Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ladder Work is My Least Favorite

I avoid it as long as possible. At long last, I got down to some of this work this week. The ladder I borrowed from one of my sons-in-law has a fully extended length of 21 feet. My own extension ladder is in two sections of ten feet each, but only telescopes about 16 feet. The one I borrowed is of the design where it is hinged in the middle, and has extensions on both halves. This is a handy feature, as it can be folded up and transported inside my station wagon. Regular extension ladders are longer and more cumbersome. I think this product is called "Gorilla Ladder"

It doesn't help that I just read in our local newspaper recently about an incident where a homeowner was trimming a fruit tree, fell from a ladder, and broke his pelvis in three places. Ladders must rate up there pretty high on the CDC list as causes of household misadventures. Right up there with table saws and chainsaws (more about that below).

So, the work in part entailed trimming back some low-hanging cedar branches that were crowding my deck. They haven't always been thus, but trees have a way of growing over the years. Appropos of nothing, that phrase reminds me of a line in the movie "The Maltese Falcon" with Humphrey Bogart. While explaining a situation to the police, Sam Spade (Bogart's character) says something like, "...and the gun went off, as guns sometimes will..." Yes, don't they.

Anyway, I don't climb trees as a means of trimming. There are plenty of skilled climbers who have the equipment, the training, and the bodily strength to do it, but I cannot and will not. The closest I can get is with a ladder. When I run out of ladder, that's the limit on how high I can go.

One of the pieces of advice that comes in the instructions with a new chain saw is, "Never use a chain saw from a position on a ladder" or words to that effect. I do have hand saws for trimming trees, but I've decided that hacking back and forth while on the far end of an extension ladder is nigh as or more dangerous than trying to use something in some ways easier and many times faster. After all, the sooner you get the cut made, the sooner you can move on and maybe not fall off the ladder. That said, I'm not comfortable carrying up and operating from a ladder anything with both a gasoline engine and a moving, linked blade. Of course, you don't go up the ladder with the chain saw running. But when you get up there, you've somehow got to get the thing running, and of course you still wind up with the whirring saw chain nearby. As to getting the saw running, yes, of course you fire it up on the ground to make sure it will go, get it warmed up, turn it off, then hod the thing up the ladder, hoping it will replicate its performance up the tree. Chainsaws are supposed to operated upside down and at all angles, but there are times when they don't like to be tipped this way or that. What I'm saying here is, even after being warmed up, once you get one up a ladder, sometimes chainsaws get balky and don't want to start. Then you find yourself 20 feet off the ground, trying to yank the starter rope, etc. Not my idea of fun. Another obvious point is that gas-powered chainsaws are not as light as a pair of pruning shears, so you're also dealing with the weight of the machine up on the far end of the ladder. Yes, the pros who climb carry a chain saw suspended on a rope hooked to their belt. Sorry, I can't and won't do that. Mostly young pros who climb, etc, etc.

My answer to the problem described above was to buy an electric chain saw just for doing pruning from a ladder. These typically are much lighter than gas saws and therefore easier to handle, and they don't have the prospective problem of being balky once you get up on the ladder. They have the disadvantage of trailing a cord, but I've found that this is worth the trouble for the pluses received. Once you have the extension cords properly knotted, you just press the trigger on the electric and it goes. Along this same line, I have a tree pruning blade for my reciprocating saw ("Sawzall" or "demolition saw") and this works quite well.

It might be suggested that I look into those small chainsaws that are attached to the end of a pole for tree trimming. I have. These are suitable for pruning fruit and other roundish-shaped trees, but not much use for 75 to 100 foot conifers that go straight up. The reach on the pole of these machines can only be X far before they are either two "wavy" or sufficient pressure cannot be brought to bear with them.

I do not like working from heights, be it on a roof or on a ladder. I'm not afraid of heights, but I'm not comfortable working from them either. After while, you do get your "roof legs" but I never really like it.

After the tree pruning work was finished, I had the job of cleaning the roof and rain gutters along the tallest side of my house. The house is what is called a tri-level, with one side of the house being two storey, and the other side an intermediate storey with stairs up or down to the two storey side. It's a design that lends itself especially to sloped lots, and we are on a gently sloped property. The westerly side of the two storey section is about 50-some feet long and the rain gutter is 19-1/2 feet up. I hate doing this chore, and always have to push myself to do it. I've found that the borrowed 21 foot ladder to which I fit a stabilizer on the top end is just about the right combination for this job. I can rake about 2/3's of the lower part of the metal roof and clean the gutters out at a rate of about five feet at a time. That means that I have to reposition the ladder about ten times to clean this 50-some foot long section. I spread a tarp out on the ground as I go so I don't scatter the gutter compost around too freely. The U-shaped ladder stabilizer works as its name implies, and instills a bit more confidence in you when you're 20 feet up there. The stabilizer also keeps the ladder rails off the gutters because it sits on the edge of the top of the roof. It's also good for standing the ladder away from the wall when you are working on walls, painting, etc.

My ladder chores for this year are nearly caught up now. I still have a few maple branches that I want to get at before I surrender the ladder. If I were to suddenly become wealthy, one frivolous thing that I would spend money on would be to have a barber come to my house every day and give me a shave. I don't like to shave, but I don't like to be unshaven either. I don't want or need a yacht or a private jet; what I do need every day is a shave. Another little luxury I'd engage in would be to have someone come out and clean my gutters and roof for pay.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Goof-Proof Consumer Products

I wonder when the day is going to arrive when the risk of making and selling a consumer product will be so high that companies will no longer make anything. The risk/reward ratio, driven by product liability will just be so great so as to stymie all production of any kind.

Here is an old product that became unsafe. It wasn't unsafe when it was made, and it still does what the manufacturer intended and the consumer wanted at the time of manufacture.

This is an old three speed oscillating fan. I say old, but it hasn't been used all that much from its appearance. It works fine on all three speeds and the oscillation feature works. It weighs about twelve pounds, and has a cast aluminum base; all parts are metal of some sort or another. It has a nice, industrial-type heavy electrical cord. The motor head has a little built-in handle on the top of it for carrying.

This fan is dangerous and no longer suitable for use. The reason for this is because the fan blade guard is not idiot-proof. When this fan was made, it was supposed that normal, thinking people wouldn't put their fingers in between the spokes of the blade guard to "see if the fan was running." Fans were made this way for a good number of years, but the lawyers hadn't gotten ahold of the issue yet. When they did, fan manufacturers had to come up with fan guards that had many more spokes in them to keep idiots and children's fingers out of them. Back in the old days, thinking people would place a fan out of the reach of children, but like everything else, we now must have everything in life made safe for us lest we not have the common sense to hurt ourselves.

This fan is just like the hefty ones we used to have in the army, if we were lucky. If you wonder what I mean by that, just watch "Soldier in the Rain" with Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen sometime. I was lucky enough to have one of these in my hooch when I was in Vietnam. It was mounted high up on the wall, screwed into plywood to discourage theft or some other form of disappearance. I inherited that fan not from someone "who didn't make it" but from a soldier who rotated home and happily left all of his scrounged and acquired comforts of Vietnam behind in his rush to leave. That fan was very dear to me when I needed it while I was there, but when my time came to go home, I forgot all about it and left it for someone else.

Unsafe or not, I'm going to go ahead and give this fan another life here at my home. I bought the fan at the Goodwill "Outlet Store" (yes, such a thing really exists) for $2.99 and I'm sure I'm going to get my money's worth. I think I can refrain from the urge to stick my fingers into the moving blade