It has been a tiring few weeks.
It’s been hot. Even with the geothermal blowers running, the greenhouse has peaked at 105-110 degrees pretty much every day, and the camper has been in the high 90s. And even with the intense sun, our camp solar has had a tough time keeping up with the greenhouse blower and water pump -- we’ve had to run the generator most days. Meanwhile the flies have gotten obnoxious, and they bite! It’s been hard sleeping most nights, and hard keeping plants happy most days.
We are usually pretty OK going with the flow and owning the lifestyle decisions that at times inconvenience us. The thing that leaves us focusing on all of these grumble issues is living in limbo… in the progress doldrums. We need a house!
We had been on such a roll! Our tire bale permit came through just as the foundation concrete was cured, our tanks were delivered by Gerald from Diamond G, and the landfill was ready to go with tires for us. Our crew and equipment, though, was stuck on another job for a few days… then a week went by… then we thought they’d be good to go toward the end of that week… then the next week started without word… we started to think someone got COVID or something! By the time we learned that they would be tied up for the foreseeable future, three weeks had passed. So we did what we should have done three weeks earlier, and quickly got a Plan B in place.
Monday: We found a truck & flatbed gooseneck trailer we could use to haul 8 bales at a time, and a forklift we could rent from Big Mike’s in Gallup. We got permission to use the private road between our ranch and the landfill, for $30 per load. With 8 bales at a time that would be $360 for the 12 loads, but it would save us half the driving time. We lined up a forklift driver, and Chip planned to haul the loads while I guided the worker in placing bales into our walls according to the the layout I'd designed -- we were all set for a Wednesday start, but when we called to confirm the forklift, it was unavailable because the previous renter had extended. Kyle at Big Mike’s scrambled, gave the previous renter a bigger machine that we couldn’t use (but the other folks could) so that we could get the one we wanted, and they offered to deliver it at a discount!
Tuesday: We called the landfill… they didn’t answer their phones… so we drove over there with our permit and manifests to make sure we’d be ready to go the next day. It turned out they had a complete power outage! All the key players were out of the office, so we couldn’t confirm anything. We left our paperwork and a note. We called off the truck, trailer, forklift, and driver.
Wednesday: Brenda from the landfill called ready to load us up, and we explained that we had cancelled everyone since we hadn’t been able to confirm. Brenda said that was fine, they were ready to help us whenever we came, and she explained the process. We made the phone rounds to the others again to schedule everything for Thursday. The truck we had been planning to borrow was in the shop with a bad clutch, and would not be available! The trailer was a gooseneck and our truck doesn’t have a gooseneck hitch, so we couldn't haul it. Our neighbor Brett offered to lend us his brand new flatbed trailer with a straight hitch, which could handle four bales at once. Of course that would mean twice the number of loads needed at 90-plus minutes each, and $720 for road tolls -- but we didn’t want to wait any longer or call off all of the arrangements again, so we gratefully accepted. Meanwhile, the forklift was delivered by Big Mike’s, with only a minor mishap on our road.
Thursday: Go Day! Our fork driver called bright and early and asked if we could wait until Monday, since he had a bad stomach bug! The meter was running on the forklift at our house site, so waiting was out of the question in my mind, but that didn’t mean I wanted our driver to have to work while sick -- he offered to ask his brother, but his brother had no experience with a forklift, and my brain was scrambling. I called Chip who was at Brett’s picking up the trailer. After a minute of off-camera conversation, Chip announced that Brett had a friend, Derrick, over there working for him, that Derrick had experience driving a fork, and that everyone agreed Derrick could come over and drive the lift!
So Derrick came to the build site where I shared the layout and explained the plan, and Chip headed out with the truck and trailer for our first load. We knew it would be something like 90 minutes per load, and had no idea how long it would take to place the four bales that we'd get in each load. Derrick started getting used to the machine, and I went to tend to the greenhouse.
Chip called to say the gate to the private road with the toll was locked! He sent off some messages to folks with access to the road, and drove around the long way.
When Chip got to the landfill Brenda had his paperwork ready. She helped him fill out the required manifest, and explained the weighing procedure. She then directed him to the yard where he found our neighbor Johnny, the landfill supervisor, with a block of bales already assembled for us and ready to go! Even though Johnny was on vacation, he had come in to make sure we got what we needed. His crew loaded the trailer, and Johnny followed Chip out the road to open the locked gate.
Chip brought the first load in at 10:20. It was tricky unloading them without damaging the trailer, and took a bit of time. The four bales were off, and the first bale was placed at 11:20, while Chip raced back to the landfill for the second load.
Then I did this to my knee, tripping over the confounded wire and landing smack down on the concrete where the wire protrudes before taking a 90-degree turn. Luckily it at first just seemed like a cut, so I put on a bandaid and kept working, although it was a little bit slower running from one side to the other to site the bales square. After placing four bales, we waited about an hour for the second load. Four more bales went into the back wall, Chip took off for another load, and I iced my knee which had started to swell.
At about 2:30 in the landfill yard when Chip was having the third load tranferred to Brett's trailer, Gary, the operations manager, came out to see for himself what we were doing. He told Chip that because we are so close, he would have the guys haul the rest of the bales over for us! With their truck, that would mean three more loads instead of the 19 more loads it would have taken us going four at a time!
Back at the ranch, we got the third load of bales installed... twelve bales on our full first day of this work. It went a bit faster with Chip on site, because he could spot one direction and I could spot the 90-degree direction, so I didn't have to run around the construction site for every bale. On the other hand, Chip naturally takes charge since he's a take-charge kind of guy, and because at a construction site workers are generally going to look to him for answers... but I am the planner, and have had this house in my brain forwards and backwards and inside-out for a couple of years, and Chip's happy to trust me and doesn't scrutinize the plans. So there were times that he was calling the shots but calling them wrong, and he often didn't hear my comments over the noise of the forklift until I made sure he heard them, and it got a little tense. At the end of their day, the landfill called to say that their truck was loaded, and they would bring us the bales early in the morning.
I went to the doc and learned that my knee did not have any internal damage beyond the bursa making it look dramatic (by swelling or popping or whatever it did), so that was good! Within a day the swelling was down considerably, leaving just bruises. I iced and elevated and avoided too much climbing, but could keep working.
Bottom line: We transported 12 bales from the landfill and installed them into the back wall on Thursday.
Friday: At 8:00 Derrick arrived to drive the fork down to meet the truck from Red Rock Landfill, which brought 26 bales. Gary led the way in his personal truck to check out the site and make sure everything went smoothly. They made it all the way to our property with their semi on our dirt roads, to the base of our driveway. John drove the truck, and coached Derrick in unloading the bales -- it is an art! The one-ton bales are rubbery and move in an unpredictable way, their rubber can grab at the metal on the forks, you have to carefully negotiate the forks around the baling wires, and avoid knocking the back stack off the truck while pushing to get the front stack onto the forks. Derrick took the bales off in pairs and drove them up the driveway to our build site where he unloaded. With everything under control and running smoothly, Gary went back to the landfill.
Once all the bales were offloaded, John headed back to get another load. Derrick finished moving bales to the house, and we started laying in the bales. By the time we got all the bales onto the house site, and eight of the 26 bales installed in the wall, John was back with the next load! He also brought Elijah with him -- Chip had told me about Elijah, the whiz-kid who slung bales around at the landfill like nobody's business. Elijah unloaded the bales, but also found that the beefier forklift that we had rented was less nimble than the fork they have at the landfill, so it still took a good amount of time to unload.
Once the truck left, Derrick finished moving the bales from the driveway to our house site. We placed another couple bales before calling it a day.
Bottom line: On Friday, we received 52 bales from the landfill and moved them onto our site. We laid 11 of these into our back wall. Back wall: 2/3 done!
Saturday: Derrick came out for a full day of work. We almost had enough bales to complete the back wall and one of the side walls -- only one bale short. We finished the back wall. The bottom row had determined the size of the house: we set the "key stone" as the third bale -- the bale rotated 90 degrees to start the west wall, which we pretty much centered on the west wall foundation. Then we fit in bales until we reached the east wall foundation. We had poured that foundation wide to allow a fudge factor. Once our back wall overlapped with that east wall foundation, the next bale was rotated 90 degrees to start the east wall.
The second row of bales for the back wall could be whatever length, since it doesn't interlock with the side walls. So when placing the middle row, we started in the center and worked out from there until we overlapped the last bale on the bottom. The top row was a crapshoot -- we just hoped the bales on top would match the bottom row.
We started with the "key" bales -- the two 90-degree rotated bales -- and lined them up with their counterparts in the bottom row. Then we worked our way in toward the center, and then placed the last bale to fill in the gap. It all went in pretty well -- maybe not as tight as the other rows, but there were no gaps. Chip and I had some different ideas about how to do things at times (we both are pretty used to doing things independently and in our own way), but it all worked out
Bonus puzzle: can you spot the mis-placed bale in the picture above?
At this point, Chip went into town to pick up diesel for the forklift, and Derrick and I started in on the west wall. Similar to the back wall, the bottom row would set the size -- but all three levels (and the three rows on the other side) had to match exactly. Once we knew where the front wall buttress would start, we put in the farthest west bale first and worked out to the corner There was a mountain of dirt and a pile of wood scrap in the way, so there wasn't room to maneuver the fork south of that buttress if we had put in the corner bale first. When we started the second row, I suggested placing the southern bales first, so we put in the front buttress bale, and then the corner bale. My thinking was that squeegeeing in the final bale would make everything tight and square. The side walls are odd in that, since they are only offset by rotating the end bale, they only overlap by a foot. I was concerned that they go in as square as possible. So we put the southernmost bales, then worked our way north, to the back wall.
We started putting bales in, but before long, they were sitting directly on top of each other instead of overlapping, since we weren't getting them in tight enough. I saw that happening, but wasn't successfully communicating. So the last one to go in the row didn't fit its keyhole, not surprisingly. The most southern two were lined up well, so we took down the two looser ones and tried placing them tighter. Then we made a second try at filling the gap.
The bale went in, but with the rubber-on-rubber friction, it would not go down square, no matter how Derrick pressed down on it with the forks. He tried lifting with the forks to get them to settle in, but it just raised them both and they came down in the same configuration. We took off one of the forks (HEAVY), and Derrick lifted up the corner of the lower bale. They now peaked up evenly, and he could push them down in place. It was nice and square, but didn't seem like the most efficient way...
Chip came home about the time I was having a reverie about the whole construction environment (over the past months, not just this day) giving me a sense of déjà vu from my software engineering days -- that insidious sense of not quite being heard because my competence and background knowledge is underestimated. (Especially when all of us have limited competence and background knowledge working with this new material.)
We decided to switch tactics and do the top row from the back wall forward and hope they came out even, rather than trying to squeeze in the last bale. The top bale of the side walls has to go into the back wall by a foot, because of the interlocking. It's easy to push the bales forward and back with the forklift after they have been placed, but it's hard to push the bales sideways, since the controls don't let you shift the forks that direction. We were puzzling over how to tuck that first bale back into the notch. From up on the west side, Chip hollered over the walls to suggest that Derrick pick up the bale at the far right edge of the forks to get it over far enough. I was closer, so I went over to relay the idea, and asked if Derrick thought we should move the left fork over, so the bale would still sit solidly on the forks. I later learned that Chip thought I was ignoring his idea, and telling Derrick to do it a different way so we started arguing back & forth & past each other. I was frustrated with the communication difficulties and burnt out, and I took off with the excuse of going to the gas station, and went off for a drive. (It was a nice drive!)
When I got back, Chip and Derrick had installed the rest of the bales into the top row of the west wall. That first bale which had caused the consternation had not fit into its notch at first, but after placing three more bales, they moved the pile of scrap wood so that Derrick could push the top bale from the south, which shifted the whole row, locking the north bale into the back wall. I knew we'd eventually have to remove the corner bale to put in the buttress bale behind it, but it all looked good, so I didn't bother mentioning it -- we could end on that satisified note, and look forward to getting our last load and finishing up on Monday!
Bottom line: We installed all 40 remaining on-site bales into the walls on Saturday. We were one bale shy of finishing both the back and west walls!
Sunday: We took a day of rest! Meaning farming, dishes, showers, full meals... and talking about the stresses. We really don't want to be that bickering couple on the job site...!
Monday: On Monday morning, the landfill crew started loading the last truck for us. Around noon, Johnny himself drove over with the last semi-load of tires, and with Elijah in tow to offload the bales. We called Derrick to let him know we were ready to finish the job, and while waiting for him, Chip had his fun driving the forklift, and placed two of the bales. For the east wall, we decided to build it three high from the north wall out. Our thinking was that in this way Derrick would always have easy access to push the top bale from the end to keep things tight -- the bottom levels would not block the forklift. They did not go in square (each sagged into the dip below), but when more bales were in we were able to nudge and adjust until they held each other in place, and looked as good as the west wall.
Puzzle solution: That's right, that end bail needs to turn 90 degrees! And it did...
Once the east wall was finished, all we needed to do was add the last bale to the west wall buttress! Derrick and I had built the bottom two rows from west-to-east so Derrick wouldn't have to drive on the south side where the dirt pile was. I thought it would be easiest to take off the top corner bale and move it back, then place the new bale at the corner. But the guys had moved the scrap wood earlier, it was late in the day, and they wanted to try just placing the new bale directly into the waiting space so we could be done.
Derrick squeezed the forklift into the space, driving up on the hill of dirt behind him. He got the machine as straight as he could, and placed the bale. It was still slightly at an angle, but the real problem was that the fork was fully retracted and he couldn't back any further up the dirt pile, so he couldn't extract the fork. By the time he maneuvered the forklift to allow the forks to retract, the bale was pretty wonky, and the bale just below it had moved as well. We all three had various suggestions he tried, coming in at different angles. By the time we had tried them all, even the bottom row had moved out of alignment. Finally we called it a day -- it was late, we were tired, and it was getting precarious. We decided to get a good night's rest and finish up in the morning.
Bottom line: Monday we received the last load of bales from the landfill and placed the 24 bales into the walls. Now it was all up; we still just needed to straighten out the east buttress.
Tuesday: Chip called Kyle at Big Mike's at 7:30 to let him know we needed a few more hours with the forklift before they came to pick it up. It turns out they needed to make several pickup runs, so they just put us last on the pickup list, and said they wouldn't charge us for the extra time! Derrick showed up 8ish, and we went to work.
We were done by 10:15, and the buttress was more stable and square than it had been when we first constructed it, even before Monday's mishap -- we were able to match bale idiosyncrasies when reassembling.
With forklift rental, Derrick's labor, the cost to repair a tire we popped on Brett's trailer, road tolls, and haul fees, our tire bale walls cost less than $2,500. Amazing!
Bottom line; The walls are up!
A huge thanks to everyone who went above and beyond to make this happen -- Gary, Johnny, Brett, Derrick, Brenda, Elijah, John, Kyle, Big Mike’s, and Northwest New Mexico Regional Solid Waste Utility's Red Rock Landfill -- the most beautiful landfill in America!
You get by with a little help from your friends... (In our case, "a little" means 63 tons worth!)