Friday, August 30, 2013

The Biggest Signs Yet

After producing about 30 signs with our 2 1/2" letter template, the Project Manager here mentioned that he thought there should be a large sign on the Headquarters Building to let folks know what it was.  So we ordered a set of 4" letter templates and we went to work on our largest sign to date.

By the time the refuge folks had decided on the text for the sign, we determined that it would be 18 feet wide!  Yes, 18 feet.  I figured out that we'd need to make 9 separate sign panels and fit them together.

These templates are different than the ones we'd been using, as they snap together and then have to be taped down. The letters are taller and wider, so much more plastic is removed in the process of making the sign.

4" Letter Templates
Let it Snow!!
Regular Clean-up was Necessary
Teri and I hauled the sign panels over to the Monte Vista Refuge because they have a full wood shop setup and we needed to trim the individual sign panels to exact lengths and widths so the sign would fit together.

We had just finished a complete cleaning and repainting of the HQ building (another blog), and still had the construction lift that the refuge had rented. We didn't want to try and assemble this sign off of ladders!
Headquarters Building, but No Sign
Another volunteer couple arrived in early August, and Maury had done a lot of work on the house painting project.  He offered to assist with getting the sign up onto the building.
Mark and Maury Determining the Sign Location
After finding the centerline of the sign, we started with the bottom, center panel and worked our way out, and then up.
First Panel Going On, Eight to Go...

Completing the Bottom Row of Sign
Nearly Finished
New Sign in Place
Mark, Teri & Maury


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Even More Signs (Summer Projects, Part V)

We seem to be working on a bunch of signs this summer.  Carolyn and Wally Sternberg are longtime FWS volunteers and good friends of ours.  Last summer they blogged about some signs they were making with a plastic material called ColorCore. The signs looked great, and Teri and I shared the information with the refuge manager here. We suggested that many of the refuge signs needed to be replaced or updated, and this was a great way to do that.

When we arrived this summer, our "to-do" list included production of new signs, so we got the materials ordered and waited for them to arrive. Wally gave us the specific type of routing templates to order and advice on the best router to use. His suggestions really kick-started the process here.  It is great to know other volunteers who have done similar projects, as their experience makes it much simpler to start a project on a different refuge.

ColorCore comes in 8' x 4' sheets, has a thin colored layer on each side, with a bright white center.  Once you cut through the outer layer, the white is exposed. This makes it perfect for making signs that never need to be painted and won't fade when exposed to the elements. We chose the standard FWS dark brown, though it is available in many other colors.

ColorCore sheets.
Our pallet of ColorCore material was delivered, but not where we needed it. Our first task was to reload it onto a trailer and move it to an older maintenance building that Teri and I have adopted as our home for this project. It is away from the normal working areas of the refuge and allows us to leave all of our equipment set up without interfering with day-to-day operations.

The key to making the signs is a lettering jig and a plunge router. The jig keeps the letters spaced and aligned correctly, and the router does the actual cutting.

An assortment of letters.
"DO NOT". The "I" is a spacer.
We did our first test cuts on a piece of scrap plywood. The ColorCore material is a little expensive, so we didn't want to waste any of it on practice.
Setting up test sign on plywood.
Once we got the router set up, we did our first sign. We spent most of our time measuring and making sure that the template was in exactly the right place, parallel to the sides, centered, etc. Once that was set the routing itself was relatively straightforward. Still a little nervous though, as one wrong move will ruin a sign!
Routing letters into a sign.
The process generates a ton of "snow", which are the plastic bits that are being cut away. Teri stays busy with the Shop Vac!! Notice the big fly on my shoulder? They like to bite you while you cut letters.
Blowing out the cuttings.
Our very first sign:
First sign!
Some are quick and easy:

Some take a bit more time:

One challenge was that about half of the signs need arrows, and there was no arrow template in the kit.  But we figured something out.  Any guesses where the arrow came from?

We have about 35 signs to do, and we expect more requests as folks see how good these look. We expect to be making and mounting signs right up until we depart.


Monday, August 19, 2013

FInal Interpretive Panel, and a Minor Casualty

We still had a sixth interpretive panel to install, this one down at a trailhead.  So we loaded up our signs, auger, water, concrete, and tools and headed back down that bumpy, bumpy road. We got to the work site and discovered that we were short one sack of concrete (did I mention the bumpy road?).

We backtracked until we found a broken sack of concrete in the middle of the road. Luckily this is a really low-volume road, so nobody had come along to run this over.

We have a jumper!!
I did my best to scoop the contents back into the bag, and off we went.

I'm sure I can get all of this back in...
Once back to the site, we dug the postholes, assembled the sign, and concreted it into the hole.  We had plenty of concrete, so no harm on losing a little. 

That is the last of the interpretive panels, so on to the next project.


Friday, August 16, 2013

More Signs (Summer Projects, Part IV)

When we arrived this summer, there was a stack of new interpretive panels in one of the maintenance buildings, along with an assortment of steel supports. Our "to-do" list included an entry for installing the new interpretive signs on the Bluff Overlook.

The Bluff Overlook is an elevated area that looks down on some wetlands.  It is located in the far southeastern corner of the Alamosa NWR, and is accessed over about 8 miles of bumpy dirt road. Two years ago there was a project to add parking and a scenic overlook, and now the signs for that overlook needed to be installed.

Our first task was to head out to the overlook with refuge manager Suzanne and decide where the signs were to be placed.
Whole lot of pointing going on...
Teri being a sign.
The initial assumption was that the installation of the signs would require several people, the backhoe, trailers, etc., but we know that coordinating that kind of effort can be difficult.  Folks always have other things to do. So Teri and I took a hard look at what was required and decided to try it ourselves.

We loaded up two of the signs, their supports, a post hole digger, bags of concrete, buckets of water, wheelbarrow, tools and  hardware and bumped our way out to the site. We hoped that we had everything we needed, as it is about an hour round-trip to the shops.

First task was to dig holes for the legs of the signs. The refuge has a small gasoline powered digger which was a big help.  But the holes had to be finished with a good old-fashioned clamshell type digger.  Ugh...
Starting a hole.
Getting deeper. 
Once the holes were finished, the signs had to be assembled. The legs attached with a type of hammered rivet that I'd never seen before.  It is very secure and vandal-proof, but could only be installed once.  So we had to make sure that everything was lined up before we placed the fasteners.
Attaching legs to sign.
Once the legs were attached we carried the assembly over to the holes and dropped it in. After a bit of final leveling and plumbing we backfilled the holes with concrete. No pictures of this since Teri and I were both busy carrying the signs, then mixing and placing the concrete.
Installed sign.
We placed two signs the first morning, two the second, and a final sign on the third. So we got all of the overlook signs installed in three days. We only worked mornings on this project as the sun gets really intense out there after noon. Sometimes projects that look really big turn out to be simpler than everyone thought. You've just got to break them down into smaller tasks. 
End of day one.
End of day three.
There is one larger vertical sign to be installed at a trailhead down the road.  We'll get that one in soon.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Going Batty (Summer Projects, Part III)

Another project that we took on this summer was mounting some bat houses. The refuge had been given these bat houses several years ago, but they had been stacked in a corner of the shop since then, gathering dust. Suzanne, the refuge manager asked if we thought we could mount them on a pole, and off we went!

Suzanne had decided the best mounting would be on a pole, out in front of her residence.  Bat Conservation International had some plans showing different ways to mount bat houses, so we used those as a guide.  This area gets very cool at night, but can get quite warm during the day, so we mounted one house facing north and the other facing south.  These houses have a hole in the back to provide some ventilation and allow the bats to move from one house to the other depending on temperature.
Measure twice, cut once!
Mounting the first house.
Securing the second house.
Suzanne didn't want the houses to become perches for the local hawk population, so we decided to add Nixalite strips to discourage perching birds.  We are getting pretty good at installing these strips!
Hardware for Nixalite strips. 
Installing the strips.  Don't get poked!
Once the entire assembly was completed on the shop floor, we dug a deep posthole in the desired spot and hauled the pole/house out there.  We were afraid that we might need help to lift it into place, but Teri and I got it in just fine. A couple of sacks of concrete later, we were finished!
Finished bat house installation. 
Now all we need are some bats.  BTW - We found  two more bat houses gathering dust in another corner, so we may get to repeat this in another location. We'll see...


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sometimes You Get What You Wish For

Yesterday afternoon I was telling Suzanne, the Refuge Manager, that I hope it snows on the mountains before we leave.  This year we are leaving a month earlier than last year.  In fact, we only have three more weeks here.  Our time here has gone by fast.

This morning I looked out the window and saw this beautiful sight!

Snow on the San Juan mountains.  This is the view from our front door.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Good Place to Relax (Summer Projects, Part II)

An interesting things about National Wildlife Refuges is that some of them have residences. The residences are rented to employees and part of the rent money is dedicated to maintenance and improvements of the housing. It is a good way to have refuge employees on-site and to generate some income for the refuge as well.

When we arrived here this summer, the refuge manager Suzanne asked if we would be able to construct a deck at her residence.  She spends a lot of time outside and wanted somewhere to sit that was up out of the grass and dirt.  A local building supply company was having a sale on plastic composite decking, so I drew up a plan and materials list and we purchased the materials.

Materials arrive.
We first had to relocate a sprinkler head in the front yard so that the deck could be placed where Suzanne wanted it.  Then we surveyed in the locations for the supports, and started digging holes.  We used a gasoline powered digger for most of the hole, but had to finish with a manual, clamshell digger to get the necessary depth.
Post hole digger.
Finishing the post holes.
The next step was to set the 4x4 posts into the holes, get them all level, and backfill with concrete.  Carrying and mixing those 80 pound sacks of concrete gets to be real work after a while!
Mixing concrete.
Once the posts were set, we framed in the heavy outside beams and once again checked to make sure that everything was level and square. We didn't want to build a crooked deck!

Outside beams in place.
Then we started placing the inside beams that would support the decking itself.  Lots of screws!

Half of the inside beams in place. 
All beams in place. 
Finally, we started attaching the deck itself.  This deck used a hidden fastener system that worked very well and eliminated the need to drill and screw through the deck boards themselves.  It saved us a lot of time and looks great.
About half of the decking is on. 
Most of the decking is attached.
And then we ran into a delay.  The building supply company didn't have quite as many deck boards as we needed, and then I discovered the boards weren't as wide as I thought they'd be. So we had to order some additional deck boards, and that delayed completion by several weeks. We weren't sure if we would get this deck finished or not! Suzanne started using the deck as it was, and her dog Pax found it to be just fine as well!
Pax on the almost finished deck.
But the last deck boards finally arrived and we got it finished. 

A good place to relax.