September 26 - Oct 3

September 26 - Gary has decided that the dirt we have needs more sand and fewer clumps, so we have Little Joe on-hand to haul more dirt up the hill.  A couple of weeks ago Joe brought up 29 loads of dirt after surviving a nasty scare. The driveshaft on his dumptruck snapped as he drove up the driveway. For a variety of reasons, some good, some bad, this left him with no brakes and 5 tons of dirt, rolling backwards down our curving driveway. He rode it out and managed to even make the 90 turn at the bottom of the drive. After collecting himself, he drove to down and managed to find a replacement driveshaft, which is all the more amazing since James couldn't even find wheel studs for his truck. Here's a shot of Joe's truck, which might help explain how a driveshaft could snap.

James is really in his element today driving a Volvo we rented. Not the station wagon, not the coupe, but the Volvo skidsteer.  For those of you who are not construction equipment freaks, a skidsteer is the generic term for what most people call a "Bobcat", which is a brand name for a particular skidsteer. A skidsteer has four wheels which have no steering mechanism. Instead, the machine steers by driving the left side and right side wheels at different speeds, or even forward on one side and reverse on the other, which allows the machine to pivot in-place. 

While James drove the Volvo, I drove Gary's Bobcat (and it really is a Bobcat brand machine). James dumped the dirt over a screen we borrowed from Joe, then I moved it into a new pile. Over the next couple of days James mixed the new sand with the old silty earth to create the mix for the walls. This was an incredibly dirty job, since the we were dropping the dirt over the screen while the wind was blowing and later in the rain. James claims this is probably the dirtiest he's been in his adult life!

September 29 - Gary's been hard at work with his new crew,  Nathan and Jerry,  a couple of locals he hired and trained for this job. In this shot you get a sense of the forming system, which is based on a concrete forming system , but is heavily reinforced to deal with the pressure of the rammed earth process. 

The earth coming out of the funnel is a mix of dirt, portland cement, and water. Gary designed and built the mixer specifically for this purpose and has christened it "the time machine", since it greatly speeds the rammed earth process. Based on a first-of-a-kind machine designed by Stan Huston (one of the pioneers of the rammed earth revival), Gary's machine is all-electric and produces a metered mix of the three ingredients.

The left hopper receives the dirt. We've added a screen in our case because we are using site dirt which hasn't been screened for rocks. The right hopper takes the Portland cement. A conveyor runs under the two hoppers collecting the earth and cement. The earth is metered by a gate/door at the front of the hopper. The Portland hopper has a feed screw which is drive by a chain from the motor driving the conveyor. By adjusting the gate and/or changing the gear, Gary can control the earth/cement mix. To the right is the mixer - a long screw/auger. Water is sprayed on the mix as it passes through the screw which is mixing the earth and cement.  Here's a closeup of the bottom of the cement hopper and a view of the earth/cement before it hits the mixer.

After three months of almost no precipitation, we've been dealing with rain almost every day since Gary's arrived. Coincidence? I think not. Anyway, here's what the road looked like on the way home today. The good news, I suppose, is that this is hail, not snow already.

Oct. 3 - The moment of truth - the unveiling of the first section of wall.

You can see in this picture how the process leaves an impression of the forms on the walls, as well as the stratification of the earth and slight variations in color. The wall is still wet from being in the forms. It will soon dry to a much lighter color. We have the option of leaving the wall as-is, revealing the process, or sandblasting the wall to smooth out the surface. We're leaning strongly towards leaving it in the natural state.

 

 

Once the forms were stripped away, they were put right back up to form the next section, or "set" in Gary's parlance. Here we see Jerry inside the form with the "pogo", a pneumatic tamper that does the actual ramming of the earth. It's noisy, dirty, and tiring work.

 

 We'll round out this week's entry with a few portraits. On the left is Gary Wee, the "rammed earth guy", proprietor of Earth and Sun Construction, whose slogan is "Authentic Rammed Earth", which is to distance himself from the ersatz kind, I suppose. On the right are the site dogs. (Doesn't every construction project need a dog or two?) You presumably recognize our dog, Lucky, who appears to be poised to chomp down on Gary's dog Cinnamon, but known to all (and answering to) "The Minnow".