Failure Part 63: Winter Meltdown

tyler loves taking advantage of a powder day to replace flights on compost turners

If you were in and around the Pacific Northwest (PNW) this winter you knew it was epic. 10-12 snow days for the schools, icemaggedon, closed roads, abandon cars and on and on and on….Many people ask “what happens to your compost in all this snow”. My usual answer is ‘the compost is the only thing that’s fine, it’s the people and equipment that suffer’. True, minus the outer 6″ our compost piles are typically happily humming along and breaking down into rich compost. But, everything else suffers in the winter and this year was a chart topper. As an homage to the winter that broke our spirits (and all of our equipment) here is a highlight of everything we ruined this past winter.

  1. Meltdown: 250 HP Caterpillar motor plus turbo completely gone.
    Cause: missing 3 out of 4 gallons of oil
    Fix: whole new engine (yikes)
    Cost: $$$$$
  2. Meltdown: pump on water truck frozen. Pump shaft sheared off.
    Cause:  arctic conditions
    Fix: try to thaw it out with a torch and melt all air hose lines rendering truck undriveable.
    Fix part II: replace all air hoses with new air hoses. replace pump with new pump
  3. Meltdown: rear drive on 26,000 lb front end loader roasted
    Cause: Cold and angry
    Fix: All new drive line
    Cost: $$$$
  4. Meltdown: bagger machine switch gone rogue, stuck on, and dumps compost all over the place
    Cause: frozen contactor and switch stuck on
    Fix: pull contacter out, file down, replace
    Cost: a little bit of time and frustration (not too bad, all-in-all)
  5. Meltdown: 5 compost turner flights mutilated
    Cause: Christmas trees, rocks, and unwanted objects
    Fix: Laborious flight replacement, and a set of full-time eagle eyes to spot potential flight destroyers
    Cost: pulling hair out for days
  6. Meltdown:  Street sweeper tire flies off
    Cause: Mario Andretti (and a few loose nuts)
    Fix: Quick trip to the tire shop; for the operator–a tandem ride along with our resident sweeping master, Duke, should do the trick
    Cost: about $20 bucks and a few good laughs
  7. Meltdown:  New pond aerators burned up
    Cause: they hated winter
    Fix: two new pond aerators
    Cost: some under warranty plus $
  8. Meltdown:  3 out of 3 items ordered, damaged upon arrival (2 pumps, 1 compressor)
    Cause: upset delivery drivers? slick roads? rolling off the truck?
    Fix: warranty (thanks Grainger)
    Cost: time


our compost turner’s engine needs oil, apparently.

high-air leachate pond with a snow-laden dalles mt. in the background.

kevin wrangled the bagger into working order.

luckily, we do have one working loader–building custom soil blending bays for the upcoming spring

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Dirt Hugger Turns 7 Today.

It’s hard to believe that seven years ago we left good paying, normal jobs to chase a dream. We wanted to do something locally to help the community and give back to the soil. In the beginning we really didn’t know if it was going to work out. We kept telling ourselves, “let’s just give it till ___ (spring, or fall, or whatever), then we’ll re-evaluate.” We kept getting till ___  and were still having fun so we’d move the goal post out a bit. Soon it became “let’s just get through this year, then we’ll re-evaluate”. Eventually, it was working out. We went from no pay, to some pay, and no employees to some and finally ten full-time huggers.

It has been an eventful journey-  we’ve met lots of great people, been mentored by lots of great people, and learned lots of hard lessons  (some good, some bad). One thing we’ve always said is that we truly feel alive, and are continuing to learn and be pushed. Which, is not always fun, but the highs are high and the lows are low.

We are grateful and thankful for the opportunity to work in this industry. Composting is truly unique in that it’s members are open, sharing, and welcoming. It’s one of the few industries we’ve seen where the more you grow, the greater the positive environmental impact. We feel lucky to have stumbled upon this weird world of microbes and everything that’s come along with it. Thank you for your support – you’ve all helped along the way.

Tyler, Pierce + the Dirt Hugger Crew

IMG_0047Back Row (l to r): Mike Lock, Andrew Voodre, Tyson Wenz, Gavin Schmidt, Pierce Louis  Front Row: Tyler Miller, Garrick Grevdig, Kevin Sepulveda, Duke, Nate Fleming                     (not shown Donnie Cotterell and David Re).

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