Category Archives: Projects

Progress on the MH&D Railroad

It looks like we’ll be laying track on the McGuire-Henkel-and-Dunbar railroad next spring. For a railroad staffed by a sort-of retired guy, I think it is on schedule. Shown here is the current progress. The landscape blocks shown form the embankment for an elevated fill. With the elevation, we can work on the construction of miniature gardening features from a comfortable height, and protect it all from other activities in the yard.

At this point, I have placed 162 retaining wall blocks. At 61 pounds each, I’ve handled 9,900 pounds of blocks. That’s just a brag, but I’m enjoying the work. It’s nice to be able. In the excavation above you can see the beginning of a curve to close in the area. It will remain open until the majority of the fill is done. Wheelbarrowing the 20-plus cubic yards of fill does not appeal to me, so I anticipate renting a skid steer loader for a day. I think I have a source for free fill. The fill currently in the west end is from a “small” excavation at our neighbors place, where they created a level area for an above-ground pool. They delivered it to the backyard one wheelbarrow at a time, and I appreciate it!

The conduit shown above is pre-planning for low voltage electrical and water supplies. Most of that riser will be covered with fill dirt.

For the east end of the area, we are planning for a bridge to complete the basic oval. The bridge will span about 4 feet. That’s 90 scale feet for the G-scale layout. At the bridge I anticipate a waterfall, creek, and pond. The picture here shows something similar – without the waterfall!

That’s a bit more ambitious, than our layout area, but the bridge does inspire.

To be continued…

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A Singer Sewing Machine is not a piano

Updated 9/18/20

A singer sewing machine is not a piano. But I accepted the challenge of restoring a sewing machine cabinet that had been badly water damaged. Water and veneered pieces do not go well together. That’s especially true for old veneered panels that were glued with hot hide glue, which is still completely soluble in water decades after it has set.

Normally, folks wouldn’t come to me with a sewing machine restoration project, but friends being friends, it can happen. And who am I to say that I’m not the right guy to restore the family heirloom for a friend? So I said what I say, “Sure. I can fix that.” But I knew that it was quite a project.

The sad little cabinet that arrived in my shop.
The delaminated veneer and panels simply could not be salvaged.

Fortunately the cabinet below the top panels was largely undamaged, so on the bright side, my task was limited to recreating the top panels. Some clever work went into the creation of this hideaway machine, and it would take some clever work to recreate it.

My first order of business was to create two oak veneered panels. While the original was a hardwood panel veneered with oak, I chose to use modern materials for the panel core, while trimming it in solid oak. Unfortunately, I could not duplicate the thickness of original panels with medium density fiberboard (MDF) of standard thickness. That’s where another friend came in handy! My friend Justin volunteered to grind some MDF down to my specification of 0.585 inches using an industrial thickness sander at his workplace. It’s nice to have friends! My favorite veneer supplier sent me some very nice oak veneer.

Gluing the veneer in my vacuum press set up.
With two stock router bits and a bit of hand shaping, I came very close to the original edge profile.
The original edge profile

From this point, a number of careful steps were needed to shape parts for the hide-away.

I’m getting close! Projects like this are amazing to execute, because the risk cost of a mistake multiply as each step is completed. I’m getting close, though!

The old is new again:

Just like Grandma would remember.
What was, and what is.

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McGuire-Henkel-Dunbar Railroad

Under Construction!

I’ve got skin in the game now!

Good work starts with a good foundation. So here we go.

Last year I decided it was time, if ever, for me to start building a garden railroad in the backyard. With “retirement”, my love of railroads, and Terri’s love of gardening and crafts, it seemed like the thing to do.

The commitment actually started last year when I bought a G-scale locomotive on eBay — no track, but I got the locomotive — which has just been a reminder of the commitment in our living room.

Cleverly photographed against a natural background, this looks like the real thing. It is G-scale (1:22.5).

I became doubly committed this week when I went to Lowes and got the first pallet load of concrete retaining wall blocks. For this building project our initial layout will be in the backyard in a raised area approximately 12 feet by 24 feet. For me, it just needs to be a raised area, because my knees are 68 years old already, and I expect to continue with building and maintaining for years to come.

I didn’t calculate the weight of a pallet load of 6 X 16 retaining wall blocks before going to Lowes. At 3200 pounds, I have to admit it overloaded the Dodge Ram, but for a careful 1 mile transport it seemed OK. After moving the 3200 pounds to the backyard, it still seemed OK. I described the operation as “surprisingly pleasureful.” Once again, I’m practicing the skills and work of my youth, and I’m pleased that I can do it.

In our travels, we’ve seen some impressive garden railroads in public gardens. The most impressive resides in Lauritzen Gardens at Omaha, Nebraska. Here’s a view of that railroad:

Toot! Toot! Stay tuned.

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An old Piano Friend Comes Home

Sometime around 1959, in Raymond Washington, I had my first piano lesson. It was on this piano: Schilling and Sons #93032!

Schilling and Sons Upright Piano made in 1926

My mother acquired the piano sometime in the 1940s. My sister Carol, my sister Nadine,  and I all learned to play on the Schilling and Sons. Then in 1972, Mom thought she should have a smaller piano for her dining room. So she bought a spinet piano, and as part of the purchase, she arranged free delivery of the Schilling and Sons from Raymond to Carol’s new home in Vancouver, Washington.  Carol’s three girls: Angela, Heather, and Tiffany all learned to play on this piano too.

In 2008, at the age of 91, Mom left the Raymond home to live in a senior apartment near Carol’s home in Vancouver. Carol selflessly provided near daily care and support during Mom’s time there. In 2011, with gratitude (and a bit of showmanship), I gave Carol a modern baby grand piano for her birthday. I made the surprise piano delivery, from Utah to Washington, while Carol was on the East Coast for a week. Then I spirited the Schilling and Sons off to Utah to be rebuilt. As it worked out, procrastination and the lack of a plan for that piano meant that it has just been waiting on me these past eight or nine years.

But then, in 2019, the very house we knew as home in Raymond came on the market, and Carol surprised us all by buying it as a family vacation home! It was then obvious what the next stopping point for the Schilling and Sons piano would be! 

COVID is upsetting travel plans for this Summer, but today I was pleased to note the completion of work on this family piano.

Satisfaction Test. Smile, Duane!

Details on the project appear at mcguirepiano.com

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Sand, Gravel, and Cement, Mixed With Experience

For Terri’s birthday, she asked for sand and gravel. Actually, it was sand, gravel, cement, and experienced labor. I accepted the challenge, and now reap the benefits of daily exercise.

In recent years, Terri has been using large concrete paving stones in the garden of this design:

For her current project, a patio for a fire pit, she wanted 60 more, but her local source was gone. Enterprising girl that she is, she acquired three forms for casting the blocks, and then asked her dedicated partner for help.

I’ve got a bit of experience in this area. Old experience. My early career with sand, gravel and cement was with Dennis Company of Raymond, Washington (1968-1972). There, I was privileged to gain lots of life skills. Among many other tasks, as a teen I operated the concrete batch plant, and delivered building materials.

In the storage shed next to the feed store, we would sometimes cast pier blocks in steel forms with the tag ends of premixed concrete left in the trucks. Bruce Dennis hated seeing that concrete go to waste, so when inventory of pier blocks was low, we oiled up some forms and poured some more. That was pretty simple manufacturing.

A concrete pier block similar to what we cast in the 1960s

Though I’ve noticed that the work is harder than it was 50 years ago, it does seem that Terri found someone with applicable experience.

The forms for Terri’s paving stones

The forms shown above are glistening with special form release agent that I brushed on prior to pouring concrete this morning. Somehow I knew the recipe for that release agent. If you need some, it is 50% motor oil and 50% mineral spirits (paint thinner). It works just as well as it did fifty years ago.

I can’t do this work without reflecting on my time as a gopher boy at The Dennis Company. After I got the forms oiled up this morning, it was time for a senior citizen break before mixing the sand, gravel, and cement that I’d placed in the wheel barrow. While I was enjoying a chocolate doughnut (with chocolate frosting and coconut) that Terri had made to help motivate me, I had to remember and relate my experience with doughnuts in The Dennis Company years.

To recount the story with factual accuracy, I must admit that I am a morally compromised person. In addition to the many virtuous and valuable skills I learned at the time, I also gained a basic skill in thievery. Among the many, varied products handled by Dennis Company was bulk flour for the local bakeries which arrived in railcars with animal feed from Fischer Mills in Seattle. When delivering flour in the morning to the South Bend Bakery, if Mr. Noonan, the baker, was still in, he would always offer a free doughnut. There was also a lady working there: Mrs. Noonan, or an employee, I don’t know. But it was bum luck if she was the only one there. No doughnut. With better luck, one day I delivered flour with a veteran Dennis Company employee, Harry Smith. I always loved working with Harry; he taught me a lot. On that particular morning after we’d unloaded the flour, we passed that glorious rack of freshly glazed, warm doughnuts by the back door of the bakery.

Harry said, “Grab one. That old biddy will never offer you one.” What could I say? I was the trainee! I can tell you it was probably the best doughnut I’ve ever eaten, with the possible exception of that double chocolate coconut doughnut Terri made for me this morning.

With my doughnut and my memories giving me strength, I did get back to the task at hand. I mixed up that concrete and poured three more pavers.

In the days since the birthday I’ve generally made three a day. Today’s work brings me to nineteen. I have just forty-one more to go. Happy Birthday, Terri, and thanks for the doughnuts.

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A roof in a day

Our house was built 17 years ago. A look around the neighborhood will tell you that the roofing jobs were not the very best. We found that we were at the point of doing repairs which would probably continue annually. Since we plan to be here for many years, we decided on a new roof.

The McGuire heritage is one of get up and do it yourself. Well, not this job! My climbing days are over, and I was never really attracted to roofing. The roofing company I hired blew away all expectations; I had no idea that a crew could tear off the old and install a new roof in a day. But oh my, this crew can. Seven ninjas on the roof with a short lunch break, and it’s done, just like the company owner told me. They were moving so fast we couldn’t get an accurate count, but I think there were seven. Hats off to CCR roofing. of Clearfield, Utah.


Remarkably, all that energy was contagious. I had a very productive day in the shop. I had plenty of breaks, and took a couple of walks with Bebop to give her a break from the stress. But honestly, I got twice the work done in the shop that I usually do. Good contagion.

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More improvements for Bebop

She’s an expensive dog, and worth it! Now complete is a new walkway to the shop, and concrete steps.

When Bebop arrived in February, we realized we’d want improvements. In the winter time we haven’t been accessing the shop from the deck. Instead we take the safe route from the front door with handrails and well shoveled and salted concrete steps. However, we clearly needed to use the newly fenced backyard for Bebop’s winter potty runs. Once again, the new puppy addition brings improvements for all.

I don’t do concrete well. That was left to the pros. I built the handrail yesterday using redwood for posts and mahogany for railing. Terri finished the job today by staining. Bebop approves.


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