Category Archives: Tower

Concrete and Suckers and Stairs, Oh My!

The soon-to-be Wine Sipping Porch getting its first batch of concrete.
The soon-to-be Wine Sipping Porch.

I apologize for the extended radio silence of late. For a while there, there wasn’t much going on (translation, it wouldn’t stop raining) and so there wasn’t much to blog about.  And then, all of a sudden, everything was happening all at once (translation, it finally stopped raining) and I didn’t have time to write. A sorry excuse, I know. But it’s hard to sit inside in front of the computer when you’re seeing the sun for the first time since Christmas.

The Frost Curtain billowing outside of the vineyard fence in a warm breeze.
The Frost Curtain billowing outside of the vineyard fence in a warm breeze. With the frost worries behind us, it has since been taken down.

Hopefully you will find this blog post was worth the wait because I have three huge updates to report.  First, there is now a staircase to the top of The Tower. Also, the concrete work is underway on the new Wine Sipping Porch. And, perhaps best of all, the vineyard has made it through the spring frost season without any damage to the new green shoots!

Bob on the landing between the first and second flight of stairs.
Bob on the second flight of stairs.

I’ll start with everyone’s favorite subject, The Tower. Bob has engineered a three-flight staircase to the top that actually is a pretty easy climb (as long as you don’t look down too much).  The first flight begins in the cow pasture behind the Donkey Barn and goes up about a dozen steps to the bottom of the corrugated steel on the barn roof.  The second flight takes a sharp turn to the left and scrambles up the steel roof to its peak. And the third flight takes a sharp turn back to the right and goes all the way to the top of the silo. You can see all three flights, as they appears from the ground up, in the title photo of this post.

Nick takes in the view from the landing between the second and third flight of stairs.
Nick takes in the view from the landing between the second and third flight of stairs.

There are no railings on the stairs just yet, so it’s still a scary climb to the top. The first two flights aren’t bad, but on the third one, I kind of had to crawl up them on my hands and knees rather than walk. As you can see from the picture of Nick on the landing, it’s way up there!

The completed Observation Deck/Sound Tower.  The speakers are powerful enough to fill the entire vineyard with music.
The completed Observation Deck/Sound Tower. The speakers are powerful enough to fill the entire vineyard with music.

Once at the top of the stairs, it’s an easy hop onto the Observation Deck. The concrete work is complete so there is a nice flat surface to stand on, and as you can see, Bob moved a couple of P.A. speakers up there to turn the silo into a Sound Tower.  On this particular day, it was blasting Pearl Jam loud enough for the crew working in the vineyard to hear it. They had asked Bob to borrow a Boom Box.  Bob put this together instead. (As I sit here typing, I can hear Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Voodoo Child rockin’ the farm from the top of The Tower. I think Stevie, and Jimi, would approve).

Spin Master Bob Rockin' The Vineyard from atop his tower.
Spin Master Bob Rockin’ The Vineyard from atop his tower.
Oh, you want to go back down? Better watch your step.
Oh, you want to go back down? Better watch your step.

Since I don’t recommend sipping wine on top of The Tower, I am glad to report that Bob and the crew are also making good progress on The Wine Sipping Porch.  Bob dug up the old porch and most of the front lawn with it back in February. Then, it started raining and the whole yard turned into a sea of mud.  As much fun as that’s been, it’s nice to finally get some concrete in front of the house!

Bob digging up the front porch in February, thereby guaranteeing three months of endless rain.
Bob digging up the front porch in February, thereby guaranteeing three months of endless rain.

They’re pouring the new porch in sections, and so far, five of the ten sections are in (told you we’ve been busy).  To get the concrete to the porch area, Bob made a chute out of a piece of plastic sewer pipe and then he welded a disc onto the end of a steel pipe to make a ram rod to ram the concrete down the chute.

Blue supervises the concrete crew, George on the shovel, Bob on the ran rod, and Nick is operating the mixer attached to the Bobcat.
Blue supervises the concrete crew, George on the shovel, Bob on the ram rod, and Nick is operating the mixer attached to the Bobcat.

Bob invented another tool to smooth the wet concrete after it’s poured. And for lack of better words to describe it, it’s a giant vibrator. He took a skill saw minus the blade and mounted it to a board. When he turns on the saw, the motor on it that would ordinarily turn the saw blade vibrates, and the vibrations move through the board to smooth out the concrete.

Another of Bob's inventions. The saw motor mounted to the board causes it to vibrate, and the vibrations smooth the concrete.
Another of Bob’s inventions. The saw motor mounted to the board causes it to vibrate, and the vibrations smooth the concrete.

You can see the effect of the tool in the photo below. Behind the board is the concrete that has already been smoothed and in front of the board is what the concrete looks like before the vibrating board travels over it. Bob and Nick guide the board as it vibrates and it takes a couple of passes to get everything smoothed out.

The smooth concrete is behind the board and the lumpy aggregate is in front.
The smooth concrete is behind the board and the lumpy aggregate is in front.

If this were an ordinary porch, that would be it, just smooth out the concrete and let it dry. But this isn’t an ordinary porch. It’s a Wine Sipping Porch. So to make it a little bit special, Bob is tinting the concrete and stamping it with texture.

Bob's shadow as he sprinkles the tint powder onto the concrete.
Bob’s shadow as he sprinkles the tint powder onto the concrete.

The tint is created by sprinkling colored powders over the wet concrete.  The first powder is sort of buff-yellow-orange in color, and the other is more of a buff-orangy-orange.  Together, when dry, they look a little like the red clay of our soil accented with sandstone.

Bob and Nick center the stamp in an area of concrete.
Bob and Nick center the stamp in an area of concrete.

After the powder is on, the texture is added with a giant rubber stamp that imprints the concrete with the texture of natural stone slate.

Nick hurries to tamp down the stamp with a heavy weight while Bob and George cover the new pour with plastic. Because, of course, it is starting to rain.
Nick hurries to tamp down the stamp with a heavy weight while Bob and George cover the new pour with plastic. Because, of course, it is starting to rain.
The stamp, after it has been peeled up from the concrete. You can sort of see the texture on the stamp. It's subtle, and is meant to make the concrete look like a slate floor.
The stamp, after it has been peeled up from the concrete. You can sort of see the texture on the stamp. It’s subtle, and is meant to make the concrete look like a slate floor.

I don’t have any good pictures yet of the result because all of the finished sections of concrete are being kept covered so they aren’t damaged by work on the remaining sections. But if our good weather holds, I should be able to post some pics of the finished concrete later this week. Better yet, we’ll be able to sit out there and sip a little wine!

Healthy vines reaching skyward in the vineyard. The shoot in the foreground is almost a foot long.
Healthy vines reaching skyward in the vineyard. The shoot in the foreground is almost a foot long.

Which brings us to the vineyard, where for the most part, the vines are thriving. Mother’s Day is, unofficially, the official end of the spring frost season in our part of Oregon, so we seem to have made it through with only one night of burning stumps.

Blue helping out in the vineyard to identify suckers on the vines that need to be removed.
Blue helping out in the vineyard by identifying suckers on the vines that need to be removed.

With the frost worries behind us, the frost curtain has come down from the vineyard fence and our attention is now turning to the suckers.  Suckers are unwanted shoots that grow low on the trunks of the vines. They’re called suckers because they’re not going to produce any usable fruit for us, so they’re just sucking energy away from the vine that could go towards producing and ripening grapes.

A member of the vineyard crew out suckering vines.
A member of the vineyard crew out suckering vines.

Suckering is easy, if you don’t mind bending over or crouching down all day long. All you need to do is snap the suckers off of the vines with your fingers. Anyone can do it. And the good news is, it goes on all summer long. Because no matter how well you sucker, more suckers grow back. So when people stop by and want to help out in the vineyard, we can always send them out to do some suckering. (Some people might feel like a sucker if sent out to sucker. But no need. Suckering can be a very Zen. There is no beginning and no end. You just keep on suckering).

Look Mom, no more suckers!
Look Mom, no more suckers!

Despite our stretch of warm weather, and even getting into the 80s for a few days, I am very sad to report that many of the vines in the low part of the vineyard are still without leaves. And at this stage of the growing season, we have to assume that any vine without leaves  is dead. I did a count the other day and came up with 227 dead vines and at least that many more that are struggling to get by with just a leaf or two.  I doubt very many of those vines will make it in the long run. So we could be looking at 500-600 dead vines, or about a half-acre total across the affected area.

A section of dead and dying vines, with just one leaf visible.
A section of dead and dying vines, with just one leaf the second row back.

This is a heartbreaking loss. We have invested so much time and love and care into those vines it hurts to lose even one of them. The most likely explanation for The Dead Zone (as I now call it) remains Winter Bud Kill during our week-long cold snap in December. There wasn’t much we could have done about it then, and very little we can do now, other than decide whether to abandon the ground or re-plant. We’re going to watch how the living vines develop and likely decide what to do when we see what we have left in this section of the vineyard next spring.

Waiting for the inflorescence, or little grape cluster, to flower.
Waiting for the inflorescence, or little grape cluster, to flower.

But, the good news is, the lost vines are just a fraction of the other 13,000 or so vines that are reaching evermore skyward to soak up the sun. We’re watching closely now for flowering. That’s when the inflorescence, or the little clusters on the shoots drop their caps to reveal tiny, white flowers.

Another look at the inflorescence with The Donkey Barn in the background.
Another look at the inflorescence with The Donkey Barn in the background.

Flowering is an important time in the vineyard. The flowers, once open, are self-pollinating. Once pollinated, each little flower will turn into a grape. And every 100 or so grapes, or every good-sized cluster, is a future glass of wine! (Sing with me; “One Hundred Clusters of Wine on the Vines, One Hundred Clusters of Wine….”)

A look at The Tower and its new staircase from across the vineyard.
A look at The Tower and its new staircase from across the vineyard.

So, that’s what’s been happening here on the farm for the past few weeks. Right now, the sun is shining, the music is playing, and I am sure there are plenty of new suckers to be suckered. So I’m going to quit blogging now and round up the dogs and head outside.

A current view of the vineyard from the top of The Tower.
A current view of the vineyard from the top of The Tower.

We should be in the mid 80s by Wednesday, so I plan a full week of horse washing and dog baths and I might even try to give Luigi and Jenny D. their summer haircuts. I’ll be sure to get pictures if I do because you haven’t really experienced life on the farm until you’ve tried to shave a miniature donkey.

Luigi, one overgrown donkey in need of a haircut.
Luigi, one overgrown donkey in need of a haircut.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone, and most especially to my Mom, Eileen, who became a Mom when she gave birth to me on Mother’s Day back in 19-something-and-something.  Thank you for bringing me into such a great life! I love you!

Dodger and Brutus are very pleased with the progress in the vineyard.
Dodger and Brutus are very pleased with the progress in the vineyard.

 

 

How We Got Concrete (and Me) to The Top of Our 24-Foot Tower

The first load of concrete heading for the top of the silo next to the barn that Bob is converting into an Observation Tower.
The first load of concrete heading for the top of the silo that Bob is converting into an Observation Tower.

No, that’s not me in the bag. That’s about one-thousand pounds of concrete hanging off of the arm of the bucket truck. And it’s just one of seven sacks of concrete Bob and Nick hoisted 24-feet up to the top of the silo/tower, to pour the foundation for the new observation deck overlooking the farm.

The silo as seen from inside the donkey barn. The opening was once used to shovel grain or other silage out of the silo. Now, it's the portal to the top of the tower.
The silo as seen from inside the donkey barn. The opening was once used to shovel grain or other silage out of the silo. Now, it’s the portal to the top of the tower.

But before I get to the big pour, I want to share with you my own harrowing climb to the top. As I mentioned in my earlier post about the tower, I am terrified of heights.  So before anything changed up there, I tried to hand off my camera to Bob so he could take some “before” pictures of the silo top. But he wouldn’t to it. He said he’d carry the camera up for me but if I wanted pictures I’d have to go up there and take them myself. I know Bob was anxious for me to see the view and I think he used my commitment to the pictures to get me to punch through my fear and make the climb. (And I suppose this is why I love him, because he gets me out of my comfort zones).

The ladder to the top. Just go to the light.....
The ladder to the top. Just go to the light…..

I agreed to try. But I wasn’t sure I’d make it. To start, I had to shimmy my way through an opening in the silo to get inside of it and climb onto the ladder. You can see the opening in the above photo. What you can’t see is that the ladder extends downward another six feet before it touches the ground. So just getting on the ladder requires stepping out over a pit. Once on the ladder, you’re already six feet up with another twenty-four or so feet to go.

The ladder sticking out of the top of the silo, which is cone-shaped and slopes downward towards the edges.

Did I mention the ladder is wobbly?  With every step up, I could feel it shaking. Bob said the ladder is designed to do that. Something about needing the flexibility so it doesn’t break under a lot of weight or pressure. But it didn’t feel like a safety feature to me. The closer I got to the top, the more it shook. Soon my knees were shaking, too. That made it hard to keep climbing. But I did. Bob braced the bottom of the ladder, mostly to make me stop worrying about it tipping backwards, and I found it helped to look straight ahead at the wall of the silo and not look up or down.

The top of the silo before the pour, prepared with hog wire to hold the concrete.
The top of the silo before the pour, prepared with hog wire and a wooden form to hold the concrete.

The scariest part of the climb came at the end, when I emerged out of the opening at the top and had to get off of the ladder and onto the silo .  If I weren’t such a chicken, I could have just stepped up and stood there. But I was far too scared to stand up, especially with all of the hog wire laid out on the roof of the silo to hold the coming concrete. So I sort of dragged myself out onto the silo on my belly and then flopped my legs off of the ladder like the tail of a fish. And there I was, 24-feet up, clinging to the hog wire! Lying on my belly, I snapped the above “before” photo of the pour area I had made the climb to get. Looking at the photo, I hope you can see how the concrete will fill in to the top of the wooden form to cover the sloping cone and create a flat observation deck.

My first glimpse of the view of the vineyard from the top of the tower.
My first glimpse of the view of the vineyard from the top of the tower.

I never did work up the nerve to stand but I did press myself up like a sphinx to peek out over the wooden form to see the vineyard. Wow, what a view! Ever since moving here, I have wanted to get a picture that shows the vineyard in the foreground and the horses grazing in the pasture in the background. I wasn’t going to get that picture this time, not without standing up. But I could see that once the flat platform is finished and I feel more comfortable moving around up there, I can go back up and get it.

The arm of the bucket truck intrudes upon my view.
Just as I mustered the courage to take more pictures, the arm of the bucket truck intruded upon my view.

I was inspired to sit up a bit more so I could take more pictures, but just then, the arm of the bucket truck appeared. Nick was ready to start mixing and hoisting concrete. And that was my cue to get down. There was no way I wanted to be up there dodging a 1,000 pound sack of wet concrete!

Back into the hole for the climb down.
Back into the hole for the climb down.

So I had to flop my legs back into the silo and onto the ladder and then shimmy on my belly backwards as I stepped down the rungs until I was back on the ladder and climbing down. Bob went first and was just below me on the ladder and Nick steadied it from ground. The ladder still wobbled, but going down was much easier than going up. Having survived the climb once, I know I will go back up there when the observation deck is finished. It will be yet another interesting vantage point from which to photograph and share the vineyard.

Now, with me safely on the ground, and without further adieu, here are the pictures of The Big Pour, or, how Bob and Nick got 7,000 pounds of concrete to the top of the tower:

Nick got things started by mixing up a batch of concrete in a mixer attached to the Bobcat,
Nick got things started by breaking open several sacks of concrete mix to load them into a mixer attached to the Bobcat.
Once the concrete mix was in,
Then, he added water to about the consistency of pancake batter.
The hydraulics on the Bobcat power the paddles in the mixer to mix the concrete.
The hydraulics on the Bobcat power the paddles in the mixer to mix the concrete.
Bob up top, watching the concrete mix.
Bob up top, watching the concrete mix (I took this picture before I went down.)
When the concrete was ready, Nick loaded it into a huge, sturdy sack made of tarp material.
When the concrete was ready, Nick released it into a huge, sturdy sack made of tarp material.
The concrete flowing into the sack.
The concrete flowing into the sack.
When the sack was full, Nick connected it to the hook on the end of the bucket truck arm for liftoff.
When the sack was full, Nick connected it to the hook on the end of the bucket truck arm. He and Bob figure that a full sack of concrete weighs 800-1,000 pounds.
Then, he jumped into the bucket truck to hoist the sack to Bob, who was waiting up top.
With the sack on the hook, Nick jumped into the bucket truck to hoist the sack to Bob, who was waiting up top.
DSC_0126
The heavy sack as it leaves the ground. There is a drawstring on the bottom of the sack that Bob will open to release the concrete.
Almost there....
Nick has to lift the sack all the way over the hog wire on top of the tower, and then swing towards Bob so he can reach it.
Bob guiding the sack into place.
Bob guiding the sack into place.
Nick keeping a close watch on the sack so it doesn't bump anything, especially Bob!
Nick keeping a close watch on the sack so it doesn’t bump anything, especially Bob!
Just a few more inches....
The sack as it is just about to clear the hog wire….
Bob grabs the sack and gets ready to release the concrete.
Bob grabs the sack and gets ready to release the concrete.
Nick's view of the arm reaching over the top of the silo.
Nick’s view of the arm reaching over the top of the silo.
Bob opens the drawstring to release the concrete.
Bob opens the drawstring to release the concrete.
The empty sack is sent away for another load.
The empty sack is sent away for another load.
Bob raking the wet concrete on top of the silo.
Bob raking the wet concrete on top of the silo.
Bob got seven sacks of concrete hoisted to the top. And that just filled up the first half of the form! It's going to take another pour to complete the platform.
Bob and Nick hoisted seven sacks of concrete to the top during this pour. And that just filled up the first half of the form! It’s going to take another pour to complete the platform. When it’s done, I’ll go back up and get some pictures of the farm and vineyard that reveal the lay of the land.
Meantime, Bob is working on several design ideas for a staircase to the top as well as for a gazebo to place up there.
Meantime, Bob is working on several design ideas for a staircase to the top as well as for a gazebo cover to place up there. That way, visitors won’t have to go through what I did to go up and see the view.
And even though all of this went on right next to the donkey barn, Luigi paid it no mind. He was more interested in the greener grass on the other side of the fence.
And even though all of this went on right next to the donkey barn, Luigi paid it no mind. He was more interested in the greener grass on the other side of the fence.

 

 

 

Bob’s Next Big Idea; The Observation Tower

The Silo next to the Donkey Barn, as seen from the vineyard.
The Silo next to the Donkey Barn, as seen from the vineyard.

Most people see an old silo sitting next to the donkey barn. But not Bob. Bob sees a tower. He has ever since he and his Dad first looked at the property back in February of 2010.

Bob on top of the tower this past February.
Bob on top of the tower this past February.

But it wasn’t until this past February that he finally got to the top of the silo to check out the view.

The Way Up; an extension ladder inside the silo.
The Way Up; an extension ladder inside the silo.

He got up there by putting an extension ladder inside of the silo and bravely climbing it to the top. I wanted no part of it. I am terrified of heights and the inside of the silo reminds me of the ship’s smokestack where Roddy McDowall fell to his death in the 70s Disaster Movie, The Poseidon Adventure. (I can still hear the Ernest Borgnine character yelling “Linda. You killed my Linda!” But I digress).

Bob in Moss
Bob after he emerged from inside of the silo, taking in the view for the first time. Notice the slanted top on the silo and all of the slippery moss.

Bob scampered up the ladder like the experienced rock climber he is and popped out of the top of the silo. But that’s as far as he could go. The top of the silo is shaped like an inverted cone and it was covered in wet, slippery moss. Not the ideal platform for an observation deck. So while he sat up there, Bob hatched a plan.

The Form
The wooden form for the concrete pour on top of the silo.

He built a wooden form in the exact circumference of the top of the silo so he could pour a new concrete top over the inverted cone. He had Nathan use the power washer to blast the moss off of the silo. Then, they guys hoisted the wooden form to the top of the silo.

Bob standing by to attach the hook on the bucket truck to the wooden form.
Bob standing by to attach the hook on the bucket truck to the wooden form.

I suppose I should say a few words now about our bucket truck. Bob bought it a few years ago in Colorado because “you never know when you are going to need a bucket truck.” The truck didn’t run when we bought it, and it didn’t have a bucket. We had to load it on a semi and have it trucked out to Oregon when we moved to the farm.

Nick uses the controls on the bucket truck to maneuver the hook closer to the wooden form.
Nick uses the controls on the bucket truck to maneuver the hook closer to the wooden form.

Bob and Nick spent the winter getting the bucket truck running and the hydraulics working again, and now I know why. It still doesn’t have a bucket. But for this project, we don’t need a bucket. We just need a hook.

DSC_0039
The wooden form hooked to the truck and ready to fly.

As it turns out, we do have a hook, which the guys dangled off the end of the truck’s bucket arm with a long strap. Then, Bob hooked the hook to some other straps he had wrapped around the wooden form. And from here, I think I will let the pictures tell the story:

Ready for liftoff! Notice Bob is still inside the wooden form (you can see his head almost sticking out).
Ready for liftoff! Notice Bob is still inside the wooden form (you can see his head almost sticking out).
Nick uses the controls on the truck to lift the form.
Nick uses the hydraulics on the truck to lift the form. Bob and Nathan are inside the silo, climbing the ladder to the top.
Higher and higher it goes. The top of the silo is about 24-feet up!
Higher and higher it goes. The top of the silo is about 24-feet up!
Nick shields his eyes against the sun as he maneuvers the form into place over the top of the silo.
Nick shields his eyes against the sun as he maneuvers the form.
Almost there.....
Almost there…..
We have the height, now the form has to be centered over the silo.
We have the height, now the form has to be centered over the silo.
Bob and Nathan are on top of the silo now, ready to guide the form into place.
Bob and Nathan are on top of the silo now, ready to guide the form into place.
Bob carefully lines up the edges of the form with the perimeter of the silo.
Bob carefully lines up the edges of the form with the perimeter of the silo.
Nick lowers the form every so slowly into place.
Nick lowers the form every so slowly into place.
Touchdown!
Touchdown!
Nathan gives the Thumbs Up! Mission Accomplished!
Nathan gives the Thumbs Up! Mission Accomplished!

Over the weekend, Bob and Nick started pouring the concrete, but not before I sucked it up and climbed to the top to snap off a few pictures. So what did I see when I got up there? And how did they get thousands of pounds of concrete 24-feet up in the air?

Here’s a peek at the view, if only to prove that I actually made it to the top of the silo despite my Roddy McDowall phobias:

The view from the top, looking out over the NE corner of the vineyard and to the horse pasture beyond.
The view from the top, looking out over the N/NE end of the vineyard. You can see the roof of the horse barns in the distance.

As for the concrete pour, it’s getting late and I think I still have vertigo from being on top of the tower. It was a fascinating process and I want to do it justice. So that will have to be a blog for another day.

Bob up top, ready for concrete.
Bob up top, ready for concrete.

More soon……..