Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Building an RV park: What happens when you hit a rock shelf digging for a septic tank!

By Machelle James
As we watched the Cat® tractors rumble past us, roaring to their next dig, we could hardly contain our excitement. It’s actually happening! Our first real dig to start the process of turning our property into our campground! The ground was shaking as these land beasts made their way to the back of the property. They had to dig a 40- by 30-foot hole for our alternative septic tank.

Beginning of the digging.

We recorded videos, took pictures and watched in awe as these machines did their jobs. Our ground wasn’t that hard for the first 10 feet or so. Then, all of a sudden, CRACK… They hit a rock shelf. This is something you pray doesn’t happen when you dig this deep. Dan and Cody were working this job when it happened.

They hit rock!

There is a reason that in our contract it stated if they hit rock, they would need to use a hydraulic hammer to continue digging. A hammer is something you don’t want to have to use at it is SUPER EXPENSIVE to rent. I’m talking more than $1,000 a day! Luckily for us, Cat could not deliver one to us while the guys were here, so they went with plan B. Hit the ground with the bucket until it cracks, then scoop it out.

Yes, it took a whole day longer, but they did it! These guys know how to use their tractors and they also know how to handle a rock shelf. It was quite an eye opener for us, who have never seen deep into the ground. The colors change, the soils turn from soft to hard, and even the smells change. I now understand not only how unpredictable the soil can be, I also understand why it is so expensive to dig a septic tank of this caliber.

Forming the bottom of the septic tank.

After Dan and Cody finished their job here, we had Calvin come on in to start making the foundation for the septic tank. He and his guys made sure the ground was level and they started the groundwork for a cast-in-place septic tank. This means they formed the bottom of the tank with rebar and then poured concrete to form the bottom of the septic tank. Then after 2 days, they came back and installed the walls with premade metal forms.

Filling the middle of the premade forms with concrete

The next day, a concrete truck came out and poured concrete into the middle of these forms to make the walls. They used a sleeve-type of equipment to precisely pour the cement into these walls with little waste. It reminded me of a frosting bag that one would use to pipe icing on a cake. These outside walls will be made with 8-inch-thick concrete. So pretty much it is bomb proof at this point. The concrete needs to cure for up to a week before they remove the metal forms around it. As of today, the forms are still on. I will post videos and more photos on our Facebook page if you want to see more details of this process.

In the days we aren’t watching the concrete work being done, we are beginning the process of picking out a CPA who really understands our industry and will work the best with us and for us. You would think it would be easy, but it is not. There are average, great and fantastic CPAs out there. The pricing also widely varies, and it is driving us crazy that we haven’t found the right fit yet. We are getting recommendations from other campground owners as there are actual CPAs who specialize in campground accounting. I have no doubt we will find a good fit for us.

Jenna, Brooke and Machelle

We had Veteran’s Day last week and I, along with our ladies group, made over 1000 cookies to donate to our local American Legion Post. The Veterans were given a free chicken dinner along with our homemade cookies. It was our first time as a family going to the Legion and we all had a great time. My friend Brooke was visiting us as she was traveling across the country in her RV to start her new job in New Mexico. We were a perfect stopping spot for her to stay and visit. Not only is she a Vet from the Army, AJ is a Vet from the Air Force. It was a wonderful time to get together with other Veterans and to thank them for their service.

While on the subject of our military, I have to share a huge Mom and Dad moment. Our son, who is in the Air Force, just was promoted to Staff Sergeant! We are super proud of him for working hard and earning the Academic Award and Distinguished Graduate Award! We are beaming with pride and we couldn’t be any prouder of him!

Thank you all for following our campground journey and taking a peek into our private life as well. We love sharing with you the highs and lows as we continue to build our dream. See You in the Trees, and please leave a comment.

AJ, Machelle and Jenna

Read previous articles here.

Machelle James and her husband, AJ, are building, from the ground up, a 15-acre RV park in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona, in the beautiful White Mountains 140 miles from Phoenix. Follow them on Facebook @ AJ’s Getaway RV Park or on Instagram at ajsgetawayrvpark.




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Maxcy Hall (@guest_103793)
3 years ago

I love Jenna’s shirt. It celebrates my favorite food!

Machelle James (@guest_103822)
3 years ago
Reply to  Maxcy Hall

Oh thats awesome Maxcy!! Jenna’s favorites are root beer, Reeces Peanut Cups and Tacos!! She cracks us up!!

Livan_Life (@guest_103768)
3 years ago

Another huge milestone along your journey! Like so many others, I have followed since your first post and am always excited when I see a new one from you. Happy Thanksgiving!

Machelle James (@guest_103821)
3 years ago
Reply to  Livan_Life

Awww!! Thank you Livan Life!! We are so thankful for being able to share our ups and downs with our readers. It isn’t always pretty, but we are pretty honest about everything we are going through!
Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

Retired Firefighter Tom (@guest_103651)
3 years ago

Having been involved in building our home I knew some of what is involved in “building” something on property. The amount of detail that goes into “building” a campground is more complicated than I could imagine. It’s far beyond what’s involved in building a home. I wanted to say “THANKS” for sharing all the details that most people wouldn’t have a clue about. I know that the details on roads, septic, walls/fence along the property were beyond what I would have thought. Thanks for enlightening our views of what actually goes into building a campground/RV park. I don’t know if we’ll get there in 2021 but I certainly hope we can in 2022.

Machelle James (@guest_103752)
3 years ago

Hi Tom! I am so thankful to share this experience with you and our readers. I think most people have no idea what it takes to get a campground up and running. It’s not as easy as one would think. The government hurdles and all the decisions to make based on soil, weather and wildlife and market needs are challenging. I do hope we get to meet you when you are out our way!

Diane Mc (@guest_103544)
3 years ago

My husband follows you on Facebook and saw your post first. He just reported the part about hitting rock. Men! LOL. Can’t tell you how happy I was for you guys when I read your post here to see it was resolved rather quickly. Hire good people, you get good results. What a relief. Really enjoy the pictures. You should have a cork board in the office with pictures from your construction journey. Might give your future guests a better appreciation of what it takes to build a park. Congrats to your son. Thank him for his service.

Machelle James (@guest_103589)
3 years ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

Hi Diane! Oh how sweet is your husband! I really like that idea of a building memory board! Thank you for that recommendation!!!

Carol Kellogg (@guest_103502)
3 years ago

Love your updates. I suspect the average person has no idea just how challenging, complicated and time consuming the process of building an RV Park is…much less the expenses involved.

Thanks for sharing your story. We cant wait to stop in for an overnight or two on one of our trips west or east.

Machelle James (@guest_103523)
3 years ago
Reply to  Carol Kellogg

Hello Carol! I have to admit I was one of those people. What an eye opening experience it is to build a campground from the dirt up! We do hope you will be able to make it out to visit us! We would love to meet our readers!

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