The Stone Boat

There is so much overdue work to be done, I have so many exciting plans, and I’ve been so stymied all spring, that it is torture to sit around like an obedient post-surgery patient.

I find myself making bargains with my aching knee. OK, I’ll rest with you up on pillows with an ice pack, and then you don’t grumble too much when I sneak out for an hour for quick project.

This conniving has worked out pretty well. A few days ago in my planned break I built a small stone boat. I was ridiculously pleased.

(Unfortunately there will be no photographs. My old camera has given up the ghost. Taking it apart, I found hay chaff and horse hair inside the works — the downside to carrying a camera in my hip pocket during farm chores. In the future I will probably only buy used cameras on Ebay.)

What is a stone boat? No, it is not a ship built of rock. It is a sled for moving large stones. Most of New England’s rambling stone walls were built with the help of horse-drawn stone boats to skid the base rocks into place. The photograph above shows a stone boat loaded with manure. This one is sold by Pioneer Equipment for $530. I built my small plain one from scraps for less than $5.

I need a stone boat because I am building a raised garden bed in front of the garage. In winter the snow slides from the metal roof above to create ice piles at least ten feet out from the building. I want to establish a path to the apartment door that will be safe from these sudden avalanches. The easiest way to do this, I thought, would be to direct traffic around a curved raised garden edged with rocks.

As I have written before, my property is thickly salted with stone, ranging from ledge rock and giant glacial boulders right down to fist-sized eggs in the sour, gravelly soil.

My garden wall can’t be too tall because the surface of the raised bed must remain 6″ below the clapboard siding of the garage to prevent termite damage. To build a picturesque two- or three-course wall with smaller round stones would take hundreds of rocks and more time than I want to commit. Instead I am trying for a single course of about two dozen larger stones.

The rocks I want for this project are about the size of a microwave. Unfortunately rocks of this size weigh almost as much as I do and I can’t carry them. However, I’ve had a plan.

Last year my kids gave me a 4-foot steel pry bar for Mother’s Day. This year D gave me a sturdy old hand-truck he had rusting in his yard, and Mike replaced the rotted tires for me. Now I could pry the stones from the ground and lift their heavy edges. All I needed was a stone boat to haul them from the various corners of the farm up to the garage.

When the snow melted this spring and I was cleaning up from Dennis’s siding job, I’d found scraps of plywood. Then when I ordered a few 8-foot treated 4x4s for fence posts, the lumberyard accidentally sent 12-footers. I inquired politely if they wanted to exchange these for the proper size. No, the front office replied, I should just chop off the extra four feet. Well! There was my stone boat.

On Tuesday I planned my day carefully and between ice packs stole down to the farm for an hour to hobble around and put the stone boat together.

First I trimmed two 4-foot sections of treated 4×4 at 45-degree angles as skids. Next I tacked down the plywood as a base.

The horse-drawn stone boat in the photo above has a wall in the front; this keeps both the driver holding the reins and the rocks from rolling forward under the horses’ legs. However, I am going to pull my stone boat with my truck, and my usual path will be uphill to the garage. I need a block in the rear to keep rocks from sliding off backwards. Another 4×4 tacked across the back of the sled took care of this.

When my friends John and Bonnie moved away, they left me buckets of old hardware. Rummaging now, I found an old very heavy eye-bolt and I attached it to the front of the frame to use for towing with a chain.

Et voilà! A 32″ x 48″, very small but perfectly functional stone boat that cost me only the few dollars for the 6″ Timberlok screws.

In yesterday’s precious hour on my feet I put the fence-charger wire in conduit to run under the the garden bed and adjoining walkway, cut a trench with a pick-axe to bury it, and then moved a half-dozen heavy stones up the garage with the stone boat. Finally I levered them into position with my hand truck and pry bar.

Working in similar short bursts, I hope to have the entire raised bed built by the end of the weekend.


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