A Liking For The Hard Stuff

I’ve always wondered at the immense use of concrete in this industrialized world.  The stuff is everywhere we look.  This being an automobile-driven nation, it’s impossible not to notice the vast use of concrete for highways and bridges.  Airports, waterways, dams, office buildings, sidewalks (ah, yes, sidewalks – this harkens back to an earlier blog on slate!) – you name the location and there’s concrete in it somewhere.   The term has easily entered our lexicon as a word to mean fixed or firmly understood, something akin to “carved in stone.”   To make something “concrete” for students, for example, is something I’m familiar with.  We can’t build a structure of ideas (or steel) without first having that firm foundation in place.

However, here at our old dacha, the one-room schoolhouse that so recently strolled across our back field to a new site overlooking the hills and valley along the West Branch of the Delaware River, something seems amiss.  If we can’t build something without having a firm foundation first, what’s with moving a house to a place that has no foundation?  Don’t we build house foundations first?  It does seem counterintuitive.   Rest assured, armchair house builders, there’s method to the madness.

Concrete forms in place and ready for pouring. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Building foundation forms. Note the additional  12″ form attached on top to make a nine foot wall.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

In fact, many neighbours were alarmed that the house was sent on its way without the benefit of a foundation to set it down on, understandably believing it to be a serious challenge to pour concrete under any physical obstacle.  I thought so in the beginning as well.  To the concrete people, however,  it made no difference whether the house was hanging over them or not.  Concrete forms could be set up with no trouble, and the pouring of concrete into them easily done with chutes.  More importantly, it is easier to build a wall to conform to the corners of a house, then to try to move a house precisely over an existing foundation wall.  “Think about moving a house with four corners to sit exactly on a foundation,” the chief engineer told me.  “Now think about yours.  With the additions added to it, it’s got twelve corners!”  I learned early in the game to ask questions of the chief, but never question his judgment.  That wasn’t just good diplomacy; he did, after all, know his stuff.

Cutting rebar for concrete reinforcement. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Cutting rebar for concrete reinforcement.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Within three days the forms were finished, forming a ten-inch wide wall space ready for filling.  As a strong believer in a good cellar with plenty of room (ah! – I am reminded of another blog on bruised heads from Upstate cellars!) another addition of twelve more inches appears atop these foundation forms.  Growing up in a house with a nine foot cellar ceiling made me a life-long fan of deep cellars, especially when shop equipment is involved.  That extra foot for swinging things around, hanging better lighting, or having clearance for machines is well worth the minimal extra cost in concrete.

And so, we’re back to the hard stuff.  I like the hard stuff.  I’ve been on it all my life and I’m not quitting.  I think of the Romans and their very convenient improvement of cement (the addition of lime) that gave us the concrete we use everywhere today  (let’s think of it as hard stuff on the rocks).  Thank goodness for the Romans and their contribution to our dacha project.  Little did they know that they were not only helping preserve the Coliseum, but two thousand years later a little schoolhouse wants its place in history, too.

Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

The foundation is built after the house is moved? Never question the Chief.  Copyright James V. Michalec 2015