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Bonzer Words!: Just A Shovel And A Wheelbarrow

...Most of the earth around this area is full of rocks but much to my surprise most of our soil just turned out to be very fine-textured black sand. It was so much fun digging that I could hardly stop...

Ray Evans recalls shifting 200 tons of soil with shovel and wheelbarrow.

It would seem odd today that anyone would even attempt to build a basement with just a shovel and a wheelbarrow but we were much younger then. Much, much younger we were then, and full of energy too. Over 200 cubic yards of soil were removed and piled into a big mound in our back yard that would later have to be landscaped. That figures out to be in the neighborhood of 200 tons.

The project started one day when it was decided that the crawlspace under the house could be enlarged a little bit so that some lumber could be stored there in a dry place. The most difficult task anticipated would be to break out the existing concrete foundation footing with a sledgehammer. This was only intended to be a small space, perhaps giving a space about four feet high, six feet wide and twenty feet back. Breaking through concrete isn’t too difficult if your hammer is big enough. It just takes some sweat and fortitude.

Most of the earth around this area is full of rocks but much to my surprise most of our soil just turned out to be very fine-textured black sand. It was so much fun digging that I could hardly stop. It was more fun than a little kid could have in a sandbox! I was having so much fun that I thought, “why not make this into a small room… it shouldn’t be all that difficult… should it”?

We knew the surface of our soil was just sand but expected to find rocks in the deeper areas. It was surprising to learn that with but one exception not a single rock was ever found. The exception was just one handful of small round rocks that were found at a depth of about six feet. These were all in a pocket about four inches in diameter. It has been a big wonder to me how they ever got positioned there in such a way.

Geologically, this area is on an outflow of a glacier from the last ice age some 10,000 years ago, (no, I wasn’t born yet)! Was it some Native Kid who laid those rocks there prior to being covered by the outflow? If not, what freak of nature could have ever left them positioned in such a way? If this basement had been dug with a backhoe, that little pocket of rocks would never have been seen. It’s hard to miss anything unusual when digging with a shovel!

At about a depth of six feet the sand started to take on a yellow color due to some clay content, other than that the whole project consisted of very fine compressed black sand.
Our house has an ell shaped footprint, because of that it was decided that I would dig all the way back under one side to make a room. Soon the whole area began to look much like a coal mine. There were props and timbers all over the place under there to support the house. The sides of the excavation were left sloping to support the foundation. That soil would be taken out later as walls made of concrete blocks would be put in place.

After digging all the way back under that wing, it just seemed natural to dig under the other side of the ell to make a full basement. What seemed like a big job at first, now seemed like an opportunity; how could one resist it? We were definitely younger then!

Digging with a shovel and transporting 200 tons of soil by hand may seem like an impossible job but it really wasn’t such a big deal at all. It was just ten wheelbarrow loads every night after work. Ten wheelbarrow loads equal approximately one ton, if the count of ten was shortened, it was simply made up for on Saturday and Sunday with a few extra loads. Yes, indeed, we definitely were younger then!

The digging was actually much more pleasant for me than building the concrete block wall. It’s a long way around the outside perimeters of a house and lacking experience as a concrete block mason didn’t help even a little bit. The first day consisted of getting more mortar mix on my shoes than on the concrete block. But that’s a whole new story!

© Ray Evans


Ray writes or Bonzer magazine. Please visit www,bonzer.org.au


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