Breaking ground... and machines!

Sat Aug 06 2022

We've well and truly broken ground now, hitting some major milestones but also breaking some things along the way.

Breaking ground... and machines!

What exactly counts as breaking ground on the build? Is it when we pulled the first stump? Removed the top soil? Dug the foundation? However you look at it, we've definitely broken ground. In the most literal sense possible!

When I wrote the last blog post, over a month ago, we had the excavator in and were begin the grading work. The excavator wasn't on site every day, but just a couple of days per week mixed in with other jobs - a flexible schedule that worked well for them and gave us time to catch up on clearing logs, checking grade and marking out lines.

The last several weeks has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs - some serious challenges but also some big wins!

Vermont Rocks
Just a small sample of some of the large but beautiful rocks coming out of our property in the last few weeks.

Solid rock

The more we dug, the harder the rock became. The Bobcat was doing its best with the rock hammer. And the 20,000lb John Deere 160G LC excavator was working hard to remove the rocks.

It was slow going. They were rotating around the site - the Bobcat breaking the rock apart before the excavator moved in to clear it. While excavating for the septic and pump tanks, we removed some absolutely massive rocks - stretching the excavator to its limits.

Huge Rocks Excavator
The excavator was on its toes trying to pull out this massive rock - fortunately this is AFTER the rock broke into smaller pieces.

But before long, the inevitable happened - things started to break. Not the rock, the machines.

Breaking the machines

The ledge rock runs in layers, and the best way to remove it is to peel it out in layers. While doing just that, a tooth on the excavator snapped off. Unable to get a part at short notice, we resorted to a quick fix - a spare stainless steel bolt from our sawmill, tightened in place and then cut off with our angle grinder.

Excavator Tooth Repair
Our temporary fix for the excavator's broken tooth. We didn't expect it to last long, but it's still going strong several days later!

We weren't expecting it to hold for long, but the excavator lasted for several days with this patch fix!

Until, a much bigger problem. It literally tore its own bucket apart.

Cracked Excavator Bucket
The crack started at the side of the bucket and stretched half way across the inside too.

It goes to show the sheer power of the excavator and how hard they were pushing the machines, but while trying to pry up a vein of rock, the thick steel bucket literally peeled apart.

Tear Excavator Bucket
It really makes you think about the forces involved in these machines when they're able to tear apart thick steel plate.

Big machines mean big fixes, and it took several hours of grinding and welding to repair the bucket and get it back in the game.

Excavator Bucket Welding
It was an on-site repair to grind and re-weld the bucket to get it operational again.

However by now it was clear that what we needed was a bigger machine.

Excavator upgrade

Enter the CAT 325B, a massive 60,000lb excavator equipped with a huge rock hammer. Seriously, this thing is about the same size as our entire tractor and dwarfs the rock hammer on the Bobcat.

CAT 325B Excavator Rock Hammer
The CAT 325B L is an absolute monster of an excavator, weighing in at twice the John Deere 160G LC already on site.

We began to make progress once again, with the two excavators working in tandem - one shattering the rock while the other cleared the debris away.

And then, another problem. The final drive failed on the CAT 325B and a track needs some serious attention, putting it out of action. As of right now, some repairs have been completed but we're still waiting on parts. This morning we helped reinstall a new wheel on the excavator using our tractor to position the part in place.

CAT 325B Broken Track
See that cog wheel just below the cab by the track lying on the ground? Our tractor could barely lift that! These machines are seriously heavy!

It makes you appreciate just how big and heavy these machines are when it took every last drop of power in our tractor loader to lift the 1,000lb+ wheel into position!

Septic tanks installed

But in amongst the challenges we've also had some big wins. We managed to dig the holes for the septic tank and pump tank, and get those into position. Using a laser to find the right depth we over dug the holes and then backfilled with crushed rock to create a perfectly level, flat surface for the septic tank.

Septic Tank Delivery
Our tanks came on this special delivery truck with a crane to lower the 8,000lb tanks into position.

Then, we repeated the process for the second tank, this time digging a little deeper to create the necessary drop from the septic tank outlet to the pump tank inlet.

Septic Tank Installation
Both tanks are perfectly in position - level and at the right height with respect to each other. I've started work on installing the risers, insulation and plumbing to get them operational.

There's still lots more to do to get our septic system up and running, but installing the tanks is a big milestone.

Well drilling

Perhaps the biggest milestone we've reached is that we now have a well! One of the top priorities for the site grading was to create a level pad and access road for the well drilling truck so they could come and drill a well for us.

While Vermont isn't a desert state by any means, there are never any guarantees that you'll hit water, so we were anxious to say the least.

Well Drilling Truck
The excavators weren't the only big machines on site - this huge truck is basically a giant engine for powering the drill that will bore down into solid rock for our well.

I'll be doing a separate blog post series all about our well installation and plumbing (so far we have a hole but no pump installed), but spoiler alert - we hit water, a lot of water! In fact, even our well driller was really happy with what we found and described it as a "textbook well".

Well Drilling Water Flow
The flow through this 4 inch pipe gives you a glimpse as to the amount of flow we have. And don't worry, it's only so dirty because this water is coming out while the hole is still being drilled - it'll be clean once it's all finished!


Our well pump and other parts are on order and should all be here in the next week or so. We're doing the well pump installation ourselves, but we feel confident about what needs to be done. From there we'll have to prime the well before taking some water samples and sending those off for analysis. But if all goes to plan, in 3 weeks or so we should be able to drink water from our own property for the first time!

Well Head
Our finished well - to say we're relieved would be an understatement!

We have lots to do and when we're not supporting the contractor on site, we're researching and planning the next stages of the build.

The past month has been physically and mentally draining, but we are really happy with the progress being made. We're not working to any fixed deadline, and our plans can (and will) change as we go. For us, the journey, the build, is part of the adventure, and we don't want to rush - when necessary we'll take our time and do things the right way.

Site Grading in Vermont
This is what our site is looking like now - a bit different with all the stumps gone and grading well under way!

But it's not all work! Last weekend we took a much-needed break and visited some friends in Maine. On Saturday we went sailing on a friend's boat and headed out towards Seguin Island where there have been several Great White Shark sightings recently. We didn't see any sharks, but we saw several harbor porpoises and even an ocean sunfish!

Maine Sunset
Hello from Maine! We had a short but much needed break to see some friends and enjoy a beautiful weekend on the coast of Maine.
Previous postGrading beginsNext postUtility Building: The Plan