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Learning to run heavy equipment
#529766 01/18/21 05:51 PM
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Hello folks, if you don't know me, I'm that guy that got ripped off for $8500 on a new pond build. He basically cleared most of the land, dug a basic bowl shape (with no dam), and left me high and dry. I'm starting to get out of the massive depression I've been in since the incident last October, and trying to make a new plan to finish my pond, which will be between .4 and .6 acres. I don't have the $6-8k that some people have been quoting me to finish the job, so I've been thinking about someone's suggestion of renting equipment and doing it myself. I have never ran any kind of earth-moving equipment before, however, my neighbor has, and he said he might be able to get me started on it.

Here are some rental prices from a business near where I live: https://ma.cookerentals.com/equipment.asp?action=category&category=16

I'm just trying to get some feedback on the prices, learning curve to these types of equipment, and which type of machine you'd rent if you were in my shoes. Seeing some of these weekly rates in the $600-700 range has got me motivated to pursue this type of project (excluding fuel costs, of course). I can burn a week of vacation and really put a lot of time into this to maybe get it done.

Any thoughts, suggestions or feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529768 01/18/21 07:12 PM
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I was told an experienced operator can get the job done faster and cost less than rental trying to get up to speed. That entirely depends on if you are a fast learner or not, and the complexity of the job.

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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529769 01/18/21 08:57 PM
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Steve, tell us more about your plans. How long and tall do you plan on the dam being? How deep do you plan on digging. How good is your dirt? Do you have to do more clearing? The more information the better. Give a detailed plan.


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Bobbss #529770 01/18/21 09:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Bobbss
Steve, tell us more about your plans. How long and tall do you plan on the dam being? How deep do you plan on digging. How good is your dirt? Do you have to do more clearing? The more information the better. Give a detailed plan.

Sure. Using the measuring tool on Google Maps, I estimate the dam would have to be around 75' long and I have a max of 10' for the dam height, per NC regulations. I'm aiming for a min of 10-12' of depth, which I think I already have, maybe more in some locations. The dirt is fantastic, nearly all clay. After a good rain, I can form it into a ball rather easily. I have a few trees that are laid down in the bowl of the pond that need to be cleared, but I'm 95% positive that no more tree work (cutting) needs to be done.

Here's a youtube video I did, kinda showing what I'm working with: https://youtu.be/xzLFToj-0lw

Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529772 01/18/21 10:47 PM
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I would start with burning up all that brush since you need to do that anyway you go.
Do you plan to build it by the book or just build a dam and hope it holds water? By the book is a bigger job but is the best way to get it to seal. I know there is a lot of ponds out there that was just a dam built and they hold good but it is a gamble that way.
A 75' x 10' dam isn't a real big job. I would mostly be worried about compaction.


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529773 01/18/21 11:53 PM
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This place isn't too far from here, and it's who I use when I need something.

https://www.wakarusaequipment.com/--rentals-equipment

Bigger is better, you can move a lot of dirt quicker. An excavator is better than a backhoe if you have to dig and move dirt, it can place the dirt 180° from the hole while a backhoe can't.

Remember you need to grease all the pivot points every 8 hours, they should be greased every 4 if you are digging in water.

Last edited by esshup; 01/18/21 11:57 PM.

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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529780 01/19/21 08:09 AM
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Ooooh please make some videos as you go along learning the equipment!

I'm going to be doing somthing similar looong term


Im going to ask a lot of questions, but only because I'm clueless
Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529788 01/19/21 10:22 AM
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It will probably cost you as much or more to do it yourself, but you are paying to learn to run equipment. You need to know what you are doing, or know someone to ask, when you run into problems, and that is were experience comes into play. .It takes a while to learn to push a full blade of dirt and cut a smooth path. You will find that out really quick.. It can be fun and rewarding, but still cost. However already having the land cleared and a "bowl" is a pretty good start

I don't see any equipment big enough in the link you posted. I would say a cat D4 at the smallest, D5 would be much better, D6 even better

Last edited by BrianL; 01/19/21 10:25 AM.

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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
BrianL #529790 01/19/21 10:36 AM
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I was fortunate to acquire a backhoe and small dozer. I would have preferred to hire the pond work out, but have had mixed luck getting what I want from contractors. I was very lucky that my first pond was dug by a very good contractor, but he soon retired. My second pond took 4 contractors and I was still left dealing with a very steep dam. I tried to hire out work on my then acquired machines for my 3rd pond which again was a mixed bag, and my son and I finished it up. It turned out well. I am still working on my 4th pond, so time will tell on that one. I don't like using the machines, but at least there is no communication issues. I think that even with my rudimentary skills, I end working as quickly as some others because I don't end up moving dirt multiple times due to poor planning. This will likely be my last fish pond, but I will probably continue to construct wetlands and vernal pools. My brother laughs at me since he uses construction machines like they are a part of his body, but he lives 600 miles away. He has been operating construction equipment for 40 years and he sometimes scares me when I see what he does on them.

Last edited by RAH; 01/19/21 11:48 AM. Reason: addition
Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529796 01/19/21 12:05 PM
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I just finished a 3/4 acre pond last week but it was on a slope, no valley or bowl to work with, which made quite a bit more dirt to move.
Having done that kind of work for the last 25 yrs, a few things you will have to take into consideration when you do undertake the equipment rental and do it yourself plan. First of all the equipment that you have on your rental brochure is all undersized for the project, but it will work with plenty of time and effort, way more time and effort for an inexperienced operator, as in an experienced operator will probably be able to move double the amount of dirt in the same amount of time with the same equipment, a good portion of that will be the ability to know where to land the dirt where it will not need moved again.
Secondly a plan will need to be worked out for dewatering a bowl when you get several inches of rain during construction, which is one of the bigger reasons why working swiftly with bigger equipment is much easier then working for an extended time with smaller equipment, way more time for rain and water to become a problem, the longer the project lasts, not counting how much more wet materials doesn't hamper bigger equipment nearly as much as smaller equipment, after a 1/2 inch rain a dozer will drop the blade and remove the soft ground in front of him in a pass or two and be back to working full throttle, where as a 1/2 inch rain will incapacitate a skid loader for a good period of time before you get all the mud off and gotten rid of and back at it.
Not meaning to completely discourage you, it can be done, just make sure you calculate all the things that can make the job more difficult and therefore more expensive, if you had access to an old timer, equipment operator, to sit under a shade tree and give you pointers could be invaluable. Good Luck and keep us posted!

Cody Note: Experienced advice is very valuable. It is always best to heed it.

Last edited by Bill Cody; 01/19/21 03:36 PM.

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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529798 01/19/21 03:36 PM
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Thank you all for the replies. I'm still weighing all of my options, and I know a pond isn't something you want to do half-assed. With the quality of dirt I think I have, I'm very confident in its ability to both hold water and stay compacted. I'm leaning towards just having someone pile up some dirt to create a dam, compact it really good, and hope for the best.

I definitely need to do some burning, thank you for that recommendation. Some guy wanted to charge me $2500 just to push all the downed trees and brush into the bowl and burn it. Yes, he's a reputable contractor, but that's a lot of money in my opinion. Either way, that will probably be step 1.

Looking at the prices I posted, I guess I was thinking to myself, for $700 a week, even if I only rented a smaller piece of equipment, that I could get it done in that time frame. I'm not sure what the going rate would be to hire an equipment operator but I'll probably figure that out before I embark on this new endeavor.

Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529799 01/19/21 03:42 PM
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Build a good well compacted keyway under the dam or it will leak and may be wash out during a flood event. Experienced advice is very valuable. It is always best to heed it.


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529800 01/19/21 03:51 PM
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In my area operator with his own equipment is 1300/Day


Im going to ask a lot of questions, but only because I'm clueless
Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529805 01/19/21 06:22 PM
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Steve, half-assed can also occur with. “Professional”


It's not about the fish. It's about the pond. Take care of the pond and the fish will be fine. PB subscriber since before it was in color.

Without a sense of urgency, Nothing ever gets done.

Boy, if I say "sic em", you'd better look for something to bite. Sam Shelley Rancher and Farmer Muleshoe Texas 1892-1985 RIP
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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529815 01/19/21 07:45 PM
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Have you looked for larger equipment for rent in your area.? As everyone has said, the equipment you posted is on the small side. Have you read jk96's thread? I think he built a 1 acre pond with his skid steer but it is a large one. You might want to pick his brain on how long it might take. Not sure how he compacted it.
Get on YouTube and watch some videos of people operating different equipment and see if you think you would be comfortable operating equipment.
I've operated a skid steer for about 31 years, but I mostly just used it to unload trucks and fill hoppers so I'm not sure how fast you can dig and push dirt with one. I operated a wheeled front loader for about 11 years doing the same thing. Both of them didn't seem to hard to get the hang of. I've played a little bit on a small high lift down at the farm and you could move some dirt with it but it was harder to get the hang of. Maybe some of these guys that know more can say which equipment is easier to get the hang of. I've been planning on renting a tracked skid steer to do a few small things and play around with it just to get an idea what I can do with one.


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529820 01/19/21 10:35 PM
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Steve, don't push dirt into a dam and hope that it holds. It won't. And the cost to fix a leaky dam is the same cost as doing it right in the first place so do it right the first time and save yourself a bunch of $$.


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529822 01/19/21 11:20 PM
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I probably wasn't very clear with what I meant by, by the book or just build a dam and hope it holds. To me by the book means lining the whole bowl of the pond with 2' of compacted clay done in 6" lifts, after
the dam is built with a keyway with the trench for it dug down at least 3' into good clay and then a good core built and compacted all the way up. If just building a dam and not lining the bowl, I still meant for the dam to be built right. Sorry if I'm confusing. Lol!


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Dave Davidson1 #529851 01/20/21 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Dave Davidson1
Steve, half-assed can also occur with. “Professional”

Not so much with a true professional, but with an equipment cowboy that bought a piece of equipment and therefore thinks he became an immediate pro, it happens way more then you think.


All the really good ideas I've ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.
Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
gehajake #529852 01/20/21 12:32 PM
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A lot of operators simply do not know that building a pond is more than digging a hole. I was fortunate that my first pond was built by a pond builder and that I watched and asked questions. Then I learned a lot more from knowledgeable folks on this forum.

Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529853 01/20/21 01:20 PM
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Rent equipment for dealing with the brush, get something with a grapple. At least with that there is low risk of goofing it up and it is fun! Certainly costs less than $2500 and IMHO is one of the small pleasures in life... burning stuff.

A question for others: Is it OK to have a bunch of ash in your basin? Wont that promote algae?

The dirt work is risky IMHO, and I don't want you going into a fit of despair when things don't go well. Especially if you suffer a breakdown or unforeseen problems with the equipment.

I would make an attempt myself if I had time and rental costs were not chewing into my retirement while it sat there on rainy days. Would love to give it a go. In fact I may go into building ponds as one of my retirement options, but I would like to get some training from someone who knows what they are doing first.

Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529855 01/20/21 02:11 PM
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I wonder how many people actually build their pond 100% by the book with a proper dam and the whole bowl lined with 2' of clay and everything compacted with a sheepsfoot? How many Just build a proper dam? How many just push up a dam? How many compact with a dozer vs a sheepsfoot?

My pond was not built 100% by the book, and I hate to say it but it shows. It is being slow about sealing up and filling up. a sheepsfoot was not used but I think the dam was built good and holds good. The bowl was not lined and I feel that is my problem. To have built it 100% by the book with lining the bowl with 2' of clay would have more than doubled the price which I would never been given the ok on by the wife. My builder said he builds very few 100% by the book because not many want to spend that much. My pond isn't great but I would rather have the pond I have than no pond. lol!


Bob


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
RAH #529858 01/20/21 02:17 PM
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Originally Posted by RAH
A lot of operators simply do not know that building a pond is more than digging a hole. I was fortunate that my first pond was built by a pond builder and that I watched and asked questions. Then I learned a lot more from knowledgeable folks on this forum.

You'd be surprised at how many ponds we have in this area that are literally just holes in the ground, and they seem to hold water just fine. I drive by about a dozen of them on my way to work. One is literally on a hilltop! It's small, maybe 1/10th of an acre, but it still amazes me.

@Bobbss: Yeah, I got what you meant lol. By "half-assed" I pretty much just meant that I would do the bare minimum to have a pond. I would still do a core trench/keyway and go from there. I don't need anything fancy, and I'm already happy with the depth it currently has. I just need a damn dam wink

Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529859 01/20/21 02:53 PM
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Steve, did they dig test holes to see how for down you have to go to get to your clay and how deep it goes? I assume you plan to get the dirt for the dam out of the bowl area? How far do you think you'll have to move the dirt? That can make a big difference. Some of my dirt came from about 300' away and we ran out of dirt to hit our goal of a 26' tall dam and settled for 21'. You will be surprised at how much dirt it takes.


Bob


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Steve_ #529860 01/20/21 03:03 PM
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As Liquidsquid said, maybe rent a tracked skid steer for a day to help with clean up and play around a little so you can get a taste of what it would be like to operate one.


Bob


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Re: Learning to run heavy equipment
Bobbss #529863 01/20/21 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Bobbss
Steve, did they dig test holes to see how for down you have to go to get to your clay and how deep it goes? I assume you plan to get the dirt for the dam out of the bowl area? How far do you think you'll have to move the dirt? That can make a big difference. Some of my dirt came from about 300' away and we ran out of dirt to hit our goal of a 26' tall dam and settled for 21'. You will be surprised at how much dirt it takes.

No test holes, but the entire area is pretty much all clay. Yes, the plan is to use dirt from the bowl and surrounding sides to build the dam. From north to south, the pond will be about 180' long, so that would be the max distance the dirt would need to be moved. I've heard it takes a lot of dirt, but the end of the pond furthest away from the proposed dam location is very shallow, and I know the sides can be widened quite a bit. A lot of dirt can be pulled from those locations. Worst case scenario, I'm left with a smaller pond, which isn't the end of the world. I just want a hole with water in it to raise some Blue Cats, and possibly get into a small scale aquaculture business. "Blue Cats by Mail" is an idea I've ran through my head.

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