MAIL: Roads Scholar

Tractor Illustration
Tractor Illustration

Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze’s most recent Home & Heart was great (“Roads Scholar” in HP149)! Thanks from those of us who live that life. Michele and I live 3.1 miles from the paved highway on “Mail Box Road.” A neighbor has a tractor—but we hate to always depend on him. Several years ago, the community pooled its resources and bought a 1912 mule-pulled road grader (now pulled by a surplus Army truck). Still, the road has to become almost impassable before we all pitch in and do repairs. Once we do, there is a fantastic sense of community, but between those times, we just live with the rough road.

I’d like to add that “base course”—a mixture of gravel and fines (dirt)—is better than gravel. It is usually a product of the crusher at the gravel pit. But it can be mined as-is. As Kathleen mentioned, “round” rock tends to move; the crushed gravel has sharp edges and tends to hold together. The gravel in base course lends stability; the fines in it bind the gravel together. Stretches of road where we’ve added base course years ago are still holding up. Another option is “DOT base course,” which has added lime to further stabilize the road and aid in water shedding.

As Kathleen says, rising fuel prices have skyrocketed the cost of delivery, while the cost of material is not that high. And many drivers do not want to drive on our roads—they are glad to deliver to the top of the road at the highway. If they have to drive very far on our road before dumping, they will often only deliver once. Plus, there is a large disparity in the drivers’ abilities to spread the gravel. Some are great, but many end up spreading the gravel in lumps. More than a few refuse to even try—they just dump their load in one pile, which requires either the tractor or a lot of wheelbarrow loads. (Once, it took eight hours for Michele and I to move 13 tons dropped in the middle of the road.)

Another key to road maintenance is “drainage! drainage! drainage!” Culverts, water diversions, and doming our roads are critical. Thank you for your article, Kathleen. I always enjoy reading your column.

Grey Chisholm • via email

In these parts, what you call “base course,” we call “pit run.” It can be really good stuff or it can have a bunch of larger (tennis- to softball-sized) rocks in it, which makes it a real pain to smooth unless you are putting down 6 inches or more. Who has that kind of dough? What you describe—and we get if we’re buying gravel—is hereabouts called “3/4 minus.” Same thing as your base course, except it has no dirt—just lots of fines from the crush.

Works great for potholes, but as you point out, it migrates. If I have the time and it’s handy to do so, I like to mix in a little native dirt with the gravel to bind it. Makes it stay in the potholes better.

Of course, timing is everything. If the moisture content of the road is just right, it’s easy to grade and you can get pretty good results. Too wet or too dry and you are wasting your time, except for filling potholes. Even if you time it right, a bunch of late rain can trash it again. I also tend to mound up the filling a little and let it get compressed by the vehicles’ tires.

We hear you about the cost of trucking—yikes! When we buy gravel, we always get a full transfer truck and trailer, rather than just a dump truck. You get a little less weight per load, but then there are two loads. The cost of the material is about 20% of the cost of the haul!

As I’m a bit of a tool freak, I bought a good used backhoe/loader a few years back, so I’m always on the lookout for a good gravel pit in the neighborhood. It’s kind of like hunting for gold—there are small pockets of good, decomposing rock here and there that you can mine. Last year, we acquired a two-axle dump trailer. We use it mostly for hauling manure and firewood (it can hold a cord and a half of wood or seven yards of dry horse manure), but it works pretty good for moving gravel around, too.

You are lucky to have neighbors who pitch in. We don’t have much help. Since 99% of the road work falls to us, tooling up is just about the only way we can keep the road reasonably passable. Since roadwork is also a springtime chore—along with all the other springtime chores—keeping the time spent on it to a minimum is also important.

Bob-O Schultze & Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze

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