Several months ago, Philip met with Clifton Cockriel of Ed Cockriel & Son Dozer and Backhoe Services to get an estimate to tackle a few of the larger tasks on the homestead. One of the biggest jobs we needed to complete was building a new driveway all the way to the building site of our house. Philip has been chipping away at the driveway for years but it still needs work.
For the first few years, the homestead was not easily accessible at all. Thankfully, our kind neighbors, Robert and Pat Duvall allowed us to drive through their yard to provide a simple way to access the property. Philip spent a lot of time, using the bobcat, a tractor rake, and a box blade, and was slowly able to create a usable driveway for the truck. The day in 2019 when those dump trucks were able to drive down our driveway and bring us much-needed gravel was an exciting day indeed! Despite regular maintenance, the driveway was in need of some work. As we continue to expand, the driveway reached the next stage of development.
Areas in Need of Improvement
While the driveway has been meeting our needs thus far, it’s time to take it to the next level. Philip has done an amazing job doing the necessary land clearing to carve out the driveway with just the bobcat and the tractor. However after I saw that bulldozer at work, I told him the bobcat looked like a toy. It’s amazing what a piece of heavy equipment can do! Still, the bobcat is a little workhorse that I am not sure we could do without. However, it’s not designed to do the type of work we need to do. When building a long driveway, consider areas like these to avoid problems down the road (pun intended).
Trailer Friendly Entrance
Currently, the entrance of the driveway area is a straight drive into the property. The homestead is on a narrow gravel road, really not much wider than a single vehicle. The driveway connects to the road straight, like a “T”. When we built the entrance, the driveway was part of an easement. Therefore we did not have our own driveway. We shared it with other property owners who did not share our vision. This prevented us from building the entrance wider. While this isn’t too difficult to navigate in the truck, add a trailer and the turn is tuff. The driveway has a slight uphill grade to make it more complicated. Most of the time, we need a little speed to help us up that incline with a heavy load. Thankfully this is the only part of the construction area where we need to be concerned about underground utility lines.
We will need to move our gate. Like most farms, the gate is set back from the road to allow the truck to pull off the road before stopping to open the gate. The driveway will be reshaped to allow long trailers to make an arched turn off the road. I imagine also that some of the grade will be corrected, as we need plenty of dirt for the next area of improvement needed in building a driveway.
Culvert and Fill
The next area of the driveway that needs improvement is adding a culvert to a drainage area and raising the driveway. This particular area has a gully where heavy rains from the neighboring property cuts across our driveway. At times, the gully is not too bad to cross, but after significant rain, it can be ruff.
To correct this area of the driveway, a culvert will need to be installed. One that can handle the water coming off the hill. Once in place, the driveway will need to be built over the culvert to allow vehicles to cross over more easily.
When building a driveway, take time to observe the land in different seasons, if you can. An area that may not have issues in fall, may be flooded in spring due to wet weather. Thoughtful planning may help you avoid pitfalls in the future.
Manage Water Runoff
As we are building a driveway, we need to better manage the water runoff. We love the gently rolling hills of the property that give it character and privacy. However, the laws of physics always win. Water at the top of the hill will find its way to the bottom of the hill. We forget how powerful water can be. Even at a trickle, it slowly carves a path wherever it goes.
The first leg of the driveway from the wood line down to the barnyard needs help managing water runoff. As a landowner, we need to plan for water runoff. We must learn to manage it so that the hard work of building a driveway doesn’t get washed away!
Tight Turn into the Barnyard
The final piece of the driveway that needs improvement is the bottom of the driveway on the north side of the creek. Like the entrance, the straight turn down that narrow road was difficult with a heavy load coming down the hill. The bulldozer would correct the turn making it a bit wider to allow easy access. Consider grade, driveway shapes, and type of use when planning enough area for turns.
The Creek Crossing
The creek crossing will have two areas for vehicles to cross. Large vehicles will cross the creek bed when water levels are low enough to allow safe crossing. Most of the time, the creek is low and has a gentle flow, that should allow vehicles to cross when needed. Philip is considering different base materials to make the driveway a smoother surface through the creek that will withstand the pressure of the water.
For long-term use we will need to build a bridge to allow smaller passenger vehicles to cross the creek no matter the water level. This will be a future project of road construction as time allows. In the meantime, Philip had our heavy equipment operators prepare the project area on the south side of the creek for both crossings. As usual, Philip’s careful planning has saved us time and money as we won’t need to have this area reconfigured for the bridge.
Building a Driveway on a Meandering Path
The next stage of building a driveway is part of the extended driveway built. After Philip and I purchased the additional 28 acres of Kowalski Mountain in 2020, we moved the building site of our house to the top of the hill on the south side of the creek. On a 4-wheeler, we typically drive in a straight line up the hill. However, the finished driveway will need a more gentle slope and quite a bit of improvement.
We’ve been planting our fruit trees to line our driveway. (You can see them in the image below to the left of the drive). We envisioned a meandering path up the hill. This would produce a driveway with a more gentle grade. We also wanted to preserve a couple of trees on that hillside.
Philip has been talking about moving the RV to the top of the hill for a long time. Without a road, there was no way to move that heavy RV. In the image above, the RV is under the tarp canopy indicated by marker number one. The RV will be moved to the top of the hill at marker number two in the photo. It will be close enough to the house, to share the septic system.
Building a Driveway: The Big Picture
The entire project, the full driveway as well as the pond was estimated to be a week’s worth of work and over $10,000. That did not even include gravel. While that was a lot more than we envisioned paying, the project is much too large of a project for Philip to tackle with the bobcat. We can chip away at it for years, or we can contract it out and get the job done right. This is what Philip works so hard for and the reason we are still working in Florida. The ability to have the things we need debt-free and a driveway is top of the list right now.
After talking to the contractor, we had to wait for the weather and soil conditions to be right. Philip also wanted to be present for the work to be complete. Over the next few months, we made a few trips to the homestead. However, it was much too wet for the bulldozer to be able to get the job done. Finally, everything aligned! We were in Kentucky! The weather forecast was favorable for most of our scheduled trip. The creek was dry and easily passable. We scheduled the work for the Summer Workcation, with only one catch, we’d have only two days of dry enough weather to do what was estimated to take a week. We needed to prioritize the most important aspects of the job to ensure those tasks were complete. The rest will have to wait for another trip when the weather conditions are favorable.
Priorities Establishing in Building a Driveway
The first few days of the summer workcation had some light rain. We scheduled one day to allow the land to dry and the work the following two days. Due to the limited number of work days, Philip prioritized the tasks that needed to be completed during this phase of work. On the established portion of the driveway, on the north side of the creek, work would concentrate on some areas of the drive that are eroding and digging a trench to manage the water runoff along the side of the driveway. We will fill the trench with river rocks from the property as we are able to. At the suggestion of Clifton, he widened the turn at the bottom of the hill to make it easier for trailers to make the turn into the barnyard.
Immediately following the corrections made to the existing driveway, work would begin on the south side of the creek. The driveway would need to be carved out of the hillside. An area that zigzags between the trees would need to have a berm built to support the turn of the driveway on the slope of the hill. The ground level at the bottom of the hill, beside the creek, would also need to be raised as that section tends to be very wet.
Since the pond was also a priority for this job, we opted to put the gate entry reconfiguration and drainage culvert of the front field on hold until another work day.
Philip added one additional project to the job. He asked Clifton to build an RV pad at the top of the hill where the RV can be relocated. Originally the RV pad was to be placed on the other side of the driveway ( in the orange box).
As I was hanging out near the hitching post ( a good internet spot), I realized that the RV canopy would block our view of the barn. If the canopy was to be a temporary structure, it wasn’t an issue. However, if the canopy was to be a permanent structure, I didn’t want the canopy to block the view of the barn from the house.
We agreed that the canopy would likely be a permanent structure. We decided to move the location just a few days before the bulldozer arrived. The canopy needed to be close to the house, as we want the RV septic to be able to use the septic system built for the house. However, we didn’t want it to interfere with building the house. When we move into the house, the RV will be retired and moved elsewhere. The canopy will become a carport for our vehicles.
Building a Driveway: Day One
Philip met Clifton and Ed Cockriel at the entrance to the homestead and led them down the driveway. Clifton wasted no time reconfiguring the existing driveway. In just a matter of hours, he was able to work on the eroding sections of the driveway, add the water management ditch and widen the turn at the bottom of the hill into the barnyard.
From there they headed across the creek and Ed took over. He did a ruff cut of the driveway path, following Philip on the 4-wheeler. Once he knew where we wanted the driveway he got to work. He spent the rest of the day, carving out our road. He built the berm needed to allow the drive to make the zig-zag between the trees and reconfigured the bottom of the hill, using the dirt from the hillside as fill dirt. Clifton took the final shift of the day and “dressed” the job. Ed had moved the needed dirt to the bottom of the hill, but Clifton fine-tuned it and made it into the driveway. They took into consideration that some trucks will cross the creek, while others will cross a bridge that will be built for passenger vehicles.
Philip spent his day close by. He was on hand for questions and made suggestions regarding where they could pull the additional dirt they needed to complete the job.
Obstacles Along the Way
We had to move one struggling apple tree out of the way. This tree had been practically destroyed by the deer two years prior. Despite being eaten almost to the ground, it was trying its best to come back. Ed helped dig it up, using the bulldozer, and we relocated it to another area. I hand-watered the tree the rest of the week, trying to give it its best chance of surviving.
The other issue was enough dirt. Ed said himself after 65 years of experience as a bulldozer operator, there is never enough dirt! In order to have enough driveway material, they pulled dirt from several areas close by to raise the needed areas to get the driveway done.
Successful Day One
Ed and Clifton busted butt all day. By evening, the entire driveway was cut from the hillside. They took turns running the heavy machinery until the job was complete. Clifton worked late that evening to finish. He and Philip would call the gravel company in the morning to arrange for delivery of the gravel that will protect our investment.
Day 2: Crunch Time
We had only one day left to get the most out of the bulldozer and skilled operators. Clifton started on the RV pad and raised the ground level of the area for the RV to be high and dry. This area could use some more tweaking, however, Philip wanted them to move on to the pond.
Gravel: The Icing on the Cake
Philip and I were very excited that the actual labor costs of the bulldozer work came in much less than our estimate. That allowed us to go ahead and get the needed gravel. Even adding the gravel, the total costs of the entire job came in way under budget. Philip ordered 4 loads of gravel for a total of 98.6 TONS of gravel. The dump truck operator did an amazing job of spreading a thin layer of gravel the entire length of the driveway and the RV pad. We did not add any gravel to the unimproved section of the driveway. The gravel helps maintain the best driveway that we can.
Both Philip and I were thrilled with the driveway on day one. However, the gravel was what made the driveway “come alive” to look like a real road! It’s a dream! Over the next few trips, we will continue to drive on the new gravel to pack it down to create a solid foundation on the road surface that will allow us to move the RV to the top of the hill.
Message to the Homestead Dreamer
Having a real driveway is the gateway that has moved us into the next chapter of Kowalski Mountain. We are about a year from making the homestead our full-time home. The driveway is one of the major factors that makes the next steps of development at Kowalski Mountain possible. We are so thankful that the affordable cost of hiring this job out has allowed us to move ahead with our building plans.
There are no words to describe how fulfilling and encouraging that meandering gravel driveway has been to us. It has breathed new excitement into both of us. It’s one of those things that affirm, that the dream is coming to pass! We’ve talked about this for a long time. We’ve made drastic changes in our lives to make the dream possible. When you are in a waiting stage of life, it often seems like it’s just a dream and it won’t happen.
Jess at Roots and Refuge uses the phrase “make your waiting room, your classroom.” While we have always practiced this, we didn’t have such an eloquent phrase to describe our stage of homesteading. My encouragement to the homestead dreamer is to keep pushing forward. When the battle feels uphill and no end in sight. When your situation doesn’t allow you to progress and expand as quickly as you would like. Keep marching, keep dreaming and keep learning! The best things in life are hard! Keep pressing in and pursue the dream. Anything worth having is worth working hard for, it’s worth waiting for. With perseverance and dedication, I pray that the dream will come to pass for you as well. We can finally see it happening, it’s really happening!
A Driveway is Born
Here are some tips if you are planning on building a gravel driveway.
Don’t miss the second post: Building a farm pond.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.