I apologize for the lengthy delay in posting and answering comments.  It was a strange and sometimes stressful week with virtually zero time for blogging.

I finally had some free time over the three-day weekend, which we used to solve a couple of issues around the ol’ farmstead.  The first issue involved a runaway dog.  Well, not exactly a runaway dog, but a loose dog.  I was looking out the kitchen window on Saturday and thought, Hmmm, that’s a big animal poking around at the edge of forest back there … almost as big as one of my Rottweilers.  Hey, wait a minute!

Yup, it was our dog Misha, running happy and free, waaaay outside the backyard fence.  Nobody had left a gate open, which meant she was jumping the fence.  Most of the fencing is 48 inches tall, and she can’t jump that.  But over on the side yard, there’s a long section that’s only 40 inches.  There’s also a section that was apparently caved in a bit by a tree at some point, and it’s even shorter.

The long-term plan is to fence in the entire property, but we’re not ready to make that investment yet, so we needed a quick and easy (and inexpensive) solution.  Chareva remembered that she’d used a cow panel to make the hoop part of the portable chicken coop and thought cow panels would be tall enough to keep Misha from exploring the countryside and possibly deciding to explore the highway full of fast-moving vehicles.

I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t the most aesthetic solution, but what the heck, the existing fence isn’t a charmer anyway.  That’s one of the reasons we plan to get all-new fencing someday.  The cow panels were easy to strap to the existing fence, and so far they’ve kept Misha from doing another remake of The Great Escape.

The other issue we solved was getting across the creek without requiring balance or long-jumping skills to avoid stepping into muddy water.  The shortest route from the house to the chicken coop and the garden is across the creek.  During dry months, it’s easy to just step over it.  But for several days after a good rain, crossing the creek requires either a decent long jump or stepping on big rocks that may or may not be slippery.  I’ve had my foot slip off a rock and plunge into the muddy water enough times to expand my vocabulary of four-letter words.

To keep our feet dry when the creek swells after a rain, I figured we needed something 12 feet long.  I thought a steel bridge with handrails would provide a charming touch, but didn’t find the price on 12-foot steel bridges charming in the least.  So we decided to just go buy $100 worth of wood at Home Depot and make a bridge ourselves.

For the base of the bridge, we bought 4×4 beams.  For the surface, we bought 12-foot planks that are just under an inch thick and cut them into 3-foot sections.

Chareva likes this picture because (according to her) I look like a boy pulling his wagon.


She suggested pre-drilling holes before attaching the planks with 2-inch wood screws.  While putting together the portable chicken coop, she apparently had a bad experience trying to drill long screws directly into the wood.   I replied that in the interest of time and efficiency, I’d like to try drilling the screws directly first.

When I pushed the drill down and the screw head ended up flat against the plank, she said, “Huh … I guess you’re stronger than I am.”  And here I thought – you know, with our workouts at the gym and all – she already knew that.  Nice when a construction project clarifies your wife’s opinions of your abilities.  She also told me several times how happy she was to see me building a bridge from scratch.  I get that … my dad never did anything with tools, I never did anything with tools until we moved to the farm, and all the years she knew me in Chicago and Los Angeles, she never saw me take on a project more complicated than hanging a picture.

I thought we’d probably have to prop up at least one beam with rocks or paving stones, but nope.  With a little moving and shoving and adjusting, we found a spot where the bridge settled in nicely, with no tilting or rocking.  I celebrated with a round of disc golf, patting myself on the back a bit each time I used the bridge to cross the creek.

Meanwhile, the girls have decided it’s a great perch for watching crawdads.

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21 Responses to “The Farm Report: Bridge Over Troubled Water”
  1. eric says:

    On my farm way back then my first task was to fence the farm, i felt it was the most important first step, keeping in whom you want to keep in and keeping out whom you want to keep out.

    Anyway, congrats on the bridge over troubled waters. I hate to mention this but my 30 years on the farm experience has taught me that humidity will eventually cause to rot any wood structures i put up, be they fences or garden doors, etc. I have been obliged to come to the conclusion that in the outdoor arena metal wins, especially painted metal. Still, it’s a lovely bridge. A coat of oil or paint will extend the life, but just as rust never sleeps, wood rot only takes siestas. signed: faithful reader.

    It’s pre-treated wood, but given enough time, yup, it will surely rot. Then I’ll build another one.

    • Tate says:

      If you set it on large rocks or cinder-block and then place a vapor barrier (plastic or tin) between the wood and rock/cinder-block, it won’t rot (at least as nearly as fast). Just make sure water can’t get in from above or drains, or your vapor barrier will turn into a pool. It stops termites as well.

  2. TonyNZ says:

    I hope you got the correct government approvals and consents to build that bridge. If your daughters got a splinter going over it then your insurance premiums might increase.

    OhMyGod, I forgot the check with the EPA to see if my bridge would have an adverse effect on a wetland.

  3. Stephen says:

    That bridge is quite impressive for a man who has’nt got too much experience in carpentry, fair play tom!

  4. Tom Welsh says:

    As someone who has trouble even hanging a picture, I admire your bridge. It’s attractively efficient and minimal, and built with sustainable technology. I have no idea how bad flooding can be in your area, but the only drawback might be if the creek rises enough for it to float off downstream. In which case you might need a boat instead, anyway.

    With the nearby trees and the narrow underpass for the creek under our driveway, it would take one helluva flood to float that bridge away … in which case losing the bridge would probably be the least of our worries.

  5. Firebird7478 says:

    Tom, have you treated the wood for weather related issues?

    We bought pre-treated wood to simplify matters.

  6. Larry AJ says:

    May I offer a simple trick my dad taught me? SOAP! Yes plain old soap. Using a bar of soap scrape off some on the screw and drop some of the shavings in to the hole – assuming you have started the screw and pulled it out because it just wouldn’t go in. That is another technique that can be used. Start the screw into the wood then back it out when it starts to get hard to turn – this is easy with an electric reversing drill – then run it in again. I have had to do this several times in really hard wood – though at some point getting the soap is smarter.

    Now with the advent of soft soap, lubricating the screw is much easier.

    The BIG issue is to not strip the drive “slot” – especially on Phillips style screws – easy to do if you get over zealous.

    I love it. A simple, easy, inexpensive solution. Thanks for the tip.

  7. Alex says:

    There’s been a shift away from the old pressure treated lumber, that had chromium, copper, and arsenic. The new stuff, ACQ, is violently corrosive, and if unsuitable screws are used, the screws will be turned into needles in a year or two. Learned that the hard way…

  8. Don in Arkansas says:

    I know you think your bridge won’t wash away easily but it the water gets high enough to get up on your 4×4 beams, it’s gone. The power of just a few inches of rushing water is amazing. A couple of big eyebolts in the timbers, some rebar driven into the ground at the corners, and then hook the two together with some steel cable or lengths of chain will lessen your chances of having to rebuild. Yes, this is the voice of experience.

    That doesn’t sound like a happy experience.

    • Live Free Or Diet says:

      Nice job!
      If the creek floods, a 2-foot length of rebar driven into the ground through a hole in each end of the 4x4s will secure it nicely. Re-attaching the end planks will cover where you drove them in. Of course, my soil is sand and clay, yours looks very rocky. May be easier said than done.

      When driving screws with a drill, look into square recess, torx, or one of the other specialized types. They usually cost the same, come with the bit, and most importantly, are very difficult to strip out.

      Oh yeah, it’s rocky. There’s a reason Tennessee’s theme song is “Rocky Top.”

  9. bill says:

    Bury 4 cinderblocks about 2/3 down at each corner.
    Fill each with fence post concrete and stick in one of
    these: http://www.strongtie.com/products/connectors/epb.asp
    and your beautiful bridge will last years.

    Excellent idea, thanks.

  10. Bruce B says:

    Nice Bridge. Its great to admire a finished project. I seem to start more than i finish. You can also put soap on the screw threads before you start it. Just run them into the soap and back them out again.

    Never would have thought about the soap. I guess I need one of those books full of handy-dandy homeowner tips.

  11. Gilana says:

    Two things: 1) I love how your readers leave you (mostly) practical, helpful suggestions and really seem to “get” what you’re trying to accomplish, and that you welcome said suggestions. So many bloggers seem to have a complex that goes something like, “Me have blog. Me smart. Read me. Love me. Praise me.” 2) It is so cool that you have a creek and I really hope your girls have started to read the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are creeks everywhere! Not to mention the descriptions of life on a farm/prairie/scary frontier are still enough to make me consider rereading them now. And for what it’s worth, there is an entire chapter in the very first book (Little House in the Big Woods, which is really for the kindergarten-2nd grade set) devoted to Pa Ingalls cleaning, oiling, and loading his rifle.

    I love that about the blog too. In fact, Chareva said pretty much what you said last night while reading the comments and suggestions: this is like having a big group of helpful, knowledgeable friends.

    Sara read the Little House series last year and absolutely loved it, talking about it for weeks. Alana hasn’t started reading the books yet, but I suspect she will.

    • Cindy C says:

      Thanks for that mention. When I saw the picture, I thought of Laura, the creek there, and the books mention of crawdads. I have read the whole series, some of them several times. My sister has a creek behind her house, It can swell enormously in a short time.

  12. Elenor says:

    Oh wow! Lookit the beard! How COOL! “Farmer Tom” fer shure!!

    The beard is back. I’m neutral on it, but Chareva and the girls like it, so it’s back.

  13. Beau says:

    “girls have decided it’s a great perch for watching crawdads.”

    If you can fill up a 5 gallon bucket with craw fish, you’ve got one of the tastiest Paleo meals on planet earth.

    We actually had a winter in South Louisiana this year, which pushes craw fish season back, now I understand what seasonal affective disorder means.

    We haven’t seen enough of them in our creek to make a meal, but I keep hoping.

  14. John C Lewis says:

    Your little pasture creek and the bridge you built remind me of our home place in Milan Tennessee just outside Trenton.
    The hills and land looks just like yours. Thing no one tell you is about what’s called a “Hundred Year Rain”
    The Bluegrass group Seldom Scene does a song called “Muddy Water” which tells about one of them Hundred Year Tennessee Rains.

    Think the idea of 4 cinder blocks about 2/3 down at each corner and fence post those steel connectors is a good idea.

    At least until the big rain comes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeHhr-bJOBE
    Muddy Water:

    Mary grab the baby, Rivers Risen
    Muddy water is taken back the land,
    The old-frame house, she can`t take-a one more beating
    Ain`t no use to stay and make a stand.

    Well the morning light shows water in the valley
    Daddy`s grave just went below the line
    Things to save, you just can`t take em with ya
    This flood will swallow all you`ve left behind.

    Won`t be back to start all over
    Cause what I felt before is gone
    Mary, take the baby, river`s rising
    Muddy water taking back my home

    The road is gone, there`s just one way to leave here
    Turn my back on what I`ve left below
    Shifting land, and broken farms around me
    Muddy water`s changing all I know.

    It`s hard to say just what I`m losing
    Ain`t never felt so all alone
    Mary, take the baby, river`s rising
    Muddy water taking back my home.

    Won`t be back to start all over
    Cause what I felt before is gone
    Mary, take the baby river`s rising
    Muddy water`s changing all I know
    Lord, this muddy water is taking back my home

    We were living here during the last Hundred Year Rain in 2010:

    http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2010/05/03/the-flood/

    Fortunately, this should mean we’re safe for 96 more years.

  15. Alex says:

    I assume you received the appropriate permits but I can’t imagine the local building inspector has signed off on such a disaster. My goodness, there isn’t even an international building code approved hand rail with gubbermint approved spacing between the vertical supports! Looks like a dangerous, non-union, non-gubbermint approved disastastrophe to me.

    For the sake of your innocent “Children” you should choose to remove said bridge and have a professional install a safe Ministry approved bridge.

    Nice work – keep it up! :)

    We’re keeping it camouflaged as a downed tree to fool the inspectors.

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