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A Week in the Life of a Cave Development Team

August 26, 2012

by: Gary Roberson

What is it like to develop a show cave? First of all, almost everything you do has never been done before and will never be done exactly the same way again. I thought it might be of interest to some of you. Follow along as we spend the week of August 19-25 developing Indiana Caverns.

Normally we try to take the weekends off. The guys need to relax their muscles and recharge their batteries. However the previous Thursday night we received the first significant rainfall since back in mid-May. 2012 has been the most serious drought since the dust bowl years of the mid-30’s. The big thunderstorm left the 12 degree ramp we had been drilling down into the cave slick and covered with muddy red clay fill. We would be unable to manuever our skid steer loader up the ramp to remove more rock and dirt. It would be Sunday morning at the earliest before we could hope to use it again.

We had a big problem! Monday morning was the scheduled arrival of our 45-ft long, 9-ft in diameter polymer-coated steel culvert. This culvert was to be inserted on the ramp in an 85-ft long trench we had been blasting into the solid limestone rock that underlies the basement of the Indiana Caverns visitor’s center. The truck would be pulling out in the wee hours Monday morning and the crane to remove it from the truck and immediately drop it into the trench was to arrive on Sunday evening. We would have to start our work week on Sunday and hope to be ready when the culvert arrived.

Terry (the Dog is his usual moniker), the head of underground development, asked Rand and I along with our two young,strong caver team members, Ryan and Colin, to be at the site at 7AM, which is just after daylight in mid-August. The day would be spent drill, shooting and then removing additional rock and dirt from the floor of the ramp to create a ramp to cradle the circular culvert when it was lowered into place.

Things did not start auspiciously. Just beneath the ramp the mud was still damp and the skid steer got stuck pulling the first load of fresh rock and mud out of the trench. Rand had to drop his load and spend a few minutes working his way out of the hole with the teeth of his bucket. Instead of removing rock, we were forced to haul several loads of dirt from the surface down to coat the floor with dry material. It did the job and we were able to continue.

It was a hot sunny day and a long one. We drilled, blasted, picked, shoveled and hand-loaded many skid steer buckets of rock and dirt to be hauled to the surface. Finally at almost 9PM, we had to quit. We had just drilled one last set of holes that we hoped would finish contouring the 45 ft long slope. However it was too late to be setting of a shot. The neighbors wouldn’t appreciate it. It was also getting too dark to see down in the trench. The culvert would be arriving in less than 11 hours and we weren’t yet ready. It had been a 13 hour day. At age 65, I was absolutely exhausted from the exertion of the day.

It was a short night. After a bath, quick supper and relaxing just long enough to not jump into bed dead-dog tired, but yet wide awake, I hit the sack by 10:30. I got about 6 hours of fitful sleep before it was time to get to the site at 6:30 AM. The Dog wanted to holes drilled the previous evening, finish rock removal and then place a layer of #5 rock in the bottom of the cradle for the culvert before the culvert arrived.

We we arrived at the site, the crane was not there as planned. i quickly called Nye Welding to see what had happened. His crane had broken down. He was sending a big fork lift to at least get the culvert off the delivery semi. He hoped to get it fixed a couple hours. He would call back. Since we weren’t ready on our end, the news wasn’t as bad as it would have been otherwise.

We set of the shot and start rock removal. Promptly at 8AM, the semi carrying the 45 ft culvert pulled in. It looked absolutely huge. I am sure everyone was wondering whether it would fit into our trench and cradle. The forklift had no problem getting the culvert off the semi, but still no word from the crane. We went back to work on the cradle. it was 11AM before the Dog thought the culvert would fit and the sides and bottom were coated with #5’s to provide a soft bed for the culvert and to allow any water to drain away.

I called the Morgan Nye, the crane guy, his crane wasn’t going to be quickly repaired. I would need to call Padgett out of New Albany to bring a crane. I arranged for a crane to arrive at 2PM. It wasn’t really as large as we needed, but it would have to do the job.

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Open Daily:   9am

Tours leave frequently throughout the day. You must arrive no later than 4pm EDT to be guaranteed a spot on the last tour of the day. The cave temperature is 56 degrees all year. Weather is never a problem.

Closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

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Indiana Caverns is just outside of Corydon, the first state capital of Indiana. Directly off I-64 at exit 105.

Call:  812-734-1200

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