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Published July 04, 2011, 05:00 AM

Planting posts

TOWNER, N.D. — The only job where a common fella gets to start at the top is digging postholes, I’ve heard. I’ve had the fortune, good or bad, of starting at the top of a lot of those jobs.

By: Ryan Taylor, Special to Agweek

TOWNER, N.D. — The only job where a common fella gets to start at the top is digging postholes, I’ve heard. I’ve had the fortune, good or bad, of starting at the top of a lot of those jobs.

I always took three things with me — my Ph.D. (post hole digger), a spade and a tamping stick. Two tools for digging and one for packing the dirt back in a space half the size it came out of because I displaced it with a post.

Digging post holes, especially the big, deep holes for fence corners, corral gates and railroad ties, is a contemplative business. You have to pause once in a while to catch your breath, gauge your depth and straightness and ponder why you chose such an occupation for your life.

When the job is done, though, it’s one of those things where you can stand back, take a look and see that you’ve made a difference. Measurable results. Quantifiable progress. The little things that bring satisfaction to physical jobs.

Sand sans rocks

It’s hard to complain much about digging postholes when you live in sand country. No rocks and the digging is easy. Except when the sand gets so dry your digger can’t hang onto it long enough to get it out of the hole. It takes awhile to finish a hole when you only get a few tablespoons of dry sand to the top each time you send your digger down.

Dry isn’t an issue for us now. Having a 4-foot post hole fill halfway up with water is though.

When we’re not on the high sands of the ranch, we’re digging in the low ground and meadows. There, you can’t get the blue clay and gumbo to come off your digger without scraping it off with your foot. And as hard as you might tamp it, if you don’t bring in some outside sand or gravel, those posts in the bog are going to float and wiggle.

Still we’ve always had it better than the country where Dad spent some of his youth in the Missouri River breaks near Culbertson, Mont. He always said you could get a job fencing in that hard pan and you could choose your pay — 10 cents a hole or $1 a day, and anyone who knew the country would take the buck a day.

Hydraulic help

Now, technology has come to the post digger’s rescue. I had a good number of posts to plant for a couple of projects this summer, so I borrowed my neighbor’s hydraulic pounder. These machines have been around awhile, but we’re just catching on here in the easy digging country.

With this outfit, you can take a 6- to 7-inch post and drive it in the ground 4 feet just by working a hydraulic lever back and forth about a dozen times. A 20-minute job done in a couple of minutes and you move on to the next one.

Our ground is so soft this year with the rains and moisture, you can even drive blunt railroad ties into the ground. No need to sharpen posts here.

I only see one drawback with this hydraulic post pounder, and that’s the way it inflates the cost of a project. No, my neighbor didn’t charge me to borrow it and it only took a couple gallons of gas to run the motor.

But it greatly inflated the post cost for the project because it was entirely too easy to make the corral longer and put the posts closer together.

You can bet if I had to dig all the posts by hand, there’d have been a lot fewer posts planted. But if a stronger fence is the price of progress, I guess it could be worse.

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