The Saga of the Mother of all Rocks

Some original rough calculations placed her weight at about 35 tons. One big momma

Aug. 01, 2006 By Rick Roberts, SoCal H1 PsychoSquad


The Mother, the term brings either visions of a sweet comforting matriarch figure or on the other side an overbearing, arrogant, pushy, nasty individual, well the Mother of all Rocks is certainly the latter. (Or was)

The Beginning

Wish I would have coined the term, but I can’t lay claim to that, it was named by the first group that found her lying across 1N01, Pipes Canyon Road, and lay she did, from the first picture taken from below her looking up she appeared as a behemoth, dwarfing the group in the picture. Some original rough calculations placed her weight at about 35 tons. One big momma.

Original Mother

Not one to walk away from a challenge, I contacted two other psychos, and we made a recon run on 12 Jun 2005, roughly a week after the first pictures were posted. I promised my compadres a nice easy run from Onyx Summit down to Pioneertown. (Okay I was stupid, I looked at the map!), little was I to know how much that run would affect my life for the next year.

The Team from 11 Jun 2006

The group, Juan Hernandez, Glenn, Peggy, and Catey Deiter and Rick and Kevin Roberts, met in Redlands at our usual place and trekked up Hwy 38. I hadn’t been up this side of the mountain for a very long time and was particularly taken by the scenery. We reached 1N01 in about an hour, turned on the trail, aired down on the trail and drove, and drove, and drove, (where the heck is this rock?) we saw a sign that said the road is closed, okay no problem, they must have posted it because of the rock, Hummers can get around it, no problem…. Finally, we found a rock on the right side of the trail and figure that we’d get rid of it as practice, after fifteen-twenty minutes over the side it went. Later I saw pictures of the Jeeps muscling it to where we found it. (Just not quite far enough out of the way guys.) From the picture I knew that that wasn’t the Mother, so onward we went. After about another ½ mile we rounded a sharp corner and lo and behold there she was. The second picture shows what we first saw. Wow, what a rock, quickly any thoughts of an easy destruction went out the window. Our first thoughts, who do we know with a blasting license? We thought about logistics and how we would get some equipment back into the trail to make her disappear, or at least get smaller. We measured the rock took lots of pictures and decided, hey we can do anything we decide to do, we’ll take her down some way.

Rick goes around Mother

We decided to continue on down the trail to Pioneertown, or at least I did, my team looked at me in disbelief when I said we can go around that rock. (I hear “you’re crazy” more than once in a while) anyway, I said sure there is plenty of room, as soon as you start to go around your outside wheels will drop down a couple of feet onto the big rock below, tipping the Hummer away from the rock. Well it worked, I only dented the side of my truck a little, had to fold in the mirror and presto I was by, some good spotters helped of course. I spotted for the next two and they didn’t even dent their trucks. Onward we went happily, heading down the hill, past the old miners cabin (a real mess), and through a great streambed. We found Pipes Canyon Campground, which was a disaster at the time (thanks to the Freelanders for fixing it up!) We kept going and finally found out what the Road Closed sign was all about, there was this massive steel pipe fence across my trail. How dare somebody, the Pipes Canyon Preserve, block my path. Why isn’t this on the map?? My friends glared at their all knowing leader. I sent my son to check out the lock, (he possesses certain useful talents when it comes to locks), then I was stuck by a horrible case of the “guilts” and suggested that we probably shouldn’t continue to Pioneertown, after all we are the good guys… (Sometimes I just hate myself), anyways I promised that I’d find out what the story was (thanks to Greg Hoffman for filling me in on the torrid details.) The problem now existed that we had to go past the Mother again going up hill. Let’s just suffice it to say that up is much harder than down in this case. We then banzaied home, promising ourselves that we would soon return to break up the Mother.

Pounding on Mother

Meanwhile the following week (19 June 2005) a group of OHV volunteers came out to try their luck. They brought wire baskets to widen the trail (to Jeep width, it actually made it much harder for Hummers) and fought with the Mother for several hours and broke off a foot or so of the most-pointy part. They brought electric drills, jackhammers and a generator and made some good progress.

19 June 2005 Worday
The Mothe rafter the first work day

About three weeks later, the Psychos mounted their first assault on the Mother. The team included about 12 vehicles 10 H1’s, 1 Jeep Wrangler (my daughter) and one Daisy with water trailer, along with about 25 people. Jim Vick borrowed an air compressor from his father-in-law and towed it with his H1. It was quite a journey. On the way in with Daisy (my Deuce and a Half), I didn’t round a corner wide enough and the outer wheel of the water trailer slipped off the road and rolled over, spilling the water and pulling Daisy partially into a canyon.

Daisy in trouble

Fortunately a dead tree stopped her. About then the rest of the Psychos showed up and we proceeded to flip the trailer back over and pull both Daisy and the trailer back on the road.

Daisy is better now

No problem, then I discovered that the trailer emergency brake line had been cut and the trailer wheels were locked. I released the pressure in the trailer air tank and the brakes released, the bad news was that both Daisy and the trailer started to roll towards the edge of the road and into a big drop-off. I started to run towards the cab to stop her and realized there was no way I would make it before she rolled into the canyon, so I turned quickly the opposite direction, blew out a muscle in my leg, crumpled and rolled into the canyon myself. Now I was lying directly below Daisy and couldn’t move. The really good news is that she hit a small rut in the road; bounced back and stopped long enough for Kevin to jump in, shut off the engine and lock her in gear. Dad saved, but still laying in the bottom of the gully. I was pleased that most of the Psychos are really big guys, they hoisted my sorry posterior onto a cot, tied on a safety line and six of them hauled me up the side of the gully. Bummer Rick is hurt and most importantly we wasted three hours of good work time saving his butt and truck.

Rick Rescue

We proceeded on to the Mother and started drilling holes with a pneumatic rock drill and also chiseled away a considerable amount of rock with a pneumatic jackhammer. The plan was to use Betamite, a cement like material that expands as it hydrates and is a very effective rock breaker. The bad news is that it is very temperature sensitive and takes 24 hours to work. As the Psychos drilled holes and beat on the Mother, I became extremely sore and begged forgiveness to leave and go home before it got dark. So my freshly licensed son and daughter drove me, the Hummer and the Jeep home, leaving Daisy for somebody else to get home for me. At the end of the day the team decided that they didn’t want to fill the holes without me there and take the blame for it not working, (Smart people), Also being Psychos, the whole need for instant gratification wasn’t supported by the long time required for the chemical rock breaker to work to they set up camp cooked a great dinner, spent the night, beat on the Mother a little more in the morning and went home, frustrated that the Mother had gotten the best of them.

In an odd happenstance, the following Wednesday was the monthly OHV meeting and an old timer trail builder was the guest speaker. When Greg mentioned the need to break up a big rock the guy mentioned a “boulder buster” a powder activated tool that uses water pressure to break rock. Wow, an “aha” moment in my life, a tool to break rock that wasn’t an explosive device, but still made a bunch of noise and provided that instant gratification thing. Life is good. About 4 hours on the internet the next day yielded adequate information to build such a thing. So I ordered a bunch of materials from McMaster-Carr and Aircraft Spruce (4130 steel) and set off designing and building the first generation “Boulder Buster”. After that, I tried several test shots and confirmed that the thing worked, much to the dismay of the gophers residing on my property.

Setting up the Boulder Buster

In early December 2005, we returned to the Mother, Boulder Buster in hand and filled the first hole with water, loaded the buster, called all-clear, “Fire in the Hole” and BANG, pieces of rock flew everywhere (away from people of course) a decent sized chunk came off, wow this was great! We then looked at the holes the team drilled in the Mother in July, I filled one with water, set the Buster, yelled all clear and BANG, the buster flew, the lead bricks flew, but the rock sat there. Went we walked closer to the Mother we saw water leaking out all along a brand new crack nearly all around the front of the rock. Awesome! I picked up the Buster and discovered that the firing pin had flown out from the back pressure of the charge. Damn, no more shots today, and the chunk is ready to fall. Arrive on the scene our favorite OHV volunteer, Ted Kahil, savior of the day, He walked over to a spot, looked down and there was the firing pin in perfect shape. RIGHT ON TED, YOU DA MAN! So we reassembled the Buster, filled another drill hole with water, it leaked like a sieve, so I did it fast. Shot the Buster, it flew up and over the face of the rock on onto the ground, and then the amazing happened, a three foot thick chunk of rock fell off the Mother and proceeded to land on the Buster….

After the first successful Boulder Buster shot

The Mother was fighting us all the way. The Buster was destroyed but it was quite obvious that a redesign was necessary in any case. After winching the chunk off the road, we left, vowing to continue what was now considered a vendetta.

Jim Vick's personal vendetta

The other great thing we tested on this trip was the Atlas-Copco, Cobra-combi, gas powered Jackhammer/Rock drill that the Inland Empire group donated to the cause. It was awesome! it drilled very quickly but only drilled 1-3/8 holes instead of 1.5 inch holes so a modification was also needed to the Buster to solve that problem also.

You gotta move these damn big pieces
Mother after first successful shot

Over the next several months, winter happened. We ordered some extra drill steel for the Cobra-combi and started collecting supplies, all the while thinking about improvements in the Boulder Buster. In March 2006 we made a winter recon of 1N01. The trail was completely covered in snow until you got to the back side of the valley, and then it was just plain cold. We reached the Mother, and continued plotting her demise. We returned to the real world with the visions of rocking rocks in minds and a wonderful and beautiful winter off-road run to show for it.

Drilling with the Cobra Combi


Finally, the big weekend (10-11 Jun 2006) arrived. After being postponed twice, a bunch of Psycho’s couldn’t make it because of other commitments, but Jim Vick, Gil, Rob Everhardt and family, Rick and Kevin Roberts, Art Gonzalez, and Nick Pratte were able to come. We met early and raced to the Mother. We arrived about 0900 and started immediately drilling holes. The drill worked amazingly well, requiring only 10-15 minutes per four foot hole. After the first was drilled, we filled the hole with water, loaded the new revised Boulder Buster and shot the hole. There was a tremendous noise and much flying rock, which is unusual for a buster shot. The sight was traumatic. The new firing mechanism held together beautifully, but the portion of the barrel that I turned down to fit into the new smaller holes blew out. (Big time).

It was not a good day for the boulder buster

The good news was that we are too stupid to admit failure, and beat the tube back together drilled a new hole shot it again with a lighter load. After the first shot there was a significant crack forming around the Mother, after the second, it opened even further. We drilled one more hole and shot that one. After this shot the Mother was too work hardened to pound the crack back together. So Rob, who lives in Arrowhead offered to run home and get his oxygen acetylene torch, and some wedges.

Kevin Trying to grow the crack

Meanwhile, Kevin took the cracking wedge that came with the drill and started pounding it in one of the holes, the crack continued to widen. The problem was that the piece was sitting on a ledge formed by a natural fracture in the Mother, (still fighting us).

Drilling on the side of the Mother
Changing Steels

While Rob was gone, we drilled another hole between the crack and the free end of the piece and decided we would try to pull it off with a winch. We inserted a 1” hex rock bar in the hole and tied off a snatch block to it. We tied off Gil’s H1 Alpha and started to winch the piece to pull it off, we winched and winched and smacked the crack and beat on the rock and nothing happened. It held. Then we noticed that the force had bent the rock bar right at the top of the hole, there were some serious forces involved.

If it won't fall off, pull it, WRONG!

At this point we decided to concentrate on preparing some holes for shooting when Rob returned. We developed a technique to use tow straps and ropes to rig a sling to allow the sloping sides to be drilled. We drilled several holes that would break off the shelf that held the big piece. When Rob got back we heated the Boulder Buster, cut off about half of the barrel, and pounded the crack back together. When we used it from here on out we were very careful to pound it into the hole tightly. Before we started shooting the rock again, we tried out some new wedges that Rob had brought to expand cracks. Kevin and Rob pounded mightily on the crack for the big piece and eventually they succeeded in making it fall. What a way to end the evening. At that, we moved up to the campsite and prepared for dinner and sleeping, a much needed exercise. Jim Vick prepared some gourmet hamburgers with all of the fixin’s and everybody got their fill.

Kevin's Wedging paid off

The next morning dawned beautifully and we ate a breakfast prepared by Rob, and what a feast. We packed up and moved back the Mother for a final round of personal and Mother abuse. The piece that fell the night before was huge, two feet thick and about 4 x 4 feet in size. It laughed at the Hummers, when it thought we were going to try and pull it whole. However, we had a more violent solution in mind. The boys smartly drilled a one foot hole in the middle of the piece, loaded up the Buster and broke it into four manageable pieces. These were winched to the side and added to the ever growing rock pile.

The new rock pile below the Mother
Kevin Drilling the last hole

With one final hole and shot we removed the still protruding corner, and the Mother was no longer a menace to society. The boys packed up, cleaned up the area and made our way to the real world, feeling very satisfied for a weekend of good work. When I got home and started downloading pictures, I discovered that the demise of Mother was one day short of one year after she was discovered and announced.

My personal thanks go to my friends and compadres, the SoCalH1Psychosquad, but also to the many other people that helped and encouraged us along the way. It made a hard task really fun.

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