Deb and I used to get up early every day during our working life, usually at 5am. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve done that over the last two years, but that’s when her alarm went off yesterday.
We had our reasons.
The drive east presented us with something we’d never seen on our trips to The Mountain — sunrise. It was mesmerizing, every turn and rise in the road revealing a postcard. We arrived at the shed shortly after 7am, parked the truck, loaded the Ranger and headed for the homesite.
Before long we heard the crunch of gravel and the growl of diesels down The Mountain. First a dozer and then a big sheepsfoot roller rounded the bend, followed by our site guy. We all walked the cleared section of the property and marked where Deb and I wanted our driveway to go.
The operators staged their equipment and waited, and soon the first dump trucks came crawling up the road. The crew directed them to a spot, where the drivers dumped their loads of heavy red clay. The dozer spread the pile and the roller compacted it, pass after pass.
Dirt work is fascinating. It’s rough ballet, way more precise than it appears.
It promised to be a long day, and we had a mid-morning appointment to keep 20 miles away. Deb and I left the crew to its work and rolled down the road in the Silverado. We passed two more inbound dump trucks on our way out.
Now here’s something I’ve learned recently — if you want country folk to roll their eyes, ask ’em what they think of a woodchipper. Seriously, that’s been the reaction every time I’ve told someone that I wanted to have one at our place on The Mountain. I’m sure all those people mean well but, based on using one for five years when I lived in southern New England in the ’80s, I want a damned woodchipper.
Deb, humoring me, scoured the local online ads, eventually finding one worth looking at near Dodd City. State Route 125 made for an entertaining drive, bobbing and weaving through the landscape on its way to the address we’d been given. The family living on the small homestead had a variety of items for sale, including a bright red Craftsman woodchipper (identical to a Troy-Bilt) stored in a greenhouse.
I drew out the dipstick, pleased to find oil that didn’t look scorched or ignored. I pushed the throttle to the right, thumbed the choke and pulled the starter rope — the engine spun freely but wouldn’t fire. Again and again we tried, smelling gas but failing to start the 7.5hp Briggs & Stratton engine.
I took off the airbox cover, gave it a shot of starting fluid and pulled the rope again. It fired right up and (after a little smoke initially) it ran smoothly. The owner pointed to a pile of dry pine branches, which I fed into both chutes. The little chipper did what a little chipper is supposed to do.
These units sell for $950 new. This one was advertised at $400. I offered $325, paid the man and loaded it into the bed of our truck.
Before I get down to work with it on The Mountain, I’ll run the engine awhile with some Gumout and get rid of the sour fuel. With clean, stabilized gas it should be ideal. It’s very similar to the chipper/shredder I used the hell out of almost 40 years ago, exactly what I was looking for now.
Back on The Mountain again before noon, we found the dirt work really hummin’ along. We checked in with the crew and then, since there was no need to babysit these professionals — I’m generally not inclined to look over shoulders anyway — we left them alone.
We took the buggy down to the end of the road to visit with a neighbor at his garage, the guy we’d seen at the polling place on Tuesday. Another neighbor’s pit bull, Sparky, was there seeking attention (which he got) and waiting to chase our Ranger back up the road (which he did).
When we swung back by Deb’s cousin’s place, he hopped on his quad and came with us back to the homesite to watch the work. Later he followed us up the cut to the summit, the first time he’d been there in over ten months, to see what we’d done.
By that time we suspected that the day’s work was about to wrap down below, and we showed up just as the last dump truck arrived. The dozer spread the load of clay at the south end of the driveway and the roller made its final passes.
The operators — a great team, by the way — brought their rigs to rest at the north end of the site, shut the big engines down and urged us to drive our buggy over the work they’d done.
Where yesterday morning we would’ve said, “This is where the driveway will be,” by day’s end we had an actual driveway (or the base of one, at least) — wide, smooth, solid, wonderful. Twenty truckloads of red clay and hours of skilled labor brought our dream a whole lot closer to reality. We had chills.
The guys were grinning when we pulled up to them after our tour. They knew it was perfect. We thanked them for what they’d done.
At one point the big fella who’d been running the dozer shushed us. “Listen,” he whispered. “Hear it?”
We didn’t. He scanned the woods.
“There he is,” he said. “Right there,” pointing across the road.
Less than a hundred feet from where we stood, a whitetail spike picked his way among the trees, splitting time between browsing and being curious about us. It was the ninth deer we’d seen since arriving on The Mountain that day, though it was the first buck.
The crew left their heavy equipment on the site, which hints that we’ll see more progress in the coming week or so. (We got a little rain last night, so that clay will need to dry out first.)
Bookending our Thursday was a drive into the setting sun. We are, without a doubt, happier and more encouraged than we’ve been in months.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.