Wild Bill

Wild Bill’s Cat Hatch

Version 2

When my friend Wild Bill was working on our farm, crafting new barn windows, we tugged on his sleeve to help us with another fix. (Yes, this story is a bit dated. Sorry.)

Martin asked Bill if he could remove a section of roof adjoining his office, and seal off the crawl space overhead. (For you new readers: in its former life, Martin’s office was a milk parlor. Also known as the “Mouse House” on this blog.)

Anyway…

The breezeway between the barn loft and milk parlor has probably been a critter thoroughfare for decades. But it became problematic when we renovated the Mouse House, and Martin started squatting there during the workweek.

Commonsense suggests that the attic-like space harbors raccoons, possums and the occasional barn cat. But there are days when it sounds like a pack of bears are slam-dancing overhead. (I thought Martin was exaggerating until I heard the thumping and pounding. It was disconcerting; I left quickly.)

And on occasion, something dies up there; the putrid smell of decay lingers for weeks. (If you’ve had a critter expire in the walls of your house, then you’re familiar with this odor.)

So we asked Wild Bill to fix it. But we didn’t consider the potential complications.

Bill opened the roof and spotted the narrow entry point — a ramped, inaccessible passage — barely visible with a flashlight.

That’s when Martin spoke up: “How do we know that all of the cats are out of there?”

Bill shrugged in that “what’s one less barn cat?” motion.

But Martin and I weren’t keen on entombing a barn cat — even fat, useless Felix.

We needed a feline head count, but our cats are notoriously absent when strangers are present, so Bill and his assistant left for lunch.

Then I hollered for each cat. I tracked down 4 out of 5.

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Olive and Toulouse emerged as I inspected the breezeway.

Our one no-show: Mel. My favorite cat.

Wild Bill returned while Martin and I debated the odds that Mel was hiding overhead. Trapping Melbert seemed risky and we suggested abandoning the project and trying again in the spring.

Bill realized that we were cat-crazy clients, so he came up with a clever solution: he blocked off the passageway, but fashioned a hinged door.

A cat hatch.

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Then he sealed up the roof again. Attached to the seemingly inaccessible hatch: a string that dangled down through a tiny hole drilled through the breezeway ceiling. A tug on the string opened the door; release the string and we could hear the hatch shut with a satisfying thump.

“If you hear a cat up there, just open the hatch,” Bill said. “Then, when they’re all accounted for, just cut the string.”

Brilliant.

If you visit our farm, you’ll see the bright orange string. It dangles down in front of Martin’s office door… in memory of Wild Bill’s handy work.

As for Mel?

He sauntered out of the bushes, right after Bill’s car rolled down the drive.

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Barn Improvements 2.0

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In late 2014, the horses got an entirely new roof on the barn. It’s hard to top that gift, but just before Christmas last month, the horses got new windows, too.

Like the roof, the windows were a necessity. In the horses’ stalls, the original glass panes are long gone, and for a decade, we’ve improvised with plexiglass sheets, which Martin screws in for the winter, and removes in the summer.

But these flimsy plastic sheets aren’t always tough enough to withstand the worst winter winds; sometimes they blow into the stalls over night. And I worry that a horse will catch his lip or nose on a jutting screw head. (You’d be amazed at how horses manage to injure themselves. In leu of screws, we’ve tried using wooden slats, but they never fit properly. Besides, the horses chew them.)

Of course, Home Depot doesn’t stock replacement windows for a 95-year-old Dutch style dairy barn. Trust me, I looked.

But my friend Wild Bill stepped up to the plate and offered to make them for us.

(Why is he “wild”? I’ve known Bill for donkey’s years and the name suits him. Here’s a picture of him with Brynn last year.)

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Anyway, this wasn’t a simple project. Weather, wear and time had altered the casings and sills, so each window would have to be designed to fit its respective space. And, they’d need new fittings that would secure each window against the wind, but facilitate removal in the summer.

Wild Bill found a solution. He custom-built the frames for each of the 12 openings. And he came up with a simple but clever latching solution using 4 standard window closures…. and he color-coded the latches so that we’d be able to match each window to its respective sill and casing.

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So, there you go. Another project in the can.

If you’re keeping score at home, it’s horses 2, humans 0. We are still living in a house with a leaky roof and broken windows, but the horses, cats, and raccoons & possums are toasty-warm this season!

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