In spite of having a tough time of getting things going, the barn has started moving forward again. Finding a mason willing to undertake the project has been more challenging than I thought it would be. Exactly why this is the case is up to debate until Skip asked me, “you had to make it complicated, didn’t you?” Round is a challenge all on it’s own. That the barn sits 200′ from the nearest hard surface is another. I have a vision of where and how things should look back there, and I will see that vision made reality. Challenges be damned. Quick recap, the fire that took away my livestock and totaled my barn came to my attention at 3:15 am on March 3, 2018. I had hoped to be building the barn itself by the beginning of August. Today is September 16, 2018.
After many fits and starts, time conflicts and outright abandonment, I finally ran across Al Cristine in the parking lot at the local truck stop on my way to work on August 6th. When I drove into the place, it was a feeling of frustration and exasperation, as I had gone through almost every mason I could find in the phonebook, on the internet or by word of mouth from friends. (one outfit told me that they were booked THROUGH THE END OF THE YEAR!!!) As I approached the pump, I noticed a dark skinned man wearing a CEMENT MASON UNION tee-shirt walking back to his car. Quickly I exited my car and walked over to the man. Squashing my hesitance, I said, “Hey man, you wouldn’t happen to be a mason, would you?” The man that turned back (Al) nodded, saying that he was indeed a mason. When I asked if he was looking for work, he replied, “Of course, I’m always looking for work.” It was at this point that I realized that he his skin was a shade of nut brown that only comes from spending WAY too much time working outside. He was affable and spoke softly, his grip firm but his hands were smooth in a way that only happened from constantly being exposed to the caustic effects of cement. I liked him, and I appreciated his understated confidence. Here was a man I felt I could work with, at long last. Turned out, he only lives a couple of miles away. Very nice.
After some scheduling and back and forth and meet ups, we settled on a price and a date, and as of the beginning of this month, work could start again.
Here is something to know about what the intervening months included. Excavation was completed back in June. At the time, the plan was to dig a footer (44″ deep), pour a 10″ footer and build up a round cinder block foundation wall. A neat trick by any measure. Simply digging a hole, 2.5′ wide and 20′ in diameter takes excavator skills that I don’t have. Stacking a cinder block wall in the round is also pushing the materials to an extreme that most masons won’t even attempt. That said, and remembering the timeline above, the footers sat open to the weather nearly 3 months. In that time, a colony of frogs had discovered the weird ponds and promptly moved in and began doing what frogs do, namely eat bugs and make more frogs. Maly, now bored with his new pesky obnoxious little sister, quickly discovered the frog party and would spend hours every day back there screaming his head off at said frogs and getting muddy going into the moat trying to catch them. I, honestly, doubt if he ever caught a single one.
Finally the big day came, or at least I had thought it would be the big day. The day was supposed to involve pouring cement into the footer holes by running load after load from the driveway back to the barn in a cement buggy. Al scuttled this when I told him that everything was arranged a few days earlier. Of course, the day he, his son and brother, arrived, thinking that they would need to form up the holes, it was quickly decided to go ahead and get the cement and just see what happened.
I need to pause here for 2 points. First of all, the decision to just fill the holes with 10 yards of cement each rather that block up round walls, was based upon the calculus that the time and materials would come out about the same as it would mean plumbing and measuring each and every block that got laid and that it would take a very long time to do. By just filing the holes with cement, we were spending a lot on cement but it could happen in a single day rather that many days. Second, when we put the new floor in the barn, there was no way we could even think about getting a cement truck back to the barn. The ground around here is all clay and for a large part of the year, simply too soft to drive on. Hence the need for the cement buggy. But, as you will learn, in spite of the rain, this is not the case this year.
The day Al and co. arrived, the decision was quickly made that the ground would hold and that we could just go for it and have the cement trucks just head on back there and unload on site. There was a bit of urgency too, because the remnants of Hurricane Gordon were due the next day and was supposed to produce many inches of rain over a few days. So why not just go for it. And go for it we did.
Watching those trucks trundle up the hill past the Seedhouse was nerve wracking to the extreme. I was partly convinced that they would either tip over or get stuck. Apparently some cement truck drivers are a bit reckless in where they are willing to take their vehicles. My hat is off to the 2 men who showed up piloting these behemoths. They didn’t even hesitate when we told them where they were going. As it turned out, the ground was so hard that there isn’t really any indication that they were ever there.
To be sure, these footers are beefy enough to part a tank on. We could really have gotten away with not having a footer at all and just pouring a surface slab. But old habits are hard to shake and the builder in me says that if it hold a building, it needs to reach down past the frost line so that it won’t move when the ground freezes.
Don’t for a second think that things went off without a hitch though. Maly, in his persistent single mindedness, refused to comprehend why I wanted him to stay out of the cement while it was still liquid. There were frogs in those holes only a little while ago and they were totally unsupervised. The fact that they moat water was not grey rather than tan, meant little to him.
While I was in the house cooking lunch, he went out back to be double sure that the frogs were gone. Luckily the cement had set up quite a bit and I didn’t find him cast in the footer up to his belly.
Al is back out here today, cranking the County music and making a racket getting ready for next weekend’s big pour. They are moving the fill material around and setting the forms for the slabs. Unfortunately (sic) Leah and I will be in New Orleans next weekend while all that goes down. Darn.