Ah, summer. It’s bigger. What used to be the rainy season is now a one-day drizzle. And with the warm days and glorious sunshine I found myself excavating my back yard, one shovelful at a time and picking through the morass one pebble after another.
I know it seems like a futile pastime but I was enjoying myself. This Old House ain’t got nothin’ on me. Let me regress to an earlier time, when a young, expectant couple was looking for a place to live with no money for a down payment. I was so excited when I found this slightly-leaning two-storey abandoned shack on a large lot and the price was right.
Then one day, I discovered that part of the house had no foundation. In fact, there wasn’t even room to crawl under the floor joists. I dug a hole beneath the kitchen to drop a water heater into and found the back section propped by sticks, blocks, bricks, anything that was handy. It came to me that I at least needed to dig a three-foot deep foundation. And that escalated into a full-blown, nine-foot basement. The digging only took about ten years. A little here, a little there.
Meanwhile, my ever-busy city planners decided that I needed a better street and my ancient cottonwood trees were in the way, so they cut them down and left me with the firewood. Not terribly good firewood, mind you, but over twenty cords of it. I got that all chopped up and stacked and used it all up in one winter or so.
Since I was then at the edge of the city limits, I kept a burning pile for over twenty years to rid myself of old lumber, fence posts, and the constant mass of droppings from some clusters of elm trees.
As I dug the basement, the dirt had to go somewhere and it wound up in great piles out back. I devised a system of using my pickup as a dump truck and actually driving it on top of the piles to dump.
I found someone with a Bobcat skid loader and he was able to go down my ramp and finish the excavation and then he offered to level the yard. Sure, that sounded like a good idea. When he was finished, I asked him where the piles of concrete and so on had gone. Oh, he said, I just buried them. Now you won’t have to worry about hauling them.
Beneath the clay and sand I’d found nice gravel to set the foundation on and there were gravel runs that had to be dug out with the rest. The end result is that the back yard has so much gravel and river rock and concrete in it that nothing would grow. I tried tilling and was first met with some of the ash from the old burning pile that I thought I’d already hauled. The tiller sank up to its axle with a poofing noise and a groan from me. That was hauled off as “burning barrel” ashes and of course costs money to dump.
The next thing the tiller found was hundred-pound blocks of old foundation a couple of inches under the surface. I began a pile of those along with smaller bits. The further I got into the project the further it seemed that I had to go. Eventually, I was digging about eighteen inches deep to the original level of the ground, screeding out big rocks and concrete with a standing screed made of old galvanized pipes and chicken wire, then re-screeding with a smaller screen which took out the remaining rocks and pebbles and broken glass and nails and fence staples and other debris and artifacts.
And who knew that twenty years after being buried, cottonwood bark would look just the same?
Yes, artifacts. Sometimes it all seems worth it just for those. This house has been here a long time and it’s impossible to tell what all went on back in the day. Was there perhaps another house on the property, or a carriage house? I’ve found bits of tack, horseshoes, things that appear to have been part of buggy frames, old auto parts, various bits of china, huge spikes and bolts and screws. Everyone who lived in this place must have contributed to the treasure trove that lurks beneath the surface.
And once in a while, something nifty turns up. I found a local dog tag, from a dog, from 1942. It’s brass and has held up very well. I found an aluminum Camay coupon about an inch and a half on a side that will get you three bars of Camay soap for fifteen cents instead of twenty five cents. Those were given out by the soap companies in the twenties and thirties. I recently found an Indian head penny from 1895.
What I haven’t found is the trove of gold coins or the lost diamond rings that I’m sure must be there somewhere. But I’m barely started. This bit of fun will surely go on for years.
Ah, winter. It’s coming, as Game of Thrones constantly reminds us. The seemingly everlasting summer seems to have come to an end and it’s occasionally rainy and very windy and the temperatures are finally dropping. Winter is coming and I’m going to have to put the project on hold. My back driveway sports lots of new gravel and there is a massive pile of old broken concrete and another huge pile of rocks the size of softballs. The days are shorter and I won’t be doing much more out there until next year so maybe the blogging can begin again in earnest.
And that’s how I spent my summer.