Brian’s Morning Newsletter
Last day of November 2010
Text and images are from Henry S Rodgers’ now defunct website “lastusas.com” now available at my site under the heading http://outfitnm.com/las-tusas-ranch
I will be looking through dad’s PC while I am over there caring for him. It is my intention and always has been to resurrect the lastusas website. Dad has gigabytes of journals and unpublished books on his computer. I wish we had a better laptop for him to use, my old one has weak hinges. Well perhaps I could rig up a stand to hold it open. In the meantime I will show you what, if you have been through my website as much as I hope you have you have already seen. Brian
Here we see Henry doing road maintenance by hand.
I told an acquaintance of ours in Santa Fe that I build roads like the ancient Romans did. He then asked, “You have slaves?”
This exchange tells us a little about the mindset of the two principals. One of us takes the rocks in his hand; the other visualizes how he will get the job done without touching the rocks. I take the rocks in my hand because I know that this is the only way I can get the job done – I have no slaves or hired help.
Of course, I try to get the job done with a minimum of time and material. Experience has shown that the ‘minimum’ is not as small as we had hoped.
Our road stone is limestone. It has been lying on the surface of the ground for at least a thousand years – that is, it is well-weathered. Like most rock, limestone has small fissures in it that will take in water by capillary action, perhaps to a depth of only 0.01 inch, But the water thus absorbed will freeze, and thaw, and freeze again, often every 24 hours.
Freezing and thawing result in expansion and contraction. Eventually the stone is shot through with fissures, so that if you hit it in the exactly-right spot, it will shatter into perhaps hundreds of pieces of gravel.
Our soil has a high percentage of clay. Clay consists of very fine particles, in contrast to sand, which is relatively coarse. Mix water and a fine powder, like clay, and it forms a paste – somewhat like putty or caulk, or mud.
This paste is plastic, meaning that it is formable under pressure. Most of us are familiar with the way mud behaves. Drive over it with a car, and it oozes out under the tires, leaving a tread pattern like that of the tires. Mud is plastic.
We put a layer of minus one-inch gravel on a muddy road, and drive over it with a car, the gravel will sink into the mud and virtually disappear. Put another layer down, and drive over it and the same thing happens. Put enough gravel down and it will eventually make a road – but there is a better way.
Put a layer of 4 inch rocks down on a muddy road, and you will find that the weight of a car will not bury them – a heavily loaded dump truck might, but a car won’t.
Brittany breaks rocks in the ruts of the road between Brian’s and Nell’s and Henry’s and Clara’s house
Four-inch rocks are not smooth enough for a normal roadbed. We need some fines on the four inch rocks. Should we use four inches of gravel? It will take too much. Better to put down two inch rocks on the four inch rocks first. After the two inch rocks are leveled, then we can put down one inch gravel.
The fines in the one inch gravel will sift down into the larger rocks and form a concrete-like mass. This is an ideal roadbed for our ranch.
If this were a perfect world, we would have a rock-crusher to prepare the materials for such road work. We do not have a rock-crusher, nor the necessary screening equipment to separate the various sizes of rocks. So! We do this by hand.
Nearly all of our roads were originally old wagon trails. Over the years they have been washed out so they are more like ruts than roads. In order to keep this job as simple as possible, we originally filled these ruts level-full with assorted crushed rock. Sometimes this worked. If soil could wash down into the ruts, it would get caught in the rocks, and eventually fill up the rut.
Another disadvantage of this system is that soon or late, with heavy traffic, the dirt beside the rock track will wash out leaving another ‘rut’. We can continue to fill this new ‘rut’ with crushed rock, and eventually restore the road, or better still, we can remove the dirt from beside, and between, the original ruts to the width of a proper eight foot wide road, and then prepare a nice road that will last a long time.
Jackson heads up LaBahada hill. The Rodgers’ get a lot of use from our roads.
We have had no experience with building a road on top of the existing grade. This sounds like it would be the procedure of choice, but that would take a ton of rock (as a figure of speech) – more than we are able to supply.
In the design of a gravel road, it is important to keep erosion in mind. Traffic and erosion go hand in hand. Somehow we have to keep water off of traffic surfaces and traffic off of wet surfaces. Every section of road presents new problems – this is part of the fun of the work – how do we solve this problem?
The best road for our ranch is four inches of four inch rock, (compacted as closely as possible by hand), followed by two inches of two inch rock (again, compacted as closely as possible by hand), followed by 1” of 1” gravel, spread carefully by rake. (This may take 2” of 1” gravel, because the fines sift down into the coarser rocks below.) Followed by ½“ of dirt, spread carefully by rake. (Use just enough to cover the gravel – no more.)
Followed by one inch of mulch (pine needles, or fine wood chips), spread carefully by rake. This helps hold the dirt in place, and makes for a very smooth road.
On low-traffic roads, step one (4” rocks) will be all that is needed.
Obviously, we cannot make 4” rock without making smaller rocks also. My own practice is to reduce everything to minus 4” beside the road, then to place the larger rocks on the bottom, then the next larger rocks in the next layer, etc, and finally to pick up the fines with a shovel and put them on top. I have a tendency to be compulsive about this work. I need to learn to say, “Good enough,” at the right time.
When Do We Work on Roads?
When it is not too hot and not too cold – just right. Not too wet, and not too dry – just right. One thing we have learned in our short lives is that it is seldom ‘just right’. Life is not perfect, we do the best we can with the situation that exists.
Usually, when it is ‘just right’, there is something else more urgent. One must remain amenable. Every new situation requires a new set of priorities.
It is an important part of road-building that it sooths the mind. I, for one, am often troubled by mental distractions that prevent me from attaining serenity – ie, tranquility. Road-building requires just enough attention that the mind is able to focus on the problem at hand, and ignore other problems that want to present themselves.
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