Unseasonable with a McIntosh

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October is winding down. But the weather remains crazily mild.  We bask in the late-year sunshine, even though it comes with a canary-in-the-coal-mine quality. Our dry, warm weather has resulted in leaf colors more muted than last year, turning later and lingering longer.

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As the leaves turn, we have been marking maples along our new woods trail for tapping next spring. The biggest ones are impressive multi-trunked red maples, which, along with a few huge oaks, are the senior generation in our woodlot.

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Red maple leaves–three major lobes and, mostly, red.

We have some young sugar maples (the best for syrup) coming along that we will nurture into adulthood.

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The sugar maples have a distinctive Canadian-flag shape with five major lobes and turn more yellow and orange-ish than red.

Both work for syrup, although the sugars are queen.

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Fall be damned, the flowers just keep on blooming.

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Most are covered with groggy bees and wasps bellying up to bar for last call.

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Sticky hollyhock pollen on this bumble bee.  The yellow patch is rust on the hollyhock leaf.

We even have stray butterflies hanging about.

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I have done a “final” clearing of the veggies several times now. Yesterday’s haul was a shiny mash of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.

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Eggplant on October 20th? And we still don’t have a killing frost in sight.

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The weirdly warm prelude to winter seems to have invigorated our winecap mushroom bed, which had a major eruption over the past two days.

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Fortunately, winecaps dry well, so I had the oven on low all day, permeating the house with intense mushroom odor as I dried a winter store for risotto and soups.

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Gorgeous set of gills.

The weather also nurtured bumper crops of fruit flies and lady bugs–all of which want to invade our house.  Right now the fruit flies are dive-bombing my glass of wine.  We are besieged.

Our yard and wood trail are covered with fallen wild apples.

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Both dogs love them. The dogs have an apple-eating posture, with feet planted wide and heads lifted with a look of concentration as they munch away. It’s a constant battle to keep them from eating too many.  Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any deer lured by the apples. Our game camera shows the usual suspects wandering down the trail–raccoons, skunks, foxes and … a cat.

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Every few nights, the same cat would show up on the camera, although we’ve never seen it ourselves.

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When “missing cat” posters went up in the neighborhood, we called the number and, sure enough, our little prowler was the cat on the poster. The owner set live traps for the cat on our trail for about a week.   I mentioned to George, let’s hope she doesn’t catch a skunk.  Of course, the only thing she caught was a skunk.

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The camera also captures grouse, woodcocks, squirrels and ….

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… Capp inspecting a golf ball long lost from our neighbors hooking it into our woods.

Unfortunately, last week a rabid fox attacked a man out cutting wood less than a mile away from us. So now, when we set out on walks with the dogs, they wear orange tick-vests as protection from hunters and the fall ticks. And we carry bear spray as protection against rabid beasties.  Oddly well-armed.

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Aside from putting the gardens to bed and other fall chores, I took on another spinning wheel rescue. I am afraid I have become happily addicted to this activity. I first saw a desolate looking wheel several months ago at an antique store. But the wheel itself had a worrying, drunken wobble and I was pressed for time, so I reluctantly left it after taking some photos. The wheel was filthy with grime, but had a maker’s name–I S McIntosh–and date–1857–stamped on the end.

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After a little research, I found that McIntosh wheels were made in Nova Scotia by Alexander and I S and the two likely were father and son, although I S is a bit of a mystery as those initials don’t show on any census records for the area. The wheels are well-made and good spinners.

Although intrigued, I already have three wheels, so had put the wheel out of my mind. But when my facebook feed showed that the antique store was discounting everything to move in new (well, antique-new) stock and their photo showed the wheel was still there–what else could I do? I drove over first thing in the morning and pulled the wheel outside to get a good thorough look. It appeared that she was missing several parts, but that wheel itself wasn’t warped–the wobble likely was due to a bent axle, something I thought was fixable. And so, after negotiating a good discount, she was mine.

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Gouges, paint drips, and grime.

These old battered, neglected wheels are strangely like dogs in pound to me, crying out to be taken to a loving home.

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There’s beauty under that grime.

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Feed me!!

Over the next weeks, I cleaned her up–my favorite task–made new leather bearings for the “mother of all” that holds the flyer, and shimmed the uprights to better align the wheel.

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Removing decades of grime.

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The uprights that support the wheel were black from more than a hundred years of who-knows-what-grease was used to lubricate the axle.

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Slowly scraping off the accumulation of crud to reveal the original markings.

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Revealing the beauty of the wood.

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The “mother of all” which holds the flyer supported by two leather bearings, both of which are broken or damaged.

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Cutting new leather bearings for the flyer.

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I made this new leather bearing from a worn-out sandal.  It’s blue, so not so traditional.  Do I care?  Not at all.

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The flyer, whorl, and bobbin, with some beautifully spun wool that had clearly been there for decades.

George made a new footman–the wooden piece that connects the treadle to the wheel–and straightened the axle.

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The new oak footman had nice grain and matched the wheel beautifully.

This wheel intrigues me because of her condition.

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Aside from the wear on the treadle, which shows a lot of use, she has unusual wear marks on the spokes and lots of hammer marks.

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Perhaps she was not gently used. But she will be now. She spins beautifully, and responsively, like the veteran she is.

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46 thoughts on “Unseasonable with a McIntosh

    • I absolutely love bringing these beautiful old spinning wheels back to life. We get spoiled up here with fall colors. Last year was so magnificent that this year seems subdued in comparison. But, you are right, it’s still gorgeous.

  1. Oh my Brenda, what a marvellous transformation.. what a fascinating name “mother of all” with all these wheels you are accumulating you will be able to start up a learners circle in spinning and weaving. How interesting to see the animals that come visiting in the night. Did the cat get reunited with its owner? Take care out walking with that rabid fox around. How is the man that got bitten? I remember reading a very graphic description in a Wilbur Smith story of a man that got bitten by a rabid dog. I imagine you have a good pile of wood waiting for that cold weather.

    • Spinning wheels have marvelous names for parts–the mother of all holds the maidens, which support the flyer, which is between a whorl and an orifice!

      We aren’t sure if the owner found the cat. She has moved out of state and was searching for the cat while on a visit back. There had been cat sightings down the road, so she may have found it, but she didn’t let us know. We haven’t seen the cat on the camera for several nights so I hope the owner found it.

      We heard about the rabies attack secondhand so don’t know how the victim is doing except that he had to get rabies shots, of course. We were told that he had to strangle the fox to get it to let go, but that sounds a bit extreme, not sure it it’s true.

      George has us well stocked with winter wood but, so far, we have only lit the stove once in the morning, it’s been so warm.

      • Orifice!!! Lovely descriptive names. I can believe about having to strangle the fox, I believe they clamp on and won’t let go. A terrible disease, fortunately we don’t have it in Australia.

  2. Wonderful post! isn’t this fall amazing? Our days are spent very much like your own, continuing to harvest, walking the woods, and taking in these glorious days. The spinning wheel is a beauty, or at least you have re-earthed it to be one! Can’t wait to get together when I get home! I’ll save out some Blue face Leicester for you…looks like you have several options for spinning up loads of yarn and I am sure I can fix you up with some BFL roving to try out. You are truly enjoying your blessed life!!

    • This fall has a magical quality doesn’t it? We had a spectacular sunrise this morning. This newest wheel was just begging me to take her home. She really is lovely and a great spinner. If you have any Blue Face Leicester fleece that you can spare to sell, I would love to buy some from you. If you don’t have any to spare, I’d love to try a bit. It looks absolutely amazing. I’ve been spinning two CVM fleeces and have some lustrous Border Leicester on tap, too. I’ve started to knit again after 40 years. What a mess. Now I remember why I never really took up knitting. Time to get the loom working.
      Have a wonderful trip. I’ll see you when you get back!

    • I may become a spinning wheel hoarder in my old age. You are right that this rescue was tougher than my first one. Fortunately, there is online community of people who restore old wheels and share their knowledge. Otherwise, I would have been terrified to try straightening an axle.

  3. What a labor of love your restoration is! She’s beautiful, probably languishing for decades, waiting for you to come along and rescue her. A happy-ending story! 🙂
    Your veggies look divine – amazing that you still haven’t had frost. Weather everywhere has been off. Our foliage peak was 10 days later than ‘normal’ (whatever that was) and if it wasn’t for red maples, we’d have had little to wow us. Makes me wonder what the winter will bring.
    Cheers to you all on this yet again, gorgeous fall day!

    • Exactly, Eliza, restoring these wheels is a genuine labor of love for me. I think I found a new calling. There was some frost in the lowlands here, but it comes later to our hillside. Unfortunately, our ticks are back and loving this warm weather. Grrr.

  4. I enjoy stories of how something old was reclaimed for use. That wheel is a treasure and kudos to you for having the patience to recognize that. Knowing the date makes it even more excitind. Thank you for sharing the processes you went through and the collaboration that made it happen. The foliage pictures are wonderful.

    • The thing that first attracted me to this wheel was the stamp with the date and maker’s name. These old wheels exude a kind of living history, showing the intensity and type of use through wear on the treadle and wear marks made by (usually linen) thread being spun. But generally the specific history remains a mystery, so it’s nice to have information about where it was made and when. Imagine this Nova Scotia wheel ending up in Maine. She was pretty battered and not very well cared for, so I imagine she could tell some stories.

  5. What a great post! I love your leaf colors. We are still not turning much yet. And your wildlife camera! What a treat!!! But that spinning wheel is really the crown of the post. I wouldn’t know one part from another or how to restore one, much less spin as you have. What a lovely thing to do to a beautifully crafted piece of machinery.

    • Are you having a warmer than normal fall down there too? It feels like Virginia here.
      There is a wealth of information on-line about antique wheels and lots of advice on restoring them. It’s a wonderful community of people, actually. I can attest to the fact that it’s an addictive activity–I just want to travel around the state rescuing wheels. They are such magnificent little machines, crafted with great care and attention to utility and beauty. I hate to see them falling apart, getting thrown out, or being used as planters. So, I suspect that I will be rescuing many more. Fortunately, spinning wheel prices are quite low right now and they don’t need to be fed!

      • Yes, we’re having relatively warm temps. It was an odd summer: dry and then torrentially wet. I do recall one year when color peaked around Thanksgiving–that, too was a warm year. We’ll see. I’m glad the spinning wheels have you!

    • If the weather ever gets cold, we will slow down! We’re excited about making maple syrup. Now that we have the trail in our woods, we have easy access to more than enough trees for our syrup needs. I hope we don’t get carried away.

    • I’m not sure if the owner and cat were reunited. I also thought that the cat might be happier carousing outside, but coyotes come through here in the winter and take out a lot of neighborhood cats apparently. In any case, we haven’t seen the cat for the past several nights on the game camera.
      You nailed it with Capp. He checks everything for edibility.

  6. What a fantastic job you’ve done on that spinning wheel, if I could spin I’d be rescuing them too. What history they all have. I love your wildlife images, especially the fox. I keep hoping to catch one on mine as they are around. A rabid fox? that doesn’t sound good, or the tick problem although they seem pretty numerous this year, I even took one of the cat yesterday. Your autumn leaves are beautiful, lucky you having all that land and your own woods! Here’s to your good weather keeping up.xxx

    • You have your hands full with rescuing live beings, never mind spinning wheels. But I have to say, the wheels have more personality than any inanimate object I’ve dealt with before. There are some lovely wheels in your neck of the woods, but I think they are pretty scarce. We have lots of old wheels here, providing endless temptation for rescue.
      We had a long stretch this summer without any ticks at all, but they’re back and likely will be around for another month. If we don’t get some frost, maybe even longer. Are tick-borne diseases a problem where you are? We have quite a few here so I shuddered a bit when you mentioned bringing the little hedgehog inside for de-ticking. We do everything we can to keep them well OUT of the house!

  7. I like your dedication to restoring spinning wheels, they deserve to be looked after and revived. My neighbour restores old furniture, and it wonderful to watch a piece slowly transformed to its former glory. Good to see the dogs are enjoying their walk even with their tick vests. I enjoyed your post and the gorgeous photos.

    • It’s not dedication really, more like a creeping, bizarre addiction. I can’t seem to get enough of the old wheels.
      After an initial reaction of “what the heck is this thing?” the dogs now know that the vests mean a walk is coming and get excited when we pull them out.

    • Ha. Me too. A year ago we seeded four different kinds of mushroom spawn with pegs into holes drilled in logs–rather time consuming–and they haven’t done a thing. They pegged holes just sit there, bumps on a log.
      But these winecaps are vigorous little fellows, popping up in great quantities all at once.

  8. Today was the first day of the “winter market” in Lewiston. We laughed about a winter market where people are dressed in sandals and tee shirts and buying peppers, eggplants and tomatoes! But I also bought some root vegetables, pie pumpkins, winter squash and dry beans. Despite the weather, I’m in the mood for fall foods.
    What fiber are you spinning on your new wheel?

    • We also are craving fall foods. Maybe it’s the day length–it’s certainly not the temperature! Right now, I’m running through wool from several different fleeces to get a feel for the new wheel. I only have one wheel with a distaff for holding flax, so that’s the wheel I’ve been using for spinning flax. Every antique wheel spins a little differently and its fun to get to know them.

  9. Well! Where to begin?! It’s all beautiful and inspiring–you have made such a fine life for your yourselves. The spinning wheel saga is amazing–everything about it appeals to me! What a transformation for the old girl and I love that she’s functional and fulfilling her purpose once again. We seem to collect looms the way you attract wheels. We sold one last Sunday then bought a new (used) one on Monday! The difference is that we aren’t as handy and clever as you are so we tend to see the quirky and buy ones in better shape. Spin on!

    • I have been fortunate that all of my antique wheels are fundamentally sound and good spinners. They all have quirks, of course, but I feel that I learn to be a better, more sensitive spinner by learning to adjust to their vagaries. In contrast, quirks in looms tend to just be a pain in the butt. With George’s help, I will get my old loom working again in the next few months. I can’t wait to weave again, but I’m not sure I even remember how to warp her. What kind of loom did you buy? Do you still have the Macomber? How did it work out? I hope I don’t start collecting looms too. George already calls my spinning/weaving room “the museum.”

      • The newest loom is a 24″ LeClerc Compact. It has 4-shafts but can be expanded to 8. I wanted another small loom that could be folded up when it wasn’t being used and this one is nearly brand new–an amazing purchase! And the Macomber is great. I haven’t woven on it but Don just finished a longish warp and he loved it.

  10. Beautiful post! I am beginning to think our very warm falls are the new normal. Quite different from when I grew up in Maine. Heck, quite different from even 15 years ago. Well, since it’s here, we might as well enjoy it. It’s an ill wind that blows no good?

  11. It’s lovely that you’ve made the wheel to spin again rather than just an ornament. We’ve had good results on our dogs with Nexguard tablets (we use one with wormer as well). They protect against ticks and fleas and we’ve found them very effective – lasting for much longer than the stated period. Don’t know whether they are available your side of atlantic. Drop on treatments just don’t last since both are water babies. We get ticks throughout the warmer weather (sheep and deer area) and our labrador, Dyson, comes up in alergic rashes when bitten. Since we’ve used nexguard he’s been fine. Bit expensive, but worth it.

    • Thanks so much for commenting! Yes, I hate to see antique spinning wheels as ornaments, planters, lamps, or whatever. They are marvelous little machines and it feels good to bring them back to life.
      We also use Nexguard during active tick season. We have so many tick-borne diseases here that affect dogs (and humans) that we have to be extremely pro-active. We use the vests during hunting season when they do double duty to keep the dogs highly visible and to keep them from carrying any ticks into the house (although they still carry them in our their heads). In case you can’t tell, we hate ticks.

  12. I love how you liken rescuing these wonderful old spinning wheels to rescuing dogs from a pound. And you’ve done such a wonderful job of restoring it. It must be incredibly satisfying. I love maple syrup and wonder if it tastes different when it’s straight from the tree – I guess it must. Gorgeous photos, as always, Brenda. Thank you for sharing your news.

    • Thanks Sam. It’s funny how these old wheels seem to have personalities. Some are perfectly nice wheels, I like them, but I have no desire to buy them. Others have some feature that just speaks to me, as if I want to get to know them better. And then there is the third category–those that beg to be taken home and I can’t get out of my mind. They are all designed and made by hand, so perhaps some of the maker’s personality comes through–creating beautiful lines or a bit a whimsy can speak to people generations later.
      Everything tastes better out of our own gardens, so perhaps maple syrup will too. I’ll let you know! I’m looking forward to drinking sap right out of the the tree.

  13. Wow that spinning wheel looks wonderful.It was so good that you bought it and brought it back to use again. Those are fantastic autumn pictures. I have never heard of a dog tick vest. Did the cat ever get caught? Sarah x

    • The wheel practically hopped of the antique barn and into the back of my car. What could I do? I really expect now to be the old lady that hoards spinning wheels. Could be worse.
      Dog tick vests are new here too. We have had several new tick-borne diseases here in the last few years. During spring and fall, when we are working in any tick-prone area, we wear permethrin-treated clothing, which works really well to prevent bites. During hunting season in the fall, it’s a good idea to wear orange in the woods, so the vests do double duty to be visible to hunters and to help keep off ticks.
      As far as we know, the cat’s still out there.

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