Saturday, April 26, 2008

With the right tools, you can do anything…

But somehow nature always wins. And, for the record, mud sits at the top of the nature hierarchy. I’m getting ahead of myself… let’s go back before we go forward.

My fascination with power tools has been widely documented. The bigger and louder, the better. Enter the rented stump grinder. We reserved it Wednesday and hoped for good weather on the weekend because it had rained all week (this is a very important detail that was lost on me). We picked it up on Saturday morning and I was so excited about it that I barely listened to the mechanic who was giving us the low-down on how it worked (no need to draw attention to that detail).

I asked a couple of questions, he answered Michael. I don’t think I can ever fully explain how frustrating that is to me. I asked the question and he looks at Michael when he answers. And, when Michael asked a question, he answered Michael. Argh.

That said, the man was nice and went over the machine even pointing out that one renter once put gasoline in the hydraulic fluid tank when trying to top off the gas. I laughed without seeing where he was pointing. Not a costly mistake as both are clearly labeled and we had no trouble filling up the gas before we returned it.

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. We hook up the trailer to the van and we’re off. Other traffic (what little there was at this hour in the morning) stayed clear of the van and the towed machine – they knew we meant business. We get home, easily get the grinder off the trailer and get to work.

And, for the record (and for the benefit of those who thought they needed to remind me to wear protective gear when I told them of our weekend plans), we both wore ear protection, goggles, steel-toed boots and leather gloves. A stump grinder is loud, throws wood chips and has a very sharp and fast-moving blade. We both like our limbs and senses which are all still intact.

We started in the front of the house – we blew through about 20 stumps. The first few were a bit clunky, but we quickly became familiar with the controls and worked them with ease. While it was a loud and powerful machine (going 10 inches below the surface to tear out any bit of tree root), the controls were a bit wimpy. I mean, there was no force necessary, no pressure and no shaking. I was expecting a jackhammer for tree roots and it took less effort than a vacuum albeit a lot more fun.

One person could easily run the grinder so I was off to work on another project. While I could have easily picked up one that had been started days or weeks earlier, I didn’t. I started a new one. I ripped out our sidewalk. I could easily go off on a tangent here, but this sidewalk is worth a separate post (and the story is still unfolding).

With Michael working in the back and my station out front, I didn’t see what was going on with the stump grinder. He had been working in the area where we’ve been clearing the phragmites, downed and diseased trees. We were able to save some trees and the work we’re doing will help them to thrive, but again, I’m getting off track. With all of the brush, it was difficult to see just how wet the ground was. The rain from the week before had really made a mess of the area, but we’d been working without problem all day. Until… Michael found a particularly deep stump and the heavy machine was sinking as it was grinding. The stump was gone, but the grinder was bogged down.

Michael got me so that I could run the controls while he pushed it out. He managed to also sink in the mud as the grinder continued its descent into soft ground. Before he was able to pull out the MyGyver magic, I managed to provide some comic relief during a pretty tense moment. As we’d been clearing the area, we had been raking, digging and whatever else you do with brush and limbs. Tools were strewn about the yard and I managed to find an errant rake with my very heavy steel-toed boot and, just like in every Bugs Bunny cartoon I had seen as a child, the handle of the rake quickly found my forehead. I really thought ridiculous things like that only happened in the cartoons.

While I didn’t see birds and stars floating around my head afterward, it did take a few moments to regain my balance and composure. It really hurt, but it was so much funnier than painful. After we both had a good laugh, then McGyver sprung into action. He created a bridge for the tires to get some traction and we got the grinder out. He found a few more stumps that afternoon and we called it a day with only about five stumps left and rain in the forecast. We were exhausted.

Fast forward to Sunday morning, the last day with the grinder. It was raining… and it was not letting up. At about 2 we decided we had better just get out and finish the couple we had left. These stumps were about 20 feet from the water and it’s always damp in that area, and the constant drizzle wasn’t helping. However, we were emboldened by our previous success. We easily got two done and as we finished the third, the grinder was stuck -- really, really stuck. We hit the gas and were both covered in mud and the grinder didn’t move. No worries, we’d build a bridge. We used the same tactic from the day before and our bridge sunk deeper than the tires. We needed a taller, sturdier, wider bridge. Got it! The previous owners had some pavers that we tore out last summer, they would be perfect.

We got the pavers back to the sinking grinder and eased it out of the mud pit one paver at a time. We then used the pavers to make bridges to and from the rest of the stumps. We were covered in mud and soaked, but we were done. We cleaned up the grinder the best we could and delivered it back to the rental place Sunday evening. Since then, we’ve cut all of the wood up for firewood and what we couldn’t use we added to our neighbors burn pile (think Texas A&M).

Our next rental is the industrial tiller… I’m sure it will come with a story, too. And, we’re considering renting an excavator -- that should provide enough material for my first book.

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