Recovering from Recovering.

August 29, 2014 by

There are some broad types of actions human critters take to get through natural disasters.

  1. Survive the disaster itself
  2. Immediate recovery efforts (short-term, clear goals)
  3. Big disaster recovery projects

Let’s just say that #3 is my least favorite. BY FAR. Last fall’s flood made a mess – but natural resources are incredibly resilient from natural disasters. Unfortunately, the things done in the name of “disaster recovery” can be more challenging to recover from.

Fortunately, as the contractor season is drawing to a close, I’ve been able to get rolling on a few plum projects. I think projects are a great avenue for reflecting AND getting moving again.

One of those projects is reseeding and erosion mat. With a bag of native seed mix and a few strangely cumbersome rolls of aspen/coconut mat, volunteers have been able to do a lot of slope stabilization and mitigate a lot of invasive weed habitat.

Finally, flood recovery starts in Rattlesnake Gulch - thanks WRV.

Finally, flood recovery starts in Rattlesnake Gulch – thanks WRV.

One my job duties (that goes well in spite of my best efforts) is wrangling stewardship volunteers. As the contractors began leaving, the volunteers came back in droves. 607.5 volunteer hours this month. h/t to The Dawson School, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Boulder County “Fast Tracks”, and others.

5:1, big rock.

5:1, big rock.

For a personal project, I started work on a retaining wall at the East end of the park. It’s amazing to see that even nature has routines. At 10:30, the flies fly; at about noon the rattlesnakes pass through; and at 2:00 the rain starts. And somehow rocks find good places on the wall.



A thought from all of this: Correlation isn’t causation, sure – but take time to enjoy correlation, coincidences, and other moments of providence…

Look What I Made!

May 13, 2014 by
Seed Bombs.

Seed Bombs.

Yep, that’s right. Three college degrees, numerous certificates of accomplishment, and today, I made hand-crafted, artisan, free-range mud balls. Would that I were kidding – the fertilizer is even organic.

These objects of excellence are actually seed bombs. Several groups of junior high students are going to volunteer this week, and part of their time will be spent lobbing muddy orbs of seed, fertilizer, dirt, and clay at some unstable slopes. It’s kind of a clever trick: sending people out onto the slopes to plant will do more damage than good.

If they work, I might publish my recipe (which is less about quantities and more about technique).

Streamside Trail Repairs. AKA the “Learning Opportunity”.

March 18, 2014 by

After a brief hiatus, I’m back and making less sense than ever!

Good scenery tempers frustrating days.

Good scenery tempers frustrating days.

We started work repairing a blowout on the Streamside trail.

A pretty place to do some drilling.

A pretty place to do some drilling.

Moving rock into the repair area is challenging. There are no clean lines to hang a skyline, there’s no good quary of rocks directly above the site. After a few months of occasional study and lots of pondering, I realized there is no good solution, just some solutions that are slightly less bad than others.

We got to work on the first least bad option this week. The good news is we partly cleared a landing to stage rocks. And learned some stuff. So that’s nice.

Learning 1: Tripods in a boulderfield may cost more time than they save. We were really confined to placing tripods on a few flat-ish surfaces, and 4×4’s really like to skid off of polished river rock. In short, there was a lot of slip sliding tripod adventure. We got some rocks across the creek, which is good.

There's one on the line.

There’s one on the line.

Learning two: Sometimes reading the grain of a rock really works. Really really. I saw how this rock was splitting in other spots, and with minimal wedges made a nice 3′ x 3′ split.



Learning #3: 3/8″ feathers and wedges work well. 1″ feathers and wedges work well. I have no end of troubles with 3/4″ feathers and wedges – the wings of the feathers bend really easily, I’m not sure they split the rock here any better than 3/8″ wedges. I’m going to try some 1/2″ next week. I also might make a “punch” that sits over the top of a 3/4″ wedge head – so I can drive it cleanly.

Learning IV: We did some straight sledge/slab splitter work – split slabs without resorting to feathers & wedges. Really nice splits – hard work, but really clean, almost natural looking edges.

Learning cinque, AKA Angles on either side of spars, AKA ratio of side span to center span.

Behold, the humble and amazing suspension bridge:

There are three “spans” of the bridge: the center span and the two side spans. I’ve been pondering something for a while: why are either of the side spans usually half the length of the center span? Because of the cruddy available spots for a tripod, we found out the hard way.

By way of diagrams (generated with the truly friggin’ awesome Algodoo). Imagine a decent tripod setup, now imagine what happens as you scoot one of the tripods (towers, spars) away from the center, towards the anchorage:

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 4.59.27 AM

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 4.59.48 AM

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 5.00.10 AMBecause of the available “flat” surfaces and anchor points, we ended up with a tripod very close to an anchorage – and I watched the rigging carefully as the line went up (I kinda knew it wasn’t going to work). The shorter the side span becomes, the more force is directed on the top of the tripod towards the center of the span.

I suppose one could anchor the back leg of the tripod – but that seems to me like that would introduce some exciting new forces into the system. Better to build the system so forces point straight down on the top of the tripod/spar…

Protected: February, 2014

March 1, 2014 by

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Observe First, Change Later

January 30, 2014 by

If there’s one theme I’ve seen in the four+ months since the flood, it’s that most people seem hellbent on taking charge and making changes.

In a very few situations, that might be a good approach.

Here’s the thing: Most people don’t want to spend time observing before making changes. I say most people, and I humbly, ashamedly admit that I’m part of that group.

Here’s what’s missing in that approach:

  • There may be things that are working with the current methods. They may even be working well.
  • The change-everything-first approach tends to come with a dialectic. It’s not enough to implement a new approach – the old approach must be discredited.
  • Rather than continuity and growth, the change-everything approach creates an endless loop of radical change followed by re-adjustment. It may end up being two steps forward and three steps back.

Back in the day, I worked for a few organizations that went through a quality management process. Regardless of the name, the core concept of quality management seems to be about observing the process and then making small, sustainable changes to improve the process when necessary.

On a side note, I’m going to take some time off from blogging.

Stupid Saturday Sidetrack: Fuel Cabinet Door

January 25, 2014 by

Ahh, Winter. When foolish maintenance dudes decide to tackle old pet projects. Spring was invented to keep people like us from being institutionalized. Epic foreshadowing: the story has a happy ending.

Take THAT!

Take THAT!

Read the rest of this entry »

Screw Extractor

January 9, 2014 by

In which a vise is fixed.

The workshop vise is critical – it’s used daily and takes a lot of abuse. One of the jaw faces left suddenly for a prior appointment and sheared the 1/4 28 screws that held it in place. Huzzah! A chance to use the screw extractor.

Use a center punch to establish where the drill bit will go.

Use a center punch to establish where the drill bit will go.

A damaged screw with a nice divot from the center punch.

A damaged screw with a nice divot from the center punch.

Drill out the center of the screw.

Drill out the center of the screw.

Thread the screw extractor in - it's a left hand thread. So awesome.

Thread the screw extractor in – it’s a left hand thread.

Enjoy some awesomeness as the old screw comes out.

Enjoy some awesomeness as the old screw comes out.

The hand made replacement part. Hooray for keeping steel scraps around.

The hand made replacement part. Hooray for keeping steel scraps around.

A very satisfying project. I hadn’t had an excuse to use a screw extractor before.

First Tripod Setup. And Some Thoughts About Rigging Geometry.

December 20, 2013 by

I postponed as long as I could, but I finally had to break down and try a trypod setup this week. The area that needed work had a few decent trees, but not enough big trees in line with the trail that needed work.

It took an afternoon of experimenting, but I eventually got a working rig (And roped in some help to build good steps.)

Looking downhill.

Looking downhill.

Big rock on the line.

Big rock on the line.

The quasi-finished product. 8 steps placed.

The quasi-finished product. 8 steps placed.

Rigging Geometry

Spar distance:

With tripods, there’s a lot flexibility with the placement of the tripod. And the length of the span between the tripods (spars) has a huge impact on the load the system can handle.

Here are some pictures for your ponderation:

Long distance between spars - greater angle of line at load.

Long distance between spars – greater angle of line at load.

Shorter distance between spars - narrower angle at load.

Shorter distance between spars – narrower angle at load.

Here’s why this is important: If the angle of the lines at the load is wider, the system is less efficient. As the angle at the load gets narrower, more weight can be lifted with the same equipment. (Or the same weight can be lifted with less force across the line).

Addendum: I found the handy “bight angle factor” chart here. Suppose there was a 500 pound rock on the line. In the upper (wide) configuration, that would take 961 pounds of force across the line.  In the lower configuration, 354 pounds of force.

Accidental Horizontal Loading:

I’m not admitting that I did this, but if I did, I certainly had an epiphany later on.

Most of my work takes place on slopes (stone stairways aren’t always useful on flat trails…). Usually there are two components to a system: The skyline/griphoist system is responsible for the vertical position of the rock (raise/lower), and some kind of rigging to move the rock horizontally along the line once it’s in the air.

Looking uphill.

Two systems – vertical and horizontal.

Now think about what happens as the rock gets close to the anchor for the horizontal system (if that anchor is on the ground):

Some horizontal loading.

Some horizontal loading.

Same load, much more horizontal loading.

Same load, much more horizontal loading.

Moving the anchor up some should help. Rigging a second, lower pulley in the spar might be a very sweet solution. More to come.

Buckets. Bags.

December 12, 2013 by

If you move materials like rocks and gravel for a living, you’ll use buckets. Plastic. Cheap ones from a local big-box hardware store, probably.

Disclaimer: Putting compressed air into a small cavity with walls of friable plastic is probably dangerous. Wear protective gear if you try something this stupid. Or be smart and go spend a couple of bucks on a new bucket.

1) Buckets will stick together. I’m sure there are better tricks that preserve the bucket’s integrity, but for gravel movers like myself, this works:

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

Drill a 1/4″ hole (or whatever size will snugly fit your compressed air nozzle). Do this:

2) When you’re tired of buying/breaking/throwing out a dozen buckets a year, get coal (aka junk) bags.

If you search the web for coal bags, you’ll probably find a lot of suspiciously expensive, delightfully fashionable shopping bags. When you find a plain vanilla bag that costs $20-$25, you’re on the right track.

You may wish to channel your inner Banksy when they arrive:

Hot pink!

Hot pink!

Photo Dec 12, 8 30 49

h/t to Wildlands Restoration Volunteers for the coal bag suggestion. They’ve been abusing theirs on a LOT of trail days with great success.

Out of the Woods, and into the …

December 5, 2013 by

During September’s water event, a major brown bullet was dodged. The only road that accesses the restrooms in the South picnic areas was severely damaged. The creek didn’t get too near the pits, but a torrent of water from the slope behind the restrooms filled the vaults with water.

Some of the damage to the road.

Some of the damage to the road.

The vaults didn’t overflow (phew), but were filled to the rim. Another water event could have wreaked havoc.

With the trusty Bobcat, I was able to move about 50 tons of material into place and rebuild the road. On Tuesday, just before the temps plummeted, the honey wagon was able to do the deed.

Ahh, the relief.

Ahh, the relief.

I am happy to report that the truck and 2,000 gallons of fun (about 16,000 pounds) made it across my road.

At some point, when the temperature climbs back up, I’ll build some water-diversions behind the facility.

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