ouch.

He confesses that the radiator has already been restored. And though the hood and fenders have been primed, there’s some serious fender rot which will require some TIG welding. He’ll get someone else to do that, since he doesn’t want to invest in a [Tungsten Inert Gas] welding rig. Since I’ve never learned even basic welding (even though my father’s company in the ’70’s made radio-frequency welding machines for similar sheet metal applications), it’s all rather magical to me.

Inside, make yourself comfortable on top of the gas tank.

But nah wurreez; you’re protected by the firewall, that separates the controlled-burn part of the operation (engine) from the potentially-uncontrolled (i.e., gas tank) part. You’ll note that the firewall is made of – drum roll, please! – wood! I’m feeling safer already.

Although it looks like a disaster to me, he says this engine – and car – is in good shape. Unlike the A, he doesn’t plan to rebuild the engine. Turns out that the Ts were such a bitch to drive that when the A came out, they were simply abandoned, so existing ones have much less wear.. As I pointed out a few months ago, Model As have turned out to be venerable beasties.

If you’re curious, do a Youtube search for “how to drive a Model T.” Three pedals: the right is the brake, the left the shift, and the middle, reverse – do I have that right? In any event, you could probably drive a Model A with minimal effort. A Model T, uh, no.

I don’t know what all this crap piled on the back of the vehicle is. I’m not sure I want to know.

This should make for a fun ride – stay tuned!


First frost 2018

Since it doesn’t snow in Uruguay, frost has become a substitute. But it’s always fleeting: the clear sky that reflected no radiating heat last night allows the morning sun to make quick work of the frost. And it persisted all day today, making it lovely, sunny, and almost warm at times. Now the sun has gone down again, and any semblance of warmth with it. No doubt we’ll see frost again tomorrow.

First frost 2018 Uruguay

First frost 2018 Uruguay

A simple plumbing solution

I’ve been running longer than usual lately, so I’ll revert to “short and…” – well, come to think of it, talking about septic systems probably doesn’t qualify as “sweet.” In fact, it wasn’t at all when someone finally stayed in our little refurbished farm house and had to cover the bathroom floor drain with plastic wrap because of the smell.

When we finally got around to examining the mechanics, the problem was quite obvious. The toilet (which of course has a water trap built into it) dumps into a (how Pompeain!) concrete box. The sitzbad drain goes into the bathroom floor drain, then to this same box outside.

Uruguayan plumbing fail

So think about it: the residue from the toilet flows through this box to the septic tank (pozo negro), which then creates smelly gas that wafts its way back up the same pipe and follows the path of least resistance. The toilet is blocked by a water trap, and the concrete lid is more or less airtight, goes where does it go? Up the pipe to the floor drain, of course!

The solution was simple, and took just a few minutes: stick in a cut-off sifón (kitchen sink thingie) and make a little trap. The water in the bottom of the “U” stops gas in its tracks. (“Stop gas in its tracks!” I should be in advertising.) Anything to the right of the “U” I could cut off, but I left just because. You. Never. Know.

plumbing trap solution, Uruguay

Since I didn’t post it in my September 2013 Sitzbad post, I want to mention that the plumbing fail I describe here was balanced by ingenuity, a solution to the “geyser” problem of the floor drain when emptying the sitzbad. The next day Martín returned with one of his daughter’s glass marbles, dropped it into the bath drain, and – pim pam pum – problem solved! The marble reduces the flow by 75%, and it works!

I’ve mentioned before (I’m sure) that Uruguayans can be incredibly resourceful. Had we actually been using the farmhouse with its one bathroom, I have no doubt Martín would have sorted this, no doubt even more elegantly.

On the other hand, in testing this, when I went into the bathroom to turn on the shower/sitzbad water, one of the slate tiles on the step of his sitzbad creation came loose and dropped to the floor.

Of course.




The unlikely tools

It was a little past four in the afternoon. I was driving the dogs back from walking with Syd and his dogs. Since my wife has been under the weather and not feeling much like cooking, I stopped in a place I had found to buy a rotisserie chicken. No sooner had I gotten into the car with it, than a rental car pulled up next to us. The dogs started barking like crazy, so I got out of the car to find out what they needed. When they learned my nationality, they started speaking in English, telling me about various relatives in America.

So far, so good.

They said they were Italians. The driver’s name was Marco. The passenger might have been Giulio, but I’ll call him Guido because it sounds sleazier. As you’ll see, that serves.

They worked for a company called Telarini, I think he said. Something about steel. Had I heard of it? No.

(Doesn’t matter; it doesn’t exist.)

They had a flight out tonight, and their manager had given them a parting gift of two boxes of tools their company manufactured for German companies – or something–, telling them they could sell them for [whatever they wanted]. They couldn’t take them on the plane tonight, they said, so they needed to sell them first.

OK, why? Even if they had to pay for extra luggage, if these tools were worth what they said, why wouldn’t they? And why are they waiting until the last minute to try to sell them?

They were looking for people who spoke Italian or English. Because they didn’t speak good Spanish, they didn’t want to just sell them on the street.

Umm, so what exactly are you trying to do here?

The boxes were in the back seat. He opened the first one, which had a very impressive looking hammer drill and cordless dril, with just enough charge to make it turn a bit. “It even has the diamond bits,” he told me.


He then opened the second box, with several shelves, which he said contained 200 tools of Vanadian steel. I think the number was a tad exaggerated, but the tools – as with the drills – certainly did look good. Better quality, at least, than 95% of what you can buy in Uruguay.


The he pulled out a “factura” (invoice; he had previously waved a piece of paper in the shape of an airline boarding pass to underscore their desperation), “since we’re gentleman.”

Yes, we’ve just met for the first time on a dirt road alongside a highway, so of course we’re gentlemen. Got it.

The “factura” had no currency indicated, and showed a total, with 23% IVA, of 2,800+. He said this is the dollar amount the  Sheraton sells them for.

Aha! So now Sheraton Hotels sell tools, and your manager gave you a gift with an invoice? This narrative is getting rich!

Did I want to help them out by buying both toolboxes for $2,000 US?

Uh, no. The tools look impressive (that price is outrageous), but regardless, I need few tools, and don’t collect tools (or anything, including carcasses of ancient cars) for fun.

But I know someone who does! That guy could also evaluate their quality better than I. And he’d know what to really pay.

Enter Burkhard. I called. He was in the middle of something – slaughtering and dressing out a sheep, it turns out* – and couldn’t make it for an hour. Can I just lead them out there now? I asked. Sure: so ten minutes later, I pull off Ruta 11 and beckon them to turn in the driveway. I don’t plan on hanging around for long. We wave at Burkhard, who’s maybe a hundred meters away with a couple of people with a pickup truck, a carcass hanging from the raised front end of his tractor. With the remote, he opens the gate to the driveway and starts up the rise. Guido yells to Marco to pull the car in. More than once. Marco is busy playing with his cell phone.

Hey Marco, you’re going off script here – we’re supposed to be eager to sell some tools. Pay attention!

When Guido walks down and taps on the hood of the car, Marco snaps back into character. Within a minute, he’s got the car pulled in, Burkhard joins us, and Guido’s got the back door of the car open, displaying the tools. I bid them adieu, and Marco thanks me, calling me a real gentleman. But of course.

*Burkhard had sold some sheep to a pig farmer, and was amazed to learn that guy could skin a sheep in five minutes, something that took Burkhard an hour. So he arranged for him to help with this slaughter, and learn some new skills.

Back home, a while after dark (we’re at winter solstice, so that’s fairly early), when I figured they must be through, I called Burkhard on our land line. No answer.

After a while more, I get a little apprehensive. As I reach for my cell phone to send him a text message, our land line (with no caller ID) rings, and I pick it up saying, “I was just about to send you a text message. What happened?”

He told me that a couple of years ago, in the process of trading his chacra in the boonies (Lavalleja) for a gorgeous hilltop property on Ruta 11, and there talking to Sr. Fiore, the seller, one of these same two guys came by, also in a rental car, with the same story about the airport et al, and tools to sell.

“Incredible!” I said. “So did you send these guys packing?

No, he replied, I bought them for USD 500.

In fact, during the previous encounter, he had wanted to buy the tools, but so had Fiore, and Burkhard didn’t feel he should upstage him.

In this encounter, when Burkhard told Guido that they’d met before, Guido insisted it was impossible – before taking the cash, and returning to whence they came, to emerge another time with (smuggled? stolen? counterfeit?) tools they have to sell “before their flight tonight.”

Sounds legit to me, eh? FWIW, I find no evidence that a company called CAM Germany exists.


Children’s toys at the feria

Yesterday was the weekly open-air market. It can be fun after you’ve been here a while. The “seed and nut ladies” who enjoyed my account of puppy Mocha’s first encounter with the wood stove some time ago (“Heat! Ooh, I like this!) immediately pointed out that they had unsalted cashews, which they hadn’t last week. I talked briefly with a girl I’ve never seen before selling loofahs (for bath sponges) that her grandfather grows. When I mentioned that my attempts to grow them had less than stellar results (wow, it’s been over five years!), she offered an explanation I didn’t really get, concluding with a smile that it’s “medio complicado.” Fair ’nuff. I bought some cheese from a young couple who are new to the feria, telling the customer in front of me whose dog had  just caused an uproar, that the owner of the (many) “uproar” dogs told me that her dogs never bark. Got a good laugh with that.

I’m reminded that before the feria, returning from a few small chores in the campo, I stopped at the carnicería (butcher). Only Javier, the proprietor, was there, busily getting things ready. He didn’t have what I needed for the dogs – will have all tomorrow! – but found a couple kilos of bones, cut them on the band saw to a size I asked, threw them in a bag and handed them to me – see you tomorrow! No charge.

This has happened before. Nice.

feria Atlántida Uruguay

On my return, I notice a large display of toys – haven’t seen this before. However, what really struck me was this:

toy guns, Atlántida, Uruguay

toy guns. Which reminded me of a photo-op I missed a few weeks ago. A couple of kids, maybe 10 years old, passed me twice in the feria with one of the more realistic imitation guns. The second time, the kid pointed it at me again. I smiled. The thought to take a photo pf them came slowly and by then the moment had passed.

In many (most?) parts of the Untied Snakes, it would be extremely dangerous to even be near this kid. There, overzealous cops don’t have to pay for their own ammunition (as they do here, apparently!), and think nothing of firing dozens and dozens of bullets in the direction of such a grave “threat.”

When I was his age, my best friend and I, saturated with World War II movies featuring glorious American soldiers saving the world, had a contest to see who could do the best “death” from atop a pile of dirt on a construction site. Neither mother was too pleased with the cleanup that episode required. So what is a 10-year-old boy with a toy gun thinking about now? Maybe movies, but more likely his mind is orders of magnitude more saturated with first-person shooter video games.