Saturday, September 3, 2011

Buddy, can you spare a PTO auger?

A couple miles west of here and a mile or so north lies Rocky Knob, a well-known feature of the Blue Ridge Parkway and, long ago, an overnight stop for some on the Appalachian Trail before it was moved further west. I've been coming up to this part of Patrick County, VA,  and the Parkway since childhood days, when my family stayed just down the road at the Rocky Knob Housekeeping Cabins at the head of the Rock Castle Gorge. These are enchanted hills for me, places where my sister and I played with the will o' the wisps on foggy summer evenings half a century and more ago, and it's one of the few places on earth that would draw me from my native land of North Carolina.

But a smart fellow would have paid more attention to that "rock" in "Rocky Knob."  I don't know how these yeoman farmers carved out a living on the hillsides of this area, but I can tell you that one of their best crops had to be rocks. We've got ancient piles of them near every corner of our fields, put there long ago by the folks who farmed this land. All kinds of rocks. Big rocks. Little rocks. Heavy rocks, Quartz rocks. Some igneous stuff. And, I swear, the kind of granite they use to build monuments in Washington.

OK, it's been a long time since I took Geology 31 down at Chapel Hill. And maybe it wasn't granite. But I've been digging a hole for weeks for a corner 6x6 post for a wing on the tractor barn and the ratio of rocks to dirt appears to be about 80-20.  Maybe higher.  I was hoping to get down three feet for this post but I finally hit what looks like bedrock. And in contrast to the quartz and the layers of some gray upheavals that was shatter when struck with a sledge or hammered enough with a spud bar, this stuff just gives off sparks and sits there.

I thought I'd be digging these eight holes, as well as another eight or so for a new garage, with a borrowed auger that runs off the Power Take Off  shaft of a 35-horse Diesel tractor. First I thought a fellow was going to bring me one when he came to cut down four large trees, but he got a regular job and never showed. A contractor who was coming to do something else was going to bring his auger on his lowboy trailer, but he came and went without it.  I've looked through CraigsList trying to find a decent price on one, but none are 12 or 18-inch-bits.

We know something about augers on this farm. Years ago two friends and I went three ways on an Earthquake auger, a gas-powered handheld auger that will, in nice clean dirt, dig a posthole three feet deep in a matter of minutes.  But when it binds up on a big tree root or the wrong size rock, it can send one  of the two individuals it takes to properly run the thing on a head-over-heels trip, as it did to the former Party Doll Strickland the first time we used it back in 2004.  And with a lot of rocks in the ground, about the only thing that works is the spud bar.  If you've used one, you know what I mean. You can dig rocks out, pry them out, and sometimes chip them to pieces, but it's a lot of work.  And with two holes dug and at least 14 to go, I'm thinking about calling a well driller. I worked for Bainbridge and Dance Well Drilling in Guilford College during my youth, and those boys know right how to grind through layers of rock. And I don't recall ever seeing a spud bar on a drill rig.  Shoot, who knows? Might even hit water. Or oil.

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