In late June and July of 2010 volunteers from Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian retreat and conference center located some twenty or so miles north of Rocky's, began to arrive to help with adobe brick manufacture. The volunteers were primarily junior high and high school age, and keenly interested in participating in community service. Many were spending a week of their summer as volunteers in Ghost Ranch's summer Youth Service Corp. They arrived with adult members of church groups from nearby states, and Ghost Ranch College Staff members.
We started with the elementary task of excavating soil (heavy in clay content which causes significant cracking in the bricks) from on-site and mixing it with sand from the local arroyo (dried gulch). The basic elements in an adobe brick are clay and sand. Some soils have higher clay content than others. Despite some initial testing that suggested otherwise, our on-site soil contained too much clay. This caused severe cracking in the initial bricks. Not a tragedy however, we simply broke the bricks apart, wet them down, and then, the soil was ready to be used again.
The process we have followed is to use around 60% clay soil to 40% sand and we have found that it is yielding strong, durable bricks. Volunteers screen the clay soil through a 1/2" screen and then mix it with the sand and water in a wheelbarrow to produce a mix that is then shoveled into forms.
Once this mix is shoveled into forms the forms are pulled and the newly formed bricks are left to dry for a few days, or weeks (weather dependent). Early in the process we were also having some difficulty getting the bricks out of the forms. We were experiencing some significant 'lift' as the bricks were sticking to the inside walls of the forms and producing a block that was much higher on the sides than in the middle. That was until Rocky remembered a little trick from his grandmother's kitchen. When making biscochitos she would coat the baking pans with a little flour, and the cookies would slide right out ready for a young Rocky to devour them. Using this as inspiration we began to coat the sides of our forms with some fine-grained blow sand and voila, a similar outcome. The sound of the bricks slipping easily from the forms was music to our ears.
At the beginning we were mixing exclusively in wheelbarrows. This is a simple but somewhat grueling process, especially when the temperature is close to 100 degrees. We were fortunate enough that a friend, Morris, loaned us his Imer cement mixer to do the mixing work. That way our crews could focus on excavation and laying out adobes. Our output increased from about 30 bricks an hour to closer to 50. Thanks Morris!
So that's about it for now, we are closing in on 1,000 bricks, about a quarter of what will be needed to build the home (5,000). Another quick thanks to to all our volunteers from Ghost Ranch. I will be posting their group photos on our VOLUNTEER page. Also need to mention that this whole project wouldn't have lifted off without donations from local businesses and citizens that included wheelbarrows, tarps, lumber, mesh, water coolers, shovels, and hoes. Those businesses include: Lowe's of Espanola and Santa Fe, Wal-Mart of Espanola and Santa Fe, Big Jo True Value of Santa Fe, Home Depot of Santa Fe, Ace Hardware of Santa Fe, and Medina Precast of Cordova. Thanks everyone!