Monday, September 15, 2008

Farm Report: The Nitty-gritty dirt pile

Farm Report
It was somewhere around the 50th shovel full that I recalled a story the veteran newsman Ned Cline had written for the Greensboro Daily News about visiting the Wilson County farm of Gov.-elect Jim Hunt in late 1976. Hunt was meeting inside the house with his closest advisers to begin putting together the new administration. As Cline pulled into the driveway, he saw a huge pile of gravel -- and one lonely figure out by the gravel pile. It was the state's soon-to-become First Lady, Carolyn Hunt, with a shovel in hand, moving that gravel from where it was to where it needed to be.
I don't know if she worked the whole pile down, but I was wondering how she got along with it as I waged continuing war on what began as 22 tons of No. 8 gravel that arrived back in early July. I thought I'd have it all spread in a few weeks.
What was I thinking? We've got maybe a half mile of gravel roads leading in to the house, over to the barn and back out along the property line to the old gate, and we knew we'd need a lot of rocks. But we don't have tractor with a front end loader. We've got a contractor's wheelbarrow, a transfer shovel, a garden spade and an aging ink-stained wretch who has bitten off more than he can move.
Every weekend for two and a half months we've whittled that pile down and can now see over it. One end is much diminished.
And the roads are looking a lot better. No mud puddles when it rains, and a lot less weeds poking up through the thin places.
We've put in gravel parking places, used gravel as a base for a flagstone walkway and spread some around the foundation as a kind of mulch.
Our conversation these days is sprinkled with technical references to various grades of gravel. We put down five truckloads of two-inch crusher run last year. It's got some big stuff and some finer screenings in there. They tell me it's best for driveways because, as one of our rural advisers put it, "It wallers in real good."
The year before, we had another fellow bring us a couple loads of No. 57 gravel. He was partial to it, he said, because that's what the county puts down on its roads. And when we put up the barn -- a glorified garage, I guess, but I'm telling this story and I say it's a barn -- we went with pea gravel. It's smaller than the No. 8 stuff we got this summer, and nice to look at. Flattens out real well.
When the sun was high the other day we were on the equivalent of about 24 wheelbarrow loads of gravel. I could have sworn I heard Tennessee Ernie Ford's deep voice wafting through the woods with his 1950s hit of the 1946 Merle Travis song "Sixteen Tons."
One line went, "You load sixteen tons, what do you get?"
I think Tennessee Ernie Ford just got richer. But all we got are sore backs, callused hands, and a mental note to ourselves: That's enough gravel, thank you very much.

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