I grabbed a wheel barrow full of concrete and headed back to the hole from hell.
August 2010 – A day to remember or maybe, to forget.
About 14 years ago, I built this 12×12 tool shed off the back of my woodworking shop.
Money was pretty tight back then so we made good use out of recycled materials like the siding and some doors from a previous remodeling job that I worked on. At that time, I wanted to pour a concrete slab but it just wasn’t in the budget. So I made the floor out of left over treated 4×4s and 3/4 plywood, sitting on concrete pads and gravel.
This worked just fine for awhile but eventually it started to sink and became a hotel for chipmunks.
I knew that pouring a new concrete foundation now was going to be a big job:
Pull everything out, cut off the bottom of siding, attach big beams to the building and jack it up three inches and remove the old floor. Then
we would dig a new trench footing, add steel rebar, gravel and wire mesh, and order the concrete. No problem.
Thinking back, I’ve always been proud of my physical abilities; a natural born athlete. In high school, I could bench press 300 lbs. and I ran the 100 yard dash in 9.8 seconds. As a young carpenter on the jobsite, I could easily walk on top of a second floor 2x4 wall or down steep rafters without a care. I could sink a three inch nail with two swings of my framing hammer: Tap, BAM!
I worked all day framing houses and then afterwards, played sports like A league volleyball twice a week, dirt biking and water skiing on weekends, cross country bicycle touring, Street skating, and working out. Like a tightly wound up clock about to bust.
Lead, Follow, Or get the Hell out of the way. was my motto. (from the Marines)
To be that young again; I smile when I think about it.
I’m still in good shape for a 53 yr. old worn out carpenter but I have to admit, I think the last time I tried to bench press 300 lbs. was about five years ago. My shoulder hurt for a week afterwards, but I did it, barely. Never wanted to try it again.
Which brings me back to my story,
It just happened to be the hottest week in August when we decided to take on this nasty ball busting project. I say we, as in me and my faithful apprentice/ gardener, Randy. I also hired a neighbor who was a concrete finisher that said he and his cousin wanted to help.
"Haven’t worked in a year!" he told me. So we agreed on a fair price and set the date.
The new foundation required about 3.5 yards of concrete. I also wanted to pour a 6×12 slab on the left for the pool pump and equipment which I planned on doing later, after the shed was completed. Especially considering everything was sitting outside and all over the inside of my workshop. One project at a time, right?
We did a good job getting everything ready. We put plywood down to protect the driveway for the two wheel barrows and I had all my concrete finishing tools ready. I’m no stranger to concrete and felt confident we could handle it. two or three guys wheel barrowing, one guy leveling, and one guy as a helper.
It’s been awhile since I’ve purchased concrete and I quickly discovered they have a minimum charge of 665.00 which is the cost of a truck load – 6.5 yards. If I ordered 3.5 yards, it was the same price.
Plus, they would only allow me 25 minutes to wheel barrow the concrete if I ordered 3.5 yards. Or, they would allow 60 minutes to wheel barrow if I ordered 6.5 yards… at the same price. There was an 80.00 extra charge every15 minutes after the allowed time.
Are you kidding me? That’s 320.00 an hour!
I know, I'll buy all the concrete, NOW. I’ll beat them at their own game.
So, I called the man. "Bring on the concrete! We’re ready."
The new plan was to pour both slabs at the same time, one giant 12×18 slab.
At 3:45 on a Friday, the massive cement truck arrived, 45 minutes late. I could hear the concrete slamming against the inside as it turned, Wham, Wham, Wham! It was so dry, it was like a giant dough ball. I asked the driver to add water but he only put in about five gallons which helped but it was still so thick it wouldn’t slide down the chute. I asked again if he could please add water. He said he couldn’t get it too wet because it would spill out of the wheel barrow and he couldn’t fill it as much. Then he mumbled something about the time and the fact it was Friday.
It was blistering hot. The air was dead calm and not a cloud in the sky.
I helped wheel barrow the first six loads and then put on my concrete boots and started leveling it. Randy continued wheel barrowing and it suddenly became obvious to us: Jose and his cousin were a no show.
We were on our own.
There was a support beam across the door opening holding the shed up while we poured the floor which meant we couldn’t wheel the concrete inside exactly where we wanted. It was so thick, it wouldn’t flow and started piling up at the door opening. I had a concrete hoe to pull it all the way across the 12 ft. floor in to place but I could tell, like a panic attack, I was in trouble.
I yelled at Randy to tell that guy to put more water in the mix, and he’s yelling back: “I did! but he only puts in a little bit!.” I quickly around to ask the guy to PLEASE put more water in and he says he did already.
What am I supposed to do? Call him a liar? Grab the hose and squirt him?
I looked at Randy and said, "We have to finish this or we are screwed."
I loaded another wheel barrow full and headed back to the hole from hell. I hosed it down to help keep it from drying out and pulled and pulled with the hoe as best I could. I grabbed a trowel and tried to force it down the rest of the way but it was like pushing silly putty flat through flower.
Randy dumped another load of concrete in to the growing pile and looked at me with these big pie eyes and said: “Man, this is kicking my butt!” I said: “We’re almost there, five or six more barrow full’s and we’ll have enough. Hang in there!”
I hammered at the concrete, refusing to yield to its hardening cancer which spread faster than my trusty trowel could keep up with. I knew it didn’t have to be perfect, it’s just a shed, but it at least had to be flat.
I'd been drinking water all day but we worked through lunch as we had to get the 2nd. slab formed and ready at the last minute. The sweat poured into my eyes and burned to the point where I could barely see but I didn’t stop until I started to feel woozy and had to lie down, just two minutes, I’ll be fine. I thought to myself, "Geez, is it hot! If there was just a little wind!" I drank more water and suddenly, lost it all.
My lips were tingly. I saw stars and immediately recognized the signs of dehydration. I’d been drinking water all day.
How could I be dehydrated? I drank more water and within minutes, threw that up too.
Randy comes over and looks at me and says: “You OK? Dude, you look terrible!.”
I was going down faster than a Big Rig on Ice Truckers! NOOOOOOooooooo…!!
After throwing up the fourth time and my legs started shaking, my wife insisted on taking me to the emergency room. I refused at first, but then the room started spinning and I decided maybe she was right.
Alas, the Mighty Titanic is neither.
After being given three bags of saline intravenously, I was back to normal and felt surprisingly, pretty good. You wouldn't believe what this little visit cost. Thankfully, I had insurance. We didn’t get home from the hospital until midnight.
The next morning, I went out to see the damage and discovered it wasn’t that bad and with a skim coat, I could level out the low spots and you would never know. Well, I sure will after all that.
The best part was all the tools were cleaned and put away. The plywood was picked up off the driveway, the wheel barrows and concrete tools were washed, and the shop and work truck were locked. It was 6 pm on a Friday when I left in a big hurry but Randy stayed late until the job was done. I was very impressed.
To show my appreciation, today we built a 4×4 sand box for his five year old niece, out of the old 4×4s from the original floor and some 1×6 cedar I had in stock. We belt sanded the 4×4s and then routed all the edges. We installed a smooth cedar cap for a seat which really made it look nice. Randy was very pleased with his homemade gift and couldn’t wait to get home to assemble it and fill it with sand just in time for her birthday on Sunday.
We joke about it now and everyone has a good laugh at my expense. I don't mind, a little.
Working in the gardens and around the house, we like to call ourselves The Reed and Randy Show. We do nice work together and have fun, and that's all that matters.
So what’s the message? Should have gotten decent help, should have eaten lunch, Shoulda' called that guy’s boss.
“You’re no spring chicken.” my wife told me. My favorite: "Wake up and smell the coffee, you old fart!"
Whatever the message, I know one thing, I have completed my last concrete job, thank you.
3130.00 for the 4 hour hospital tour – Ouch!
240.00 for extra wheel barrow time – %$#@&!
+250.00 for more leveling concrete – Doh!
3620.00 total additional costs – one more lesson paid for.
But, at least I got my 665.00 worth of concrete.