Sunday, November 1, 2009

Straw and clay

An eighteen foot equipment trailer will hold 350 strawbales quite well, provided you drive carefully and stack them in a manner that is worthy of an engineering degree from MIT. I had neither degree nor inclination to calculate the proper stacking method, but driving slow enough to make the farm tractors flash their lights and wish their horns still worked sufficed to get the bales to the house.
The septic system, properly permitted for a three bedroom abode, had been installed and the drain system for the interior was all in place and covered in ½ minus (read-tiny slivers of gravel with lots of dust so it would compact to the consistency of ornery concrete). The septic install was my first experience with a mini excavator. A good time was had by all. These little buggers, for those unfamiliar with them, are an absolute blast to operate. The initial learning curve is steep, to say the least, however the sheer joy of manipulating the sticks and making this smooth running, diesel powered device dig these glorious holes was indescribable. The greatest part is that they are incredibly difficult to get stuck. I had the experience of operating a Cat 941 High-Lift (owned by a generous neighbor) to do some clearing and tree removal, and riding atop 20,000 lbs. of rumbling digging machine was a rush, no doubt, but that little Japanese excavator was an experience all its own. The only trouble was the foot throttle controls, which, being designed (apparently) for Asian fellows of a stature somewhat less than mine, were something like riding a child’s Big Wheel. This little rubber tracked monster walked all over everything I drove it towards and then some, often scaring the holy crap out of me, but never hesitating and always coming out on top. The first trench to be dug managed to bulls-eye a rock the size of a fully dressed 454 Chevy and the process of figuring out how damn big this stone actually was (only a small bit protruded above the surface, had I been the Titanic I would have…. well… done what the Titanic did.) discouraging to say the least. This proved to be the only large meteor in my path and the septic was in within a few long days and some diesel fuel. My Brother-in-law joined the fun and used the Bobcat to clear the path for me and even ventured onto the excavator on occasion. I being a man and understanding the primal need to utilize mechanized equipment to dig holes and move rocks and dirt and such, was quick to promote such activity. We must all strive to be well rounded, after all.
Thus we found ourselves dropping three hundred and fifty bales of straw at the job site. Three fifty was the number because I needed at least a hundred and fifty and, while ordinarily a fairly good hand with numbers, I seemed to have forgot to carry the one or something and purchased nearly twice the amount of strawbales I needed. I have yet to figure out how in the world I could have miscalculated the amount by so much. Fortunately, my folks needed to seed a yard at the same time and purchased the excess off of me.
Over the next weeks I was busy installing the straw walls and building and installing window bucks, chicken wire and various pins and bale staples devised on the fly to prepare the whole thing for the application of the clay plaster made from a mixture of masonry sand and red clay, dug from the back yard of the cabin itself.

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