Adventures with the Two-Man Auger

Brooke here:

I’m sure it’s possible to make some not-so-witty political commentary about waiting three weeks for Dig Safe to come out and check our property for the waterline, then one call to a plumber had the matter resolved in an hour, but let’s not take cheap shots at people who work in a thankless bureaucracy and move on with our lives.  Long story short, we were able to start digging the post holes for the fence over the weekend.  I say start because… well, we’ll get to that in the long story long.

Like every other part of the house and the property, the grade of the front yard is a little wacky. We ran a string between the edge of the house and the edge of the existing chain link fence to help us determine the position of the posts and to use as a guide so each section of the fence will compensate for the grade of the slope.

Front yard with string marking the fence line.

Hmmm… that’s not very clear.  Let me add some Photoshop.

Same image as above. Please note that the purple line is perfectly level. With the planet, not the topsoil.

At it’s tallest point, the line would be 11 feet from the ground; at it’s lowest, 18 inches.   And we wonder why water runs into our basement…

Since we’re aiming for a 5-foot fence, there’s quite a bit of math involved in this project to stagger the individual panels.  And, because we have very large dogs, this has to be an especially heavy-duty fence.  A typical fence uses 4″x4″ posts, but in this design most of the support posts are 4″x6″ and the gate posts (the ones where the gate will be attached) are 6″x6″.  The gate posts will also support a small pergola, so we bought 12-foot posts to allow for 36″ to be sunk and cemented.

As part of overbuilding it was sinking the posts deep below the frost line, we headed to Home Depot to rent a power auger.

Two-man auger with 9" drill. At this moment, we were feeling particularly bad-ass.

We had meant to pick up a one-man auger and take turns drilling, but the sales associate said that the earth in our area was mostly clay and a two-man auger was the best way to go because damn hard-packed clay is impossible to cut through.  At the time, we thought he was kidding.  But we picked up the two-man auger and, since I don’t really have the weight to throw behind a power tool of this size, we called our friend Steve to come over and be the second man.

Fully assembled auger, on its way to do battle with geology.

Brown and Steve started up the engine and they started digging.  In theory, they should have positioned the auger and it would travel straight down.  Unlike a drill which needs pressure behind it to penetrate wood or stone, the auger is supposed to pull itself into the soil (it probably helps that there’s 60 pounds of engine riding on top of the thing) and the workers are supposed to guide it down in the right position.  The first two holes went okay; these were in the same locations as where the previous owners had put — but not cemented! — two of their own fence posts, so these holes were sort of pre-drilled.  Another couple of holes were more difficult to dig as Brown and Steve had to start from scratch, but the auger still went down fairly easily.

Drilled, baby, drilled.

Ideally, the holes should have taken no more than 5-10 minutes each.  Huge power tool, couple of guys, zip-zang fence posts!  I began nursing secret dreams of getting a couple of the posts in the ground, leveled, and cemented in place by that evening.

Then things went bad.  We assumed the worst problem would be tree roots but Brown and Steve hit a layer of calcified clay about 18″ down and the auger refused to get purchase.  The drill spun on the clay and very very gradually moved downward, but it was taking ages to dig each hole.  That ground was hard.  At one point I poured a bucket of water down a particularly difficult hole to soften up the soil… two hours later, there was still some standing water in it.  Steve sat down for a quick break and I took his place on the auger for a hole that wasn’t budging; this was a rather stupid decision on my part, as I couldn’t have been on that thing for more than a couple of minutes before it threw me.

I’d love to add some details about what happened but the phrase it all happened so fast! is the best we can do to describe that moment when time stops and events happen too quickly to follow or control.  One moment I’m holding on to the auger and the next I was several feet away and had crashed into Steve, who was helping me steady our side of the tool.  We got off pretty lightly, injury-wise… Steve had a bruised arm and I was missing a chunk out of a toe, but it could have been much, much worse.

We called it quits and decided we needed a machine with more torque.  Lots more torque.  So next weekend we’re renting a skid loader with a drill attachment.

Pray for Mojo.

3 thoughts on “Adventures with the Two-Man Auger

  1. Oh, I know from “It all happened so fast!” Once long ago, about 1968, when I was young and healthy, a bunch of us were having an outdoor event and somebody said, “Let’s have a tug-of-war! I brought a hundred feet of rope.”

    So we all got onto one end of the rope or the other, and we pulled and pulled, and each side thought it was winning, because we were moving slowly backward, so we pulled HARDER….

    But we were moving backward because the rope was nylon. And it was stretching. And after it had stretched a certain amount, it BROKE. And each half went back to its original length. And before anybody knew what was all happening, we were all lying flat on the ground with rope burns on our hands.

    Those, fortunately, were the worst of the damages. We had several first-aiders in the group who yelled “LIE STILL TILL WE CAN TALK TO YOU,” which we did, and one by one they looked us over, decided we didn’t need the ER, and let us get up. I’d twisted but not sprained an ankle. The Great Tug-of-War Fiasco is talked about to this day.

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