Monday, October 19, 2009

Rockin': Building the New Wall: Phase 1, part 1

It has been a long time (almost 2 and 1/2 months) since I started building the new section of stone wall. I chronicled my efforts in real time using Facebook status messages from my iPhone to keep my friends and family up to date on my progress. Rather than relying on my sometimes faulty memory, I am going to copy and paste FB entries into this blog to chronicle the progress. Each of the initial sentences lacks a subject; Facebook puts in the name of the poster, so you can just assume that.

As I previously mentioned, while I was repairing the old wall, I had also staked out the trench for the new wall. I found some stakes around the farm, making two in the machine shed, and then stretched out some of the 800' of mason's line that I had brought with me from Lake Forest Park. The last picture in my previous post shows that work.

So begins the chronology:

spent my first full day at the B & B. There is nothing about the job I regularly do that would prepare me for a full day of manual labor; I am bound to be very creaky tomorrow. Spent the day cleaning up the older section of rock wall; made a lot of progress.
August 5 at 7:07 pm (Wednesday)

finished up cleaning the old section of wall yesterday. Have to wait until Tuesday to dig the new wall's foundation (so we know exactly where any gas, electrical or cable lines are buried). Spent today setting up the B&B's computer syst...em; once Cox Cable arrives I'll set up the wireless network. Also changed the oil in the Roadster; it'll be ready for another one by the time I get back home.
August 7 at 9:56pm (Friday)

going to start repairing the old section of stone wall. Can't dig the foundation for the new wall until late Tuesday (at least!), so I might as well get something useful done.
August 8 at 11:21am (Saturday)

is now firmly into Day Two of old wall repair. Defined the lines for the trench that will hold the foundation gravel for the new wall; while I'm waiting for Louis to arrive with the backhoe, I'll keep going on the repair.
August 10 at 10:34am (Monday)

The folks from DigIt had come out to inspect the trench site and mark where any utilities were. We knew there were only gas and water lines coming in to the house; both electricity and cable (when it arrived) would come in overhead. Even though we were probably supposed to wait for Tuesday (four days after we called them), Louis came over with the backhoe in the morning on Monday, August 10 and dug the first 26' of the trench.

Breaking ground

A good backhoe operator


One thing to notice about the photo above is the large rock lying to the left of the trench. It was a monster that had been lying just below the surface that Louis brought up when he was digging. It would become the first rock I laid for the new wall. There's no sense in wasting such a great piece of stone. While most of the stone I used could be picked up by one person, that rock was not one of those. The best you can do is roll and flip it into position, letting gravity do as much of the work as possible (though gravity is no help when it comes to getting it ready to flip!).

After that, Maurice, one of the workers at the farm brought over a load of gravel and dumped it in the trench. I learned a couple of things from that: 1) Maurice is not the sharpest tool in the shed. If you want him to do something, tell him exactly what to do. Do not expect him to do any thinking; 2) shoveling gravel is hard work. My next Facebook post echoed that statement:

It's hot (79 degrees) and humid (81%) with a promised high of 83 today. Shovelling that gravel yesterday was tougher on me than I thought. Tough to get going this morning.
August 11 at 8:47am (Tuesday)

If I had been dumping the gravel, I would have put the whole pile of it at the end of the trench nearest to the old wall. Obviously (well, at least it was obvious to me, though evidently not to Maurice), that is where the first section of wall is going to be. Instead, Maurice dumped the whole pile of gravel about 6' from the end of the trench. I took my trusty shovel and moved a portion of the pile over to the end of the trench and smoothed the rest of it out.

Fifteen feet of gravel in 26' of trench

So now I had 26' of what would become a 67.5' trench and the first 15' of it was lined with gravel. Shortly after that, Louis arrived with the backhoe. The front bucket on it was loaded with my first delivery of stone.

The first load of stone

I went back to the old wall and finished repairing the section I had been working on, then spent the afternoon spreading that pile of stone out so that I could see all of the 'puzzle' pieces.

just finished the repair of the first section of the old wall. Set 11 capstones today; pictures to follow when the light is softer. In another couple of hours I will have been here one week; I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon sorting stones for the new wall.
August 11 at 2:49pm

The next day I began working on the new section.

had a good day; it was cloudy and relatively cool. Got 8' of new wall started and blended it in with the end of the old wall.
August 12 at 6:49pm

I took a picture of the first stone placed. It seemed like a historic occasion at the time; sort of like the laying of the cornerstone of a new building.

First stone placed

By the end of the day, I had gotten 8' (measured at the bottom) done.

End of first day's new wall

A couple of things to note about the photo above; that big round rock at the 'working' end of the wall was another that I had found close by. It sat, partially buried and resting against a post on the back side of the existing wall. Again, I didn't want to waste such a beautiful stone. Also, I've written before saying that building a dry stone wall is really building two parallel walls and filling the space between with scrap. That's mostly true, but in this picture you can clearly see at least two stones that I am using to tie the two walls together. While prowling through a rock pile, I would always be on the lookout for relatively thin, relatively long rocks that I could place perpendicular to the long axis of the wall. You can see one right at the front on the bottom and just ahead of the big rounded rock mentioned earlier. The second is visible (if you know where to look) almost directly above the end of the first rock I placed. I know there are others in the wall, but all you can see of them is one end protruding a bit. They look like little filler stones when viewed from either side of the wall, but they have alot to do with the strength and integrity of the wall.

The next day I experienced my only work day of rain during the three weeks I was in Rhode Island.

It's raining in Portsmouth; no wall work until it lets up a bit.
August 13 at 8:30am (Thursday)

But it did let up later in the morning, so I made a little progress.

the rain stopped so I worked for a couple of hours this morning, but it started again after lunch and doesn't look like it'll stop any time soon.
August 13 at 2:22pm

I did take a few pictures, though, and really liked what I saw. In each of the following pictures, the rain brings out the colors of the stone really well and points up the contrast between the new sections and the old.

Rain on repaired wall

Rain brings out the colors


The next day was clear and sunny and I was up and ready to work early:

A gorgeous morning in Rhode Island; I'm ready to rock.
August 14 at 7:36am (Friday)

By the end of the day, I had extended the bottom of the wall 15.5'. As I only had 16' of gravel, that meant that I had nowhere else to build now. In addition, I was running out of rock to use. Louis would have to bring me more gravel and rock. In an example of fantastic, just-in-time production on this old-school project, he brought me gravel at 7 pm that Friday.

Just in time gravel delivery

And the next morning, he brought me my second load of stone:

My second load of stone

Now I had room to build and materials to do it with. I got quite a bit done that day and celebrated with Jane and Louis by cooking the meal that evening.

had another productive day on the wall: the bottom is 20' out and 12' of the top has been capped off. Making Champagne Chicken, Balsamic Beets, and Parmesan Potato Wedges for dinner to celebrate a good week.
August 15 at 4:42pm

I had started working 10 days ago. In that time I had cleared the old wall completely, repaired an old section, and built 20' of new wall. I'll continue the story in my next post.

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About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.