The Tie That Binds...

I often find myself working on something out to our family farm. My folks bought the 40 acre homestead when I was four years old, making it the family home for about twenty-three years now. The house itself is believed to have been built in 1906 and no one really knows exactly when the old red barn was put up. There's probably three or four buildings that are either original or old enough to be considered as such. Each of them (except the house) has begun to take on that special character shared by old farm buildings when time has had it's way. Tough they’ve all been re-roofed within the past 10 years and some have even been resided, one can easily perceive the straight and level lines of yesteryear have given out to a more character-endowed appeal.

It was about 6 years ago that we finally added a brand new pole barn to the property. A 24'x30' gem of a building with electrical outlets, insulated walls and propane heat. After more than 15 winters of working on cars in a drafty old barn or outside in the cold, this building was destined to become something very special to us. But then, that's not all it is to me. More than anything else, it stands as a monument of what can be done by a father and son over the course of a summer. You see, my dad and I didn't hire someone else to build the pole barn for us or have it manufactured and trucked in on a trailer. We built it ourselves, from scratch, just the two of us. (Well, my mom and younger brother may have helped a little...)

My dad was the man with the plan. He bought a book that laid out the process from start to finish and made blueprint after blueprint of the grand vision. Over and over again he re-hashed every detail until every one of us were tired of him talking about it. I had grown through my teen years listening to my dad talk about the pole barn idea but had gradually come to my own conclusion - he was never actually going to build it. I graduated high school, started college, got an apartment and moved out. Finally one particular day as I was preparing to end a visit at the farm, something happened that would launch the pole barn project into existence. I personally don't remember the conversation- but my dad does. He says we were talking about the pole barn again and I, being sick of hearing about it, told him he was never actually going to build it. Then I left. And for some reason that made the decision for my dad. He was going to build the pole barn.

The following May, we borrowed the neighbor's skid-steer with a post-hole auger attachment and spent the entire day drilling six-foot holes into the ground. Then we placed twelve-foot posts into each hole and packed in dirt around them. From there we nailed on 2 x 6 boards to connect each post and act as structure for the walls. We also framed out windows and doors, mounted rafters, attached tin to the roof and walls, installed windows and doors, and mounted the overhead garage door. The process from start to finish took all summer, every single weekend.

The finishing touch for me was the moment we finally buried the CAT5e Ethernet cable. You see, my dad's vision for the pole barn was supplemented by my vision of connecting the newest building on the farm with the same internet that was in our house. I wanted to make it possible for us to place an internet connection out in "The Shop". I told my parents it would be useful for when we needed to do online research while working on a vehicle repair. It would also come in extremely useful if they ever wanted to install security cameras in there or to stream online radio. I think it was my determination that eventually convinced them.

And so, one fall evening we took up a pick axe and began digging the long trench from our new pole barn to the eastern wall of the house. Eventually we made it under the hard-packed gravel driveway and through the front yard up to our predetermined entry point. We used standard CAT5e cable laid directly into the trench. We used no conduit and even placed a coupler sealed in a pop bottle halfway down the run in order to connect the two cables. In The Shop I plugged a used net-gear wireless router configured to act as an AP and felt my heart leap when the port light began to flicker. I connected my laptop to the wireless network and navigated to It worked! We had successfully networked our pole barn to the house.

That Ethernet cable lasted 7 years before moisture or animals or corrosion finally broke the link. Instead of digging it out and laying fresh cable we used new strategy. We installed a wireless back-haul using little radio transmitters attached to the outside of each building. No underground cables. No fuss. No mess.

Eight years later the link is still there and now carries significant amounts of data every day. We’ve expanded the network connection to three additional outbuildings and installed six network security cameras. Days worth of video recordings travel the link constantly. We also have all our phones connected to the WiFi outside and whenever we browse the web from The Shop we're always connected to the house's internet and not burning through our mobile data. Today the wireless network on our family homestead covers 8 structures, supporting no less than 20 devices with plenty of capacity for expansion. That old hardwired link may not be in service anymore but it led the way to where we’re at today. Seeing as it’s too much fuss to dig up, it remains as a silent monument to where we’ve come from and to where we’re going.



Of Mice and Men

I made a friend several years ago while pulling cable through an overhead crawl space. His name is Jerry, and he's dead.

Jerry is a mouse, and by the time we met he was nothing more than a crispy little throw rug laying between the floors of a not-for-profit organization. I've never forgotten that little guy, though. He honestly scared me to death. There's very little light in those drop-ceilings and the last thing you want to find in a situation like that is a furry little dead thing laying right where your arm was just resting. I never moved him, though. Not even after two years and multiple revisits to pull more cable. I think I always hoped someone else would find the little guy and remove him. He was just so gross, you know?

Now it's been probably four years since we first met and I no longer have ready access to that crawlspace due to a job change. But I still think about Jerry sometimes, basically whenever I have to peer into a drop-ceiling. For some reason I always half expect to see him there.. scaring me to death. But he's not there. He can't be. He's gone.

Somehow it makes me think about life. There's a husk of small furry rodent resting in some dark place for eternity and I'll probably never see him again. Honestly that would be okay with me because, well.. he's a dead mouse. But it does make me think about seasons gone by. There are some things I used to really enjoy but outgrew and can just never really have back again. Like the way things were my freshman year of high school before one of my best friends moved away, or when I used to drive my favorite red pickup down River Road late at night just to clear my head, back before I had to sell it. My buddy is still around but I don't see him much anymore, and I still see that red truck buzzing around town sometimes, but now someone else is at the wheel.

I think if we're not careful, we'll find ourselves living in yesterday while missing out on the today we used to look forward to. Yeah, I miss some of my old friends and I miss my old pickup truck. But the places those things used to occupy in my heart have been filled with more than they used to hold. Some stretching had to occur in order to make room, but what I have now is far better than what I had before. And what I have now isn't what I had then, but it is what I wanted then. So I'll leave Jerry right where he belongs. In his final resting place.. beside the crawlspace door above a warm server rack.

Mathew Grade, Owner/IT Professional