<body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/platform.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("gapi.iframes:gapi.iframes.style.bubble", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: 'https://www.blogger.com/navbar.g?targetBlogID\x3d16851663\x26blogName\x3dBurton+Speaks\x26publishMode\x3dPUBLISH_MODE_HOSTED\x26navbarType\x3dBLUE\x26layoutType\x3dCLASSIC\x26searchRoot\x3dhttp://www.walkingsaint.com/search\x26blogLocale\x3den_US\x26v\x3d2\x26homepageUrl\x3dhttp://www.walkingsaint.com/\x26vt\x3d-1892815651864643552', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>

The Fence Post

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The astute reader might recall that I bought a house about two-and-a-half years ago. When I bought the house I knew that the fence would need replacing. Despite, at the time, being only 4 years old, it was obviously in terrible condition. In a decision with far-reaching, expensive, and often painful repercussions, I resolved to rebuild it at some point in the future. I planned on the summer of 2011 for the project. Since it's the summer of 2012 and I'm just now writing this, it's a safe assumption that it didn't happen then. No, after patching together a couple parts of the fence that fell down over the winter, I finally started this project in May of this year. My plan was to take a week off of work to build a retaining wall and a fence. I'd worked out a schedule and a rough budget ahead of time; I'd arranged for friends and family to help with a guideline on what I'd need, and when I'd need it.
Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.
It started a week before my "vacation", when my brother and I took down the existing fence. It took a matter of minutes to knock the old fence down; most of the 4x4 posts had rotted, even being pressure treated, and broke off easily enough. (I'm pretty sure pressure treated wood will still rot, especially when it's buried under a foot of soil that's almost always moist.) What took the most time was disassembling the fence; we took off the existing boards, rotted though many of them were, and set them aside.

Then came trench time. I'd allocated a few days to dig a trench and build a retaining wall. I'd planned on a 12" wall running the length of the property, with a small trench filled with gravel on which this could sit. This is where the plan fell apart.

First, I couldn't rent an appropriate trencher. The ones I saw wouldn't dig wide enough and there was a one-foot elevation difference between the two sides of the trench. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we ended up having to take out all the existing concrete that had been used to build the old fence, and there was more of it than I'd thought. It turns out that, for a fence that had been built in 2006, it had already rotted and been repaired in a couple places. Rather than learning from their mistakes, whoever repaired it simply left the concrete in place and dug another hole next to it, using longer 2x4s on one side of the new post and shorter 2x4s on the other. We ended up taking out over 15 blocks of concrete that had been used.

At this point I really figured out that there are several reasons the fence was falling down. I'd initially attributed it to people bumping it with their cars and just being a cheap fence, but neither of those were accurate. I realized, after taking it down, that the builders had been using the fence as a surrogate retaining wall. In soil that practically never sees the light of day, I found that the fence had slid out from the house somewhere between six inches and a foot at various times as the extremely moist soil slid away from my house. The only phrase I can come up with for such bone-headed thinking and execution is "malicious incompetence". The people who built this fence not only did a terrible, ineffective job, but in doing so they made it harder to do right later.

The trench wasn't finished in a day. It wasn't even finished in three days. As I got futher into it, I realized that I needed an 18" wall instead of a 12" one (effectively adding 50% to just the cost of the wall.) Then, not only did I have to line the trench with gravel (which I purchased from the excellent Oregon Decorative Rock store), I needed to rent a compacter in order to really flatten it. (Kudos to my adventure buddy for helping me with both the realization and execution of this.)

A trench, freshly dug (by hand)

After digging a trench that was at least 14" wide, 6-7" deep (on the short side, 20" deep on the tall side), and 110' long (the lenght of the property, plus wrapping around in the front yard a little), and then lining it with gravel, the time came to put in the retaining wall stones. This, I might add, happened Thursday, which my original schedule labeled as "the day to build a fence."

I had four pallets of retaining wall stones delivered. Each pallet had 45 stones; each stone was 16" long, 12" deep, 6" tall, and weighed 60 pounds. My buddy, my dad, and I started building the wall. It became quickly apparent that I'd ordered far too few stones; we'd need at least another pallet's worth. After putting the initial 180 into place, we ran to Home Depot, rented their truck, and took another pallet home... then went and returned the truck, driving home with 16 more blocks. In the end, we put down over 14,400 pounds of retaining wall that day. That was a very, very hard day, but, in the end, the wall looked amazing.

The best-looking retaining wall you've ever seen.

While digging the trench, I'd also measured out where I was going to put the fence posts and pre-dug those holes (much easier to do when most of the soil was already out of the way. With the wall finished, it was time to attend to the fence posts. While the original posts were simply a 4x4 embedded in concrete, I went a different direction. My dad recommended steel brackets embedded in concrete, to which I would bolt a 4x4. It sounded like a lot more work, but I took his advice. Why? Because he built a fence that way 25 years ago, and, as of last year, it was still standing. (Update: I checked on it while I was writing this post. There was a new fence in place, but it looked to be built using the original brackets that he'd embedded in concrete so many years ago. That longevity, combined with the fact that the rebuild was undoubtedly easier, was why I took his advice.) 

So I spent the next two weeks after building the retaining wall pouring concrete. I used cardboard tubes 10" in diameter and 2' deep to hold the concrete where I wanted it. I poured about 150-160 pounds of concrete into each hole, and I had 11 holes to fill. Yes, that's over 1500 lbs of concrete, all mixed and poured by hand. This phase of the project I did alone. I did try one shortcut - on one post, I tries using quick-setting concrete, as someone had recommended to me. I was not happy with the results and didn't use it again; more on that later. It was a brutal project; the bags of concrete, at 80 pounds, were ungainly to move around and a lot of work to mix and put in place; on the last day I was able to put 9 solid hours of work into the project and filled the last 5 holes, embedding and leveling the brackets as I went, making sure, on the advice of my neighbor, to check and re-check and make sure I had no more than 8' between each bracket.

The concrete wasn't easy.

While the concrete dried and set I took a week off and only spent a few hours moving dirt from the piles around my yard to start filling in behind the wall and around the concrete. It was nice, light work - at least, it felt that way compared to the previous weeks. 

Then the vacation was over. I had to start building the actual bones of the fence. I started with the 4x4s. Portland city code allows me to build a fence 6' tall at my property line without a permit. Since it's based on the elevation of my property, and the retaining wall merely retained earth (versus adding elevation), I only needed 6' posts. I ended up purchasing 6 12' pressure-treated 4x4s, and Home Depot was kind enough to cut them in half for me. A few days later, I rented another Home Depot truck and got the 2x4s I thought I'd need. 

It was a sunny 4th of July, almost a month after I started my project, that the time came to put the 4x4s in place. My coworker, her husband, and my brother all came to help me out. We were able to put the wood in place faster than I'd thought we'd be able to. It was only when we were trying to mount the 2x4s that I ran into a problem. Although the brackets were 8' apart and the 4x4s were level and vertical, somehow I ended up with an 8'2" gap between posts 3 and 4. I was NOT pleased. Ultimately, however, we were able to finish the bones that day.

The bones of the fence being built.

The weekend following the fourth, I put up the boards on the fence. Partially due to re-using the old boards, partially out of concern based on the pressures of the wind and the loose soil, I decided to build (for now) a "good neighbor" fence, which would allow wind to pass through with little obstruction. It took merely hours (maybe eight, total) to put the boards up and then be able to call my fence project, for now, "done".

The finished fence.  It looks so much better!

Of course, there's more to do. I plan to extend the retaining wall in the front yard, do more landscaping, put down barkdust, install a plant or two, and perhaps replace the used, half-rotted boards with something newer and nicer-looking. But, for now, I was able to close this project out, over a month behind schedule and more than $1,000 over budget (roughly another 50% of the original budget.) 

Here's a before-and-after picture. The "before" comes from February 2010, when I was buying the house. You can't see the further decay that happened over the following two years, but you can see, in the "after" picture, how nice it looks now.

Old fence vs. new fence

Final stats: 
  • Retaining wall length: 110 feet 
  • Retaining wall blocks used: 241 
  • Retaining wall weight: 14,460 pounds 
  • Tons of gravel in the trench: 2.75 
  • Concrete mix used: 1545 pounds 
  • Fence boards re-used: 174 
  • Man-hours: in excess of 96 
  • Total calendar days start-to-finish: 42 
  • Total Project cost: in excess of $2,288.30

Motorcycle Cornering Clinic

Monday, July 02, 2012

After an amazing weekend, how do I cap it off?  I take Monday morning off of work, hop on my motorcycle, and go to a Team Oregon cornering clinic at Pat's Acres Racing Complex in Canby.  The goal was to work on making turns smoother (and thus safer) while being, at the same time, faster and more precise.  It was an amazing class!

This was actually my second attempt at taking the class.  The first attempt was during the week I took off to build a fence (or, as it turned out, build a retaining wall.)  That class got rained out.  Today's weather was sunny and warm, almost perfect conditions for motorcycling comfortably!  I got there at 9:10 AM, unfortunately a few minutes late, but was able to jump right in.  The first time around was a chance to learn the turns and the best lines to take.  We were going counter-clockwise, or, as my boss - who used to race go-karts there informed me - "the proper way".  We weren't allowed to pass, but it really wasn't necessary.  Then we went out to try it again, with higher speeds.  We could pass along the straight if we needed (and I both passed and was passed) and there were instructors out there at some of the turns, coaching us on timing.  It was like the classes I teach, but instead of 5-15 miles per hour in a parking lot, we were doing 10-50 miles per hour on a race track.  The feedback was good, and I worked on my timing, making sure I was on the throttle before the turn, and making sure the bike was positioned properly.  I won't say I was necessarily very good at any of those things, but I was improving quickly.  It was fun braking hard and feeling the anti-lock brakes on my back tire barely kick in before I was ready to get on the throttle and turn.

Then we took a break, which I needed.  I was already dehydrated - yesterday's racing does that to you - and this gave me an opportunity to down some fluids quickly.  The lead instructor gave us some feedback, "the turns are okay, you're all braking too late, but your head turns are generally excellent - as I would expect from a group of instructors."  We all chuckled.  

Upon resuming, we did the exact same exercises in the opposite direction.  This shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, since we do it in the classes I teach, but it did.  That realization made me laugh, as my students are always surprised when we reverse an exercise.  Starting out, I was again terrible - my lines were all botched, my speeds were all wrong, and I felt like I didn't know how to ride a motorcycle.  Still, a few laps in, things smoothed out.  

The final task was to have an instructor follow us around the track for a couple laps, then give us feedback.  The feedback I received was "Burton, your apexes aren't great.  For two turns in the same direction, try to have an early apex; for two turns in the opposite direction, try to have a late apex.  Now go play."  That direction, "go play", isn't something I expected to hear, but I definitely went out and try my turns differently.  I could feel when I was closer to getting it right, and was frustrated when I could tell it was wrong.  Still, it was exciting!

In all, I put 95 miles on my motorcycle this morning, and the round trip was about 66 miles.  That means that I put almost 29 miles on my bike and, considering the track is only about half a mile long, that means I went around over 55 times!  This was one of the most fun things I've done on my motorcycle in years.  I learned a lot, got great advice and feedback, and will hopefully use this to improve my riding even more!  I hope the advanced rider training class, of which the cornering clinic is a portion of and which was in the classroom while we were on the track, learns as much.

Salem Dragon Boat Race 2012

Yesterday was the Salem World Beat Festival Dragon Boat Races.  

The first two races for each team were going to be 2-boat heats to determine the division and lane placement for the final race.  With 24 mixed teams represented, there were going to be 6 different divisions.  Our goal was to have the gold boat and the blue boat racing each other in the final. 

Blue boat, the fast boat, on which I was a last-minute substitute paddler, was up first for the mixed races.   We boarded the boats and paddled to the starting line.  The boat buzzed with energy and nerves as we all focused.  The officials lined up both boats, and off we went.  Our timing was spot-on, our power was excellent - it all flowed together.  The race was over quickly, it seemed, and we handily beat our competition, posting a time of 2.19.00, the third fastest time of that qualifying heat and less than a second off the fastest time.

As we unloaded, everyone but me gathered up for the post-race feedback.  I hopped in line with the gold boat crew, the crew I was officially on, who were already being marshaled into staging.  My benchmate was kind and let me paddle on the opposite side that I was on for the blue boat, so I wouldn't over-stress myself.  We boarded the boat, paddled to the lineup, and were off!  Much like the blue boat's race, we easily beat the other boat, posting a time of 2:21.55, the fourth fastest time of that heat.  I was gasping for air at the end, definitely feeling the rush and the exertion.  Our timing wasn't quite as good as the blue boat's, and our rate was higher, but we made a good showing for ourselves.

thanks to NWPaddler for this picture

Then time passed.  There were 8 boats for the women's-only division that had to race, plus plenty of other mixed races.  On top of that, the races had started a little late and the lunch break ended up coming a little early.  So I hung out with the team, trying not to snack too much (and to snack in a healthy fashion when I did.)  

Eventually, it was time for the second heat.  Again, I lined up with the blue boat and we went down for the race.  Again, we crushed the competing boat (the word was that we were ahead by 6 boat-lengths) and posted a time of 2:15.39.  It was still the third best, but it was just about a half-second off the best time for that heat.  Again, I had to jump in the gold boat immediately after the race, and by the time that race was completed with a winning time of 2:20.90, I felt completely spent.  I was leaving everything I could muster out on the water.  

After the second heats came the finals.  I watched our women's teams compete in the A and B divisions; they were both super-strong.  Many of those women were also on the mixed crews, so I knew I couldn't complain about the paddling on two boats.  In fact, I was having fun; the exertion was exhilarating and made me feel useful.  Watching the ladies race was intense; they had incredible power and timing.  The women's team (aka "Velocity") posted a 2nd place finish for the B division and a 1st place finish for the A division.  They were the fastest women at the race!

Then came game-time for the mixed crews.  There was a logistical issue because, with all four boats racing in the finals, there wasn't time to get marshaled for the second team.  Since they loaded and unleaded two boats at a time, there was a strong possibility that I'd be on the water when the boat I was supposed to be on was loading.  It was decided that, though I was only subbing on the blue team, I would end up racing in the blue final.  Strangely, I wasn't as thrilled as I thought I'd be.  I felt like I was letting the gold team down.  Our coach found a paddler to replace me on the boat, but I still felt like I should have been there.  As the blue boat stood on the dock, the B division race was coming to a finish, and I watched the gold boat participate in the closest finish I'd ever seen.  I couldn't tell who was first and who was fourth!

Our time came.  We loaded up for the A division final race.  The three teams ahead of us were all within a half-second of our time.  What made it fun was that one guy who steered for our women's boat was paddling for a competing team, and another boat had a bunch of people I've been on the outrigger with, so there was honest meaning when we said "good luck" to each other.  Our boat was the closest to the shore as we lined up... and we were off!  Our team had an amazing start.  Everything just felt right.  Our timing felt perfect, our power was incredible... it was working!  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the boat next to us drift further away.  I remember thinking "that's odd, there's a boat in lane 3".  Suddenly I heard the sound of wood slapping.  I could tell, though I was highly focused on MY boat, that the two boats had come close enough for the paddler's paddles to hit each other.  I remember thinking "that'll slow them down", when all of a sudden I heard "let it run!", our command to stop paddling.  We stopped and sat up, confused.  Apparently, boats two and three had collided, then run into the bridge.  The race was going to have to be re-run.  I could barely hold back my frustration; would we be able to do such a perfect start again?

We slowly circled back to the start position and lined up.  We all knew that in this race, whichever team had the right start was likely to win.  The officials had us moving backward and forward as they lined us up - and our boat ended up moving backward when they called the start.  The boat in lane 3, however, was moving forward - and they jumped out of the water, taking a boat-length lead in front of everyone else.  We paddled hard, though.  Our timing bobbled halfway through the race, but we got it in check.  We were pulling as we put everything into the water... and then the race was over.  We took 2nd place, the second-fasted boat on the water that day, with a 2:20.19, merely hundredths of a second ahead of third place.  Being second was a rough emotion; we were genuinely happy for the winning team, yet we knew we didn't do as well the second time around as we did the first.  We could have won!

But the race was over.  Second place would have to do.  



Twitter Updates

My Other Sites

Site Information

Friend Blogs

Awesome Links

Favorite Webcomics

Previous Posts


Powered by Blogger