Setting Corner Posts in the Back Field

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It has rained here almost every day of the past month. This always seems to happen when I have heavy equipment on the farm.

However this year I have not minded. Because we had the lovely gift of the use of an excavator, my friend Allen and I did not have the usual time pressure — the rental meter is ticking! — and were able to space out our recent project work between the rain drops, in two- to three-hour stints. On our second morning we put up corner posts in the back field.

Allen stumping the field in April, 2010

Turning these ten acres of scrub forest back into pasture (they were “rough pasture” in the 1930s, according to maps) has been a long, slow process over the last four years. Allen has helped me almost every step of the way, so it is extremely satisfying to be working with him on these penultimate steps.

In the top photo, Allen is driving the tractor, but only because I am on the ground loading the treated lumber. In fact, on all these mornings Allen was running the excavator while I drove the tractor to carry our materials. (I might have used my truck but Allen decreed that I needed the tractor practice.)

127223The field will be fenced with electric rope hung on steel T-posts. T-posts are one of the least expensive fencing options, and the only real option available to me as I can pound them in myself between the rocks without machinery. However “least expensive” does not translate into “cheap.” New T-posts are about $5 each, which is reasonable but quickly adds up when you’re fencing a large area. I calculate I need 150 – 200 for this pasture. Thus I have watched Craigslist religiously. Two years ago I scored 100 used T-posts for this project for $1.50 apiece. They have been waiting in a pile for me in the back field.

These T-posts will be my line posts, but for corners, angles, and gates I need something heavier to absorb the tension of the electric rope.

Thus Allen and I set treated 6x6s four feet deep at all the field corners …

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… and treated 4x4s at the bottom of slopes and in places the fence would have to turn. My job was to set the posts and keep them plumb while he back-filled around them.

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See the mud hole behind that post? It has been there ever since the ground was bulldozed in the fall of 2010. Even in last year’s severe drought, the low swampy area resisted drying out.

Allen’s brows knit as he looked at it. He shook his head. I was driving the tractor to the next post location when I realized he was not following.

This is one of the many reasons I treasure Allen. He can never pass a problem without stopping to fix it.

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I drove back.

“Y’need some ditchin’,” Allen shouted briefly over the roar of our machines.

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He quickly dug a ditch to run behind the future fence…

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… punched a hole through the giant earth berm …

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… and drew the water down the ditch and away.

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Then he trundled the excavator back to the mud hole and added scoops of earth from the berm to raise the ground level…

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… and smoothed the ground with quick swipes of the bucket.
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Two weeks later, despite rain every day, that ground is dry.

Allen’s meticulousness has spoiled me for any other operator. I was shocked when I hired someone else and the new man only did exactly what I told him.

We got all the big posts set in a morning. The excavator struggled and bucked against the underground rocks.

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But without a machine, each of these ten post holes would have taken me a full day to dig by hand.

It’s a huge step forward. Hooray!

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