Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fencing, round 4

The back yard is not a quadrilateral, but it is enclosed by four stretches of fencing. Section 1 was completed in 2012; sections 2 and 3 last summer. This left the fourth and final segment as a job for this summer. I got to starting it in earnest on Labor Day weekend, which I maintain (by several definitions) counts as summer.

Part of the reason it didn't get done sooner was that, unlike the other sections, this one required some more extensive preparation. This section forms the border between our yard and the back-yard neighbors. Some may recall that there once stood a 100-year old maple tree along that fenceline. (We still miss the shade.) The stump that remained, a good four feet across, would have to be taken out before attempting to replace the fence behind it.

This is not an easy job. Simple, maybe, but not easy. Some folks would go the DIY route and rent a stump grinder for the weekend. What's available locally, however, would be woefully inadequate for the task at hand. I could easily spent an entire weekend out there sweating, cursing, and numbing my arms doing battle against that venerable old with a puny machine. When my neighbor across the street had a stump ground out earlier this summer, I got to see a REAL machine: a trailer with a 50-hp engine spinning a 2-foot cutting head at a few hundred RPM! Hydraulics pivot the cutter up/down, left/right, and jack the whole trailer forward/back. The pickup truck serves as the anchor. Now THAT was what I needed!

Only problem: there was no direct way to get that machine to my stump - way in the back of the yard, far from the road and driveway. The grinder guy took a look at the job and the potential approaches, and concluded that he might be able to back it all the way up the driveway and into the yard. However, in order to round the turn into the yard, I would have to dismantle section 2 of the fence, that'd I'd put in last summer. Not just remove the pence panels, but pull up at least one of the fence posts. Those posts are sunk 42" into the ground, and are surrounded by concrete for more than 2' of that depth. I put those posts in with the specific intention of never having to deal with them again.

The solution, ultimately, was to come in from the other side of the fence - from the neighbor's parking lot. This was the approach used to take the tree out in the first place. However, it would entail removing not only the old fencing on my side, by also peeling back a large section of chain-link fencing on the neighbor's side. Asking for permission for these things (moving the chain link and bringing in the stump grinder) developed enough inertia that it was almost September before I finally got off my ass and did something about it. Permission granted. Let's get to work.

Thankfully, I had some help. My folks were in town for the long weekend, and we spent a lot of that time out in the yard.

First step - pull out the old, rotten, listing, failing, punky, craptastic fence.
Most of the old posts were rotted out at grade level. One of them actually took some effort to pull.
Next order of business - hacking back the obnoxious vines and creepers that infest the chain-link fence (and lean heavily on my side). This stuff was persistent and pernicious - the roots spread in a crazy network just an inch or two below the ground. In the month since we cut it back, new sprouts are turning up everywhere.
It took Da and I the better part of a full day to cut it all back. It made for quite a change in the view!
We ended up with 15 yard waste bags filled to cut vegetation. Good riddance.
The next day we dismantled a portion of the chain-link.
This particular chain-link post got gonzo'ed by the gradual, inexorable encroachment of the tree. Given enough time, nature wins.
Make way for the stump grinder!
Is this the hottest thing or what?
Everyone together, now: grunt grunt grunt. I did get video of this part, but haven't edited it into suitable shape yet. It's pretty thrilling to see in person.
This was just the first pass. Ultimately he would go down 6-12" below grade over an 8' x 8' area, leaving a thick trail of wood mulch and dirt behind.
He did snag a bit of old, flat, steel wire along the way, and got several yards of it wound around the axle.
Said wire, all bundled up. Goodness only knows what it was doing in the ground, how long it had been there, and what its original purpose was.
Even counting the 20 minutes spent prying and pulling it back out, the grinder was in and out in about an hour, and the price was impressively low. Best money I ever spent avoiding a DIY job!
After he left, Da and I spent some time with the shovel and rakes to bring all that mulch back to my side of the fence, where it made an impressive 5' pile. It was dusty, dirty work.
It took a few weeks for the fencing materials to arrive, then a bit longer until I had a free weekend to get to work on it. I could tell harrowing tales of working the post-hole digger, past roots and rocks, mixing a few hundred pounds of concrete by hand, but I'll (mostly) skip it - you've read it before.

I will, however, tell a bit about the very...last...hole. This one ended up just about next to where the old tree used to be. The stump grinder did go down below grade a bit, but not the four feet or so I needed to dig. I let out a great heavy sigh when I jabbed the post-hole digger in and heard thunk! It was not just the sound of hitting another root; this was, in fact, me hitting a solid deck of maple. A single root can be excavated around and sawed out - but how does an average Joe bore through some unknown thickness of solid (and green) hardwood?
Over the next hours of hard labor, I had plenty of time to think it over. I started with a beefy power drill and a 1-1/2" spade bit, figuring I could drill out some and break up the rest. That was a decent start, but the shank on the bit was only about 6" long. I thought about getting a set of hole saws, and maybe a long extender bit. But hole saws only cut a few inches deep, too. What I really needed was to get a 5-foot length of 8" diameter cast iron pipe, grind some teeth into it, and attach that to my neighbor's two-man auger. Work that puppy all the way down and pull out one solid core. Yup, that'd about do it.

Dynamite was also considered.

But, lacking dynamite or long lengths of pipe, I had to settle for this:
My neighbor uses this chisel-tipped pry bar for chipping into ice while fishing. I broke out the file and gave it as sharp an edge as I could. Many hours of thrusting, chopping, chipping, stabbing, prying, wiggling, digging, scooping, and cursing followed.
Here are some of the chunks I hacked out. Some of the work went easily - there were sections with punky wood that crumbled easily. Mostly, however, it was like chopping an axe into green end-grain. If you don't get a clean split on the first whack, the axe head gets pinched in the wood, necessitating a lot of prying and wiggling to get it loose. Somehow, I managed to not pull the bar into my face in all that time.
That wood went down seemingly forever! I only used the post-hole digger for the final 12 inches or so.


Like I said, it took about six hours just to sink this one final hole. A week later, my left wrist is still complaining bitterly.
On the bright side, however, that is now in the past. All the posts are in place and set in concrete. I hope mightily to not need to do anything with those posts. Ever. Again.

The panels will go up in the next weekend or two (lack of daylight after work makes it tough get anything done during the week).

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