Stuck Between a Root and a Hard Pipe.

This weekend was a study in hole-digging. I dug six holes (about a foot in diameter by 3-1/2 feet deep), filled in three holes, and set four massive posts. The actual “doing” of those three things took about 20 hours. That should be an indication of how well the last two days went.Day 1:

I am not mixing concrete in a 5 gallon bucket ever again. Luckily we had one of these just sitting around the plant:

Mixer in Car

I dug hole #1 Friday night, so at 9:30 AM, Moms and I were ready to rock and roll. The big challenge at this point was getting this:

first post before set

into this:

first post hole

Notice the size of that beast and the diminutive stature of my mother. We were going with the Tip-and-Pray method off the saw horses for getting that thing in the hole. Our contingency plan was that if one of us couldn’t hold it up any longer we would yell “Drop!” and hope it didn’t hit either A.) the house, or B.) our fence. It was touch and go there for a while…it took us maybe 20 minutes to actually get it in and upright.

Afterwards my mom likened it to giving birth: A lot of work and you don’t have much control over it.

first post in

Hey, whatever works. (Ignore that I look like a… I don’t even know what. Not my best picture. And believe me, it gets worse this day, so I’ll apologize for that in advance.)

Anyway, we had the first one leveled and set by 11:00 AM. Looking good. At 11:05 things took a downturn… I realized (thankfully before we set Post #2) that Hole #2 was 7-1/2″ off. 7-1/2 was just enough inches that I couldn’t widen the existing hole, but instead had to fill in, tamp down, and redig the whole thing. Okay, so far so good, except for at 2’8″ I hit something. Hard. Kind of like a root, but massive and there are no big trees in the immediate vicinity of this hole.

I try every trick I can think of to bust this thing out. At this point I think I’m dealing with a petrified tree stump from a thousand years ago or something. It is dry wood that I could chip off in small quantities with a huge amount of effort, but this root/stump/meteor/whatever was so big that all the chipping in the world didn’t seem to phase it. At 12:30 PM I was at my wits end. Mom said: “Can’t we just start a fire in there and burn it out? Like pour a little gasoline on it?” Okay, in retrospect, no. Clearly you can’t do this. But at the time, I was willing to try anything….

derooting by fire

This worked not at all. But it was a fun little break from hole digging.

At this point I am stumped. Ha. Both literally and figuratively. In the meantime I start on Hole #3 to give myself a break. In order to do this I have to fill in a smaller hole from where a chain link post used to be, then start digging. Nothing is easy, not even digging a hole. I get no more than four shovel-fulls down when I hear Ting. I shovel again. Ting. I tap on the obstructing object. Ting ting ting. Okay, roots don’t “ting” this is something else entirely, After more excavation, “something else entirely” ends up being a massive pipe that used to be used for draining the gutters. Directly in the middle of Hole #3. I am, at this point, slightly and understandably unamused. This is no longer funny. Fine. Slight design adjustment, fill in Hole #3, redig 13″ to the left.

Halfway down I hit? Another major root. Hey, at least it’s not a pipe, right? I can handle this. 20 minutes later I’m back to digging with a vengeance, this becomes a problem when on a particularly forceful upthrust my right eye finds itself in an unfortunate position directly in line with the handle of the post hole digger. Ouch. Now I am down for the count, ‘the count’ lasting about five minutes.

It is 3:00 and what we have to show for the day is one set post and two mostly-dug post holes.

When I have six inches left to go in Hole #3, what do I find? Yet another root. This one puts up a major fight, and let me tell you, it’s not fun trying to beat a root on it’s own turf:

up to my neck in it

kit dirty

Ah, yes. I always look my best after I had my head stuck down a 3 foot hole for the better part of a half hour.

I finally got that b*tch of a root out, and since by this time the muscles in half my body were no longer properly working, it was a real fun job getting Post #2 into the hole. Somehow we managed it, concreted it in, and then called it a day.


Two of four done. Day one, out.

Day 2:
Sunday morning I decided to say F-it about Hole#2 (the one with the petrified stump 2-1/2 feet down that we tried to “burn” out…ha.) I figured I’d just widen the hole, use and extra 50 lbs of concrete, and trim the extra foot of the top of that post. So, like Saturday, Sunday started off pretty easy. Mom and I set post #3.

 (I’m going to insert these pics here, normal people use shovels when mixing or pouring concrete… my mom? She uses her hands.

mom concrete by hand

As much as I like, getting dirty, I do not feel the same way about concrete. Clearly. 

cleaning mixer

This is so my mom: When I saw her stick her hands into the concrete I made a face and went “Mo-om…” She says, “What? It could be worse, it’s not like we’re shoveling manure.” Okay. Well. She does have a point. It could always be worse, you could be shoveling shit.

Anyway, back to Sunday. I get started on hole #4. No roots. No pipes. No petrified tree stumps. It takes me maybe 25 minutes to dig the whole 3-1/2 foot deep hole, which makes me realize how much faster this project would have gone if trees didn’t have roots. Mom and I are like “Wow. This day is going really well.” We pick up Post #4 and get it in the hole, but as we’re aligning it with the other hole and the side of the house we realize….

Something is not quite right.

Which is how I end up here, with the Sawsall.

notching post

I would recommend, if you could ever help it, not finding your self standing on top of a ladder sawing at a 6×6 with a sawsall. It’s asking for trouble or a broken neck.  Unfortunately, before I managed to cut the foot by 2″ notch out of the post, the battery of the sawsall died and we had to wait for an hour and a half for a new one.

Sometime around 4 PM… Ta-da!

notch in post

Concrete & done!

All four pergola posts set

It doesn’t make much sense, does it… Okay, I’ll let you in on a little bit of my vision, but only if you promise not to laugh.

pergola, photoshopped lines

 Okay. It’s a little funny… but if you ignore the lack of scale, perspective, or straight lines… and pretend it doesn’t look completely juvenile, this is kind of what I’m going for.

(I am laughing almost hysterically about the fact that I just posted this pic. You would never know I used to get paid a lot of money for graphic design. lol)

Okay look. 2×6’s at the top with the decorative end I’ve already cut into them. About a foot to 18″ of lattice around the top, and I’m going to build an archway between the two posts at the right. I’ve been considering for the patio raising the entire thing up, maybe 6″, backfilling it, and then laying the flagstone on top…. that’s what those curvy lines are at the bottom, just in case anyone thought I was having a seizure when I was drawing them or something.

I may grow some sense of honor about my real design skills in the next hour or two and take this down. Until then I’ll be snickering every time I think about it….

JUMP TO PART VI of The Pergola Saga- It’s Starting to Look Like A…

2 Responses

  1. “It could always be worse, you could be shoveling shit.”
    Cracked up when I read this. I’ll take “irony” for 500, Alex.

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