Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cement, Bricks, and Manhole Covers



Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It is 6:30 a.m. as I type this out. The mornings truly are the favourite time of the day for me. The watering has been done. I know I sound like a broken record on the drought here. Today I hooked up the soaker hose the front holly hedge. I’ve lost one mature plant. It had been sickly for awhile so I’m not sure I can blame it on the drought or not. I will not attempt to plant a replacement till the fall. The annuals seem to be holding their own. The two rubber plants on the front porch are flourishing. They must be a real masochist type of plant. The abuse they have received over the years, they have no reason to be here now! They are in cement planters that drain onto the concrete porch. The water that drains out is Daggy’s favourite drinking water. It drives me crazy! I give those cats fresh water every day! I guess the “dirt filtered” water has a better taste to her!

I am worn out. I had forgotten what a pain in the butt is to mix up concrete. Yesterday afternoon I made a trip to the brickyard to get 50 bricks to line this new patio addition. On the way there I stopped at the wastewater plant. It was recommended I check here for a manhole cover. I heard voices as I entered the building. Three guys were in a “break room” kind of place. I asked them who I should talk to see about getting a cover. They directed me to the head guy upstairs. I’m not sure if it is professional courtesy or not I was not treated as if I were totally mad in requesting this. The city can’t sell me a cover. He referred me to the supplier they use. This supplier is just around the corner. As I was leaving one of the guys was laughing, “You gonna get one?” he asked. “Things are looking good!” I answered. He gave me the high sign as I left!

In the street in front of my house:


First I have to get my bricks. It kills me to actually buy NEW bricks! But this has to be so the top edge of the patio addition is uniform. I found a great old looking style brick with “Old Virginia” stamped into the face.

On the way home is when I check supplier for the manhole cover. Once again the people I talk to don’t think I’m crazy at all! I’m taken into the “yard” after donning a safety vest and hard hat to see the covers. Yup, there is the familiar cast iron cover with “City of Tuscaloosa” all embossed with a great art deco cityscape. The cover with the ring is only $199.00 plus tax. This guy I’m dealing with is laughing as I tell him my patio plans. He has really made my day. I’m sure he told his family about the guy who was in his office to buy a manhole cover that evening at dinner!

I finished up the afternoon mixing the five bags of cement left over from last years projects. There was nearly enough to fill the forms. The bricks are soaked in water and then placed on top and leveled. They get soaked first so they don’t soak the moisture prematurely from the cement. This slow cure makes for a much stronger bond.


Today I’ll dig the other half of the trench. The cement will be set up enough to where I can remove the forms and reuse them on the other half.

I also need to ship stuff off to Louis via Fed Ex. The terminal is right in the area where the manhole supplier is; I might just pick the thing up today.

It is a muggy morning as I type this out. What does a “Damn Yankee” do in this type of weather? For this boy, the answer is: “Work with bricks!”

Originally I had hoped to fill a small grassy area using my rocks gathered from the shores of Lake Ontario. As fate would have it, I’m just a few rocks shy of a full load of being able to complete this. I had planned on getting more rocks my last trip home but the weather and Joe being sick changed those plans.


Instead I decided to extend the patio I built last summer.

Saturday was the start of laying out the new addition of the patio. My first plans were of a small addition using the cobblestones brought back from Pennsylvania last spring. Not now. This patio will be almost doubled in size when the addition is completed.

The center point is found on the patio side. A pipe is driven into place. A string is measured to the side of the patio. This will measure out the outside perimeter of the addition. My shovel is tied off on this and the first cut is made.



The pick axe is used to dig the trench where the cement foundation will be poured. Daggy was helping me at this point. She started out in the cool shade of the ivy and wisteria. Once she saw all that dirt piling up she had to roll around in the dry soil.



Stumpy chose the more sensible route and camped out on the cool stone bench. I did not want to leave the house, but I had to make a quick trip to Lowe’s to get some treated 1x4x12’s. These I’ll use to make the cement forms. I really need to do a shopping trip. There is very little in the house for food. More important; I need another “cardboard Kegger”. I learned that is the current college term for box wine! There is a nasty place not far from me that sells beer and wine near the University I stop at on the way home.

While all this is going on, I’m thinking on how to make this patio project unique. Sure I’m using all this reclaimed brick, but I need something to really make the finished product stand out. Then the light bulb goes off in my twisted little mind. If I can install a manhole cover in the middle of all this I can rant on how the city is so messed up they had to put a sewer access in my back yard! That is to be the mission for this week, see if I can wrangle a manhole cover somewhere!

Sunday I start work on the forms. These need to be notched so they can be formed into a curve. Wooden stakes are made to secure the forms into the trench. This is the real pain in the neck part of the job. I went through most of the lumber at Lowe’s to get the straightest stuff I could. This is pretty cheap wood so there are tons of knots, which do not bend and flex well.


The forms have to be installed so there will be a slight dip. This facilitates the run off of water when it rains. (That is a funny one! Rain!!!)The outside form is the first to be installed. This is leveled off using a section of pipe. The string is brought out again and measured against the inside edge of the form. Once everything is as it should be, the inside board is installed. Scrap bricks are used as spacers between the two boards. The inside board is leveled and staked in. This is fussy work taking up most of the afternoon. I’m just about finished when it actually rains a bit!


There is not much I can do till I get new bricks. I detest buying new bricks for this project. But, I need bricks with a constant thickness for this part of the patio. I don’t have anything in any quantity in my horde for this part of the job.

I call it a day when the rain arrives. I wish it were a steady hard rain, but it turns out to be just a sprinkling for about half an hour or so. It was just enough to dampen everything; not much more.

I’m sweaty, hot and dirty. A wonderful prolonged hot shower has me feeling like a million bucks. After enjoying the last of my steak I take a break walking around in my back yard. I study the ancient power pole my phone and electric lines run off. It is so archaic I think it could be considered for landmark status. Something is not right….the power lines to my house are draped over my security light. The supporting “guy wire” is loose from the pole. My God that is all I need is to have those lines short out!


Going again through “voice mail hell” only this time with the power company, I’m able to talk to a real person. I try to explain the situation with the incoming power lines. This is not a dire emergency yet, but it needs to be taken care of soon. Hopefully this was fixed up on the work order to make sense to the lineman when they come out….

If those lines shorted out on that light standard it would fry my house wiring for sure. It is always something here…….

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Window Wonderland

My High Electric Bill
Thursday, June 14, 2007

If there is one thing I delight in, it is annoying my friends with my frugality. Sunday I announced how upset I was going through all my bills. I found my electric bill was higher for May 2007, than it was for May 2006. “I’m going to have to cut back even more.” I announced in a solemn voice. “My last bill was $44.29: that is 14 cents over last years bill.” This naturally brings out the predictable moans and cheap comments.

One reason I can keep this bill low is by rarely using my air conditioner. I have yet to turn it on this year. I have tested it out to make sure all is working properly. According to Google, it is currently 93 degrees outside. In my center hallway where the thermostat is located, the temperature is a comfortable 80 degrees. Having a constant air flow helps a great deal in cooling things off. The two ancient oak trees on the west/front of the house do a great deal in keeping the hot afternoon sun from heating things up in the house. The front door is open: the screen door keeps out the bugs while allowing the air to circulate. All the double hung wooden windows are open allowing a cross flow of airin every direction.

A job I have been putting off for years is installing new sash cord on the set of three windows in my dining room. Since moving here, when I opened these windows they had to be propped open with a section of lumber. Normally with double hung windows using cords and weights, there is an access panel on the side of the window frame. Not here… truth be told: this house of mine is not of the best construction when compared to my old house in New York. In all my other windows I had to remove the outside casing to replace the rotted out sash cords. That way I did not disturb the interior finished woodwork.

Outside casing removed showing compartment for the weights.


The problem in the dining room is; I can’t remove the outside casings without destroying the sill of the center window. In order to replace the cords I’ll have to install my own access panels. This will be an all day job, but it needs to be done.

The first step is to take down the wooden blinds, burglar bars, parting strip and the inside molding. Two holes are drilled in the channel of the parting strip. These are done at a 45 degree angle. Then a saber saw with a new, sharp, fine blade cuts across through the board. Once the two cuts are made, duct tape is put over the top cut to prevent the board from falling into the casing when the long cut is made to connect the two holes.


A piece of a paint stirring stick is glued to the back of the bottom cut to support the newly cut panel when it is reinstalled. A shim is glued to the top of the cut out panel. This is sanded down to make a nice flush fit when all is put back in place. A pilot hole is drilled at the top cut. This hole is enlarged on the panel and recessed. When this is screwed back in place it is barely discernable.


I’m able to remove the outer casings on the outside frames making for an easier replacement of the cords. Looking at this picture reminds me another job to be done. I realized after stripping and redoing these windows(many years ago) that Marine/spar varnish holds up beautifully for interior window sills over the normal varnish I use for the woodwork.

That was my Wednesday. I was a happy camper being able to raise and lower the windows as they were originally meant to be. I’m not a fan of burglar bars; they were on the house when I bought the place. They stop the upper window sash from opening. However, I feel a lot safer from a random burglary having them there.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Final Water Heater Entry

Back from hiking on the Appalachian Trail and had to finally post this last water heater entry.





Catch-Up

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Where to start? Last Thursday night was the initial operation of the new water heater. I held my breath as I opened the water and gas valves. The electric power to the unit was turned on, and I opened the hot water control to the outside shower. I heard the inner workings of the heater start up and in no time I had hot water streaming out of the showerhead! Success!!! I took a long, HOT shower to celebrate!

On Monday the 19th I finished up the “tweaking” of the installation. The cold water line was not level, and I wanted to be certain all the connections were tight. That cold water line was fully functional, but just knowing that it was out of level drove me crazy. I could not look at it without wanting to remedy the situation. It only took ½ an hour to cut a section out of the line and re-sweat the thing. Now I can rest easy! So many times the threaded copper fittings and unions will develop small leaks after a day or two. This job was no exception; there were a couple drips that I had to contend with. All seems well now.

The exposed pipes were insulated and attached to a support yesterday. Today I will insulate the pipes in the crawl space and install permanent pipe hangers. The plastic coated wire I used for the installation could suffice, but after all this work, I want the job to be finished up right.

With this plumbing project out of the way, it was time to get back to my workshop roof. The shingles I had special ordered arrived at Lowe’s on Thursday. Saturday afternoon I went to pick them up. Customer service checked everything out and told me to go see George in the building dept. I can tell George is the comic relief of the dept. He is having a great time interacting with his friends and customers. George and his working partner are loading lumber when I arrive. Long boards of pressure treated wood were being transferred into the bed of an ancient truck: an old short bed Ford from the 1960’s. None of the door colors match the body and primer covers much of the trucks surface. A chromed tool box takes up half the truck bed. (It would not surprise me that this tool box cost more than the truck!) The proud owners of this vehicle stand by as this wood gets piled into the back and make no attempt to help. There is long overhang of wood over the tailgate; this is a very unsteady load. You can tell these are trailer people. The man opens the tool box, takes out a hammer and nails a red flag to the longest piece of wood hanging out. Then they drive off. That load was never tied down or secured in any way. Turning the corner to exit the parking lot, the spare tire rolls off the truck bed, bouncing onto the parking lot. Fortunately it did not hit anything. I see this type of thing every day here in the Deep South. People wonder why I hate to drive in the mist of all this?

I get the shingles home and try to get them transferred to the workshop roof. There is a Mimosa tree that grew up in Michelle’s back yard that makes this almost impossible. She told me I was free to take it down, in fact she was very happy at the idea when I suggested it to her. This tree is only a few years old, but things grow so fast here. I get out my axe and try to play Paul Bunyan. The trunk of this tree is very springy; I’m losing all the power of the axe as the trunk moves upon impact. Checking the growth of this nasty tree, I see how it originally started on my property, grew sideways under the chain link fence, and then up into Michelle’s yard. I transfer the chopping to my side of the fence. Once I get some notches cut into the trunk, I take my chains, cables and “come-along” back to Michelle’s yard. One of the chains is wrapped around the huge Pecan tree, the other chain around the Mimosa tree. The come-along is fastened between the two and ratcheted up tight. It does not take much to snap the trunk where the notches are cut.

Gary is cooking dinner tonight. It is getting late, I will just have enough time to shower and shave now. The mess will have to get cleaned up Sunday.

With Sunday being Father’s Day, Debbie calls to invite me to lunch with her, Sherri, and Jammer. This sounds wonderful. I need a day to take it easy. At the restaurant I am bad and get chicken alfredo on spinach pasta. It was so good. This dish is a treat that I ration myself to just a couple times a year!

The Home Builders Association is hosting the “Parade of Homes” this weekend. This is an event where the best of the new homes are showcased. Usually all the appliances are upgraded and things are finished off nicer than a usual “spec” home. We decide to check out a couple of $500K homes to see how the other half lives. I am so amazed at what people will buy. The new trend I guess is to have everything open. The entire kitchen is all in plain view from all the common house areas. Now any dirty dishes or kitchen clutter is part of the d├ęcor! These show homes are all in these new developments that are named after the wildlife that used to reside there: Quail Hollow for example. What was once a meadow is now a cul-de-sac of ugly houses.

I was always under the impression that people moved into these places so they could have privacy and space around them. It just boggles my mind that these McMansions are built right on top of each other. In one of these places the view from the yupped out dining room is the poorly laid brick wall of the neighbors’ house some 10 feet away. Looking out the other direction is the view out the French doors: the back yard, a bare grassy area surrounded by a stockade fence surrounded by more poorly designed houses.

I will take my old place in the city with all its flaws and character any day over the overpriced, shoddily made houses being promoted and hyped today.

My nerves were so shattered by all this: I had to take a nap before attempting to clean up the Mimosa tree mess over at Michelle’s. Michelle is out so I can easily get the wheelbarrow into her back yard and not worry about scratching her BMW.

I end the day moving the last four bundles of shingles onto the roof.



It looks like my next project will again involve bricks and Belgian Blocks...anything heavy and frustrating!!!