Sam Willis

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since Sep 20, 2022
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Recent posts by Sam Willis

I have a 150 acre plot of land in the southern Appalachian mountains (easy access from Western NC) that I own and do my best to protect. I'm a tree hugger at heart.
Looking for a female companion to share this place with. Age is a number, race is a color, if you're a nice person and in good health then let's talk I can send you a picture once I'm sure you're real.
6 months ago
I want to reply to your message in depth, as I believe you may have misunderstood the function of this post, or perhaps missed some of the earlier content. Please don't take anything that I type as aggressive, that is anything but my intention. I am merely trying to keep things on track and avoid the typical forum snarkiness that tends to happen on the internet.

"As a Civil Engineer who designed and built roads and farm tracks there are many lessons for you to come..." Yes, for us all. The gravel roads I have built and maintained in the past were far closer to town, which meant I could haul material myself or it was a more reasonable ratio of haul bill to gravel. This has presented a new situation for us.
"Somebody has to remind you that 'cheap ' land is priced according to many factors, and you have discovered one." This is a massive assumption. I actually have not mentioned price here, and I am well aware of the budgetary requirements of building a road of this magnitude. This land was not cheap, and it was known from the beginning of our endeavors that the road would be one of the larger expenses of our time here.
"There are 2 real solutions, fiddle around with rock etc or do the job properly." I am unsure what you mean by this, as your solution is rock. Unless this is in comment to my thought of scattering rock thinly to provide the surface hardness that we are looking for.
"I can say that if you put a cost onto all the damage and repairs to the road and vehicles etc that may happen, you will be surprised." I can only assume you mean repairs in the sense of road rutting, aggregate replacement, and possible damage to vehicles as a result of sliding?
"Water and vehicle speed are the real cause of damage to roads assuming the ground is reasonable to start with." Water control is why we have what we have. Between water bars, proper drainage and prevention of elevated flow velocities, we have an extremely high compression strength subgrade on the majority of the length of the road. These good sections are what we are attempting to reinforce with good surface coverage.
"Now you have not given any detail about the location, soil types or rainfall. All these factors help plan a road " I actually have given some of that... Lower Appalachian mountains, two months of monsoon season. I can hire a soil engineer to analyze samples from the multiple different soil zones this passes through, but I can't be convinced to do so since the bare dirt holds up to travel in most areas with no deformation even when it's rained for a long time. The problem zones of the road will be dealt with in a more traditional way, but are not the topic of this thread.
"Draining the water to one side is a good start, but its important to ensure the water does not travel fast enough to cause erosion, about 3 feet a second." I have mentioned multiple places that we have water bars, which prevent high velocity travel.
"in soft patches big rock or geotextiles are the only way to start. Small rock will just keep sinking." This is not the topic of this particular thread. I actually have woven underlayment, 3+ base with a coat of crusher run in one of our softer zones, which has held up very well. We are ok with bringing in material for the problem areas, which are short and few, and we have a method that works for the soil there.
"Spreading 3/4 rock thinly will be of no use at all. " If it prevents droplet strike erosion, then it will be of great use to us
"I meant to add a note that you consider a separate mortgage to get the job done properly in the first place, over a 10 year period the weekly cost would be quite low and it may be worth taking that route. " It may be different in your region, but in my experience there are very few financing options for people who do not pursue bank loans. In our case, we saved extensively for a large down payment and are using owner financing. We are building off-grid and thus financing options are extremely limited.
"16 Tonne loads is the way to consider, so its a matter of finding a closer supply or a better transport cost. " I hope you realize from earlier posts that neither of these are options. We have done our due diligence, have found the nearest quarries, and the cost to haul has been cross-checked with multiple companies/individuals. The current price to haul right now is approximately 2x the price of the aggregate, only due to the fact that diesel prices are back down.
"Even consider getting a contractor to do the whole lot, making sure you have a written document detailing what outcomes are required, and the maximum estimated cost. " This is simply not in our budget, and against our DIY ways.

I am no civil engineer, but I do have degrees in ME/EE and do my fair share of planning, estimating and reading. One very interesting read I had was the Department of Transportation manual on construction of gravel roads, which gave a lot of insight into how roads are constructed by our government for steady flows of traffic with inconsistent maintenance.
I spoke with one civil engineer who told me that regardless of soil type, I would need underlayment, 4" of base rock and 4" of top material with fines. This works out to approximately $170,000 in materials and delivery alone, minus labor. A nearby neighbor is paying upward of $600,000 for a similar road. I simply cannot agree that a dirt road that holds up to a 15,000lb truck daily even during monsoon conditions needs underlayment and 8+" of gravel.
Conventional knowledge is available plentifully. This thread is a question of whether there might be a better way for a work-from-home couple who go off-property approximately twice per week to cover their stable road surface. I see no reason to sell our land to fund our gravel road
1 year ago
Thank you for the link! Since this is a very remote and quite pristine area, natives are our choice whenever possible. Trench drains are along the same concept of "water bars", but are higher maintenance in my experience (they tend to fill up or get blocked). They're much nicer to drive over though

good catch, but no typo. This is a 1 ton cab and chassis truck ('06 Silverado 3500) I purchased derelict from a local government. It had a hydraulic dump kit beneath the extremely rusted bed (prior salt truck), so I designed and fabricated a new steel bed with stake sides. Although "rated" for 1 ton, it will easily haul 4 tons. I am certainly interested in considering vegetation, and it seems that grasses (or generally rhizomes) would be an excellent starting point.

We do have a short rocky portion of our driveway which is mostly shale. This packs excellently and supports us driving on it with no issue. The only problem is that it tends to come out in boulders while I attempt to dig it out, from 7" diameter up to 30"! I'm using it in places which need reinforcement or drainage (typical places one would use "riprap").

So far I've had no luck with that. The area was prior logging territory, so it seems that folks were ok living in the mud.

The area we are trying to control erosion on is across ~1.2 miles of mountain summit, valley, creek crossing and mountainside road. The soil type varies across all this, but the primary issue I am attempting to resolve is preventing small amounts of running water from washing away the surface material, and preventing raindrop strikes from motivating the soil. I do have a significant amount of sand in about 30% of the road surface, but I have found that this also washes easily. Our sand particle size may be smaller than yours, or the grains may be slightly less angular.

I'd personally be ok with never mowing it If the selected grass type did tend to grow too tall, I would have no issue with a little upkeep from time to time. I agree with you that tall grass is better!

One thought I've had over the past couple days is to purchase washed rock about 3/4" size, and scatter it as thinly as possible. Since our subgrade is very firm in the majority of the road, this should press into the surface and prevent both running water erosion and rain drop strike erosion. I might try this in a small section and see how it goes. This should make a given quantity of rock go a lot further!
1 year ago
Thank you all for your replies, I will try to respond in order.

Angela W., our situation is a bit interesting. We have no rutting or muddy areas now, but only after significant earthworks and drainage. In our location I would say that 90% of our road is above-grade on all but one side (meaning: it is a hillside road). I shaped the road with a slight grade toward the edge, which means that water naturally runs off the road rather than following the road. Any water that does run on the road is mitigated with water bars.
I've spent a lot of time in planning and execution of the sub-grade (native material), and because of this we only have a couple small places with a soil type that will require imported material. A coarse rock followed by crusher run with a nice side-slope for drainage should solve these small spots well. The parts of this old logging road which did exist were in incredibly bad condition (it would have been easier to clear a new path, but we didn't want more damage to the area), with gullies, ruts and water filled holes as well. We have landmarks we use to identify sections of our road; "Mega-rut", "Frog pond 1", "Frog Pond 2" and "Rock Garden" are a few examples
For features such as gullies, this is caused by water running at high velocity. If this is along the road, try building a water bar: (I build these by hand, it's easier than using my equipment).
For ruts (if made by tires), there is insufficient drainage for water or a poor soil type. If this is in a flat area, you won't be able to get the water off the side very easily, but you can try to get the water away from your sub-grade by draining it to a ditch.
Water that is being held absolutely needs to be drained, and needs to be filled back with a heavy clay-type soil to prevent water from getting back in. If you fill these areas with rock, sand or anything water-permeable, it will just allow water to continue to pool.
Just a few suggestions from what I learned with similar problems! All this changes based on soil type and the topography of your place.

Phil S., Interesting that you mention corduroy roads. I actually tore one out where the original road crossed a creek and replaced it with a 24" culvert. I found one log I suspect to be chestnut, but it's in such poor condition that I think it's little more than a novelty. It's amazing what an anaerobic environment can do for wood preservation! As for building any more, I have a plan for our bad spots that does actually involve standard gravel. I'll deal with these at a later time, but for now I'm just trying to solve the problem of surface erosion in our good sections of road.

Eric H., we actually have a very heavy land plane, a Dresser TD8 dozer Just to be clear, I am joking. The land plane does certainly have its place, but for us, we have a good, flat surface which drains well and has features to prevent water running at high velocity. Our main issue is surface erosion due to water droplets striking the soil and carrying the dirt away; we are more at the "rill" stage than the "gulley" stage. We need some type of surface covering that is resilient to surface motivation by heavy rain, and gravel is just not achievable for us.

Anne M., what I have been buying is what most folks refer to as "crusher run", or "non-spec base" according to the current quarry. It's $13.50/ton, the cheapest material available here and is actually great for this purpose. It packs down great and prevents surface motivation. The problem is we just can't afford to get it here. This is really rough country up here, and finding someone who will even agree to deliver is rare. The prices are just too high, considering that our subgrade is already resilient to driving on.

1 year ago
Hi all,

Thank you for the body of knowledge you keep alive here. I've been a long time lurker, and I finally need to reach out for advice.
I am cutting a VERY long driveway in the lower Appalachian mountains. It's approximately 1.2 miles long. I bought and fixed a backhoe, dozer and am currently rebuilding the engine on my track loader. I have to say that I am quite pleased by what I and my wife have accomplished in planning, clearing and cutting/grading 1.2 miles of road. However, this is where the pleasure stops...

What this summer taught me is I need a durable road surface. It rained continually here for almost 2 months. Every day there was at least one "gulley washer" as my father would put it. I do have water bars on the inclined surfaces, but these are built from the native soil and are not durable to driving over.

Some sections will need aggregate in my opinion. The soils in these spots just does not hold up under tire. That being said, the majority of the road is passable in even the worst conditions. There is no compression/deformation of the road in these good areas, but there IS erosion. This (for the most part) is not due to water _running_ on the surface, but rather from rain droplets striking the surface and motivating the particles.

What complicates our situation more is that we are in a remote area where very few people will deliver material. I do have a ton dump truck I have used for hauling some gravel, but it's about 1.5 hours ONE WAY to the gravel place. I can only get 4 tons at a time this way, and my truck won't thank me in the long run for overloading it that way. If I were to gravel the whole driveway thinly, I would need to make 250+ trips. Considering the hours that the gravel place is open, it would take me about a year of doing nothing but hauling gravel and smoothing it in the spare moments. Pay someone else to haul it? The estimate I got from the one guy willing to haul it was $850 per 16 ton load... $350 for the gravel, $500 for his time and fuel. $50,000 for a thin road, after I have already done the earthmoving.

There's got to be a better way. In the areas that are packed/passable (the majority of the distance), is there not a native plant that would prevent soil motivation under heavy rain? We go in/out maybe twice per week at most, as we both work from home with satellite internet. Native grasses are tolerant to being driven over twice per week. Maybe I can find free burlap sacks and scatter native grass seeds beneath them to provide temporary and long term protection? Could I even hope to find  1300+ free burlap sacks somewhere?

Graveling the whole driveway is just not in our budget (time or money), represents a massive embodied energy (definitely against our convictions) and is just overkill considering how well the road is designed to manage water. Any bright ideas out there?
1 year ago