Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

The Baker County Road Department has turned an old machine into a new tool that will save the department time and money in maintaining hundreds of miles of graveled county roads.

It’s called the GRU.

The county has not hired the supervillain, Felonius Gru, from the “Despicable Me movies,” to work on its roads, but the character shares its name with the county’s gravel recovery unit (GRU).

The machine separates gravel from the sod, vegetation and rocks that have been scraped from the road shoulder and deposited on the road in a berm. The GRU collects and beats that material to loosen the gravel from the sod, which travels along a conveyer belt that allows the gravel and dirt to fall back onto the road surface as it is being towed by a tractor. The sod and larger rocks continue along the conveyor belt assembly and are thrown by the GRU onto the shoulder or into the barrow pit.

“All the good stuff falls right back onto the gravel road and all the stuff you don’t want falls right back into the barrow ditch,” said Jeff Smith, Baker County roadmaster.

The GRU was built and engineered by the road department’s welder/fabricator, Jerry Gaub.

The machine started out as a two-row potato digger/harvester.

Gaub said the GRU is a working prototype that has gone through several modifications and is almost ready to be put into service.

“It’s still a work in progress, but it’s close,” he said. “It’s not quite perfected yet.”

Smith said Gaub was the brains behind developing this unique piece of equipment that will greatly reduce the cost to resurface county roads by reclaiming gravel that has collected on the shoulders.

Without the GRU, maintenance of the shoulders and ditches would leave the sod and rocks on the surface of the road. That inhibits water drainage and can increase erosion and the formation of potholes.

“You’d have baseball-sized-rocks, chunks of sod and drag marks from the sod,” Smith said. “And you’d have to go back (and grade) at least three times -— sometimes four times — to just shape the road again.”

The GRU, though, will gather much of the gravel that’s mixed with the sod and rocks and put that gravel back on the road — in one pass of the machine.

“All your gravel’s out there mixed in with the sod,” Smith said. “By pulling that in (to the GRU), you’re actually pulling in the gravel that we’ve lost out in the sod, which is why we do it in the first place, but (using the GRU) cuts down on three different gradings. A guy can do it in one shot.”

He said during a test run of the machine recently at Imnaha Road just north of Baker City, there was at least eight inches of gravel embedded in the sod on the shoulder when they scraped it off.

Gaub said that results in significant savings for the county because there’s less manpower and fuel used to maintain the roads. Smith said fuel is one of his department’s largest expenses besides labor.

See more in the April 18, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.