Notes from Windward: #58

Come-alongs and rollers

moving shipping containers the old way

Hooking up to Red-box
There's a country saying that a rich man eats when he's hungry, and a poor man eats when he can. That old saw often comes to mind, especially when faced with a task as daunting as moving a five ton, forty-foot long shipping container. Ordinarily, it would be a job for a large bulldozer or perhaps an industrial crane, but we're a bit short in those departments, so we made do with ingenuity and patience instead.

The first trick was to have the delivery truck set the shipping containers down in a good place with the doors facing the right direction. Moving them is hard enough without having to turn one around. It was also important that we didn't have to drag them up hill, or keep them from rolling down hill, in the process of moving them to their final locations.

It's on level ground
we're past the scary part
The second trick was to use roller logs under the containers. Simply dragging something that heavy isn't possible with anything we have onsite, but just place a couple of logs under the container to serve as rollers, and we're ready to go, as long as we get the job done before the fall rains set in. In August and September, our clay-rich ground is very hard and makes a good working surface, but once the rain starts to soften the surface, this much weight can sink the rollers into the muddy surface. Then you're really stuck.

Once the container was up on the rollers, the backhoe could hook on and start pulling it across the landing. Having a piece of equipment as substantial as the backhoe was especially handy, not only because it had the power to get the box moving, but also because it had the mass necessary to provide some control in the process. The laws of physics are such that once five tons of steel starts moving, it's very reluctant to stop. Using the hoe, we were able to start the box moving, and then stop it before it ran off the rollers.

The fast part is done
As it turned out, moving the box was almost anticlimatic compared to all the work it took to get it jacked up high enough to be able to slide the roller logs underneath. Using the backhoe's front bucket, we were also able to lift an end of the box in order to reposition the roller logs.

One thing we noticed while repositioning the logs was that we were pushing close to the limits of what the logs could handle. The weight of the steel container was steadily crushing the logs, and it soon became a question of whether the logs would last long enough to move the box to where it needed to go. At the very least, those logs weren't going to be fit for anything more than firewood.

Once the box made it as far as the garage, the "quick and easy" part was behind us. Now, more precise methods were called for. The plan was to insert the two containers between my trailer and Bob's. The last thing we needed was for one a container to get away from us and crash into one of the trailers. One of the downsides of this lifestyle is that when you mess up, you do it in front of your friends. It's not like being able to mess up at work, where you can then go home and not hear about it.

Nudging it into place
Now, the backhoe took on a different, more passive, role. Instead of providing the motive force, it now became a relocatable anchor point from which we could hook a heavy-duty come-along. You've probably seen the come-alongs that use aircraft cable to pull things in the five hundred to a thousand pound range. We have those, but we also have the heavier ones. Instead of cable, these use chains to pull loads of up to one and a half tons, more than enough to gradually move the container.

The trade-off is in the rate of draw. When you move the handle a foot, the chain only moves about a quarter of an inch, giving you a mechanical advantage of about fifty to one. With that kind of leverage, something will move.

Another trick which came into play at this point involves switching to short logs and angling them in order to steer the container precisely where we wanted it to go. Instead of the one long log reaching from side to side, we switched to using four foot logs on each side. By angling the logs, it's easy to move the container sideways at the same time it's going forward. It's tricky to keep track of simultaneous movement in two directions, but then again the container's only moving a quarter of an inch at a time. Just a matter of move a little, check the action, repeat as necessary.

a heavy duty come-along
After much lifting, jacking, pulling and figuring, the first container was declared to be "in place." There's a real sense of pride that comes from doing something like this, and a real sense of gratitude when the job's done without anyone getting hurt or anything seriously damaged.

One of our mottos at Windward is "We do good work eventually." It may take some time to figure out an answer, or to work out a way around some shortcoming, but where there's a will, there's a way. It just sometimes takes us a while to find it.

Once we were satisfied that Red-box was where we wanted it, the next step was to jack it up and start building the cribs that would level it. That part of the landing has a notable slope, in order to insure adequate run-off during snow melt. With the north end of the container almost on the ground, the south end needed to be raised more than two feet.

Leveling the container
It was time to turn to our ever useful stack of short ties. Long-time readers of these Notes will remember that when the railroad along the Klickitat river was taken out, we spent a couple of months collecting and hauling home short ties.

After the wrecking crew had gone through and removed the really nice ties, they used a very large bulldozer to rip out the remaining ties. The gap between two rear-mounted ripping teeth was 40 inches, which resulted in lots of short railroad ties. Before winter came that year, we were able to haul home some 1,500 short ties, and since then have found all sorts of good uses for them.

This time we used short ties to create cribs under the ends and middle of the containers. During the spring run-off, our clay-rich ground becomes saturated and unstable, and in order to allow for that, it's necessary to spread out any load we ask the ground to support. It's just another part of knowing how to deal with the conditions and characteristics of the place you're trying to develop.

If this were the permanent location for these two containers, we'd go ahead and put in a concrete foundation, but it's not. In time, we'll move the containers and build a permanent woodshop in this location. but for now, the short ties will do the job.

Continued in Part II

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