Damon’s small Bobcat excavator has been parked at the farm for a week, waiting for good weather. On Monday we began work on the driveway.
The first chore was to cut channels for run-off water along the flat entry section (an elbow of the old main highway). Currently water sits in big puddles in this area … and the puddles inevitably turn into craters.
At the top of the property the driveway then turns right and falls downhill all the way to the barn. Here’s the driveway in the summer of 2006. Jon took the photo while standing on the hayloft floor as we were building the barn. [Double-click to enlarge.]
Even at that time I was nostalgic, writing, “I love that little road… it’s hard to explain but I remember when this land was all impenetrable woods. First it was logged. Then it was stumped. And then one day I trotted down the hill and showed Allen and Damon where I wanted the road to go, and the next… there it was, snaking along as if it had always been there!”
Since then, “we” have worked on the road dozens of times over the years. (Of course it was Allen and Damon who did all the work. I merely fetched and carried and took photographs.) Here is Allen in 2009 at the top of the driveway.
And here he is the same year, smoothing one of the driveway bends. I’d had no sense when I threaded that curvy path through the birches in 2006. It has been a trial for large trucks and trailers ever since.
But the biggest problem of the driveway has been its lack of a hard base. In 2006 Allen and Damon had trucked and spread load after load of gravel they excavated from the pond area (saving me thousands of dollars). Then I’d spent money I didn’t have for two tandem loads of crushed stone. When it rained it all disappeared into mud.
Sometimes deep mud.
As I had a little money and the men had time, we’d tackle the worst areas bit by bit. Here’s Damon in 2011 pulling rocks and spreading a single load of crusher mix at the foot of the driveway.
Our great coup came in 2013, when the town ripped up a long road and sold some of the ground-up macadam inexpensively to locals. Damon brought me a dozen truckloads.
This tarry gravel immediately helped harden the surface.
Both Damon and Allen spread it in odd hours with my tractor.
The driveway was much improved, but the two men, who’ve built hundreds of miles of road, knew it still wasn’t great. Allen always repeated what he’d first said in 2006: “Get your husband to let you have some money and we can build you a real road!”
Now, twelve years later, the day has finally come, and sadly Allen isn’t here to see it.
Last fall Damon was in and out of hospitals, so I interviewed other operators for the project. One contractor gave me a sky-high bid and even at that price he was dubious. He could not see a way to divert water from flowing down the road and ripping out the gravel. (The driveway is gullied after every summer storm). Water bars would not work because they would, in turn, be ripped out by winter plows. Moreover the pasture on the downhill side is in many places higher than the road.
The next contractor submitted a bid of slightly more than half the original. After listening to the dire warnings of the first contractor, I was rather worried by the second’s insouciant confidence, but I accepted his bid. However, as he never returned to do the job, my concern was moot.
Now Damon is healthy again and he and I are doing the work, at a far lower cost altogether. Our goal is to divert some of the water from flowing over the driveway by putting in two sets of culverts. We’re not sure it will work, but we’re going to try.
It’s fun to work with Damon again, fun to hear the roar of the big machine, fun to be with someone whose memory of this land is almost as long as mine.
We put the first culvert where sixty years ago, the previous landowner had laid down a 2″ iron pipe for the same purpose.
Ours was 8″ plastic, twenty feet long.
I shoveled dirt around the pipe to hold it in place…
and Damon buried it with the bucket.
He instructed me to find some rocks to place around each end of the culvert for stability. I drove back with the I-Haul and on my return lugged a 18″ stone, puffing, into place.
“You couldn’t find a big one?” growled Damon.
“This one isn’t big enough?” I asked, crestfallen. I was at the limit of my strength.
Damon snorted and his mouth twisted in a smile. He doesn’t have the easy laugh of his father but he has the same love of teasing. “It’s fine.”
We realized our second culvert wasn’t long enough to reach entirely across the diagonal from the house, so we are waiting for the delivery of one more pipe and hope to finish the ditching Friday. Then we will order stone and crusher mix from the quarry.
After smoothing out the first culvert we had a half dozen bucket-loads of extra dirt and I asked Damon to leave them in a pile. I explained that I could use it to fill pasture holes.
He did as I asked but observed loudly enough for me to hear, “Yup, and in three years they’ll still be sittin’ there, covered with weeds!”