Second Interlude

Now for a brief interlude whereupon I learn more about earth anchors than I ever wanted to and hurt myself the second time.

Upon ordering the shelters I asked about anchoring them since the other company mentioned it and I was sent the following image, and that was it.

I started searching for earth anchors or earth augers as they are also called and discovered an overwhelming amount of options. Luckily I found a very helpful company, Milspec Anchors, with several very helpful employees. I described the application – anchoring large 3-sided shelters; the environmental conditions – heavy clay soil and very windy; and our available equipment – none. It turns out the round helix at the end of an earth anchor isn’t just to hold them in place once they are in the ground, they also help actively pull the anchor into the ground once you get that part below the surface. They make some anchors with a double helix so the smaller one can help pull the larger one into the ground. Considering our heavy clay soil and no machinery to help us they recommended a double helix anchor and we went with this one. They also had a super helpful tip to dig out a hole about a foot deep first and water the hole before we tried to get the anchors into the ground. Moist clay is much easier to work with than dry clay (think of the soft clay you worked with in art class versus a brick). Getting the hole in the right place and the right amount of water took some fine tuning – but overall a VERY helpful tip!

Now we had to install the anchors, which was easier said than done. We quickly realized that we had no actual tool for turning the anchors and our own strength wasn’t sufficient once we got past that very top layer of wet clay. After messing around a bit with whatever I could find in the garage (not much) I went to my new favorite hardware store on the planet LeVahn Brothers. I cannot overstate how amazingly helpful they have been, not just with this project but several others. You walk in and are immediately greeted by someone who is genuinely knowledgeable and helpful and if there happens to be something they don’t know they find the person who does know to help you. I explained what we were trying to do – getting giant augers buried three feet in the ground with no machinery, oh and there is a structure right up next to where we are working – and we decided our best option was a crowbar. The crowbar helped, but being right next to the shelter made it so much harder because we couldn’t make a full circle, at best we could get a half-turn before we’d have to shift the crowbar and do another half turn. It was a maddeningly slow process, though we did improve on our methods a bit; at first we were completely pulling the crowbar out and repositioning it but we figured out a method for just sliding the crowbar back and forth. Still painfully slow and sometimes the ground just got too hard and we had to stop and water it a bit or have the other person come and push down on the anchor using a block of wood while the other one turned it because the helix just wasn’t up to the task of pulling itself down through our ridiculous soil. If you have ideas for how to do this better we’d love to hear them because at some point we’re going to have to un-anchor the shelters, move them, and re-anchor them and I would really like to have a better process for doing this. Though we do have one helpful tip of our own – put something, in our case we used cardboard, between your shelter and your crowbar so you don’t scratch it all up. You can see how beat up the cardboard got, it was also nice to mark the cardboard to see progress because there were many times when it felt like we were just spinning our wheels, or in this case anchors, and nothing was happening.

There are six anchor points for each shelter so we had twelve anchors to hand screwed into the ground, a process that involved repetitive combinations of twisting while pushing or pulling with my dominant wrist. The wrist that was diagnosed with mild carpal tunnel back in 2019. Let me tell you it doesn’t feel mild anymore. Despite night braces and exercises my wrist was pretty useless after the first two or three anchors so Nate had to do much of the work of actually screwing the anchors into the ground and I was relegated to digging and watering the holes and pushing down on the wood block when they just wouldn’t go farther. Unfortunately, my wrist still hasn’t recovered. It doesn’t help that everything I have to do – typing, writing, cooking, cleaning (something had to go) aggravates that wrist and anchoring the shelters coincided with me prepping for both of my summer classes so there was a lot of typing and writing happening at the same time. I’m still doing my hand and wrist exercises and wearing a brace at night and now also during the day but my wrist still isn’t over its proverbial meltdown which has complicated many aspects of my normal day job of teaching plus all the work we’ve been doing to get Leeloo home.

One other thing that is still complicating the anchoring of the shelters are the giant pieces of wood bracing along the bottom front of the second shelter – we still haven’t been able to get them all off. They used these huge screws and a star shaped bit that we didn’t have. Back to LeVahn Brothers! We took pictures of what we were dealing with and they got us the proper bit but our very old hand-me-down drill from my father was just not up to the task. We wound up getting a new drill and an impact driver. Which worked – for most of them. We got one of the boards off completely and were able to put in the second to last anchor, but there are still three bolts that are stripped and the bit just spins in them. Another trip to LeVahn brothers got us a long metal blade for our reciprocating saw, but unfortunately we still haven’t been able to get through that last bolt. And of course the blade is designed for metal so it didn’t work great on the wood itself when in a fit of frustration we decided to just cut the wood off – we had to abort that effort midway because we had to meet someone to go get some hay. So technically there is still one more anchor that needs to get screwed in, but eleven are in and need to get attached to the shelters themselves. Back to LeVahn Brothers (we should consider buying stock at this point). After contemplating a lot of options, we decided to go with chain links that loop through both the anchor and the bolt in the shelter and then are bolted together with a bolt, washer, and nut. This would allow us to adjust for the different distances (getting the anchors to line up just right with the bolts in the shelter was tricky), remove them, and then reuse them once the shelters get moved.

The anchoring itself wound up being a much bigger expense than I ever expected and took far more time and energy than I had expected. Now that I know the anchoring costs and can factor them in it turns out that the West Wind shelters per square foot prices were comprable to the RFC Portable prices. Add in the time involved, and had we not needed to maximize square footage the West Wind Shelters may have been the better choice.  

There is one anchor issue though yet to be resolved – how do I keep my accident prone horse from injuring herself on these:

I have not been able to think of an idea that won’t in and of itself be an accident waiting to happen or be too easy for the horses to remove. Suggestions?