Tom Clyde: A rolling stone
The thing about rocks is that they are just so rocky. They are everywhere, but it’s hard to find one when you need one. I’ll be out in the field and see a gate post that needs a lose nail pounded back in. I could fix it right then and there if I could only find a palm-sized rock to use as a hammer. But there are none to be found. Then, a few weeks later in exactly the same place, I’ll hear the sickening sound of the perfect, palm-sized rock getting caught in the hay mower, mangling blades and rollers before getting spit out the other end.
My property is very rocky. There’s a little dust on top, and then it’s river cobble all the way to China. There’s no shortage of rocks around here, except when I need special rocks. Last spring, the river went nuts with the huge snowpack. The flooding moved a lot of logs and washed out trees downstream, making logjams that changed the course of the river for a few days. Then the logjam would break, and it would all shift course again, ripping out trees and cutting new channels. A couple of huge logs rammed the headgate on the irrigation canal straight on. The angle iron frame was bent over flat and the cast iron part of the valve smashed. The river undercut the hillside the canal is cut into, and the whole thing was ready to fall into the river below.
It was a mess, and the kind of mess that can only be fixed this time of year, at low flow. To get to the head of the canal, I have to drive up through a neighbor’s property on the opposite side of the river, and then pack everything across the river. That takes some big machinery and guys who know how to operate it. The excavator had a bucket about the size of a Subaru on it. I think the operator could have rolled a burrito with it.
Big equipment aside, what I needed was rocks. The riverbed is nothing but rocks, but they are the wrong kind. They are round and smooth as bowling balls, and won’t stay where you put them. What I needed was some big, DeSoto-sized rocks, angular so they won’t roll away. In a lot of places, this kind of riverbank reinforcement was done with actual DeSotos. A big hunk of crushed car body will resist a lot of erosion. It’s a perfect solution, aside from the transmission oil leaking into the river and the general ugliness of it. We missed out on the junk car riprap era, primarily because of the difficulty of getting a truckload of flattened Buicks to the site. So it was all about rocks.
In a lot of places, rocks just sit there. Not so in Summit County. Our rocks are on the move. There is a whole economy that deals in rocks. If you have to buy them from a quarry, they are terribly expensive. If you want them to be pretty, they cost even more. On the other hand, if you have dug a foundation for one of our new mansions, and have a pile of boulders you need to get rid of, rocks are free.
So my neighbor, who also needed rocks, found a new mansion with a pile of surplus boulders in the yard. Then we had to line up a trackhoe big enough to load them, and a dump truck with the right kind of bed on it to haul them. Even free rocks get expensive when you start freighting them around. Amazon Prime doesn’t apply.
There’s a kind of rock exchange system out there, like the stock exchange. There are always people who need rocks and others who have rocks they want to get rid of. Connecting them is the key. All the excavators in the valley know who is digging where, and they all know what the soil conditions are in different subdivision. Finding a guy who knew a guy who heard another guy had rocks to get rid of took some calls. Tyler had one kind of rocks, Rusty had another. Bob will have a bunch more in December when he starts another dig. There are boulder futures.
Ironically, the place we got our gray, DeSoto sized-boulders from was eager to have those hauled away, while at the same time, they were paying big money to haul in rocks of a more tasteful hue for a retaining wall on their driveway. At any given time, the volume of rocks in motion in Summit County is pretty amazing. Sometimes the same rocks will get moved several times; off the lot they came out of, then parked somewhere else until somebody else needs a boulder for a retaining wall.
A rolling stone . . .
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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