Friday, 11 November 2011

The Bucket List and Backhoe

The Bucket List and the Backhoe

I cannot remember a time when I did not dream of owning a backhoe and doing the projects that it presented, with 200 acres of resource property, the opportunities are limited only by imagination.

So, this year after the crops were in, I decided it was time to give this little dream a reality check. Now renting a backhoe is by no means cheap, in fact at over $1K a week, it is expensive, while buying a comparable size and featured unit is about $26K before taxes.

The Projects

I had to plan my week’s activity to make sure that I got my money’s worth.

· By the boathouse, if one was to drive straight out there is/was a big hole, making entrance to the boathouse difficult and the area useless for any activity-fill the hole, create a roadway. Three loads of fill required, any extra to be used filling low spots around the boathouse.

· On the road beyond the waterfront/boathouse there is one turn around that might someday make a fine spot for a greenhouse, storage shed. The area is too low now and floods when it rains. It requires two loads to enlarge and raise the area. (the roadway itself does flood with heavy rains but uncovers usually the next day.)

· At the end of this same roadway, at the waters edge, someone put in a boat launch, uncountable years ago. It would be nice to recover this launch site and have a second access, not associated with the boathouse. Two loads of fill required.

· Opposite the boat launch, the boathouse road is supposed to extend along the ‘peninsula’. One load of ditching fill had been placed there a couple of years ago and never levelled.

· It the garden there is numerous rocks, one has been exposed and should be removed.

· There are stumps that can be removed from the paths around the garden.

· In the spring we got 5 yards of raw manure that has been seasoning till fall. This had to be put in the garden.

· At the house, we had a blueberry plant to be removed; it cannot produce under an oak tree.

· And some lawnsoil has to be used.

· And a stump has persisted too long in the lawn South of the house.

So I ended up purchasing seven loads of fill, about $1K, to provide materials for my projects. We do have a bank of fill on the property line North of the boathouse but I can remember when I had a large excavator down to the spot. The operator bought new teeth for the unit because the fill, although ideal for roadbuilding, was so compacted that digging was difficult. By the end of his two days of work, these new teeth looked, to me, just like the old ones.

Where to rent

Bay rentals is very close to us, in fact two of TiBow’s walks start in their parking area. I checked their rates and balked. I also did check Kijiji, there was a picture of a small machine with a weekly rental of $700. Well the difference was inconsiderate compared with the size of the Kubota B-26.

On a ‘walk’ I saw the backhoe and went over to look at the controls and possibility, a lad came by and gave me a great sales pitch, really; going over all of the controls and outlining costs. He mentioned that the first day of use would be a wasted day as I learned the controls!

Fill delivered

So I decided to do the deed and ordered all the fill from John Vincent’s Trucking; he has effectively taken over the fill location that John Durling had retired from. Great fill, and Vincent had delivered to me before while he was working for Durling. While scouting out the fill, and the pit, I saw that there was a pile of black screened material nearby; Vincent described this as screened but not topsoil; it was just a mix of anything he found–and just a little pricier than regular fill—which was still the same price as fill from Kynock’s.

At Bay Rentals

The weather this fall has been terrific, in some way making up for some of this abysmal summer. The week of November 11, was scheduled to have several great days followed by a monsoon day on Friday, Day 5.

At the Rental shop, the clerk wrote my request and details on a 2x4 sheet of blank paper as I said I wanted the backhoe delivered late Monday. When he arrived at 3:30, we went down to the boathouse to unload and check out on the unit. The introduction was not great, we went over few of the controls, and there are a great number of them. The seat would not rotate from ‘driving’ to backhoe position. After a call to the office, and some playing around he did manage to rotate the seat. That was that, he left and I was on my own. I had seven days and 40 hours to work, play or waste.

One piece of advice, that is obvious IF you think about it, is to keep the loader bucket low when transporting anywhere. These things are tippy.

First Experiences

With only two hours before dark, my initiation was severe. I decided to start with the boat launch project—the sight furthest from anybody seeing the mistakes! My fill included a lot of boulders; it’s all granite based so it can does make an excellent base. My first problem was turning that f**kin seat. By darkness it was apparent that it was tough to rotate the seat, yet alone move the fill!

So, having stated that the bank by the boathouse is geologically similar to the fill from John’s pit, the big difference is that the delivered material differs in that the biggest rocks are not included. Anyone who has been at our property knows that our boulders range upward to beyond car size. John has selected out so that the largest rocks might be 18” in longest dimension, most are rounded in shape. Starting out bumping into a hidden rock of these dimensions with the loader is, well, a bit shocking!

The loader has but one joystick to control it; up and down of the bucket, and tilting the bucket up and down, simple right? Well to this we have to add that you always have to propel the machine forward or backward in order to acquire a bucket full. That first two hours demonstrated that digging out the fill was not going to work—besides the fill was to be spread beyond where it was piled and there was no way to drive beyond…

Turning the seat—remember that problem—the backhoe should be able to push these two loads towards their destination. The visioned little roadway to the water’s edge, where we could put our bench and have a tranquilized view of Lake and loons; that was the objective. The reality was that I was now dealing with two joysticks, boom up and down left and right, and let’s say, jib, in and out, bucket, in and out. I should add that I never play video games and I could never quite master Luke’s radio controlled cars.

Evening did require a few beer. Was this experience going to work out? And I even dreamed about the hoe, the controls and the fill. I did have a plan and a list of all the projects, so I had objectives and rough timeframes for my week.

Day 1 - was the official playday a time to learn all these controls. Added to this task was that I recognized that I really had to learn how to deal with fill that included boulders that in comparison to a little backhoe presented an additional difficulty.

Now I like a little Zen with my landscaping, I wanted a nice little curve to the roadway. I did discover that the only way to deal with this load of fill in this situation was to push the pile, depositing the fill as I proceeded waterside. And work it was. I had trees I wanted to pass but not harm and boulders that should be ‘first in’ and covered. Day was done by five and although there was a mess and not much of a subtle curve to the grading, I had hoed and loaded my way as far as the fill provided, since my learning skills had been tested and the fill went much wider than envisioned.

All of us have probably seen what happens when a grader comes across a solitary boulder in a roadway; the boulder invariably gets caught up and being dragged along creates an ugly gouge in an otherwise perfect roadway. Well try multiplying the boulder by hundreds and the size of the boulder, comparatively by the same, add to that the fact that the loader and bucket are fixed, in parallel, so that if the bucket or the tractor are angled, then the roadways attitude is so fixed.

Gail happened to take off Tuesday, and her days off are rare. She came down after the first two lots were planed into a field instead of a meandering driveway, but I received no real criticism of my first project and she took a few photos for our history books.

Nightime in day one – I don’t know about this; it is not fun yet. I seem to have no idea what the results of my joystick movements are going to be. Even with the loader, the simple loader, sometimes my actions with the joystick result in moving the front wheels up instead of lifting the bucket up…will I be able to ‘learn’ these controls? I should add that there are dangers in using even ‘puppy’ backhoes. When your piles of fill are six feet tall and your pathway is bordered by steep banks, when you push to the side and the machine moves instead of the fill, all these present problems and trepidations. But at least I did manage to move two loads of fill.

Day 2 – As I described, leveling up a boulder strewn roadway of fill is problematic. First thing, I did another attempt at pushing or pulling that roadway to present a better appearance, and in the process I concluded, that’s not too bad.

Next back a distance to a load of fill that’s been on the property, for free, for a couple of years, old ditching material. Now this overgrown mound had no intentions of ever being touched by my loader, too fixed, to massive and firmly situated between two trees, a pine and a maple, that I really wanted to keep, for now. So the backhoe was the only option and pushing the load straight forward, off the banks, the only option. Blue granite, mud and weeds was the composition of this mixture. The maximum span of the hoe is probably twelve feet and the nearest the bucket touches ground is probably three feet from the machine so that at best we might expect to move material about six feet per setup. That’s theory, reality is quite different. The most obvious flaw in all this is that the machine is so powerful that if you toggle the control in a wrong direction then there is the opportunity to push the machine around instead of the fill. I am reminded that Marc Flynn has been described at one time as being ‘one with his machine’; am I ever going to see that day?

So with the machine moving around, with the fill being so firmly stuck in its place, I spent most of the remainder of this day pushing this one load of fill beyond the two trees. Rough leveling, it was not pretty either but the pile disappeared and became a very short roadway, very very short.

Nearing the end of day two, we moved over to the boathouse, where all eyes would be on the results. I had thought that the rough, granite fill would be delivered first, closest to the ‘hole’, and that the so called fines would be delivered, forming a triangle where I would work between the two finer corners, pushing the rough fill in the hole. John delivered the fine fill in one tall spot. And I am thankful for that, now.

It made for an easier push where the driveway was level and the area so open, progress was going well when I headed for nightfall and a beer with, now, some vision of progress. This evening I could savour my labours a bit, even looking forward to tomorrow, though I was sore from the work, yes it is work!

Day 3 – Fill to complete and then to our fines that should make leveling easier. Though rotating that seat was still near impossible, I am getting the hang of it, being able to adjust from wrong joystick movements quicker, and setup is becoming more of a routine.

All the same this little tractor has a lot more controls that were never explained to me. Why is there only one-half of a seatbelt while there is a warning to use it? There seems to be a three point hitch in the back with two arms that almost make rotating the seat impossible. On the fenders are at least two more levers that do what? And below the seat and at the backhoe are at least three more levers.

By lunchtime-naptime the granite fill has been rough graded and readied for ‘topsoil’. I should mention that poor TiBow, who is with me always, never fails to watch me and is not amused by this new and dangerous playtoy. She does continue to get her hour long walk each morning before I go hoeing.

In the afternoon I start using up the topsoil. It is a pleasure to work with this since the loader is ideal in this material. Grading, leveling is still an issue that I don’t have much of a handle on. I am admiring my ability to estimate how much material is required, since I have lots of leftover topsoil and I want to raise and level several spots in from, waterside of the boathouse.

By end of Day 3, I am exhausted but roughly I am on schedule. Time for a beer, eh! This could be fun, but as to buy a backhoe? I don’t know, it has take $1K in materials to feed it for 3 days!

Summary – back at the boathouse, all of the topsoil is distributed. Leveling is still, well, ugly, made worse by such obstacles as the boathouse, fireplace, and all the bushes.

Now before the fill was completed, I did want to remove that one big boulder from the garden. It had presented like a big open sore in the garden for two years. In with the hoe, it became evident that this blemish was not going easy. But the machine and its master were up to it and this two footer was clawed up and buried in our roadway—another task done!

Next there was the manure, which was by a roadway and near some rocks which I though might present more of an obstacle than they did. Six more trips through the garden and all of the easy pickins were deposited. Days end was early on Thursday, one stump removed, more attempts a leveling each worksite, and preparation for a major rain event on Friday, Nov 11, to be completed. On the way up, Rob is working with his full size backhoe with cabin; it’s interesting to see what a good operator can do. His backhoe is ‘tight’ and now I can appreciate what that means, no rattling about when a movement is started or stopped.

And later to a few beer.

Day 4 – Monsoon Day as predicted with about four inches of rain.

Day 5 – Saturday with all of the essential work completed we let the ground dry out in the morning and Luke and I played in the bank above the boathouse a bit in the afternoon with Johanna Hoyt relieving us a little later. Unlike Luke and I, with ‘slash and learn’ technique, Jo thought out each movement before executing it. Took a few pictures and Luke had his Apple phone for photos and video.

Day 6 – Sunday, Denyse came by; her technique was just like Jo’s, thinking through each operation. We separated rocks from the bank and filled the turn area going towards our home from the entry. This area we also grubbed a bit so that the turn is much smoother and larger. Lots of photos and videos.

Day 7 – Monday, I filled a couple of holes going onto the peninsula, and used up some of the good fill and rocks nearby the bank, cleaning up the work area. Up at the house, I dug up one stump and cleaned up the lawnsoil on the driveway. They picked up the machine about 5:00 PM. I am satisfied and tired.

Costs- 7 loads of fill $920. Backhoe rental $1368.50. and beer…

1 comment:

Ysabella said...

Going for the backhoe rental is also the best option for me. It's not practical of buying a backhoe and not using it frequently.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.