So, I drive a 2WD Volvo V60 and it can pretty much handle anything I throw at it, as long as it doesn’t require much clearance. Yea, it pretty much hugs the ground at 5.4 inches (13.7 cm). That’s a problem when I was dealing with these roads to the top.
So, it was time to do something about accessing the land immediately. The road is something referred to as an easement road. While I do not own that land, I and other property owners at the top of the mountain have rights to the road. But maintenance of the road isn’t in anyway assigned to anyone or any group. But I need to get this going now so that I could get to the top of the mountain with relative ease.
As you can see, it was pretty heavily rutted, and I spent a lot of time focusing on keeping my car above the ruts cause it would grind the bottom otherwise. It was a pretty harrowing experience to get to the top. Plus, there were some ditches that were not being maintained. Water needs to flow off the road, into the ditch to ensure that the road stays relatively dry and strong. When the road gets soaked and pools water, that is when “Bad Stuff Happens.”
But how the hell does a guy like me, fix a road? I have limited to no experience in road building, or earth moving equipment. The answer is, you hit the books. And in the 21st century, that means the internet for reading material and YouTube for demonstration material.
I read probably every pamphlet and booklet I could get my hands on gravel, dirt, and forest road construction. Due to the nature of the road I was working on, I settled on following on the principles of forest road construction as it most closely aligned with what I am doing. The most value came from these two documents, but I probably read about twenty.
- United States Forest Service – Forest Road Construction and Maintenance
- Washington State Department of Natural Resources – Forest Roads
With these two under my belt I now had a pretty solid academic understanding of what needed to be accomplished, and this was made easier as their was already an existing road. Now the road was pretty “Rock Solid” when I first saw it, so I knew it was good for building material. It has a decent amount of rock, base, and fines in the soil already. There quite a few roads in West Virginia that are strictly dirt only.
Now it was time to move the dirt, but, obviously, no one is going to rent me a bulldozer. So, the next best thing was a large, tracked, skid steer. The one I rented was about 8,000 lbs (3628 kg), so it had to be delivered. Tip: Always ask for a weekend rate. Why, because the daily cost for this skid steer was $295 per day. However, with the weekend rate, they could delivery Friday or Saturday (more on that later), and pick it up Monday for the same rate. The daily rate assumes 8 hours of engine time, but anything over that time (Sunday) is charged at an hourly rate of $25 an hour. Now at 8,000 lbs, that’s more than my truck can comfortable tow, so delivery was $70, each way. Plus, you also pay for your own diesel. Surprisingly, it consumed very little fuel… only about a gallon an hour or so. Then there is a question of do you want a smooth, or toothed bucket. Because of the really hard soil and rock I went with toothed. If this had been just soil, I would have gone smooth.
So I drove to the local rental company, Tri-County Tool Rentals, and talked to them about my plans and what I wanted to have done. They suggested the large skid steer and got me the rates. They were extremely pleasant to work with and amazingly accommodating. They delivered the skid steer, but there was a bit of confusion. The driver was going to deliver, and show me how to operate the skid steer. On Friday, they stated they wanted to deliver the skid steer, so I drove out. But there was no way I was going to make it to them in time, to deliver. So we agreed to deliver on Saturday morning at 8 am. So I slept the night on the mountain, and prepped for the day’s work.
In the morning, imagine my surprise when the skid steer had already been delivered before 8 am, and no one was there to show me how to operate it! Whoa boy. This was like a pop quiz in high school. Fortunately, I have probably watched at least 20 hours of YouTube videos on operations of skid steers, techniques, safety videos, and specific videos to road building. This got me the idea to get a pair of safety glasses, gloves, and some ear protection. Of note: The paid version of YouTube has been an AMAZING purchase to get rid of the ads and get straight to what I need. Plus downloading video for future use and reference is incredibly helpful when you do not have internet access (more on that in a future post).
So, I crawled into the skid steer turned it on and got into some basic orientation based on what I learned. Within about five minutes, I felt right at home in the skid steer and got to work. The first thing I did was drop the teeth on the load into the soil to break up the compacted earth and ruts. That softened it enough to work the earth. Then with the earth broken, I got to work taking down the high points of the road, and dropping them into the ruts. It was a simple repetitive pattern:
- Drive backwards, point the bucket down with the teeth into the ground, and loosen the earth
- Drive forward, flatten the bucket, remove the high points, and fill the bucket
- Drive backwards, raise and point the bucket to the ground, fill the low points
- Drive forwards and backwards repeatedly to compact the earth using the weight of the skid steer to compact the earth
- Repeat for the next section of road
Because of the significant drop in the road (several hundred feet), there were three waterbars installed to catch and divert water off the road to prevent erosion. I think these may be a BIT too tall and I may have to flatten them out later. Several ditches were also cleared out, and the road was leveled in about a day.
I thought I shot a video down the mountain of it being all nicely smoothed out and pretty… and failed. Apparently I only took that photo to the left. The road will be further smoothed out by future rains, and as people drive on it.
I did take the opportunity to plant a bit of mixed annual and perennial wild flower seeds along the sides of the road. While improving the aesthetics of the road, it will also help with erosion control as well. Hopefully they will take.
While this may have been an expensive project, consider the alternative of not doing it or doing it by hand. I think that renting the skid steer was worth EVERY EXPENSIVE PENNY. For anyone thinking about it for themselves, read up, watch demonstrations, and just do it!
Oh and in case anyone is curious: I loved these for hearing protection. Not only do they have noise reduction of 24 dB, but they also double as bluetooth head phones. Between my work Saturday and Sunday, I started and finished the audiobook In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors.
The book is about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, at the close of World War II and right after transporting the enriched uranium from San Francisco to Tinian Island where it was placed into Little Boy. The book works through many of the issues the captain getting time, training, and materials for his men. Additionally, after the ship was sunk by a Japanese sub, it talks about the incredible hardships the sailors faced while being lost at sea, and forgotten. Finally, it goes into how the military blamed the captain and court marshaled the captain for the loss of the ship primarily as a scapegoat. There are some good lessons to be learned from this incident, and I recommend the book for any military war buff or people in management.