Cowiche Project


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High in the Washington Cascade Mountain Range sets our Cowiche area cabin site. It rests on top of a ridge at 4500 feet where Vultures soar and Deer and Elk browse and graze in the front yard. This mountain ridge separates  the South Fork of the Cowiche, and Reynolds Creek.

You could spend weeks up here and not see another person;  sometimes that's a good thing. It's also a great lab to prove 'off grid' concepts and appliances. It gets hot, it gets cold, the wind can howl; we've even had four feet of snow in a single night. If it works well here; it will probably work most places.

I enjoy being out on the front deck, with a fresh cup of coffee to greet the rising sun...

My goal is to place the Listeroid 6/1-ST generator underground where it will make quiet power even when there is ten feet of snow on the ground. At the same time,  the spring will be set up to automatically charge a 1500-2000 gallon underground cistern to provide water through the dry season which starts in August and ends with the snow melt. I am hoping to get this project wrapped up before the snow flies this year.  Imagine going in on snowmobiles and having all the creature comforts far from town.

Theft and vandalism are sometimes a problem in remote sites, with this in mind the entrance to the bunker will not be obvious. If they do get inside, they'll note how heavy this stuff is and look for something easier to drag off (I hope). I have several sets of auto wheel locks, and have even thought about using one of these here and there to make it more difficult to disassemble things. 

The dirt work was completed August 17th, Carl Herke down on the  Cowiche Mill road delivered the  bunker tank and did the dirt work an prep for the cistern.   The bunker tank has been partially covered with one end sticking out of the hillside. The bank has been cut vertical near the tank end.


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8/21/02  The diagram above shows the basic layout of the first phase of the project. The cabin sits on the high ground, the bunker, spring and cistern are all on a hill side. The spring will be totally enclosed and will gravity feed the cistern via a buried pipe.  When the cistern is full it will overflow, but not for long, the spring overflow is set high, in late spring the water level drops and shuts off the flow to the cistern. This helps maintain the natural  water table, and impacts tree and plants less. 

It will be more work to run conduit between the cabin and the bunker, but the idea is to have power with absolute silence.  The enclosure is made from a 6 by 10 foot steel barrel laid level on it's side. Precautions will be taken to establish a poor fuel air mixture inside the barrel before any cutting is attempted. This will be done with a vacuum cleaner assuring an overly lean fuel air mixture by blowing air into the tank. The door opening will be cut with a skill saw and composite blade, the opening will be framed in angle iron and bolted or welded in place to add strength and a frame to swing a door on.

Next step is to fill the bottom of the barrel with gravel and fines to form the floor, The top three inches will be capped in concrete. It will be slightly sloped towards a drain which will allow any fuel or oil spilled to collect in an oil separator.

At this point, the Lister/ST 6/1 generator will be winched off it's trailer and pulled along timbers and pipe rollers to the opening of the Bunker. We think the engine will be happiest at the far end of the bunker with the starting flywheel to face the door opening. Space will be left on the end to allow the flywheels to be pulled, and for the engine to be rebuilt in place. The generator base will be firmly bolted to the concrete floor.

August 31, 2002, it's time for another week long trip to the cabin, here's a picture of the trailer loaded up, we'll pull out in the morning.

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Here's the trailer ready to go for morning. The pieces of white pipe will be used in the spring to create a void around the culvert where water can collect.


The trip went well... but I did make some changes from the original plan.

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Here's the generator near the bunker opening. I used a snatch block, a 12 volt electric winch, pipe rollers, planks, and lots of time to get the engine off the trailer and down the hill side to the bunker. AS you might guess, it's top heavy and I'm pleased to say it stayed upright throughout the whole move. The Bunker is six feet high and ten feet long.

See that door opening... it took me nearly a day to cut it using a 4 1/2 inch Makita grinder and a composite cut off blade. What a person will do for the sake of having fun?

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After struggling to lift  the door off, I realized that this drum had a great deal of mass, The bottom of the drum felt much like concrete under foot. Maybe I didn't need to pour that concrete floor? Maybe I could get away with mounting the engine directly to the bottom of the drum?

I decided to weld in two heavy wall square steel tubes the same width as the generator frame to the floor as mounting points. I used 6011 rod to get some decent penetration into the thicker cooler material of the tank .   Next, I moved the generator into position and bolted the frame to the mounts in all four corners. The engine sits length wise instead of cross wise as I had planned, this seems to provide plenty of room to do everything but pull the crank out. If this is ever required, I'd have to unbolt the engine and tilt it a few degrees.  If you look closely, you can see the cooling tank in the back of the bunker, I welded in some brackets to support it with just a little clearance at the top of the tank. This provides the elevation required for a good thermal siphon. The coolant hose runs are kept short since the connections face the cooling tank.

It is important to note the manual method of cranking, this is done from the generator (head) end of the unit. you put the start handle over the RH side of the crank and wind her up. This feels pretty natural, but one has a tendency to slip the start handle inward to take advantage of the greater clearance between your hand and the side of the barrel. There is room for your hand to clear on the end of the shaft, but not a great deal.. In any case, I found that the inside of the crank handle  was NOT smooth and hung on the Gib key when it started, I quickly killed the engine and took a grinder to the inside of the handle making it flat and uniform, this removes any chance of hanging no matter where you decide to place the handle on the crank; all one has to do is remember to hold onto the handle after it starts! Then you simply let it walk off the end of the shaft. If your installation site is clean and dirt free, a little grease on the inside of the start handle could also be a good thing.

Next trip, the door will be hung, and the exhaust will be plumed.  I will make a special exhaust adapter to allow the use of an automotive exhaust donut and pipe to tolerate some movement between the engine and the exhaust system.

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Above is a picture of the spring after it was modified, this took the better part of four days to finish it to this stage. A felt like fabric was used to line the hole; the culvert was placed in the center (approx 6 feet or more in length). A ditch was dug into the lower side of the spring to allow a pipe to be fitted below the Average August 1 water level.  Four inch diameter PVC pipe lengths were stood on end all around the culvert to create the water collection area, an over flow pipe was placed high to handle the heavy spring flow. Flag stones were placed on top of the PVC pipe; then fifteen wheel barrels of large pieces of basalt rock were used to fill the hole. on top of this is more felt, then a water barrier to keep surface water from entering the spring, then a layer of clay is used as a final seal. Above the spring is an interceptor ditch that diverts surface water around the spring as another measure to keep surface water out.

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It's more than six feet to the bottom.

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Here you can see the overflow tube on the left, and the tip of the pipe in the bottom of the ditch which will feed the cistern. The lower end of the spring was sealed up with a series of rock stacks and packed damp clay, once the pipe is laid in the ditch, the ditch will be filled with clay as well. This was a bunch of work, but if it provides good drinking water for the rest of my life, it will have been worth the effort.

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If you look close you can see the cabin directly above the bunker. I would estimate it is 180 feet to the cabin. I'll use 6 gauge copper wire (from the salvage yard) to keep the losses low;   I'll make three runs allowing for 220 volts should I decide there's a need in the future. 

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Above is a massive hole for the cistern, next trip, we'll dump in the the tank. That stump is massive, see the ladder in the back ground to get some idea how big the hole really is.

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Here's a picture of 'cheeks' the ground squirrel;  he likes to munch a few sun flower seeds as we drink our morning coffee on the cabin deck.  He could scare a visitor to death... as he loves to come visit at full speed flinging himself into an open lap! 

9/27/02 As of this date, I've fabricated the exhaust system, built hinges, collected strapping and angle to go around the bunker door, and even found the 6 gauge wire down at Binford Salvage Yard.  I paid 33 dollars for a  new 18 foot piece of 3/8 thick by 2 inch wide flat strap. This expense certainly is a reminder to identify needs and buy what you need at salvage yard prices when you see it there.

The exhaust system looks pretty decent, I fabricated a flange out of flat stock and welded a heavy wall piece of steel pipe to it. the ID is two inches and receives the 2 inch muffler pipe, pictures on this set up later.

Another milestone is getting the tank we'll use for the cistern ready, it's sitting on the ground waiting to be loaded on the trailer. I am in the process of planning the next trip up; hopefully I'll identify all the tools and things necessary to make things ready for winter and allow us to use the power at the cabin this winter.

11/5/2002 It was a race to get things buttoned up for winter, the generator is snug in the bunker, the water tank in it's final resting place. This didn't happen any too soon; snow has fallen and temperatures remain low. No water, no wire run... it's a project on hold till spring.


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The above tank must weigh 1000 pounds or more, the effort it took to get it down the hill side and into the hole was considerable. Had I planned better, the tank would have been placed with the back hoe; ... (another lesson learned).  I owe much thanks to friends who gave up a day to rig, rope, and wrestle the tank into this hole. Kevin, Verne, Greg, Leslie, and Dennis, you saved the day!  I could write a number of pages to describe my solo efforts.....the trials and tribulations of it's trip and placement, flat tires on the borrowed trailer, ropes breaking, tank rolling down the hill side, and more. Looking back..... it is the stuff cartoons are made of; possibly my next calling. "A stand in for Mutt or Jeff?

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Winter is here and it is time to put aside projects and enjoy the hunt and friendships forged over the years. In this case, it's 'Elk', one of the more tasty of North American Game. Above is Glen Phillips and Irving UpChurch; both land owners in these parts, seasoned Elk Hunters, Outdoorsmen, and Good Friends.

When spring arrives, I'll be at it  again, with any luck, this will be the last year I haul water or closely manage battery power... how nice that will be.


May 2003, the snow is gone from the high country and it's time to return to the cabin.

It was a nice trip in, the weather was perfect.  We made the long trip in at an average speed of 12-15 miles an hour, I stopped at one of the hair Pin corners where wild asparagas grows and snapped off a big hand full to eat raw on the way in.

As we pulled down the long drive into our property, I was relieved to see that out picknic table was still in place, the shutters were undisturbed, and the Chimney looked as if it had taken on the snow loads just fine. After opening up the cabin, I ran down to the spring to see how things looked, I removed the cover and saw the water level was way above my plugged off overflow, this was great to see. I walked further down the ravine and noted the bunker was still bolted shut as I had left it, going down a little further, I came to the cistern that was still in it's hole. I think I had a few nightmares that the heavy spring run offs had floated it out of the hole and down the ravine, it was nice to see it sitting straight and level, and ready for the finishing touches.

I went back up to the spring and noted Fresh Elk tracks, I put the lid back in place and went back up to the cabin to help Sharon open up and get things unpacked. I pulled the two deep cycle batteries from the pickup and connected one to the heavy leads that feed the inverter, with this running, we had lights allowing us to take a closer survey of things inside, everything looked good.

I removed the garden hoses from underneath the cabin and set up a temporary   pumping configuration from the spring to the pressure tank under the cabin. I set up a siphon from the spring down hill to the pump, from there, I laid out the hose back up to the cabin and into the inlet side of the pressure tank.

With the propane turned on, we had both hot and cold running water.

The next morning,  I started in on the ditch that runs from the spring to the cistern, this is the overflow that charges the big cistern tank. With it half dug, I laid out the one inch black plastic and buried the first half, the other end went into the top of the cistern, the overflow was now being collected for use in the dry season!

During the week, I managed to move many yards of dirt with the help of my Son in Law. A box was constructed that provides access to the top fitting on the tank and provides room for the pump and filter underground. This should allow the water system to function during the fall and winter months. The plan is to operate with a drain back, the line between the cistern and the cabin will automatically drain back into the tank when a pump cycle completes, this will assure that water doesn't freeze in the pipes.

As I see it,  I'll run 4 pair of wires (telephone cable), the water pipe, and 4 leads of 6 gauge wire between the cistern box, onto the generator bunker, and up to the cabin. They will all lay in the same ditch. The 6 gauge my be overkill from the bunker to the cistern box, but this is surplus stuff that I paid far less for, the pump will enjoy the low loss circuit between the generator and the pump. One pair of wires in the telephone cable will be used to communicate the pressure switch signal on the pressure tank (at the cabin) to the pump controller in the cistern box. when power is available, the pump will start, the drain back valve will close and water willl be pumped up to the cabin thru a check valve. When the tank is full, the pressure switch will communicate an order to stop the pump and the drain back valve will be de-enerjised allowing all the water in the line to drain back into the cistern. This is simple enough, and if it works, it avoids digging thru solid rock to get the water lines below the freezing level.

At present, the cistern is nearly covered with dirt, the bank is being recontoured, once the native plants take over and other measures in place, a person may never discover the underground source of water.

Amazing.... Cheeks the Ground Squirrel, and Notchie the Chipmunk both wintered well.   On the second day Cheeks was sitting in Sharon's lap, and allowing her to pet him! Ground Squirrels apparently do remember friends they've made from the previous year.   Later in the week, I was enjoying a morning coffee on the deck, I had on shorts, and Cheeks came flying across the deck and started to run up my bare leg. It scared the heck out of me... my reaction scared Cheeks even more, he did at least a double flip and headed for his burrow near the generator bunker, he didn't get the courage to return till the afternoon.


George B.


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