Maintenance tips


Low-budget road maintenance can be challenging, but it can be done. Careful observation and attention to small problems can head off major expenditures.

Don't just drive in and out, but take the time to walk it as often as possible. And don't just walk it, but study what's going on. Walking it right after a hard rain, or even during a hard rain, will tell you a great deal if you are observant. Where does the water run? Does the road have enough crown to keep it running off to the sides, or does water travel down the road? Are tire tracks keeping the water confined to two channels? Where does water pool? Do tires splash water and "fines" out of the puddles, making the pot holes deeper? Where is the ground sloped enough to put in a drain? Are the ditches and culverts clear? Are there places that need to have ditches or culverts put in? How is the road surface holding up? Does it need gravel? If you can't afford to do much work at a time, what should be your priority? What is the one most cost-effective thing you can do? Can you crown and gravel the worst spot, and do another area next year? 
Sometimes if you just go out with a hoe during a rain storm, you can channel water off to the side and keep a whole hill from washing out. Or by unplugging a culvert, you can keep water from washing over the road. An ounce of prevention...

Draining frozen puddles
If frozen snow banks are keeping melt water from running off of your road, it can be hard to chip a hole through to drain it off. To get rid of that lake, try punching a hole through the base of the snow bank with an ice auger.  Or another method is to take a length of hose and siphon it over the snowbank.

Use in mud season
At this season, it's time to plan your trips around the temperature. Make an effort to stock up on anything heavy (heating fuel, propane, gasoline for the generator, livestock feed, etc.) before the frost goes out. Then do your best to plan trips for early morning or late evening on cold nights when the road stiffens up. Keep in mind that if you have big snow banks, chances are the frost won't go out from under the road until the snow banks are gone. If the road surface looks dry before then, don't count on having gotten through mud season. You may have lost the surface water, but when the frost goes out from under the road, it won't be solid again until it has all settled.  It's also possible for a road to remain frozen, or to re-freeze, after the snow has all gone.  This can happen if there is a spell of warm weather that melts the snow, followed immediately by a return to cold weather.  If there are spots where you can look down into a hole in the road, or if the road surface is higher above the surrounding ground than usual, chances are it's still got some settling to do.

Avoid creating ruts
Keep your tires on the high spots.

One of the easiest things you can do to keep a dirt road from deteriorating into two ruts is to avoid driving in the same two ruts! Use the full width of the road, driving with one tire at the edge of the road and the other tire in the middle of the road, so your tires run on the high spots. If there are no high spots, then each time you drive the road, move over by one tire width so you use each strip of road equally. If you already have ruts, keep driving on the high spots until you wear them down even with the low spots. (This will also help keep you from bottoming out.) If you are not the only user of the road, encourage others to do the same, or you may be fighting a losing battle. Still, even if you are the only one following this procedure, your use of the little-used strips of road will slow down the road's deterioration, and will also help keep weeds from growing in from the edges, as roadside brush further forces people to drive in the same two ruts. When you are building or improving a road, try if at all possible to make it wide enough so you have room to put one tire in the middle of the road without running your other tire off into the ditch.

York Raking

York raking should be done before roads get too dry and hard. This road was left too long. In order to keep the ruts from becoming a permanent feature for the summer, a tractor with grader blade was brought in. This one mile of road took over seven hours of work to straighten out, and it still isn't as smooth as one would hope to have it be. At a workshop offered by MARA, (Maine Alliance for Road Associations,) Josh Platt of Maine Environmental Solutions LLC gave excellent advice on evaluating the condition of a road and addressing one problem at a time in order of priority so as not to be too costly all at once. He emphasized that doing the job right can save money in the long run. One of his recommendations was to do York raking while the moisture content of the road surface is still high enough for the material to be workable. The situation shown in this photo is a prime example of how something as simple as doing the job at the right time can save needless expense later. For those on public easements, however, the big challenge can be coming up with the finances to do the job at all!

Vehicle handling badly, vibrating at certain speeds, after driving in mud?
Chances are you've got mud in your wheel rims.  It acts like giant wheel weights and throws your wheels out of balance.  Solution - take a screwdriver or a stick and scrape it out, or use a high pressure hose.  Be sure to get the whole inside of the wheel, not just the rim where the wheel weights go.  Reaching the inside can be tricky, but in deep mud you can get an awful lot packed in there.  It can make the vehicle shudder like crazy when you hit certain speeds, and it will make your tires wear unevenly if you don't stop and clean the wheels out. Even a little clump of mud in the rim can affect handling - think of how small wheel weights are. Turning the front wheels as far as you can to one side and then to the other can make it easier to reach inside, but there's not much you can do about the rear wheels. Depending on the style of the rim, you may be able to stick a tool through the wheel itself.  If not, you pretty much have to reach in under the vehicle and around the wheel.  Leave yourself an extra five or ten minutes when heading anywhere on a time schedule, so you can stop and clean the wheels as soon as you get out of the mud.

What's your most innovative road maintenance method?
We have seen a number of imaginative ways of dealing with road maintenance.  Here are some of our favorites:
The large homeschooled family who didn't have a plow truck - they just sent the kids out with shovels.
The father who strapped a sheet of plywood to the front of his jeep to plow the road so his special needs daughter could get to school.
The young couple who harnessed up their half-draft gelding and their pony as a team and had them drag a tractor tire down the road to smooth out the ruts.
What's your favorite?

Here is the mismatched team in training at a low-impact forestry clinic put on by MOFGA.  Everyone was amazed how well they worked together - but they had already been grading the road with the tire.

Is there help?
For possible solutions to the problems of road maintenance, see the Solutions? tab.  In some cases, it may be possible to get help with road maintenance from your town or from other abutters.

(c) Roberta Manter 2016

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