Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Squeezing Blood from a Turnip

I have a shop apron that gets used, a lot! When it isn't being used, a lot! it hangs in a spot that gets direct sun in the morning if the barn doors are open.

The barn doors are open, a lot!

This has been going on for many years now and some might think the poor thing should be given a burial at sea, or at least be dumped unceremoniously into the trash, and they may be right, but it still seems functional to me.

Well, mostly functional. . .

In comparison to the back side, which doesn't see near as much sun, here you can see how sunburned the apron is.

I had already patched the webbing that goes over my shoulders a couple of times by sewing a bit of scrap webbing over the tear, but this last time it failed the webbing was so rotted there was nothing left to patch onto. I could pull the webbing apart into shreds between my fingertips!

But as far as I'm concerned there's still life in the old apron yet, even if I do have to squeeze it extra hard.

It just so happened that I had a couple scrap lengths of black webbing just the right width and length laying around from another project, so I cut away the failed webbing

  folded a couple inches of the new webbing over the old and spliced it on.


I then guesstimated where to cross the new webbing and tack it together. The original was all worn, torn and patched so guesstimating was the best I could do and frankly I was a little off. This tack is so the webbing crisis-crosses over my back and, once tied in place through some rings on the sides of the apron, keeps the weight on my shoulders and off my neck. Well I tacked a little too close. It works, but there's not much extra room there when putting it on and taking it off over my head. (Overconfidence, or maybe it was arrogance, had me putting the sewing machine away before I figured this out so I'll wait until next time I get the machine out to rip the stitches out and do it right.)

Final step was to fold the free ends of the new webbing in half and run a line of stitching to hold them that way. This makes it easier to fish the ends through the metal rings on the apron then tie the whole thing behind my back.

(I had black thread, but it's not UV resistant like the yellow thread I used.)

For now, when not around my neck, the venerable old apron is back on it's nail waiting for said neck; and catching the morning rays in the meantime. . .

Just more drivel from the shop. . .

Friday, April 22, 2016

Apparently I'm a Blowhard

But before that I'm a puzzler, jigsaw that is.

I just finished a puzzle the other day and had been personally invited by the manufacture to review their product. (OK OK, so it was more like a mass-produced slip of paper tucked inside the box, you know, like the trash you get inside magazines, but it was an invitation and I personally got it. . .)

I'm not usually into that sort of thing, spewing my opinion around about products, but in this case I felt there was a legitimate point or two to be made.

Unfortunately this is the screen I got when I submitted my laborious review.


Now I went back and checked and nowhere did I see any mention about a character limitation prior to completing my thoughtful, highly informative and helpful review. (Go ahead, laugh, I am.)

What is this? Twitter from the old days? Pay by the letter telegrams from the even older days?

Apparently Springbok is more than happy for you to say 'great puzzle!', 'wonderful family fun!', 'best money I ever spent!' but beyond that, well, they're just not interested in hearing from blowhards. . .at least that's my interpretation.

But after all my hard work I decided they were not going to get away with dissing me like that. No, I was going to go ril (That's viral without the vi, and we all know the punch in in the vi.) all over their asses and reach out to my thousands, OK, hundreds, no really, tens, of readers, and spread the word!

So if you know any puzzlers (Yeah right! How many of us would admit to it in the first place?!) help make this happen and pass it on.

Anyway, take this Springbok, and I hope you choke, cough, (Oh hell.) get a tickle in your throat, on it!


 Good but not Perfect

I'm a serious recreational puzzler, but for some reason this is my first Springbok. I like American made puzzles for all the usual reasons, local economy, some level of confidence that the materials used are reasonably safe, etc, but quality is not always a guarantee. 

At 24 X 30 inches, this puzzle is larger than some 1000 piecers which makes for nice big pieces. Unlike some others, most notably Chinese made, but even other American made puzzles, when I first poured this puzzle's pieces out of their bag there was remarkably little paper dust and flake to be dealt with; a nice change. The printing of the image is crisp and the colors even and well defined, (Of course working under good lighting always helps!)

In this closeup note the well defined color, wood grain in the window frame and stonework detail
but the image was slightly cocked when laid on the backer board/registered under the dies which left a narrow band of exposed board on the top corner and cut a narrow triangular sliver off the left side of the image as well as a portion of the licensing and copyright info off the bottom corner. 

Sliced off copyright

Exposed backer board.

 Most notable on the quality control side though was the fact that that the die's used for cutting the puzzle had clearly been used a few too many times.

Now I understand that dies are expensive, but I had an unusually high number of hanging chad (Pieces that didn't separate from each other during processing.) that required some significant tugging to separate (Because like golfers, puzzlers never cheat!) and the bottom edges of the pieces were more crushed and deformed than cut, the result of dull dies.

Viewed from the bottom, the results of worn and dull dies is clearly evident in the crushing and deformation rather than cutting of the pieces.

One of several 'super-pieces' left behind by a broken die

As well as dull, the dies were also starting to break up as evidenced by the handful of 'super-pieces' in my box, where the section of die that was supposed to turn them into two separate interlocking pieces was clearly missing altogether.

Dies wear, dies get replaced. I just so happened to get a puzzle cut near the end of the run for this particular set of dies and it would have been nice if they were replaced a little sooner.

That said, the pieces showed surprisingly little surface damage and still fit together snugly, which means chunks of assembled pieces can be moved and adjusted without the whole thing falling apart which fits my style of puzzling well.

I currently have at least one more Springbok in my stash of unopened puzzles and I'm confident I'll enjoy assembling it as much as I did this one.

End of an insightful and scintillating review.

 Just to be clear, for all those wanabe puzzlers out there, puzzling isn't all fun and games.

Recently my mother visited us for a week (OK, OK, enough with the gasps and shudders and freakouts! Yeah I admit it, I did all those things when I first got the news too, but the reality didn't turn out to be bad at all.) and the jury is still out on if it was with motherly love or a sadistic chuckle, but she brought along a nicely gift-wrapped puzzle for me.

You see that 3000 along the left edge? That's not German for easy and simple!! That's right, this sucker has 3000 little pieces of goodness, (I think I hear the devil chuckling) fun and entertainment in a package big enough to double as a child's bed when the sun goes down. (I'm surprised she didn't have to buy the dang thing it's own seat on the plane!!)

To paraphrase that line from the movie Jaws, 'I think I need a bigger puzzle-board' . . . dunn duu, duun du dun du

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Minor Rain Event

For the second year in a row one day of the annual two-day MS150 bicycle ride between Houston and Austin was canceled due to weather. Last year it was the Saturday that got canceled, in part because the fairgrounds used as an overnight stop flooded and the tents washed away. This time it was the Sunday that was canceled due to heavy storms over and around Austin that day.

Now I don't really care all that much one way or the other about the MS150. In fact the ride itself has become nothing more than a minor annoyance as 13,000 riders (They've had to cap the number of riders for many years now.) and somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 support and spectator vehicles clog things up and force the locals to stay sheltered behind locked doors as 20 and 30 mile sections of state roads are closed off by rent-a-cops from the cities that can't seem to grasp that we can't just move over one block and go around out here. The real annoyance for the past several years has been the month and a half of 'practice' rides leading up to the event. This is when groups of anywhere from 5 to several hundred riders get out on the even smaller county roads and act like they own the place, riding stubbornly five abreast down the center of lane-and-a-half roads, taking bio-breaks in people's driveways, leaving trails of trash and sometimes making it very difficult, and occasionally contentious, to get to your own house!

So no, the ride itself is no big deal, but those storms over in Austin that shut down the second day of the ride? Well they didn't stay over there.

It started raining here, accompanied by thousands of lightning strikes, around 8 yesterday evening and as I type this it's still going. We have a big, as in BIG, rain-gauge. The central tube can handle 1 inch of rain before it overflows into the main tube. Last evening the gauge started out empty, this morning at around 7 I caught it just before the main tube overflowed. That's 13 inches of rain in 11 hours! Oh, and it's not done yet. I took this photo about an hour after emptying the gauge and it already had an additional .75 inches in it and the rain is scheduled to stick with us for another 18 or so hours.

Back in April of 09 we got 12 inches of rain over a 24 hour period and it nearly trapped me because of all the low-water crossings we have around us (I had to get back to the city Monday morning for work.) but I don't think I've ever seen the pond's spillway as full as this before.

The water separating me from the rest of the dam is nearly two feet deep. More than enough to drown the side-by-side that I just used to ferry my mom across there, when it was completely dry, a couple days ago.

The spillway is keeping up, but there must be a lot of pressure on the dam!

And this is NOT a creek, but rather it's our driveway!! Or at least it's supposed to be our driveway, much of which is now halfway down the hill to the pond.

I guess once the ground is dry enough I'll have to limber up the tractor and a shovel or two and put the driveway back where it belongs so we can get out of here. . .

I think maybe it's time to break out the anti-rain gauge and put a stop to this!

But it's not all bad. The timing couldn't have been better. You see, yesterday I had to package up mom and ship her back home to my anxiously waiting sister (If you check mom out of the library and then break her you will have to face the wrath of my sister! She sees that mom is well taken care of but oh man! sisters can be scary!!)

The weather was reasonable and roads to Houston were exceptionally easy traveling yesterday as we made the two hour trip to the airport in more like an hour and three-quarters of easy, relaxed, driving. (Today the highway department was telling people to stay away from Houston because of "catastrophic flooding" and the airport was completely closed down by midnight last night.)

As a result I dropped mom off at curbside check-in earlier than anticipated then made my way over to the cell phone lot where I hung out for a couple hours until I saw on the status page that her flight was actually in the air (I just assumed she was on it. . .) before starting the long trek home. (It would have been a real bitch to just pull a U-turn and keep going once I dropped her off, only to get nearly home before being called back because something went wrong!!!)

Of course I had to do something moronic to mar an otherwise fine example of logistics and planning. And yes, I had to, it's part of the rule book; you will pay taxes, you will die, and you will pull stupid stunts, like leave my book at home. . . (Mind you, I've never actually seen this rule book for myself, but I've sure experienced it a time or two!) So for two hours (Thankfully the flight left on time!!) I listened to highway whine and jet roar while I twiddled my thumbs, read the owners manual (Now why do you suppose they installed the 'ambient lighting' controls over the driver's head if we don't have the ambient lighting package?!) and caught up with some blogs I follow.

Then, I guess just to keep the streak going, I chose to drive the expressway most the way home rather than take the collection of 12 different, and largely empty, back-roads I usually link together to avoid the expressway.

At the time it made sense. I was going to stop in a town with a Pizza Hut and bring dinner (Of sorts) home, but sitting out there in a solid line of 75MPH weapons of mass destruction, everyone of them jockeying and shoving as if they and only they could somehow break free of the crowd and do their normal 85MPH (This is Texas after all and I10 between Houston and San Antonio is a horrifically over-utilized corridor of commerce, recreation, my-dick's-bigger-than-yours racing and just general getting-from-here-to-there-idness.)

But I digress. Point is, this weather held off until I was home, maybe a little bruised and crowd-weary, but home, so it could have been worse. A LOT worse!

Friday, April 15, 2016

First of the Season

Wild Blackberries are among the first crop of the season around here and this morning, while I was walking a live-trap far from the barn to release the overnight catch of a single tiny field-mouse, I noticed a couple of big fat black berries hugging the ground.

It's still a little early, maybe another couple weeks for a proper harvest, but when you have a visitor that has to head back to (To paraphrase another blogger out here.) the tropics of Michigan in a couple days, you take what you can when you can.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Expanding the Kitchen

I've heard a rumor that the more gadgets you have in your kitchen the better cook you are. (OK, maybe I started that rumor, but we'd all like better eatin', wouldn't we? And wouldn't it be great if all we had to do to improve our chefdidness was buy more crap!!)

Anyway, around the house we cook 95% of our meat on the grill as well as roast vegies and toast bread. In order to carry on that tradition when I'm on the road I've been looking for a small portable propane grill that I can add to The Van. Something functional yet reasonably stow-able since - well - being the size of a standard American bathroom, The Van has a limited amount of stowage space.

I'm a believer in good old-fashioned, nearly indestructible cast iron, but I finally had to admit the venerable material doesn't seem to have very many advocates anymore, certainly not enough to set the manufactures of things like this all a-twitter, and after a few years of optimistic (OK, maybe stubborn.) searching, I finally gave up and settled for something with an enameled steel grill instead, probably my least favorite grill material but at least it came in a package that seems like it will work. (I'll hold off on any sort of review until I've given the new grill a sufficient workout.)

Combined with my stove and cast iron dutch oven (The real kind, designed to work with coals as well as on the stove-top, with lipped lid and legs .) I think I have most of the grilling/heating/baking bases covered now.

Now, . . as for storing the thing. . .

There is plenty of height in the cupboard where the stove and it's fuel live so I suppose I could have saved myself a little work and just set the new grill on top of the stove. They actually nested together pretty well as long as the grill was on top. (The other way around the the stack was pretty unstable.)

But I'm basically a pretty lazy person and regularly unstacking and stacking items used frequently is not my definition of fun, or even acceptable.

So naturally there was a project there.

After a bit of figuring and measuring I cut some bits from scrap I had laying around the shop, including some decent quarter-inch ply for the main parts.
Then puzzled all the pieces together with glue and some pins and gave the assembly a semi-gloss finish that will match the inside of the cupboard and clean fairly well with a simple wipe of a damp rag.  

Then I added a bit of shelf liner to keep the stove from sliding around as I drive and hung the new shelf in place.    This leaves the original shelf for the new grill, while the stove nestles nicely into the new shelf.
This view, through the drop-down door on the other side of the cupboard, accessible when The Van's sliding door is open, gives a better idea of how I mounted the new shelf. As you can see, it still leaves space over on the left for the propane bottles, and after all, what good are either the stove or the grill without the propane??

So there it is, both the grill and the stove have their own dedicated space and I don't have to do any stacking or unstacking in order to create my culinary masterpieces. (OK, you can stop laughing now. It's just that I've also heard a rumor that positive thinking creates positive results and I need all the help I can get en la cocina!!)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tales from the Road: First Wheels

I suspect most everybody remembers their first set of wheels.

It was around 1971 that my parents bought me mine.

No! Not that kind of wheels! I'm talking about an old red VW Bug with real working (mostly) engine. You know, Wheels. . .

But, to be honest, I'm not sure why they did it.

I was not only somewhere in that horrible space between 16 and 17 years old, which I think we can all agree is a pretty ugly age for just about anyone to be, but I was also the quintessential firstborn; pure hell on parents that didn't know what to do with a teenager who was convinced he was all grown up and rebelled seriously at any attempt to treat him otherwise. (Still do, some would say. . .)

I did have to pay my own insurance though. That wasn't part of the original plan, but then, a few weeks before actually owning my own car, I had to go and crack the fiberglass fender of Dad's dune-buggy, the one he was in the process of selling to make room for my car, while showing it off to some of my out-of-town cousins by bouncing around an old abandoned farm a few miles down the road.

I had no part in the selection of, nor negotiations for, my first car, Dad took care of all that, but then what did I care, I was getting a car!! The transaction was a family affair, the car belonging to one of my uncles before it became mine. Technically the half brother of my Mom's sister's husband, but any family would be proud to claim my Uncle Vick!

Though of average height, Uncle Vick is and always has been a big, barrel-chested guy with matching oversized personality and I don't think I have ever seen him without a grin on his face. He can always be counted on to jolly up an event, and transferring his car to my ownership was no exception, though I'm not sure that was his intention.

You see it was summer; in typical mid-western speak, landscaping season; and I'm talking obsession here. (Any respectable Midwestern yard is fertilized, watered, herbicided, insecticided, mowed, weeded, manicured and trimmed to within an inch of it's life!) So it wasn't unusual that a day or two before actually transferring ownership, my Uncle Vick decided he needed some new sod to repair a spot in his yard.

Now any boring, unimaginative uncle would have borrowed a truck, or at least a small trailer, to fetch his sod from the garden store, but not my uncle.

No, he rolled up in his (My) VW Bug after work that day and proceeded to load it up with all the sod it could carry. There were rolls of sod under the hood, which wouldn't quite close so it was tied down with some twine, on the floor, stacked to the roof in the back seat, tossed up on the deck behind the back seat and piled chin high on the passenger seat.

This was not Uncle Vick's first rodeo and he had come prepared with plastic that he laid down under (most of) the sod, but I don't think he thought the thing all the way through. You see, as he was lumbering heavily, wheels splayed in typical overloaded Bug fashion, down the road with his horticultural load, he was  a little warm. After all, it's hard work heaving rolls of sod into the back seat of a Bug! Well of course the Bug had that high-tech 2-40 air-conditioning (2 windows - 40 miles an hour.) so naturally he rolled the driver's window down. . .

When I got my hands on that car there was dirt everywhere! In all the little nooks and crannies, inside the gauges, embedded in the seats, grinding merrily away inside the window mechanisms, gumming up the door locks, everywhere! I'm not sure how he managed to keep from crashing that day, enveloped there inside his own personal dust-storm, but he managed, and I swept and brushed and vacuumed and wiped, and all was good with the world because I had my very own wheels!

Like my uncle, that car had it's quirks. Typical of Bugs of the day it had very little in the way of heat, (Notable when driving to school before sunrise during a Michigan winter!), if the dash light dimmer wasn't turned up to full bright the tail lights wouldn't work, all winter long she had to be parked at a funny angle to the garage so as to be out of the way of the other vehicles but also within range of plugging in the dipstick heater I had to probe her with every night if I was going to have any chance at all of getting her started in the morning.

Oh! and she had no gas gauge! By design!

Instead there was a lever poking through between the driver's and passenger's feet. The trick was to make frequent fuel stops and keep the handle of that lever pointing straight up at all times. That way, if you did run out of gas you could reach down there and twist the lever until it was pointing down. That would close one valve and open another that allowed the engine to suck fuel from the emergency reserve until you got to the next gas station.

I suppose if one were practiced at it you could shove the clutch in as the engine sputtered, reach down there, careful not to impale yourself on the shifter or run off the road while you were contorting, squeeze the safety latch, twist the lever to the down position, sit back up, pop the clutch and continue on your merry way with barely a hiccup.

I wasn't practiced at it because apparently I was pretty good, not perfect as we're all about to find out, but pretty good, at estimating when to make timely fuel stops. So the one and only time I ever ran the Bug out of gas I eased to a stop on the shoulder, (Easy since there was no pesky power steering or brakes to worry about when the engine quit.) opened my door so I could shift my butt halfway out as I bent down to reach the lever, and promptly snapped it clean off. . .

With typical teenage luck, this happened on the one and only occasion I had a car full of classmates! We had just left the school, which in those days was only a couple years old and still out in the sticks, so I had the humiliating honor of watching my classmates bail out, flag down other classmates with functioning cars, which they then scrambled into and quickly left me sitting there alone, hoping that at least one of them would send help. (No cell phones and nothing but farmland around.)

Help did eventually come in the form of a full gas can, but to no avail. You see, I had managed to get a quarter turn out of that lever before it snapped, which is exactly the right amount to close the normal valve before starting to open the emergency reserve valve. After an embarrassing tow at the end of a frayed rope I had to put the Bug on ramps, crawl under and take a hammer and screwdriver to the rusted linkage to get at least one of the valves to open up.

As it turns out, I only had that first, quirky, can't-miss-me-construction-equipment-yellow car for about a year and a half. (Before I even got to drive the little red Bug even once my Dad took it into work and had the guys in the shop paint it with the same thick, bright yellow paint they used on their bulldozers. Dad always did like a fresh paint job - I'm sure Mom felt better with her eldest baby driving a high-vis car - and I didn't care, I had a car!!)  As the rest of my classmates prepared for prom like normal teenagers, I was off to basic training (I graduated a semester early.) with plans to marry my girlfriend in the gap between basic, and my next posting, and while I was away getting pounded and run and stomped into a soldier it was determined by those not in the middle of a 10 week hell that the Bug was not appropriate transportation for a married couple, so when I got home there was a big ass midnight blue Pontiac 4-door with automatic transmission, (As far as I know my then-girlfriend, now ex-wife still can't drive a stick.) honest-to-God heater, and big monster of a trunk in the back where it belonged, sitting there in it's place.

But I still fondly remember my first wheels.

(There's a story or two behind that Pontiac too, but that's for another time, maybe.)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

One Small Step, Finally!!

The barn went up around 2005 and we, my wife and I, have been living here on the property full time since 2010. In all that time there has been nothing outside the front door of the barn, the door used whenever the main doors are closed, except loose gravel and a few dollops of leftover mortar that added up to about a platter sized pad.

Now you have to understand that one of us in this household is upright-challenged. And I mean seriously challenged. (One day this person was just standing there at the washing machine and suddenly, for no reason either one of us can figure out, fell flat on their back, dragging half the crap on the nearby shelves down with them!) I won't say which one of us it is, but she once fell off a curb in the city and spent the next two months in a wheelchair as her busted ankle 'healed'. (I put healed into quotes because it has never been the same since.) Another time she was walking across the meadow near the pond and stepped in a 'hole' so badly that it took two surgeries and a bunch of titanium to put her leg back together. (We went back later and never could find the infamous hole she stepped in. . . We also had quite a knock-down-drag-out that time with the nurse who insisted, despite the fact that we own a wheelchair (Yep, that's how bad it is.) and had it right there at bedside, that, she was not going to be allowed to leave the hospital until the nurse saw her take a couple steps on crutches. I mean we're talking about someone that goes ass over teakettle, followed by an incapacitating meltdown, at the mere sight of crutches propped in the corner!!)

So you can imagine the sort of obstacle that step from doorway to uneven gravel poses, especially when she has to negotiate it multiple times a day and often in the dark. But despite all her hints and requests, I sat around on my butt and did nothing about it until threatened blessed with an impending visit from my octogenarian mom, who is also upright challenged. (Though only slightly and she does have the excuse of age.) All the sudden addressing the issue became a priority.

Here I've removed the discarded mortar 'platter', outlined the new step with some handy stones, visible only if you know where they are, and started trenching for the forms. I was careful to leave the ground under where the step goes undisturbed since it's had years to compact down into a nice stable base.
I had some leftover PVC baseboard that I used for the form. We wanted something other than just a boring old rectangular step so I threw one of the PVC boards on the dash of the car where it could warm up nicely
and take a bend. After pulling it into something of an arc with the strap I threw the whole thing back on the dash for another hour thinking that would set the curve.
But as you can see, that didn't work so well. As the PVC softened all the 'curve' migrated to the middle so instead of an arc I ended up with a point.
This certainly wasn't the kind of project that lives or dies on exact measurement and close tolerances, but the pointy shape still bothered me so it was back to the workbench to see if I could salvage the situation. With a few braces and clamps I forced a bit more curve into each of the overly straight legs and set it with a heat-gun. My 're-curving' efforts were only somewhat successful (One leg curved nicely, but with the other I overdid the heat-gun and left it with a bit of a kink.) but my supervisor was so excited that I was finally doing something about the step that she signed off on it anyway.
I staked the forms in place, carefully leveled everything, making sure I had a half-bubble down-pitch from the door out to the end of the form so water wouldn't just lay on the finished step but would run off, and screwed from the stakes into the forms to lock everything into place. Then with a square-nosed shovel I carefully shaved soil and gravel out from inside the form until I had a pretty consistent two inches of depth.      That's not very thick for a concrete step but the the base it will be resting on is pretty solid and I had plenty of rebar to help hold it all together. Since I wasn't going to drill the barn-slab and epoxy pins into it to lock the new step to the slab, after tying the rebar into a stable grid, I drove four one foot-long lengths of rebar down into the ground and tied the grid to them as well. The idea is that these 'cleats' will at least help keep the step from wandering on down towards the pond in the first heavy rain.  In the process of pinning the rebar I lifted the grid up off the ground with a few stones so it would end up roughly in the middle of the pour.
Finally, after a few intervening rainy days, it was time to pour. If you look closely at the far wheel of the mixer you can see that it's laying over on it's side. That happens when you accidentally set the tractor bucket down on top of the mixer wheel when parking in the barn they both share. (Doesn't everyone have their own mixer??  Well we've built almost every stick of this place ourselves and that often included the need to mix cement and mortar, besides the mixer also works great for mixing our own garden and potting soil from inexpensive ingredients.) One reason for the shallow depth of this pour is that I was trying to do it with only the two 80 lbs bags of cement you see there on the cart, though I did have two more bags on standby just in case, because the last thing you need during a pour is to run out of concrete!!
My calculations were spot on and the pour took exactly two bags with no leftovers. I'm always leery of adding too much water to the mix, which weakens the resulting concrete, (Its amazing how little water is required to take concrete from not quite enough to 'oh crap way too much!') but this time I erred slightly on the dry side and it took a whole lot of heavy handed floating to get the aggregate pushed down and the surface to a slightly pebbled texture. The texture is good since it will provide grip even when wet, but it did result in a little loose, sandy-looking material and couple pits over in one corner. - - And once again perfection eludes me. . .
After two days of keeping the step covered in heavy plastic to make sure it didn't dry out (water curing), I unscrewed the form-boards from the stakes, drove the stakes deep into the ground (A whole lot easier than trying to wiggle and wrestle them up and out!) then gently tapped the form-boards loose.
Grabbing a handy chunk of leftover concrete from an earlier project which has had years to cure therefore is much harder than the fresh pour, I used it to round over the sharp edges of the new step. Here I've already done the edge running from top to bottom in the photo and am about to start on the front edge. Here you also get a good look at the result of the dry mix. The surface is slightly pebbly and, even though I used my saws-all with no blade in it to vibrate the form-boards during the pour, the sides of the step are still a little rough looking. No big deal since they will be mostly below grade anyway.
Once the sharp edges were eased I back-filled around the step which was designed to sit just proud of the gravel drive around it to minimize the tripping hazard. A little tamping with a bit of water to help things settle, and all that's left to do is put the plastic back over the step and let it water-cure at least one more day.
Certainly not an earth-shattering, or even slightly sexy, project, but one that will improve the quality of life around here and was shamefully overdue.