Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Heating Oil Update

Pioneer Oil just dropped off another load 187.1 gallons of heating oil on Tuesday.  The previous delivery was on January 12th, and that was for 178.6 gallons.  Our tank has a capacity of 275 gallons.  Compared to 2013 we are  262.44 gallons over where we were last year at this time.  Oil prices have changed little, but they are still high, $3.97 to $4.09 / gallon.

Think it's the weather?

This year we are a lot colder that we were last year.  Our snowfall thus far this year has been 20 inches, and it was only 7.2 inches last year.  Temperturtes have been much colder this year as well.  This can account for the usage.  3.8 gallons a day since the last delivery is well within the expected norm, but I expected far less due to our vigilance, new boiler, and new Nest thermostat.

No matter what  we do to conserve, the weather puts up a good fight.  If we did nothing we would loose for sure.  I'm not complaining, just being observant.

I can't wait for the insulation to be installed this coming fall.  That will be a game changer.

One thing I can say is that since the new boiler went in, and the new thermostat, we are not cold as we have been in the past.  The boiler heats better, the steam is more abundant in the radiators as opposed to 30%, or more, flying up the chimney from the broken old boiler, and manner in which the house is heated is well controlled by that miriacle Nest knob on the wall.

If all goes according to our 2013 history, we should have one more delivery in March / April, and then nothing till Fall.  Before we put in the on demand hot water system we would get a delvery in June as well.  Stay tuned.

How are you doing heating your home this winter?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snowblower Repair?

Now for something completely different.

If you know of a snowblower repair person that willl come to our house, and either repair the belt that broke this morning, or be able to take it a local shop, let us know.  Leave a comment with contact information, or email me at  The machine is a Craftsman 8 HP, 2 years old.

Thank you very much.

Oh, and right after the belt started to smoke, I took the shovel to the hard snow at the end of the driveway.  As you can see, I'm screwed.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Cabin Fever Assignment

I have an assignment for you to help while away the hours you are spending snowbound.

As you venture out, and around town today, and over the next couple of days, take notice of the people that are clearing the sidewalks in front of their homes, and businesses.  Now, you all know how I feel about this.  If the door to a business opened onto a sidewalk, then by all means keep it clear.  The same holds  true for a home, but if your front door does not open onto to the sidewalk then why should you be required to clear a public way?  Why should you be obligated to clear a public way that goes past your property?  Is shoveling the road next?

Why open yourself up to lawsuits?  Your homeowners insurance will cover you for slips, and falls on your property, but for a fall on a sidewalk outside of your property, and on a sidewalk cleared by you?  I don't think so.  Then, if someone does slip and fall on the sidewalk you cleared at the behest of the town, who is liable?  The sidewalks are the towns, as are the roadways.  How are you qualified to clear the sidewalk correctly?  Did the town offer snow clearing classes, and include you in their liability insurance?

Now, as you are out over the next couple of days, take note of the Highway Department crews that are using their equipment to clear the sidewalks.  They'll clear the sidewalk on Route 131, and along Route 20.  On Route 20 they will actually clear the sidewalk, and then stop, go onto the street in front of houses, and businesses that have already cleared the sidewalk, and resume clearing on the other side.  I imagine they will do this on Route 131 as well, although I haven't witnessed it.

Then, after another day, or so, watch what happens next.  The Highway Department will come back, and remove the berms of snow between the cleared side, or uncleared sidewalk, and the street.  This will actually clear the sidewalk completely.

Confused?  You sure as heck aren't the only one in town confused, but it wouldn't be our little town without some confusion, contradiction, and silliness.

It's almost a sport here in Sturbridge.

I don't have a sidewalk in front of my house, but the town must think I do since they've come up onto my lawn twice this year, and have taken out my mailbox in hopes of finding one.  The second time they nailed the mailbox they gave me to replace my own they had already destroyed in a previous storm.   I've been here for eight years, and I've never had a mailbox hit by a plow before.

Maybe, it was a message.

The mailbox, and post, lying on its side, was given to me by
 the town to replace the one the plow took out earlier in the
If you do happen to catch some of the snow removal silliness here in town, send along a pic to, and I'll include it in any follow up posts this winter.

In the meantime, get out there, and clear your sidewalk, or they may order a hit on your mailbox.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Workin' On The Winter Job List, And Prayin' Hard For Spring

Winter is the time I try to plan, and complete, projects inside our home.  Painting the dining room, and living room took up a few weeks before the holidays.  Not only were the walls primed, and painted, but also the trim.  The trim color was also changed.  Just takes time.

You know how the rest of it goes -- the rugs are rolled up so we might as well clean , and shine up the hardwoods which leads to a new chandelier over the dining room table, entry light, and of course, the obligatory matching lock set on the front door.

Changed the light switches, and plates as well.  The dreaded Decorating Cascade Effect has begun..

That would be enough for the off season, however the off season is far from over so it is on to the next item on the list.  I should have taken my time, stretched things out, but I want these projects done ASAP.  Now, I just finished the next job on the
list : sort out the wiring in the basement.


DIY projects are something I just do, and have always done.  Now, I may not always to them to a pro like standard, but I do them.  I also don't do over my skill level, and although I get a rush from doing it myself, I am always willing to hire the pro for projects beyond my knowledge, and skill.  Unfortunately, this project, as much as I would rather hire a pro, is right at my skill level.


This is what I was up against.  We bought this old house in the  spring of 2006.  There had been some good improvements in recent years, one being a whole new roof, and another was a new 200 amp electrical service replacing an old fuse box.  This is a big deal.  Lots of new wire in the basement, mixed with older armor covered wire from generations before.  One would think that when the new circuit breaker panel box was installed at the opposite end of the basement that the wires for each room in the house would be extended to brand new circuit of their very own.

Think again.

That would be the wise thing to do.  The smart thing to do.  The thing most electricians pride themselves on doing.

Not in this case.

Yes, the previous owner had a separate circuit for each receptacle in the kitchen, but only one 15 amp circuit breaker for the dining room, living room, guest room and kitchen on the first floor.  That same circuit breaker controls the two bedrooms upstairs on the second floor, the den on that floor, and the attic. The electrician just took the circuit from each room, stuck them all in an electrical box, tied them all together with one wire exiting the box, and going to the panel.

One circuit. Eight rooms.

Before the second floor bathroom was torn out, and a new one built in 2012, that room was on the circuit as well.  A hairdryer would turn off the air conditioner, and practically everything else in the house.

A few years ago I had an electrical company come out, and give me an estimate as to how much it would cost to sort out the circuits, and assign a separate breaker to each room.

The price was astronomical. I thanked the gentlemen that came, and off they went.  A few minutes after they left they called me, and told me that their estimate was calculated incorrectly, and that it would be actually half the amount of the origin estimate.

Not bad, but for the amount of work to be done, it was still more than I wanted to pay.  Far more.

A couple of weeks ago I began the process.  I traced, and marked each wire in the basement, with colored tape that electrician use just for such things, all the way from where they emerged from the ceiling to the circuit panel box.  There turned out to be five circuits that need to be thinned out including the big one that controls almost everything in the house, and if I could have changed  that one mega circuit to several separate circuits I would have been beyond happy.

I'll repair a pipe, install a toilet, paint, plant, prune, build, add a new electrical circuit, or remove an old one in our house.  I've done it all many times in the past.  One thing I won't do is take on something that is over my head.  Many DIYer's do.  So, after tracing the wires in the basement, changing out the 60 year old electrical boxes, changing out the old armoured cable where I could, I only managed to separate a few insignificant receptacles from the Mega Circuit.


Seems the main culprit cable runs up through the floor, and must branch off to all the other places at ceiling lights, wall switches, and other places I don't have access to, or a clue as to where they are.  The good thing is the load that particular circuit draws is low, although it controls the ceiling lights for almost every room.

Know your limits, and either ask for help, or hire a pro if you are ever unsure.  I've thought this one out a great deal, but I am always up for some unsolicited advice so don't be afraid of dropping me a line, or even better, a discount if you are a pro.  :-)

Part of being a good do-it-yourselfer is getting the best information on how to do something, Google the subject, listen to those that have done it, and watch the pro's as they do similar jobs.  Today, that is much easier thanks to YouTube.

Thankfully, last weekend Mary didn't sing "You Light Up My Life", and I didn't sail across the basement  with puffs of smoke coming from my orifices.

Now, it's on to the next project.  Hmm...I wonder if that wall is a bearing wall?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

It's Time To Pass On Some Treasures

A number of years ago, soon after I arrived in town, I began collecting all sorts of Sturbridge related material.  I scoured Ebay, and after a period of time, I had accumulated many post cards, maps, books, and papers related to the town.

One day, the daughter of the late town historian, Winifred Tillyer, waved me over into the driveway of her childhood home across the street.  Debbie had invited me over to look through the family barn, and to take whatever I felt worth keeping.  The family was cleaning out the barn, and had a large dumpster in the driveway already containing material from the barn.  She knew of my love of history.

I was dumbfounded. It was as if the daughter of King Tut had invited me over for a play date in the pyramids, and oh, by the way, you can have whatever you think "is worth keeping".

I looked through the barn, and found a lot of old antiques, and empherma.  There was a stack of old town reports, dog license forms from the early 1900's, and other assorted items strewn about the barn along with old trunks, tools, posters, and antique clothing.

I found that someone had begun filling the dumpster, so I dove in.  There were a few large green trash bags filled with papers, along with genuine trash.  I threw the promising bags out onto the drivewa, and with Debbie looking on, I began to go through the bags.  I found a lot of papers, old maps, more town reports, and the like.  I asked her if she was serious about her offer, and she reconfirmed she was.  She wanted to make sure that no worthwhile items went to the landfill, and the ones that were worth saving went to someone who appreciated the history of the town.  I was living across the street, and had been spending my spare time rehabbing the house I was in.  She knew the house well since her family had owned t for well over a hundred years, and knew of my appreciation of history.  What I didn't want would either go into the dumpster, or to a reputable antique dealer that was scheduled to come the next day.

Hearing that, I was like a honey badger, and shifted myself into overdrive.  Soon I amassed a large collection of stuff that I had no clue what it was.   As I was packing up the items,  Debbie told me that several years before, when her mom was still alive,  an antique dealer stopped by, and offered to clean out the barn of any old "junk".  Mrs.  Tillyer agreed that he could help himself to the old "junk", but to leave the more valuable items alone.

The man cleaned her out of almost everything, and the family was heartbroken.  The family confronted the man, but he denied he had taken anything other than what he said he would.  The family knew better.  Now, Debbie was glad that the remainder of the historical town papers were going to someone that would protect them.

I was given a great responsibility that day, but I was also concerned about the items that had been taken from the elderly Mrs. Tillyer.  I wanted to see if I could somehow track them down, and what a better place to find them?  Ebay.

I was always finding Sturbridge items on  Ebay, many from the same seller that at one time had lived on Chamberlain Street with his parents.  His parents were long time collectors, and when they passed, he began to sell off their collection before putting the house on the market.  I bought a lot of those old Sturbridge items, while continuing my search for the Tillyer stolen papers.

One day, while on Ebay, I found a new listing of Sturbridge historical empherma.  It was a conglomeration of birth certificates, wedding pictures, and marriage announcements.  There were maps, booklets, and a trove of miscellaneous  items all dealing with Sturbridge, and the Tillyer, and Chamberlain family.  I was curious about where this specific collection had come from, and wrote to the seller.  He said he had recently obtained the items at an antique dealer who had bought them from another.  The items sounded a lot like the ones taken from Mrs. Tillyer.  With the help of my friend, Todd McLaren, I purchased the items from the dealer.

The items arrived a week later, and the box was loaded with what appeared to be none other than the items taken from the barn years ago.  Among the items were Mrs. Tillyers birth certificate, marriage license, and other family papers.  I called Debbie, and the next time she came up from Maryland, I presented her with the family treasures.  She was amazed, and thankful for their return.  The other historical items, that had been part of the purchase, she had no use for, and hoped I would care for them as I had the others she had given me.

The papers in my possession are priceless, and go pack to when the land was first surveyed by the order of King Charles.  I have many of the maps that historian Levi Badger Chase had drawn, and others that had been drawn by those original surveyors.  I also have the original proprietors map of the Sturbridge.  This map showed all the parcels in town that had been awarded the first settlers. There is a copy of this map in the Joshua Hyde Library, but I have the original, and mine is hand colored.

I also have a map drawn by the original surveyor of the land of Tantasques, and a hand drawn  copy by Levi Chase.  The Quinebaug River is shown in both maps, as well as the location of beaver dams, forests, lakes, and wigwams.

It is time to pass on this history to others that have the desire, location, money to preserve them, and place them on display.  Years ago I approached Bob Briere, and Charlie Blanchard of the Historical Society,  about the papers.  They were very interested in obtaining them, but I did not want them stored away in closet somewhere, and never be seen.  There was no Sturbridge Museum in town; not even a room in the town hall for displaying of historical artifacts.  I asked them for $900.00 to restore, preserve, and frame the proprietors  map. I did this because I would not only be assured the item would be taken care of, but displayed as well.  All the items would go along for the ride,and when space was available, they could be displayed.

I will never fully understand, but they turned down the offer, and told me that the Historical Society had no money for the the purchase.  I feel today, as I did then, if you want to retain these priceless relics of our past, then an investment has to be made to preserve them.  They deserve to be seen.

I have waited for a number of years for the Historical Society to come up with the funds to secure the items.  I left it with Bob, and Charlie that I  would hold the documents, maps, and books for ten years, then move on.

It's been ten years, and it's time to move on.  So, I have made the decision to pass on my collection of Sturbridge empherma, maps, booklets, and papers, but to begin with I would like to sell other items that I have bought over the years.

It is time to do some redecorating.

Those older, more historical items will be available once all these items are gone.  I hope to work out an arrangement with the town for their preservation, and display in either the town hall, or the office building.  If not, they will find a home elsewhere.

I have posted a few photographs below; look them over, and if you are interested, make me an offer, and if we can agree, it's yours.  Please pass this along to someone you fell may enjoy a bit of local history.

A automobile license plate advertising the Sturbridge Fair.
The fair was held at the fair grounds where the Host Hotel is today.

After the Fair ground was no more, one of the first drive-in theaters in the nation was on the site.
These movie posters are from 1938, five years after the first drive-in Camden, N.J..

Some of the many Sturbridge postcards I have hanging on the walls,
and sitting in a drawer.

The fair grounds was a very popular spot in town.
I had this item profesionally framed.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Best Regional Idea Hopefully On Track

Somewhere on my 120 mile round trip commute to Boston, and back, I think for a several moments about doing it differently.  The thoughts are usually most vibrant in Newton, along the turnpike, where the commuter rail is running from Worcester to South Station, and I am sitting in my car, heading east, not moving.  This is the point in my drive where a mother pushing a stroller will arrive in Beacon Hill faster than me.

Getting from home to work in the most efficient,  fastest, and the safest way possible is paramount in commuting, but those are the personal reasons.  The large, more global reason is being a responsible commuter,  and limiting my carbon trail along I-90.

A train would do that.

A couple of years ago the idea was brought up to me about having a commuter rail station in Brookfield at the current car transportation hub off of Route 49.  I thought that would be fantastic idea, but knowing what would be needed to even secure a study into the feasibility of such a plan, and not seeing that at the time, I sighed, "Someday", and moved on.

Currently, there is a multi billion transportation bill before the legislature, H. 3860.  One of the many provisions in the bill is for a Springfield to Worcester rail service.

“transportation planning, design, permitting and engineering, acquisition of interests in land, vehicle procurement, construction, construction of stations and right-of-way acquisition for rail projects, including Springfield to Worcester service, Boston to Cape Cod service and Pittsfield to New York City service.” 

Including a commuter rail station in Brookfield that would service the entire area should be part any planning, however this can only be accomplished by the area communities voicing their support, and voicing it loudly.  Our board of selectmen as a body has yet to support the idea as a whole, however, individuals on the board have.  Our town administrator has also supported the idea, as have many others in town.

Currently, there are no commuter trains servicing central Mass
west of Worcester.
There is an very good article in the Sturbridge Times that will bring you up to date.

The next step is to secure the massive area support needed for the idea.  Formation of a regional committee to formulate a plan,  publicize the idea, gather support, and disseminate information is essential in order to proceed.

If you would like to have local train service access in Brookfield, then let your selectmen, and state representative know.  Imagine boarding a train a few miles north, in Brookfield, as a commuter to Springfield, Worcester, or Boston, or a as a traveler to New York City, Cape Cod, or Montreal.  Just having a train service amenity at our doorstep would improve life dramatically for everyone in the area.

I thought it was a wonderful idea a couple of years ago, and like it even more today.  What I don't like is  loosing the commuting marathon to pedestrians, and I would really enjoy letting someone else do the driving for a change.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

One Way Going Green Can Cost You A Lot Of Green

In the early 1980's I had a solar hot water system placed on my roof by Reynolds Aluminum Company.  It was Reynolds foray into renewable energy, and since they had been around for decades I felt safe with choosing them.

Two years later Reynold sold their solar business.

The system itself worked well.  It pumped an antifreeze type  solution from the basement to the rooftop panels.  The solution would be heated by the sun, and travel back down to a heat exchanger atop the new 80 gallon water storage tank.  It was a simple system, and worked well for a number of years.  I blame the difficulty in obtaining parts, and the rarity of solar technicians as to why I took it off line.

Typical rooftop solar panel installation.
Solar is a great way to augment your electrical usage, or go completely off the National Grid, but today it is more about photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight directly into DC current for your home use.  An inverter will change that DC power over to AC.  Photovoltaic cells have come along light years since their first use years ago.

I like the idea a great deal, and if I could afford a system I would  install it to either go completely off the so called grid, or to at least take a bit out of our usage.

There are two conundrums associated with this however:

  1. The overall cost of electricity is not that bad if one just uses their head.
  2. The cost of photovoltaic systems far outweighs their benefit for the average home owner.  
Then came the company Roof Diagnostics. 

Roof Diagnostics is the solar energy company you hear advertising on the radio a lot.  They offer to put a system on your roof, at "no cost" to you, and you will be either no longer in need of National Grid, or a good deal of what they are currently supplying you.

Hmm.  "No cost" to me, and no longer having to pay National Grid for all, or at least a part of the energy we use.  I had to check this out.  I had so many questions.

Ideally, the best scenario would be to put a solar system on my roof to generate my electricity for my daytime use, and any extra would be sent into the grid through a reverse meter, and we would be credited for it.  At night, we could then draw off that credit.  That's the best, and ideal situation.

The commercials by Roof Diagnostics were interesting, especially since our third party energy supplier is no longer in business as off December we decided to check them out.  We always did about 3 to 4 cents per Kwh compared to the National Grid rate with the independent supplier.  So, we called for an appointment so that they could share their program with us.

Here is the Roof Diagnostics program.  They check out the location of your home online, and if it is facing the right way for the best solar exposure, then they figure out how many panels they can put on your roof for the best effect, and the amount of Kwh it will produce.  Then they check your credit score.  They won't talk to you unless it is 650 or more.

Another red flag.

I should have known when they shared that piece of information with me that it was going to cost me.

Next, they come on over, and tell you how it works.  First, you don't have to buy the equipment, or pay for any work done to put in the electrical inverter, and new meter.  You do have to lease it for 20 years, however.  

Lease?  Yes, lease.  The solar company receives all of the government energy credits, and incentives since they own the equipment, not you.

What you get in return is solar electric produced on your roof that will take care of all, or most of your household needs, and any extra will be diverted into the grid as a credit on your behalf.  If your average monthly usage is 1000 Kwh, and your system is capable of producing all of your needs, then say goodbye to National Grid, and Hello to the another company with their hand in the mix, the investors.  Roof Diagnostics is only the installers.

The investors charge you 2 to 3 cents per Kwh less than National Grid does.  In our case, based on the location of the panels on the roof would come to $84.00 per month for the 600 Kwh they would produce, and anything over that 600 Kwh would be supplied by National Grid.  There would be a charge for that usage.  

This arrangement is for twenty years.  It is a lease.  That $84.00 would remain constant for the term of the lease, and is transferable to a new owner if you sell your home.  If they don't want it, then what?  They only option is to increase the price of your home to cover the cost of dismantling the system.

Not a good plan.

I accomplished the same savings with an independent energy supplier for a number of years until this past December without a lease, or equipment sitting on my roof.

I am always looking for ways to lessen our footprint on this rock, and we have done pretty good so far, so I can recommend just using your head.  Turn off lights, and equipment when not being used, change over your light bulbs to LED light bulbs, put timers on the lights in laundry areas, outside lights.  Unplug phone chargers, have TV systems shut off at night on a timer, and wake up in the morning, and look for a independent electricity supplier for more savings.  You can find them online.

Simple things that will save you as much as the alternative offered by the a solar lease company.  The whole schlemiel about "saving" money, and it not costing you anything,  is something you really need to examine.  Paying a fixed amount for electricity for 20 years no matter what you do to cut back is not a good idea.  The incentive to do better has been eliminated. The inconvenience of having a system sitting on your roof when it comes time to sell your property is another matter.

Needless to say, we thanked the young man that stopped by, and shared with us the other night, and told him we didn't think it was for us.  Yesterday, I received a followup phone call from the company. I told them the same.  The girl at the other end was not happy, and signed off by saying a terse "ok", and then hung up.

Sorry, but their plan is ludicrous, and we were not taken in.

For us, we'll keep trying to cut back our usage; our monthly bill will remain our incentive, and we'll do fine.