Left Handed Monkey Wrenches

Years ago, a friend and I sent a third friend to get a left handed monkey wrench.  Every time he returned to tell us that somebody told him there’s no such thing and that it’s just a regular pipe wrench, we accused him of not trusting us, of calling us liars, and thinking we didn’t know what we were doing, and sent him back on his quest.  After a half hour or so, he figured out what was going on.  He’s never spoken to us since…

I first learned about Murphy from my guitar teacher who had a poster of his laws on the wall in her office.  As a young kid things like If anything can go wrong it will go wrong at the worst possible moment seemed funny.  His laws were a good distraction while being lectured about not practicing enough or not paying attention to my lessons.  Years later, as a pseudo-adult, those laws carry a little more weight.

Today, 10 years later, Murphy threw a left handed monkey wrench into butchering day.

I slept in a little this morning, puttered around the house eating cinnamon bread with loads of butter (Best way to start the morning!), then finally dragged myself out to the garage to finish hooking up the scalder and plucker.  Turns out the old heating element was rusted into the tank.  No big deal.  Just weld an old lug nut to it and spin it out with a breaker bar.  I tightened in the new 4500W element, wired it up, and plugged it in.  Right away the element started heating.  Awesome.

The scalder is wired just like a hot water heater. I saved $20 worth of wire by using two wires from an old range cord. I put a new end on it and plugged it into the 220V receptacle for my welder. I replaced the normal gate valve with an all brass ball valve. Ball valves are less likely to leak, and are easier to clean if they clog up with feathers. The other end of the hose is connected to a hydrant so the tank fills from the bottom. No splashing or spilling, just open the valve and turn on the hydrant.

I had already wired up the chicken plucker and made sure it spun and nothing dragged.  We were ready to kill chickens!

The plucker looks exactly like a normal washing machine.

We started with the neighbor’s chickens since they are destined to be dog food.  We figured that would allow us to adjust the scald time and temperature and practice with the plucker before we go to the people food.  I dropped a couple chickens into my kill-cone and slit the arteries then handed them to Bethany’s dad for scalding.  No pictures of the kill cone.  You don’t want to see it.  Trust me.

Scalding a Freedom Ranger. We used a candy thermometer to keep accurate track of our temperature.

As the chickens came out of the scalder, I pulled the knob to start the plucker.  Nothing.  I spun the knob around and tried again.  Still nothing.

I turned around and looked at the 70 chickens looking back at me, evil mischief in their eyes.  For fear of sounding crazy, I didn’t say anything out loud, but I knew they had sabotaged the plucker.  They might let me kill them and dunk them in 150 degree water, but no way was I throwing them in that horrible spinny-machine and ripping away their last shred of decency!

Determined, I tore apart the plucker, thankful for my last minute modifications that made disassembly much simpler.  The safety switch was bypassed.  The motor spun.  The feather plate wasn’t dragging.

Tearing apart the plucker.

It could only be one thing.  The gearbox.  I pulled off the gearbox and popped open the cover.  There, right on top, was a broken gear.

Notice the missing crescent shaped piece below my hand. I'm not sure how long the gear had been broken. It's possible it had run without it if the gear started in the right place.

With no chicken plucker, we were stuck doing things by hand.  No way were we butchering 70 birds today!

Plucking by hand is tedious...

...and messy!

Thanks to Murphy and a left handed monkey wrench, we only killed 8 birds today.

Now I’m scrambling to find parts and modify the design to prevent a repeat failure.

Thanks a lot, Murphy.

P.S.  Sorry for the pictures being half fuzzy.  Somebody (I know who, but won’t say, for Bethany’s sake) left a fingerprint on the camera lens.

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