When I was growing up I always admired Fred Flintstone. He handled his big Brontosaurus with such skill, the giant dinosaur picking up huge boulders with its mouth and moving them precisely where needed them. When I started moving stones for a living I searched for the mechanical equivalent of that sauropod stone setting system, but moving big rocks turned out to be harder than Fred made it appear! We had to figure out ways of “finessing” the larger boulders, especially the ones that were too big for our little machine to handle, without damaging the fragile rubber liner underneath. Here are a couple of the crazy tricks that we’ve come up with over the years. I hope you find something useful!
Hopefully these tips will help you on your next big boulder project. In the meantime: Rock On!
“BASKETING” STONES ONTO THE LINER. When we first started out, we used straps around the bottoms of the larger stones, securing them to be sure they wouldn’t fall while lifting them with the skid-steer loader. We’d set a couple of flat rocks under the stone on either side of the strap to support the boulder while we pulled the strap out, either leaving them in place or carefully rocking the boulder side to side to remove them, all the while taking care not to damage the liner.
EVENTUALLY WE FOUND AN EASIER WAY. Using chains, we found we could “basket” even the largest stones if we were careful. The technique is simple. With the stone as close to its final spot as possible, oriented the way you want it to go, wrap a high-strength, eight-foot chain with grab hooks around the bottom third of the stone, attaching the grab hook snugly. Then, take the rest of the chain over the top of the stone and attach the other grab hook to the exact opposite spot on the other side of the stone. It will take some practice and maybe a couple of tries to get the balance right, but you’ll soon find you can lift the stone and set it gently down on the liner with the chain safely around the outside of the stone.
WARNING!! You may have to keep the chain from slipping off the boulder until it grabs as it’s lifted, so be VERY CAREFUL not to get your fingers pinched. The chain will tighten on the boulder as you slowly lift, but it can easily slip or the stone can roll if it’s not perfectly balanced, so you’ll have to move slowly and be ready to drop the stone as you inch it into position. You’ll want to play with chain placement and balance outside the liner until you and your crew are comfortable with the technique before attempting to place a large boulder, but it’s worth the trouble. Once you “basket” you’ll never sling again.
“BELLYING” BIG BOULDERS ON THE SKID-STEER. When ordering stone, we’d always try to give the stone yard an idea of the size we wanted — from 400 to 800 pounders, let’s say — and they would invariably send three or four the size of Volkswagens, hidden at the bottom of the load. Once dumped, there was no other choice; we had to move one-ton-plus behemoths that were one ton or more and well over the capacity of the skid-steer.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY. We found that the same technique of “basketing” with the chain attached to the cross bar of the arms — without the bucket or forks — would allow us to slide the stone up on the “belly” of the skid-steer, even if it weighed too much to lift with the forks in place. Again, ATTEMPT THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK. We aren’t saying you should try this; we’re just admitting that we have when it was absolutely necessary.
WHEN WE HAVE TO MOVE THE BIG ONES, WE USE A LULL. Of course, no amount of finessing will help to pick up a 3,000-pound boulder and set it on the far side of a pond 25 feet away … but a Lull can. We have found that the combination of a Skid-steer to move the stones to the Lull, and the Lull to set the stones in position, has been a real winner for us on our larger jobs. We were on a job where the framer/builder was using his Lull — a telescoping-arm, four-wheel-steering material handler — to deliver shingles to second-story roofs and sheetrock through third-floor bay windows. Impressed, we asked if he would rent us his Lull for setting boulders. He said no, of course … but he was willing to work with us when he was slow, which was even better! We gladly pay him and his rigger whatever they need by the day, and we get a ton of work done that way — by an experienced owner/ operator with his own insurance. Thanks Rich!