by Robert "Bob" Proudman

Tips on Tons: Moving Big Heavy Logs and Rocks (Part 1 of 2)

Original article published in the November 1984 issue of the The Register.

(Part 1 of 2)

“The most demanding kind of trail work is moving heavy building materials by hand to the work site. Whether as small as a signpost or waterbar, or as big as a shelter, the moment of truth is the “grunt-work” necessary to lift, carry, haul, drag, roll, flip, or drop logs and rocks to the trail section or shelter under construction.

Contrary to popular belief, physical strength is not the only requirement. It may even be a minor requirement if the trail crew uses its brains first, its tools second and its strength last, essentially held in reserve. Strategies of teamwork, good planning, tool choice and technique, especially with specialized hand-powered lifting or hauling tools, can enable a club to perform what appear to be amazing feats of strength with little actual effort.

Plan ahead

Whether moving a single log or building a large shelter, success depends on careful planning. While employing strong backs and weak minds can be a successful strategy, thinking a project through usually yields better results. Anticipate the movement of heavy objects sequentially, step by step.

Use Gravity

Pick your log or rock from above the worksite. An adequate stand of trees above the worksite can greatly simplify a shelter constructed with native materials. Logs or rocks are also more easily moved downhill, whether by skidding, carrying or the use of log rollers.

Use Pack Animals or Motorized Access

Access to trail lands on gated or closed roads for moving heavy building materials is permitted by most cooperating government agencies. Pack animals, four-wheel drive trucks, tractors and skidders have all been used to transport building materials to sites on the A.T. Old logging roads may be reopened if there is negligible risk of later abuse by off-road vehicles. Ideally the club will plan well enough in advance to permit the transport of materials in the fall or winter when the soils are dry or frozen. This avoids environmental impacts to wet spring soils and makes access more practical. For instance, a frozen swamp can be crossed with a 4-wheel-drive truck equipped with tire chains or a horse or mule shod with steel shoes in winter. Some clubs have considered using snow sleds or boat access where conditions permit.

Choose and Prepare Your Materials with Care

A shelter roof or privy building should be prefabricated, with all pieces cut to fit the finals design, before transport. “Prefabing” eliminates transporting construction wastes.

For log construction, certain species of wood are lighter (though more prone to rot). These include spruce, balsam and poplar. If logs are cut and stacked to dry for six months, they may becomes up to 50% lighter.

Use Big Groups

Many hands make light work. A club with few active maintainers could schedule a major hike in the vicinity of a work project; the hikers could continue their trip after the bulk of materials is moved. With planning, Trail clubs have organized events similar to an old New England barn raising, inviting unaffiliated groups to help with the project, followed by a large dinner party after the day’s work.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two parts. Part II, appearing in the next issue, will discuss carrying techniques, tools, and mechanical advantage.