Mandan News

Dan Ulmer: Hard work results in more work to do

Okay, so mom’s planning on moving back home after the carpenter in our family completes his tasks on her house. For the record, not much has been done around her house for somewhere close to 30 years.

Thus the interior needed painting, cleaning, and we had to remove the roots that had grown through the sheetrock on her basement wall. Never mind the 20-some odd boxes of books we hauled out along with the overflowing pickup full of trash that’s now in the landfill… the roots were rather disturbing. Carpenter Ben had to tear off the siding to the house, replace some studs, re-channel the water that fed the roots that insidiously crept through the wall. (BTW – yes this is a plug for Ben… he’s turned out to be a really good carpenter.)

So it’s fixed now except for the dirt that slid down the hill and covered the aforementioned basement wall 20 years ago. As you know, the ground freezes fairly solid in January, we’re talking frozen like concrete from the surface to the frost line… 4 feet down. All we had to do was remove the top 18 inches of this frozen tundra.

Like I was saying, the water flowed in this direction for the past 20 years, so the roots and the rock and the mud was/is fully encased in ice… and we had to remove 18 inches of this rocky frozen muck… i.e. dig an 18 inch deep trench that is 25 feet long and 3 feet wide… with a pick ax.

I will leave out the fact that we also have to dig out the steel mesh fence/dog kennel that my dad constructed for his dog, Prairie, 25 years ago. And wouldn’t you know this had to be one of the few projects dad really did right. The fence is 6 feet high and the bottom is buried 1 foot into the ground to prevent Prairie from tunneling under it. After 25 years trees have intertwined into the mesh of the fence… some of these Chinese Elms, Poplars, and vines have grown to a height of 20 feet… their removal will have to wait until spring thaw.

We had to get the water, snow and ice away from the house to protect the aforementioned carpenter work… so back to the pick ax. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to operate a pick ax but I do recall not enjoying the last time I had to use one. For you tool challenged types, a pick ax is a skinny 24-inch long skinny pointed chunk of steel with an ax handle inserted in the middle of it… and it weighs about 10 pounds.

Ten pounds doesn’t sound like much until you foist it over your head and slam it into the ground as hard as you can. My first strokes managed to loosen three gravel-sized rocks per swing. At this point you have no choice except to keep swinging until the pick sticks itself far enough into the ground to crack it. Then you leverage a chunk of frozen dirt and swing again and again and again and again and again… and at this age I found 10 swings at a time was all I could handle.

Once you get the dirt loose then you grab a shovel to remove it and once you remove it then you return to the pick ax for 10 more swings… then you remove that and take 10 more swings and then remove that and you should get the drift by now.

In short order, your sweat glands burst open and even though it’s below freezing outside your undershirt is soaked, your lungs will be chugging like a steam engine, sweat will drizzle down your nose and blur your eyesight… It’s here that the only good thing I could think of was that at least I could skip my trip to the gym for the day and swung on.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this project would require more effort than I was capable of giving, so I dug for an hour and half. My reward was a pitiful 3-foot square of dirt, thus leaving me another 22 feet of digging… so I went home and napped on it.

I woke up to every muscle in my body angrily expressing themselves via grunts, groans, and aches. My arms ached so bad I could hardly get my hand high enough to pick my nose. While secretly hoping that this project would fix it self I heeded my muscle warnings and decided to wait until they quit complaining before returning. My calculations at this juncture indicate that at 3 feet per attempt I only have seven more tries, or 12 more hours, before I’m done, and since this is a description of day one I have no idea when my muscles will allow me to return to this task… and then there’s that dog pen…

Sure hopin’ you’re able to survive whatever you get yourself into.