Building a new barn on the farm

So this project has been several years in the making. I actually started looking at buildings in 2016 and finally was able to purchase a used metal building out of a guys field near Virginia. By used, I mean it had been erected for 20 years, then torn down, moved to this guy’s field, then it had sat in pieces for another 10 years or so where I found it, with trees growing out of it. Now it has been moved to my field, where it has sat for another year. At least no trees have started growing through it yet.

Normally I don’t like things to sit like this, but the area where we want to put the building has some issues. The biggest one being that it sits too low, and is therefor susceptible to water intrusion. “But Farmer Dan,” you say, “A barn with a concrete floor wouldn’t matter about a little bit of water. You are storing hardy farm stuff like tractors and, um, concrete blocks, and I’m, I don’t know… farm stuff.”

Alas, you’d be correct if we were only storing tractors. But in this case, we are storing stuff that cannot be wet. Things like a bunch of my machining tools from our metal shop. Those things are not only heavy and expensive, but they really enjoy rusting. It is their favorite activity. So I keep them as far away from water as a ring bearing Labrador that is supposed to walk cutely down the aisle in his little tux at the wedding, but no. The fool girl insisted on both having the dog involved AND having her outdoor wedding in a park with a pond. What was she thinking?!…..

Um, anyway. So water is bad, even for a barn. The easiest thing to do is to bring in dirt to raise the level of the building pad. This not only gets our feet out of the water, it also raises the barn up to a more level position with the pasture, meaning we aren’t sliding downhill into the barn or having to be winched out of the barn when things are wet/muddy/snowy/etc. A win-win.

The good news is we have lots of job sites ongoing around us so all we need is a contractor who needs to get rid of some dirt to hook up with us and we can take his dirt. He gets it off his jobsite, and we get it for free. So I started that process and found a guy in Garner needing dirt gone. Perfect. He hauled about 5 truck loads of dirt in March 2020 and then all the dirt magically disappeared off his job. Ugh.

So we set out again.

We had several false starts till a job on Old Stage happened not a mile from us. Perfect! The contractor said not only could we have the dirt, but he’d come and build the pad for us too, no charge. Woo hoo! Now we are talking! Just give him a few weeks.

And some more weeks.

And some more weeks.

And a few months.

Finally I said what if I came and got the dirt and built the pad myself? “Yeah, ok, that works.” So I arranged trucking, loading, etc.

And then a hurricane hit the day we were to haul.

So we took a few weeks off and planned for the next time.

And then a hurricane hit the day we were to haul. Yes you read that twice. No it was not a mistake.

And then another contractor called. He had dirt for days and he’d haul it. And he’d start ASAP! Except instead of 2-3 trucks, he was going to send 15 trucks at once! Argghh!! We don’t have the equipment to handle that much dirt that quickly. I called my friends at James River to get a bull dozer as quickly as possible and they came through with something from my past, a genuine John Deere 550K dozer.

John Deere 550k dozer on truck
A little slice of my former life

Man it was like coming home getting in the seat of that dozer. I’ve run every model of dozer they’ve made since the 80s.

This was several weeks ago and against all odds, the dirt began to actually arrive. I honestly didn’t believe it till the trucks were done hauling on the first day.

dump trucks dumping in the dark
Early morning dump trucks
Two trucks at once
Two trucks at once

We started at 6am. The road we were using was barely above grade. It was an old road that was here when we moved here in 1980. We’ve never really used it or maintained it. We did go in and fix it up a bit with some drainage last year in anticipation of this but its height above the surrounding area, and associated water would be akin to walking along the beach just above the water line. Sure, you’re above the waves, but not by much.

Road looking a little rough
Or little road, after we’d already improved it some but far from being ready for what we were doing
fog and cows at the farm
Early morning fog and cows

The cows were completely unimpressed with all the work we were doing. Multiple dump trucks. Tractors zipping hither and yon. Yelling, both good natured and urgent (ask Miguel about the yellow jackets), the munched merrily away as if this was just another day.

Unfortunately our promised 15 trucks per day has never materialized. We’ve been averaging about 5-6 per day running, which equates to about 25-35 loads per day delivered. That means that instead of having this dirt hauled in and being done in a few days, we are on week two of running a dozer, roller, backhoe, etc.

Also, since we are able to get the dirt for free, and the equipment is all already here, I figure lets get all that we can while we can. So we have one to two more weeks of hauling before we are done.

Sunrise on the dozer
Sunrise on the dozer

Part of the reason I keep hauling dirt is because I remember being Spork’s age and we were building something like this. Dad, normally busy at work, would instead be running a dozer, directing trucks, directing employees, and generally being the head honcho he always was. But instead of a coat and tie, he was in his work clothes, outside in the sunshine, moving dirt. You see before he was an equipment dealer, he was a contractor for 18 years. Sitting in the seat of a dozer was like coming home to him. No phone calls, no meetings, no TPS reports. Just move dirt and get the job done. He was happy. I, as the head gopher in sight, had the unenviable task of running to get this, or relaying this message to that person. Being a stupid teenager, I’d rather have been doing anything else. But I could see the joy in him when he was running equipment. Now, here I sit not much younger than he was then, in the seat of a dozer on this same farm, moving dirt to get us on grade. I think about him a lot as I sit there unable to hear my cell phone ringing and I too am happy. Yeah, keep the dirt coming, I can make the time.

Stuck truck turning around
Stuck truck turning around

Of course it isn’t all peaches and cream sitting in the seat. We’ve had our share of problems. One morning the first three of four trucks got stuck. Not because we hadn’t prepared our road, but because the grass was so slick they couldn’t get traction, even unloaded, to turn around. Miguel and Vicente had to pull every one up and around to send them back outbound.

The fourth truck?

Truck being towed after breaking down
Truck being towed after breaking down

Oh he broke down as soon as he arrived. Brakes locked up. And an oil line popped off the engine and started leaking oil. At least he didn’t get stuck! I mean he would have, but he broke down before he had the chance, so we had that going for us.

So after hauling dirt for two weeks, nearly every day and definitely all day, we’ve counted 147 trucks in and out of here. That is 1,617 yards of dirt, approximately. What does that look like?

Building pad nearly done
Our building pad, nearly completed

The sloping grass is the original land grade. The building pad is the orange clay flat thingy (sorry for all the technical terms). This is only a portion of the dirt. Probably 20 -25 loads of the dirt went to build up the road where it was the roughest, so that we could keep hauling.

building pad height
The height of pad. I’m 6’5″ tall and this is me looking at the pad from my eye level

So you can see that the pad it actually almost 7′ tall at its tallest point. Now it would take rappelling gear to get up the face of this pad, so our next steps are to build out the slopes on three sides to shallow the grade and make it usable by both man and machine. That will take another 20-30 loads at least, 50 would be better. Then we’ll take another 20 loads onto our road to build it up nice and solid. After that, we should be done(ish).

Pushing steaming chips with a bulldozer
Since the dozer is here…

I mean, I do enjoy running a dozer, and our chip pile was getting out of hand. So may as well push 1000 yards of wood chips and reshape those for the future too, right? What would normally take all day with the backhoe I knocked out in about an hour with the dozer. We’d been piling chips in a level pile, with very steep slopes just down from the barn. That worked great for making a flat place to store our hay for this winter, but didn’t work so well in the overall plan. Plus it made for one heck of a drop off that was sorta dangerous. I mean you’d fall in a big fluffy pile of chips so that was ok, but if you were in a vehicle or tractor, there would be a few bounces on the way down. Now we have a more sloped mound with access from both sides.

There is no substitute for having the right piece of equipment and the bulldozers ability to, well, doze, was leaps and shoulders better than the backhoe. A backhoe is kind of like a Swiss Army knife. It does a lot of things, but none of them exceptionally well. In fact, I’m wondering if we don’t need a dozer full time around here. It sure is a handy thing to have….

Blading the chip road, putting some crown in it
Blading the chip road, putting some crown in it

Like I’ve always wanted to dress up our chip road better than it is usually kept. We just can’t grade the road like I would like. We dump new chips here or there, and dress them out with the skid steer or backhoe but basically we are just flattening them out, not shaping the road into the grade we’d like. One morning I had to go get fuel from the barn so I took the chip road to walk the machine over to the fuel pump. Hmm, wouldn’t take much to drop the blade and fix this road on the way there and back.

Two quick passes with the dozer and the road was as smooth as silk. I wonder how I can talk SWMBO into letting my buy a bulldozer….

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