A Bridge Not Far Enough

Greetings everyone!  I am finally back from a quick trip out to North Carolina.  Linda wanted to fill up on new waterfall pictures and I was hoping to get some new bird pictures.  That, and to support a state that understands the stick figure with a skirt is the girls bathroom and the skinny stick figure, well that is for the boys.  It was touch and go there for a bit since the news outlets were hyping up the hurricane potential to get everyone worked up.  This gave them the excuse to pull all their pretty hurricane rotation maps out of the mothballs they’ve been stored in for the past 10 years.  Storm passed, it drop some rain and toppled some picnic tables, but the Smokies looked untouched.  I was able to get a few posts out on the road, but most of the time was spent prepping a bunch of future posts. As of now, I have close to 4 months of blog fodder patiently waiting to be dumped like another batch of crooked Hillary emails.  I was able to get a good run in today, so figured it was a good time take a break and get a short post out of the way… and by short I mean 20 feet.
2016 Lot Bridge

That happens to be the distance of the latest bridge building effort on the lot.  It seems like every year around October I am busting out the hammers and drills in order to fix an existing bridge or make a brand new one.  This year it was a replacement bridge thanks to the destructive tendencies of my run-off stream.  When I bought the property over 10 years ago, we had a one foot trench that water coming off our hills would collect in and slowly make their way to the larger stream on the property that Serenity crosses (link here),  By last year, that little trench had widened to about 6 feet.  That prompted an 8 foot bridge project last year at this time – note, this usually becomes a problem around Haunted Trail time since I need to get the ATV down there with the decorations.  I remember putting that thing together in the dead of night by the car lights.  With the stream now at 8 feet, last year’s bridge was unsafe to cross. Crap, another bridge build and I already had enough to do to get ready for the party.  Luckily, I already had the 6x6x10’s above so that saved me some time.  As you can see, I had to put those end to end.  I used a post coupler to join them and then put planks across the joint to stiffen it up.  Those planks were shot with 16 penny nails – going nowhere!

2016 Lot Bridge

Hit the jump to read more about the build

Continue reading A Bridge Not Far Enough

Serenity Survives, Long Live Serenity

It’s day two of groundhog day err agility showing.  More dogs, more jumping and a lot  more sitting around.  None the less, yesterday actually turned out fairly productive with each of our dogs going 4 for 4, made a blog post and even got some photo shoots in at Chain O Lakes and Lake of Geneva.  Regarding the latter, it is now very obvious where the Chicago discretionary money is heading – straight to Wisconsin.  Good lord those houses around that lake are HUGE.  Also had an entertaining conversation with a Spring Grove Dairy Queen employee who thought the green Arctic Rush flavor jar was apple and not lemon lime.  DQ probably owes me a free blizzard for training their staff.

While digging around the Internet for some details for this post I stumbled on this quote.

Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.. anonymous

This seemed a perfect intro to today’s post.  This is actually a pretty popular quote on the net but none of the references attributed it to anyone in particular.  A shame since it is a pretty insightful quote – ESPECIALLY if you own a bridge named Serenity.  Note, I was really looking for relevant quotes from the movie Serenity when the one above came up.  If you recall, Serenity was a project to give access to the back of our lot (link here).  When it was designed consideration was given to how high to make it to account for the seasonal flooding that had occurred in the past.  Since building it, our Springs were pretty tame and as far as recollection serves, the stream stayed in the banks.  That was then.. this is now!

Welcome to the record flood of 2013.  The shot above is actually a few days after the water started to recede.  Still high, still displaying the awesome power associated with unbridled water.  The weather heads were calling for flash flood warnings but based on their accuracy over the last couple of years there was not a lot of concern given.  Well, at least until I headed off to work that morning and saw the massive flooding – Peoria was under attack by the Kracken.  All I could think of is whether Serenity was going to survive or not.  It was engineered for the worst… but maybe not for record amounts of waterfall.

Eventually Linda and I headed down to assess the situation.  Apprehension abounds.  Feelings were not getting any better at the first view of the stream.  What you couldn’t tell from that shot is the missing trees that used to be along the banks (now middle of the water path).  A quick look to the left revealed that my “debris” buffer was GONE.  There was a tangle of trees that was serving as insurance if anything decided to break away upstream.  It had already caught some large branches etc. during the smaller expansions.  That area was now free of all tangles – hell, even the bank had eroded significantly.

One of the trees was found shortly after…

SAVED.  the roots were tangled up in another bank tree which prevented it from harming Serenity.  Hopes were building especially when a hesitant glance downstream revealed she still standing tall.

Hit the jump to see more details of Serenity’s battle

Continue reading Serenity Survives, Long Live Serenity

Operation: Bridge to Vegas

Well, this has been an interesting weekend.  It started out pretty good with a lumber run to Lowe’s, a saw session followed up with a fun night of Rock Band with Billy and Pakage (the R!Vagiants reunion tour – with fans calling out where’s David all night).  Around 3 in morning things turned ugly.  That is when Pakage informed me our well had gone dry – major suckage.  We played a few more songs for the crowd and made our way off the stage.  After verifying the well pump breaker had tripped I set out to find a cause.  The master bath shower faucet had a few drips so I tried taking advantage of the water pressure loss to see if I could change out the springs.  An hour later I gave up lacking some needed tools and worried I’d snap the pipes at 4:30am – not good.  I hit the bed after putting the faucet back together to get some shuteye before the long day of hauling water.  6:30am I was back up, Linda helped me get the tank in the truck and 3.5 hours later I’d hauled 24oo gallons of water….. but that was just the beginning of the days work.. there was Vegas to build!

.. and that brings us to the topic of today’s post.  (Note, my brother has been giving me grief that I pre-write some of my posts ahead of time so felt obligated to write this the same day I completed the project).  Last year I built a foot bridge over a gully on the lot so the people at our Halloween party could go see Serenity (link here).  That bridge was working out great until the Spring flooding came.  One day it was there, the next it had taken a vacation down the stream.  Multiple searches up and down the stream have been fruitless which is odd since there are numerous places where trees had fallen across the stream.  You would think it would have been caught up in those branches.  With the Halloween party approaching once again, it was time to remedy this situation.  Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Serenity’s little brother VEGAS.

hit the jump to read all about the project.

Continue reading Operation: Bridge to Vegas

Operation Firefly Completed

I figured it was best to get this post out tonight for the simple reason that I am planning on converting my primary PC from XP to Windows 7 tonight.  If things go terribly wrong I’ll still have at least one post for the month.  The good news is I already went through this process with two of my other machines and quite frankly it went pretty smooth.  It just makes me a little hesitant when there’s work being done on my workhorse machine.  So what is the topic that may have to hold you over for the rest of the month?  It’s Operation Firefly and represents  the final phases of Operation River Kwai.  Yes folks, the actual bridge building effort has come to a close.  On July 4th, my family was able to make it up for a cookout and opening ceremony.

It about killed me getting everything done for the big day.  It was less than a week after getting back from Acadia National Park so the yard was completely out of control.  Two mowings of the yard, a complete mowing of the back lot (trails and bridge area), 3 hours weeding the landscaping, 2.5 hours trimming the house lawn, 6 hours trimming and weed clearing the back lot and mixing 3 50lb bags of cement took up most of my time.  I also had to put up the Tiki torches (even little ones for the bridge, check out the railings).  The hope being the torches would keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Cutting it pretty close, I drove down to the bridge to put up the ceremonial ribbon about an hour before everyone was suppose to arrive.  Attaching it to one end of the post (check) start rolling the spool out (check), attach to other end ACCCKKKKKK!  Turns out there was only about 2 feet on the spool.  The heart sank, all the planning, all the work crushed by 6 feet of missing ribbon.   I slowly walked back to the ATV, and puddered back to the house.  Thinking all was lost, the day jumped back on the tracks with a great idea from Linda… “Why don’t you use duct tape?” Brilliant!  As you can tell from the picture, that was the perfect solution.

With my family watching, the  ribbon was cut and the bridge given its official name.  After long discussions with myself and thousands of ideas, it came down to really one name… SERENITY.  Firefly happens to be one of my favorite TV series and their spaceship happened to be called that.  I also thought it was quite fitting since it was truly relaxing spending all the hours alone down there clearing the area and doing the finishing work.  Just me, the bridge, the flowing water over the rocks and the sights and sounds of the local wildlife.  A stark contrast from the hectic days in the office and quite frankly the driving reason we decided to move out into the country in the first place.  I could probably sit on that bridge and just relax the entire day.

My brother Dan played a major part in this operation.  His design assistance was key to the whole effort and he spent numerous hours (including vacation days) helping me bring this beast to fruition.  He also highly recommended having the opening ceremony as soon as possible in case it fell .  You have to like his confidence!  Based on some initial tests, I was pretty sure it was going to hold up just fine, although, I will not go into the reasons for the extra 3 bags of cement mentioned previously.  He would not help me cut the tape, so I gave him the privilege of christening Serenity.

We actually discussed the best way to carry this out before he went at it.  Unsure whether a whack across the post would really break the champagne bottle a decision was made to take advantage of some bolts on the side of the bridge.  Now mind you we have never done this before, or at least me.  He owns a boat and might have done this with that, but clearly this is our first bridge christening.  Without a doubt, we were both surprised as to what happened.  Right before he went to do this, I took my safety glasses off (which I always wear since getting my eyes LASIK’d a few years back) and put them on him.  This turned out to be a wise move since the bottle COMPLETELY shattered when it hit the bolt, and by shattered, I mean everything but the handle was in a pile of glass with no piece bigger than a 50 cent piece.  If you look closely in the picture above you can see some of the glass making its way through the foam spray.  I thought Linda took a great shot of the aftermath.

As you can tell, Dan looked rather surprised at what little was left.  All in all, the day turned out fantastic.  We had good eats, good games (frisbee, ladders, Jarts (crappy safety ones) and Bocce).  But most of all it was one of the few times most of us were able to get together at the same time.  Unfortunately, my niece Kristen had to work and the our boys missed getting to play with Max, but the rest of the newphews/niece, brothers, sister-in-laws and parents were all present.  We were also able to get a family photo (on the bridge) which, believe it or not, is pretty rare.

In closing, thanks to everyone that helped on the bridge (Linda, Dan D., Jeff, Sung, Billy, Dan N., Paul R., Rand and Norm) with special thanks to my father who taught me how to use the tools of the trade at a young age.  He was disappointed he didn’t get a chance to help out, but in truth, he’s the one who set the foundation for us to even consider taking on such an ambitious endeavor.

(Spoiler Alert – Firefly Ending)

Okay, now who out there has been impatiently waiting to comment that SERENITY crashed towards the end of the Firefly movie?  Come on, I know at least one of you were thinking that.  I take comfort in knowing they put it back together again at the end and the fact I haven’t seen any Reavers in the area – just one CHUPACABRA and I’m hot on that trail.

Operation River Kwai

As with most of my “operations”, there is generally a higher plan if you will.  If you recall, the summer project was focused on “parkifying” the area around a stream in our back lot.  There was actually another follow on effort to establish a means to get myself and ATV across the stream so I can enjoy the other 7 acres of my lot.  Focusing on the brush cleanup around the stream allowed me to take a step back and find the best possible placement to construct a bridge.  With the brush and thorns cleared out I could judge the flood lines and pick the highest banks.  All of this prework put me in a good position to start the fall project of constructing the bridge.

From a requirements perspective, it needed to span the river without any permanent supports in the actual stream due to not wanting to deal with any DNR permits or restrictions.  If you are curious, you may own the property, but they own the rights to the waterways and any flow changes or obstructions need to be cleared through them.  Secondly, it needed to be wide enough and strong enough to support my ATV.  That is my workhorse and I already have a few trails over there that I currently enjoy those few times of the year that are dry enough to drive through the stream bed.  With these few requirements, I set about planning the design.  The sticking point was what construction material to use.  A few options included a semi-truck bed, steel construction beams, cables, concrete and lastly lumber.  The first two options were ruled out after unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to get those materials down to the stream and the steel beams added some significant cash to the effort.  The cable option would probably be the cheapest, but figured the ATV traversal would be a little hair raising.  The concrete option looked intriguing.  There would be plenty of water for mixing, but the inability to get a concrete truck down there would mean hauling a staggering number of concrete bags.  With those options crossed off, I was left with the treated lumber option.

With that decision out of the way, the next task was to set the design.  Fortunately, my oldest brother (Dan) is well versed in the engineering design field and spent a long time helping me figure out the best approach to spanning the stream.  By far, the trickiest part was compensating for no mid-stream supports.  This means the structure has to be able to support a hefty downward force and distribute that weight out to the bank supports.   With arcs being a tad difficult construct out of lumber, we went with the next best geometric shape, the triangle.  I will take a short cut here and simply state we made a LOT of design changes before we were done and actually still considering adding some additional support.  Oh, and credit should also be given to the John’s Hopkins Online Bridge Designer website.  Although this site does not give rotational forces, it does a very good job of showing how the downward forces will distribute over the triangle legs.  Thanks to this program we actually decided to double the amount of triangles and actually removed the upward triangle legs at the post ends.

Next up.. the prep work – hit the jump to check out some pictures of project

Continue reading Operation River Kwai