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May 15, 2013

Bulldoozing the Ancients
Filed under: Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

When the ancient world meets a bulldoozer, guess who loses? A recent news story tells about a contractor in Belize that needed fill for a road construction project. So they dug into the 100′ high Mayan pyramid of the Nohmul complex. The 2300 year old structure was a well known ancient ruin and located in an otherwise flat landscape.

Here’s a WikiPhoto of a Mayan pyramid to give a sense of what these bozos dug into.

No doubt it was an easy location for fill, but what were they thinking?

“These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It’s just bloody laziness”, said Jaime Awe, head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology .

“Just to realize that the ancient Maya acquired all this building material to erect these buildings, using nothing more than stone tools and quarried the stone, and carried this material on their heads, using tump lines,” said Awe. “To think that today we have modern equipment, that you can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere, but that this company would completely disregard that and completely destroyed this building. Why can’t these people just go and quarry somewhere that has no cultural significance? It’s mind-boggling.”

So try to get through your week without digging up ancient ruins or making any other bone head mistake. Set your goals high.


July 26, 2012

Another Good Recovery Sign
Filed under: Industry outlook,Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

The Volkswagon Plant in Chattanooga, TN could be seeing a big expansion soon. The Chattanooga Times/Free Press reported that the local Industrial Development Board just voted to begin the earthwork for the potential future plant. The aerial photo below shows the site:

Even though VW corporate hasn’t yet agreed to expand the plant, the Industrial Board will spend several million dollars on earthwork to prepare the site for the proposed expansion.

Since the State of TN previously agreed to spend $16M on the project, the money is available. By grading now, the soil will be able to settle prior to the start of the hoped for expansion.

The VW plant now makes about 150,000 Passats annually and some $7M of internal plant renovations now ongoing will increase that to 170,000/year. The proposed expansion could take that to 500,000 vehicles/year.

I rented a Passat on my recent travels and was impressed with the design and the mileage. It’s a bit disconcerting to have the engine shut off at every stop, only to restart as soon as my foot went off the brake. The mileage was phenomenal, though.

So it’s good to see a well built car with great potential for increased American production. Don’t just hear all the bad news…there’s lots going right in this USA economy.


March 27, 2012

It’s Wetlands Because We Say It Is
Filed under: Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

The US Supreme Court, in the news because of their evaluation of the health care law, just issued a less lauded decision that will impact contractors and developers. In a March 21, 2012 unanimous ruling (I didn’t think anything in America could be unanimous anymore), the Court ruled that an Idaho couple could legally challenge the EPA’s wetlands ruling.

Mike and Chantell Sackett purchased a property and wanted to build a home. While attempting to get the permits, the EPA review instructed them to restore the wetlands on the property or face up to $37,500/day fines. The Saketts didn’t believe the property was wetlands, but the EPA and the 9th Circuit Court dictated that the Saketts didn’t have the right to get a court hearing on the question of the wetlands.

The essence of the Supreme Court decision is that land owners, developers and contractors have the right to question the EPA on their interpretation of wetlands rather than simply having to comply without option. While going to court rarely seems an attractive option for a project, it does seem that this decision will make the process more fair.

It’s nice to see commonsense flowing out of our nation’s capitol. Maybe it will start a trend.


August 4, 2011

Mining the Forum: Construction Worker Ego
Filed under: Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

The ConstructionKnowledge Forum could be a great place for construction folks to connect, tell stories and laugh, and ask things you can’t ask on your job site. To work well, the Forum needs more people posting comments. I know you guys aren’t a talkative bunch, but there are enough of you now that we should be able to get something good happening.

To prime that pump, I’ll occasionally blog some of the previous Forum posts. I think you’ll enjoy them and hopefully head over to the Forum and make a post yourself.

HenryB posted this quick, funny story under the General Discussion category and titled it, A Funny Thing Happened on the Jobsite.

I was on a construction job recently and we were installing petroflex, it was coiled on a reel cart. I watched as one of the guys thought he could reel it out by himself. I tried to warn him. I told him that he might be able to turn it 2 or 3 times but on the 4th or 5th time, he really would need more than his own strength to unreel it.

You know how construction workers are, a bit on the egotistical side and thought he could handle it…even laughing at me, telling me “Maybe YOU would need help!”

I watched as he unreeled…1..2…3 times on the 4th time, it snatched him off the ground and he spun around the reel 2 or 3 times. All I could hear was..”WOoaaaah” as he spun each time. After completeing his 3rd spin, the reel threw him to the ground. He hollered, “I’m hurt and man, you were right!”

This just made me laugh out loud. I can imagine that cockiness quickly be transformed into centrifugal force and then to pain.

One of the comments was, “Moral of the story: Swallow your pride occasionally, it’s non-fattening!”

Please go check out the Forum and make a post. Let’s get some interaction going.


June 1, 2011

Fencing and Decking: Be Smart Enough to Ask the Right Questions
Filed under: Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

As the summer weather pulls us outside, our minds turn to the age old question: How can I avoid looking at my neighbor? I just came across a great resource: A User’s Guide to Fencing and Decking Materials. This free ebook suggests lots of excellent questions one  should consider when building a fence or deck. The information on materials also helps, being written on a more intelligent level than the typical How-to guide.

The many fence manufacturers provide info on their respective products, but the ebook above provides a framework for deciding which product will best solve the real design problems.

Since fences are often an after-thought on construction projects, keep this little ebook as a way to help an owner make a better design decision. Remember, as we help our customers truly succeed, our success follows.

I’ve updated the Construction Knowledge Database, Site work, Landscaping to include this post and a handy place for you to find this helpful ebook. Thanks to Lex for shooting this in my direction.


June 19, 2010

The Pansy Protests: Using Charm to Overcome
Filed under: People Skills,Sitework — nedpelger

I was chatting with Bill Gainer the chief estimator at Wiker Excavating a while ago and we got on the subject of the difficulty getting jobs done these days. We were covering the usual litany of complaints about the timing of permits, the arrogance of certain inspectors and Owner’s changing their minds. We hadn’t yet gotten to bog turtles and Indian burial grounds when he told me about a new source of aggravation they’d discovered.

Wiker was building a parking lot at Eastern University (I told him my daughter attended there) and had a bunch of the survey stakes pulled out of the ground and posies planted in the resulting holes. He said, “Can you imagine someone protesting the project by pulling out our survey stakes and planting flowers in holes?” I could.

I thought back to a phone call I’d received from our daughter Anna, who was full of righteous indignation that Eastern University (which she loved) was taking the favorite outdoor sitting area of the students and planning to build a parking lot. She was most aggravated that none of the faculty had heard about the proposed project and seemed opposed to it as well. She thought the Administration was trying to just push it through without the inconvenience of open campus debate and discussion. She thought something needed to be done and she wanted to do it.

She told me that these wood sticks had been hammered into the ground that had writing on them. I told her they were survey stakes and meant the start of work was imminent. She asked me, “Well what if we just pull the survey stakes out?”

I said, “Under no circumstances should you pull those survey stakes out. It takes substantial work to do that layout and you would be liable for thousands of dollars. Also, it’s disrespectful to the guys that did that work. I previously did that kind of site layout and hated when people drove over the stakes.”

Of course, that night she went out and pulled out all the survey stakes and planted pansies in the holes. She thought the principle bigger than money or hurt feelings.

When I told Bill it was my daughter who had pulled out those stakes, he roared with laughter. He said, “Even though we had to re-stake the entire area, we did think it was pretty funny that they planted pansies in the holes…it certainly was different.”

The response of the Administration, on the other hand, varied. A couple of the deans talked to Anna and gently chided her, but seemed sort of pleased that some real campus protest was going on, seemed glad that the response wasn’t apathy. The Dean in charge, however, didn’t see it that way. He called Anna into his office and asked her whose idea it was to pull out the stakes and who had done it. She responded, “It was my idea and I mostly did it.”

He started talking about financial consequences and disciplinary measures. She realized that she could be in some deep doo-doo here. Finally, the Dean asked her what she thought her discipline should be. Anna thought for a bit, then said, “I should have hours of community services, doing things like pulling up noxious weeds that have invaded the campus.”

The Dean looked at his notes and said, “Well I see here you already volunteer to do that, how is that punishment?”

Anna replied, “Well don’t you think that if I care that much about this campus that maybe I don’t need to be punished?”

Apparently he broke into a big grin and Anna walked away with no punishment and a new friend.

Charm. Never underestimate the value of charm as a lubricant in conflicts.


May 11, 2010

A Redneck Skill Every Contractor Should Have
Filed under: Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

It’s been many years since I worked in the field every day, but the video below makes me remember some of the things I miss. WD-40 truly is a magic elixir.


The joys and tribulations of getting equipment running, pumps primed and generally being stuck in the mud makes me smile as I look back. At the moment, of course, it’s totally aggravating. Like life, for the most part.


April 29, 2010

That’s Not Mud on the Road, This is Mud on the Road!
Filed under: Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

We are fortunate in Lancaster County, PA to work with an intelligent and reasonable group of Conservation District Officers. They are charged with keeping silt out of the streams and mud off the roads and they accomplish it without big egos or dramatic productions. I drove onto a project yesterday and heard we were getting a visit from one of the Conservation District personnel. From my early days in construction, I immediately tensed.

I remembered working for a boss when I was an excavating foreman in Maryland in the 1980s. My boss tried to go over the head of a local Conservation District officer to his bosses to try to cause him some grief and lessen his recommendations. Well, lots of grief was caused, but it seemed to come mostly in my direction. The Conservation Officer now took the position that every erosion and sedimentation control measure we had installed was unacceptable and he shut down the entire project and until we got every one of them perfect. I recall working a 12 hour day on July 4th (isn’t that supposed to be a holiday?) to try to get the project re-started.

Our site visit yesterday, on the other hand, went smoothly as a few small issues were discussed and resolved. I’ve been pushing everyone on site to keep the mud off the road. Blake Murphey, who works for a local excavator, sent me this photo that shows a landslide that covered a road. Now that’s some mud on the road.

Check out all the hydraulic excavators working to remove the mud, it gives a sense of the scale of the photo.

If you want to see the source of the “That’s not a knife, this is a knife!” title that always cracks me up, just follow the Crocodile Dundee link.

By the way, sorry for the lack of updates. We’ve moved the blog from WordPress to this site and have been hurdling glitches ever since.


April 14, 2010

Stabilizing Wet Soil with Lime Brings Amazing Results
Filed under: Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

PanzRule posted the information below on the ConstructionKnowledge Forum last week and I thought it was too good not to share further. I used lime on a fast-track factory project a few years ago with excellent results. We finished the project on time, which couldn’t have happened without the lime soil mixing.The experience shared by PansRule below should be read by everyone who has to work to control construction schedules and wet/frozen soils.

Post subject: Soil Modification/Stabilization by Panzrule

I have been working on a site project that began in early October of 2009. If you can remember this winter here in Pennsylvania, we had a record winter in terms of snowfall. In conjunction with the snowfall we had what I would consider a cold winter. Now this is coming from a guy who spent the last 11 years working in an office who now was the acting site project superintendent, project manager and occassional equipment operator. So needless to say my opinion may be slightly skewed due to the time spent in the office becoming soft.

Because of the wet & frozen soil conditions throughout the winter and the owner’s need to maintain the project schedule soil modification was used. To be totally honest, I was skeptical of the process. I had never seen this process used and by the prices that I recieved for purchasing the material, I was petrified!

We applied a blend of hydrated lime and lime kiln dust. The amount of this product varied depending on the moisture content of the soil. The product is added by percentage of weight of the soil (soil proctor value) and how much moisture you are trying to reduce. Depending on the soils, for every 1% of hydrated lime added to the soil will reduce the moisture by 1-3%. If by spec you are only allowed to be 2% over optimum for moisture and the virgin ground being cut is 10% over in January, you probably won’t be able to make it without some type of modification to the soils.

On previous projects in the past if schedule had to be kept in these situations either stone was place in lieu of fill or stone was mixed with fill. This works fine except if the site balances for every yard of stone imported you will have an equal yardage of fill to haul away. As it turns out here locally the cost to modify a cubic yard of soil on this site was about half the cost of purchasing stone. Let alone what it may have cost to export that same volume of earth.

I was amazed how this product melted 20″ of frost and was compactable in about 2 hours. There were also soils that I would classify as pus. You know the kind that almost level themselves when dumped. Treat that stuff with about 5% hydrated lime and now you have something to work with.

Needless to say I am no longer skeptical about the product or the process. It made a believer out of me. I would love to try using a type 2 or 3 portland cement and mix with soils. From what I am told you have about a 3 hour working time before it becomes rock hard. In some cases I am told that if excavation is required after soil is treated with portland you may have to sawcut the treated soils so you are able to dig through it. I am also told that if the subgrade is treated using portland beneath paved areas, the sectional thickness of stone and asphalt could be reduced. This would be beneficial if the cost of asphalt continues to rise and would help reduce the use of our natural resources.

So if you have a few thousand yards of wet fill to place and natural air drying is not an option give soil modification a shot. Once you get past the sticker shock you won’t be dissappointed.


February 18, 2010

Row, Row, Row Your Barge
Filed under: Sitework — Tags: — nedpelger

Row, Row, Row your barge

Gently down the stream

Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, Merrily

The backhoe moves you downstream.


Here at TimeWaste Central, we are working hard so you don’t have to.

So I suppose I have to add this Backhoe Ballet video as well. It really is kind of beautiful the way the director gets the machines to move rhythmically and gently.


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