Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Plan

Happy Day Before Thanksgiving!

Here's the latest bridge update. We /They have a plan. It took a long meeting yesterday and some phone calls, but there is a plan. They are going to move the abutment blocks on the road side, dig deeper, set more blocks and create a "wing wall". The wing wall will be in place to prevent erosion when the creek goes up.

Here's Farmer John and the bridge crew talking about the plan:

And this morning they marked where they plan to dig. The utility company has to come and check before they can dig. Apparently these guys are patriotic.

This plan will be put into place starting a week from today. Hopefully we'll have a bridge in place by next Friday. But this time I'm NOT going to mark it on the calendar!

We plan on spending the next few days thinking about other things besides the bridge. Migrant Farm-Hand Becky will be here for the long weekend. There will be much cooking, eating, drinking and general merriment. We'll also attend the Backyard Brawl (WVU vs Pitt) as this has become a day after Thanksgiving tradition.

We hope you and yours have a very festive Thanksgiving. Farmer John is making pumpkin pie (with our pumpkins). If you want to stop by for a slice, make sure you wear your muck boots. This is what it looks like on our side of the bridge:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday's List

1) This is what I saw out the kitchen window this morning. It makes all the events from the weekend a bit better.
2) I spent some time on the phone with our project manager, so did Farmer John. Sounds like they have a plan. It involves re-positioning the abutments. Probably won't happen until next week due to the holiday (a.k.a. hunting season).

3) We have one less deer on the farm, thanks to Michael. The guys are out hunting right now. Perhaps we'll have even less deer around by the time they're done.

4) The bridge still looks like this:

5) I'm spending my Monday away from school re-reading a favorite book. Badger's been keeping me company.

6) Thank you for the supportive blog comments, Facebook messages and e-mails. They help us remember that it will get better and at least we don't have an "excavator in the bay".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bridge Day Debacle

We'll here are lots of pictures from yesterday. The day we were supposed to get our bridge. Technically, we do have a bridge. And technically, it is laying across the creek. Sigh... read on.

Here's a shot from Friday (the original Bridge Day). The crew from Colorado has their truck backed up to the abutments to attach a steel plate which the bridge will sit on.

The bridge arrived on it's truck on Friday night. It spent the night close to town (across from Certified at the start of Rt. 7). It arrived to the farm at 7am and promptly got stuck in the mud. It turned out this was the least of our problems.
Here's Grant cutting a hole in the deck. They put chains through these holes to help with the unloading and moving of the rail car.

Two things to notice in this photo. First, there are two excavators trying to lift the bridge. They couldn't do it. Second, the truck with bridge is blocking one lane of the road. We were able to use some guys from the gas pipeline to be traffic flaggers for the morning. Normally they cost a lot of money for every hour they work, yesterday they did it for free. We did have to sell our souls to the pipeline company though.

After they figured out that they couldn't lift the bridge off the truck with two excavators, they went and got another excavator. Again, this was all thanks to the pipeline company. The next three photos show the process of unloading the bridge from the trailer.

Once it was unloaded the excavators began the process of getting the bridge into place, since it was unloaded about 100 feet from where it would be set.

At some point they realized the three excavators would not be able to set the bridge on their own. The rail car that was sent was heavier than normal. They had to have a bulldozer with a heavy duty winch to help pull it across the creek and into place.

The following set of photos shows them maneuvering the bridge around a turn and then across the creek. It was at some point while watching all this happen that I really wished my civil-engineer cousin was here.

The bulldozer on one side of the creek wasn't enough, so they sent one of the excavators over.

I'm not sure why, but the excavator dug out part of the hillside, while the bulldozer held it in place.

Then the excavator held onto the bulldozer while it tried to pull the bridge into the right spot.

And right about then was when someone realized that the bridge wasn't going to fit! That's right, the rail car was 5 feet too short. Our bridge is sitting just like this right now. Much lower than it should be, and at a weird angle.

The bridge we'd ordered (and paid for!) was supposed to be 90 feet. The one that was delivered was 85 feet, and that just won't work.

The bridge company has said all the right things at this point. It's their fault, and they are telling us that they will fix this problem and get us a bridge. We do not yet know what the new plan is - it could be adding on to the bridge, or adjusting where the abutments are set. It could even be getting a different rail car. I think/hope they will be able to tell us more tomorrow.

Farmer John and I were pretty upset yesterday, but have calmed down now. We are trying to find the positive parts of this situation, and are trusting that the bridge company will make this right.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bridge Day! - Update

We did not get our bridge today.
It was expected around 10am, and by 11am we'd gotten a call via our excavator operators that it was not coming. There was a delay in loading the railcar onto the truck (in Florida) and so that set the whole project back.
The bridge crew arrived shortly after we'd heard this news. The "crew" is Grant and Dylan - and this is Dylan's second week on the job. They are brothers who grew up farming in eastern Colorado. So we've enjoyed talking with them about farming, oil and gas drilling and bridges. Grant seems to be very knowledgeable about setting our bridge, although he was not too happy with the site and size of excavators. However, he seems to be confident that it will get set tomorrow.
The bridge was in Parkersburg as of 6:00 tonight. The driver and Grant were trying to figure out a place for the truck to park for the night. There isn't enough room for the truck to park near the farm since it would be hanging out into the highway. We left Grant to figure out the truck issues and told him we'd be ready in the morning.
The plan for Saturday is to start work around 7am. They hope to be unloading the railcar from the truck around 7:30, then working on setting it on the blocks around noon. Nothing has gone very smoothly up to this point, so we aren't expecting this plan to actually work. We are hoping the bridge is in place by the end of the day tomorrow.
Wish us all luck, I'm sure we're going to need it.

Bridge Day!

The bridge left Colorado on Wednesday afternoon and is due to arrive at 10am today. Our excavators are parked by the road. It's really happening, we're going to get a bridge today!
Farmer John and I have been up since early this morning, too excited to sleep. Now we are pacing around the house looking out all the windows that face the road hoping to get that first glimpse of the bridge. We're like little kids on Christmas morning.
Friends and family will be stopping by throughout the day, along with our electrician and gas pipeline folks. It's going to be a busy and exciting day. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Goodbye Old Bridge

John and I have been walking across this bridge together for 5+ years. In that time, we've made some memories and need to say goodbye.

We've walked across the bridge on beautiful spring days. We've also walked across the bridge in pouring, pounding, torrential rain. We've walked across the bridge when the air was crisp in the fall. We've also walked across the bridge on frigid days in the sleet and snow.

We've re-decked the bridge. We've painted the bridge. We've shoveled the bridge. We've hung electric wire from one end to the other. We've done major construction to make sure the bridge didn't fall down. We’ve decorated the bridge at Christmas.
We’ve carried our lives across the bridge. This includes: all of Mollie’s possessions after college, all of Farmer John’s possessions after college, all of Migrant Farm-Hand Becky’s possessions, the majority of all the food we’ve eaten in 5+ years, the majority of all the beer we’ve consumed in 5+ years, all our luggage and Christmas presents for trips to Illinois, our kitchen table and Mollie’s wedding dress.

We’ve also carried animals across the bridge. This includes: Coco after two different ACL surgeries, several kittens, a flock of ducklings, 7 Australorp chickens in a dog cage and 1 blind calf.

We weren’t the only ones walking across the bridge. Our families and friends have crossed the bridge. Our neighbors have crossed the bridge. The FedEx and UPS delivery folks have crossed the bridge. Utility workers, loggers and gasline right-of-way agents have crossed the bridge. In all that time, one person fell through, one person fell off and one person had a panic attack. Everyone survived with just a couple scratches.

Perhaps most importantly, Farmer John’s family walked across that bridge. Nanny and Pap carried more than us. They saw harsher weather than us. They probably even had some funnier stories to tell than us. It’s because of them that we are on the farm today. And it’s because of them and their family that we will say goodbye to the walking bridge and welcome the driving bridge. I hope that they’d be just as excited as we are.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


We are getting the new bridge on Friday! Mark your calendars, cross your fingers and join me in a little dance of joy!

I'll be posting updates as they happen as well as photos of work being done in preparation for the bridge's arrival, especially since I probably won't be able to leave the farm this weekend unless I want to swim.

Oh! Can you feel the excitement?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veteran's Day Chicken Massacre

Veteran's Day was a sad day on the farm.

I went out around 8am to get some firewood and check on the chickens. Even before I got close to the coop I knew something was wrong. Two chickens were tangled in the net-fencing and they were not moving. Inside the coop there was another dead hen. Our rooster was missing, there were some black feathers near the fence, but I couldn't find his body. It's normal to lose a rooster when a predator attacks. Roosters will fight to the death to protect their flock. We probably would have lost more if he hadn't fought back.

We did a little research and all signs pointed to this being a raccoon attack. Raccoons tend to kill several chickens at a time, but not eat any, because they are jerks. They will take the heads or legs - and one of the hens was missing it's head. (Which is why this post doesn't have any pictures.)

When Farmer John went with me to inspect the scene of the crime we did find the rooster. He was 30 feet away from the coop and outside the fence in the hayfield. We spent the rest of the morning securing the floor and sides of the coop.

We also did some work on the fence. Farmer John fixed the connections and made sure it was getting a good charge. When he did his final check on the flock that night the fence was putting out 6500 volts - or "enough to make steam come out a 'coon's ears!"

The coop and flock have been moved to their winter area. The fence is hooked up and working at full power. We had some help with that, so stay tuned.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wrangling Cattle in Bathrobes

Yes, that's what we did last night.

I awoke around 11:15pm to a sound a couldn't place right away. I thought it was Coco snoring. But after I woke up a bit more, I realized it was a cow. Perhaps several cows. Farmer John was in a fog of NyQuil since he's sick, but like a good farmer he woke up too.

We put on our robes and whatever shoes were closest to the door and went to the porch. We couldn't tell at first if we were hearing our cows or the cows across the road.

Of course the were our cows. And they were loud!

Farmer John went to investigate, I went to get flashlights. Turned out there were two calves outside the fence and down by "Uncle" John's garden. The calves weren't making a sound. Their mothers however were throwing a fit. This is what it sounded like "Jooooooooohn! Moooooowlie!" They might act dumb, but when they want their babies back cows are pretty smart...just wake us up.

Farmer John got them herded up towards the house, I got the gate open. We both herded them in the right direction and they reunited with the herd. Did I mention we were in our bathrobes?

Farm life is just ridiculous sometimes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gas Pipeline

Have you heard about Marcellus gas drilling? It's also known as "Fracking", and it's been huge news in our area for the past few years, and it's not going away anytime soon.

The Marcellus is one of the largest natural gas formations in the world. Up until recently no one knew how to access that gas, since the formation is so deep and trapped in shale. Now companies have a way to drill deep into the ground (about 6,000 ft) and then drill horizontily to get to the gas. They use a combination of water and chemicals to fracture the shale and release the gas - here's where that term "fracking" comes from.

Our county sits right on top of a concentrated deposit of this gas, it's been called "Ground Zero of the Marcellus rush". In the past two years the communities around us have become "boom towns" and the mineral rights owners have seen some nice checks come their way. Our lives were affected in two direct ways from the drilling.

First, after we bought the farm we were approached to sign a gas lease. It did not matter so much that we owned the land, only that we owned a percentage of the mineral rights. For reasons beyond me, the land and anything under the land are separated. This has led to all kinds of problems in our area. Many landowners do not own the mineral rights under their land, which means they have no say as to whether a drilling rig will appear in their front yard. At that time, we didn't know much about the drilling, a good price to ask for, and the implications of signing a lease. We signed a five year lease, with just a couple extra specifications (no drilling in our front yard!) and got a check. Ever since then I've had my fingers crossed that they don't come on our land and do this:

Second, two years ago the truck traffic on the road in front of the farm went WAY up. They were all trucks on their way to the wells. (This is a nice visual of what's happening at the well sites). Farmer John was run off the road several times by those big trucks while he was driving to work. Big trucks and narrow, curvy West Virginia roads don't mix very well. It was amazing the change we noticed, and it seemed to happen overnight. We watched as huge tankers, rigs and heavy equipment were hauled past the farm.

So far, these have been, what I consider, the direct changes to our life since the boom of Marcellus drilling. There have been many indirect changes, but none of them have really changed our day to day lives.

However, this summer we were faced with another aspect of the gas drilling. Once they drill for the gas it has to go somewhere. A company approached us about constructing a pipeline to go across the farm. This was something we didn't know much about. Unlike the gas lease, we didn't just want to make a few requests and cross our fingers that it would all work out. So, we spent a considerable amount of time researching pipelines and all the implications for the farm. We talked to friends that had already negotiated a pipeline contract. We looked at pipeline pictures online so we knew what to expect. We read as much as possible about how to negotiate with the pipeline company and what should and should not be included in a contract. We talked with a lawyer. And finally we spent time talking together about this descision. It wasn't one that we made lightly.

What helped us to make the choice to sign with the pipeline company was all the positive implications for the farm. The pipeline will create large open areas that eventually can be pastures for the cattle. All the marketable trees can be sold for timber. Since the line was going to run near a spring, we were able to negotiate that money be included in the contract to develop that spring. This development will allow us to get water to the cattle near the back of the farm. Finally, we were compensated for the damage done to the land. That compensation will allow us to work towards other big goals on the farm.

Here's the negative part of signing that contract:
We now have a 90 foot swath cut through the woods. Right now, they are only at the clearing stage. Soon they will start to lay the pipeline, which I imagine will be an even bigger mess.

Although when I signed that contract, and deposited that check, I knew what was coming. It's just a lot harder to see in person.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Land

On Sunday afternoon we took a long walk around the farm. It was a gorgeous day with mild temperatures and a bright blue sky. The dogs came along and enjoyed the mud, burrs, and animal scents.

We don't often spend time on the back part of the property. However, those of you that have hiked or hunted on our land know that the farm is pretty big. We own about 145 acres. So by "pretty big" I'm speaking in terms of a "small farm", rather than thousands of acres like farms in the mid west or the giant ranches out west.

When I think of our farm I think of a fairly small area. We have our house, then the barns and gardens around the house. These are the areas we use on a daily basis. I also think of our two hayfields, the creek and the cow pasture. All of that area is about a third of the farm, and is what we currently use. The other two-thirds are mixed hardwoods and patches of little clearings.

We don't really use the rest of the farm on a regular basis. It was selectively logged several years ago, and we'll probably do that again in the future. We also use the timber for firewood and fenceposts. Part of the reason for the walk on Sunday was to look for dead trees we can cut for firewood. We have a wood cutting crew coming next weekend! I didn't take any photos of the dead trees, they aren't very exciting.

The second reason for the walk was to see this:

...sigh. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Halloween clean-up

The third graders at our school carved pumpkins on Monday. Their teacher was just going to throw them away when they were done. But, I rescued the jack-o-lanterns from the dumpster.

The chickens are enjoying the new treats!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Final Harvest

A couple weeks ago we spent the day puttering around. Farmer John worked on several odds and ends - mostly with the new cattle chute. I finished up all the harvesting from the gardens.

That mess of weeds I'm about to dig into was our pumpkin patch. Hidden within it were some sweet potato plants. The sweet potatoes don't grow very deep, but having some kind of tool to dig them up is easier than just pulling on the vines. The little pitch fork was my implement of choice.

I was happy with our crop of sweet potatoes this year. I didn't find a ton of them out in the garden. The total harvest fills half a paper grocery bag. Still, this is ok. Sweet potatoes don't store as well as regular potatoes, so we need to eat them relatively quickly. They will make for some tasty snacks and dinners this fall.

Also, as the fall freeze was rapidly approaching, it was time to clear any and all vegetable remnants from the garden. We collected a wonderful bounty of end of the year veggies as shown in the picture above. The green peppers are so sweet this time of year. A few tomatoes, squash, and zucchini were also harvested. Hopefully all these treats will satisfy our fresh vegetable cravings until spring.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

First Snow

Did you hear about the snow storm that hit the east coast this weekend? Our county was on the far west side of the storm, so we just got a dusting.
Waking up to snow is one of my favorite things. So, I took a few shots on the way to the woodshed.

The hills always get more snow and stay covered just a little bit longer. This is looking towards the barn and across the road.

If the garden wasn't done before, it is now. Good thing I'd harvested almost everything last week (stay tuned for that upcoming post).

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