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?

Give me Shelter – Part 2

As alluded to in Part 1 we did wind up purchasing fully assembled and delivered shelters from a company. The starting of this crazy plan coincided with the Minnesota Horse Expo and there were three shelter companies that were there: West Wind Shelters, Buildings by Alpha, and RFC Portables. All three companies make what appear to be great products. Buildings by Alpha is the farthest away and their delivery cost was significantly higher (understandably) so I didn’t pursue them. That left West Wind Shelters and RFC Portables. The overall cost was on the surface cheaper for a West Wind shelter, but their largest shelter is 10 feet by 30 feet whereas RFC Portables largest shelter is 12 feet by 36 feet and when I calculated out the per-square-foot cost the RFC Portables shelter was cheaper per square foot. There are some other differences to consider, however. West Wind shelters are made on a steel frame that goes all around every edge of the cubes that are the basis of the shelter itself. Versus a timber frame for RFC – RFC also has two versions, one they call the “EZ Move” that has a timber frame all around every edge but it’s a pretty chunky frame and adds to the cost, and the standard one that is truly open front and has nothing running along the bottom edge of the open side of the shelter. Other differences include an all metal outside sheeting for RFC and half-metal half-wood for West Wind Shelters, and lastly the other big difference between the two is that West Wind Shelters anchors their shelters for you when they deliver them and RFC does not provide anchors or anchor them for you. At the time I felt that maximizing square footage and minimizing my cost per square foot were the two most important things – also if my friend and I are going to build one of these shelters on our own, then a timber framed shelter would offer a template for us to work from. With those things in mind we went with RFC Portables and ordered two 12 foot by 36 foot shelters, light gray with white trim and roof.

Quick tip for anyone purchasing a premade structure. See your color options in real life, not just a computer screen! The little chip from the photo said “light gray” and on my computer it looked like “light gray.” But once they were here and in the same visual field as my light gray house, those shelters are taupe! Nate insists no one else will notice or care, but I have to regularly talk myself out of going to the store to buy paint and am successful only because there are so many other things we still need to do!

Because of the maximized length they couldn’t actually span that whole distance with an open space so these shelters are really more like three 12’ x 12’ bays connected together with dividing walls between them. In the shelter that will be a shelter the dividing walls go most of the way up, but in the shelter that will be my make-shift temporary barn I asked to make the dividing walls only half walls and to put a gate in the middle of the wall so I can get in and out of the side bays from the middle bay. This way in winter I can block off the two ends from the worst of the weather and have a somewhat protected space – that is the hope at least.

It took RFC about five weeks to build them and then they were delivered. I should have filmed the process because it is a little mind blowing. They come fully assembled on these flatbed trucks and then they tip the bed of the truck up and let gravity just slide them off. Though they did send me these reference photos as we were figuring out the logistics of whether the open side should be facing the driver side or passenger side for the purpose of unloading them.

To help stabilize them during transport and unloading they have a variety of braces including a very long piece of lumber across the bottom of the open side (where the West Wind Shelters have a steel frame and where the EZ Move shelters have a permanent skid). The first shelter slides off the truck and mostly where we wanted it, it was off by about foot on one end, but considering gravity just slid a 36’ x 12’ three-sided shelter off a flatbed truck, being off by only a foot on one end seemed pretty impressive. The second shelter did not slide off as cleanly, it started sliding off the back of the truck as well as the end of the truck so by the time it was on the ground it was about three feet off from where we wanted it. They looked at it and declared that we could just move it with a skid steer  You know – that skid steer we do not have. If you are not familiar a skid steer is the generic name for the machine, though you may have heard of them as a Bobcat, that is a specific company that happens to make skid steers (kind of like facial tissue and Kleenex). Or we could move it with a truck and chains – you know – that truck we also don’t have. They did leave us with the giant pieces of bracing lumber that ran along the bottom edge of the open side since we would have to move it so much. Then they left and we had to figure out how we were going to shift this giant thing.

We did look into renting a skid steer but the rental starts at $150 and goes up from there once you add delivery, time, etc. There is also the tiny issue that neither of us has a clue how to operate one. We asked around a few places and were in the midst of arguing over the merits of trying to do this with a truck and if so do we rent a truck or see if we could borrow someone’s when I decided on a whim to call the neighbors and see if they by chance had a skid steer and could they possibly help us out and they did! But they were unavailable for a few days, but the neighbor another two houses down also had one and she was sure he would be happy to help. She kindly gave me their name and number and having never met this person in my life I called to see if they could do me a favor – I felt very awkward – “Hello stranger I have literally never met, can you help me?” Asking for help is weirdly hard for me. But he was super nice and came over the next day to help us out. The shelter that was off by about three feet, but still had the braces on, shifted pretty easily once we got everything positioned correctly so I thought – hey, that went so well, lets shift that other shelter, the one that no longer has a brace, over just that one tiny foot. We positioned everything and started moving it when I noticed that the dividing walls between the bays were NOT moving with the far wall. I said “good enough” lets stop there, thanked him for his time and willingness to help out a total stranger, and we both went about our days. Later that day I was laying out where the fence needed to go and happened to look at that second shelter from a different angle and saw that one of the dividing wall between the bays was no longer square – it was pretty seriously bent out of true – crap! It took almost an entire day for me to work up the courage to text him and ask if he could come back out to help fix it – why is asking for help so hard? I finally managed it because I mentally reversed our situations, and I would in a heartbeat help a neighbor if I had the equipment and would have no issue coming back out if it didn’t go exactly right the first time. Seriously – need to work on the asking for help thing. He came over the next day and all we had to do was lift that wall up a few inches and the act of sliding the skids back out shifted it back into place (mostly) its not 100% square, but like 98% square – which is still a high A.

Now we just needed to anchor them. How hard could that be?