26 April 2011

Back to the Bobcat

Our bobcat rental was quite the adventure. The neighbors were pretty impressed with our heavy machinery (although I don't anticipate any "keeping up with the Joneses" on this front). Steve was pretty much a natural:

We rented it for one day, but since that day was a Saturday and the shop is closed on Sundays, we had it from Saturday morning until Monday morning. We were limited to roughly eight hours of use, though. Construction equipment apparently uses an odometer-like clock to track usage by hours. (Who knew?) That's the clock in the middle of the control panel (reading "1174.3"):

So we got right to work, starting with some grading in the backyard:

There isn't much slope back there, and the brick ledge is set low on the house, so we didn't have much leeway to work with. Getting a gentle slope away from the house was important.

It was great to be able to use it for a little while, then turn it off and do some raking or other manual tasks, and then turn it back on for the heavy work, instead of cramming all of our use into a single day. Until after lunch on Saturday, when it wouldn't start. I think we wasted an hour trying to get it started, googling, and finally jumping it with the battery from Steve's car. (The bobcat was in the backyard at that point, so we had to remove the battery and lug it back there.)

Getting the bobcat to the backyard was quite a feat in itself. Since we had to haul roughly a third of our 48 yards of soil and compost back there (plus seven yards of gravel and half a ton of river rock, not to mention the random stones and bricks from our temporary driveway), we made lots and lots of trips. Using our trusty garden cart, we managed to be pretty efficient. Steve would use the bobcat to fill up the cart...

...which I would pull around the east side of the house while he grabbed a huge scoop and headed around the west side:

I would unload the cart...

...just in time to meet Steve as he approached the back corner of the house to guide him through the narrow space between the corner and our neighbor's fence. (He had told us not to worry about hitting his old fence, but we obviously preferred not to.)

(The bobcat was pretty hard on our neighbor's grass. When we asked him for permission to drive over it, we offered to replace whatever we destroyed, but he told us he preferred to let it grow back over time (which shouldn't take long) instead of having to water new sod in our current drought.)

Anyway, passing between the house and the fence was tiiiight:

We put some plywood up against the house to protect it. There was only 6" of clearance around the bobcat (as in, three inches on each side if we lined it up perfectly). Steve had researched bobcats and found that the S130 model was the narrowest, so that's what he reserved. (When they made the delivery, they originally brought the S150, which has the same size bucket but wider tires, and Steve immediately knew that wasn't going to fit, so we sent it back in favor of the S130.) Good thing, too, as we rarely lined it up perfectly:

Using the bobcat in conjunction with the garden cart, I think we hauled about half a yard per trip, so we probably made about 40 trips back and forth between Saturday and Sunday (plus lots of raking). We had watched some YouTube how-to videos in preparation for the big event, and in one of them, a serious-sounding narrator says that anyone can drive a bobcat, but not anyone can be an operator. Steve didn't achieve operator status, but he definitely improved his skills over the course of the weekend. By the end, he was using the bucket to smooth the piles that we had distributed, although I still did plenty of raking.

Driving a bobcat is HARD! I never tried it, suspecting that its controls were too complicated for my sometimes-absentminded self. There is a lever (like a car's brake lever) that controls speed, and two joysticks (one for each set of wheels). It's called a skidsteer, which means that the left and right wheels go forward and backward independently of each other, and turns are achieved by moving the joysticks to and fro in various combinations. Then, as if that's not enough to master, there are two foot levers that control the bucket (one to lift and lower, the other to scoop and dump). Steve did great at driving it and at maneuvering the bucket...just not at the same time. (A true operator would be able, for instance, to drive backward and lower the bucket at the same time.)

The whole endeavor was one of those "it has to get worse before it gets better" situations:

By the end of day 1, things were looking...well, not much better:

Bringing in the gravel and river rock when we did wasn't quite the ideal order of events (better to wait until the irrigation went in before spreading gravel), but since we had the bobcat (and since we still had an old driveway that could take a beating), it worked out well for us. We laid landscaping fabric over some of the area to be covered with gravel:

And scooped and dumped:

Scooping up each boulder was trickier than we anticipated. Once we got it in the bucket, though, it was smooth sailing:

We dropped the backyard boulder in roughly its final destination at the edge of one of the planting beds, with plans to adjust its position once the edging and grass are in:

And by the end of the weekend, we had all of the soil and compost more or less spread and smoothed out...and the gravel, river rock, and leftover stone/bricks moved to the back corner.

The rental place was going to charge about $7/gallon for gas, so we decided to fill it up ourselves Monday morning (leading to the diesel spill on my car seat -- the smell is 100% gone, by the way). And because of the trouble with the battery (it wouldn't start on its own at all after lunch on Saturday), they refunded about half of our rental charge, making the total cost about $220 for rental, delivery, damage waiver (just in case Steve didn't even make it to "driver" status), and gas. Which is a fraction of the $2500 that our yard guy was going to charge to spread just the soil and compost (with a shovel and wheelbarrow, presumably). And how cool is it to have your own bobcat for the weekend?

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