Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How This All Started, Part 5

 Dad & Karen Circa 1972
  In my last post, I said my father would have thrown a tantrum to end all tantrums if he would have lived to see what we did when we built the Quarry garden.  Maybe I do him a disservice, maybe he would have been all right with it after he calmed down.    He did sputter fiercely when we brought in all the tufa and the smaller flat limestone over the years, but then simmered down when we put walls in place.  Still, the whole idea of hauling in rock after rock to his farm after a lifetime of trying to get rid of them seemed a crime to him. 

The Rock/ Formal Garden was the first one to make my father see red.  Not bad enough we hauled rocks off our own rock pile, now I go and get them from the neighbors?  And our neighbors, being farmers, did a lot of head scratching too; one of them nicknamed us the Flintstones.

My dad, planting grain west of our house in 1979
One of the neighboring farmers was working his land in the field next to ours a few years after we got a good start and stopped in to see just what it was we were doing to 'Joe's farm'.  (My dad's name was Joe, by the way.

"I've seen you guys haul rock past my place for a coupla years now, and figured it was about time I stopped in to see just what in the heck you're doing."

He walked around our yard while the two boys and  I dutifully scurried along behind him.  He stopped finally, took off his cap, mopped his brow with his forearm and stared in dismay at the Formal Garden and then at the low walls we had all over the place.

He turned to me with a stern gaze and said, "How could anybody ever farm this place again?  You have rocks and trees EVERYWHERE!"

The farmer in me came to the surface, yes, I felt guilty sometimes too....but I told him the rocks could be buried or made into gravel if push came to shove and we needed to farm this two and a half acres again.

"Yeah, but this was good land until you did this to it.  Still....I guess it's ok to look at, but it sure ain't practical,"  and with a grudging nod, he was back on his idling tractor off making rounds in his field again.  Though a few years later, he did bring his wife by to see 'what the crazy people did in their yard', so I guess he got used to the idea. 

Me at 40! Yes, believe it or not, I was younger once---and the limestone walls in front of the house 1998

 After the Rock/Formal Garden was sort of done, we thought having some low stone walls out in front of the house would look kind of nice.  So we began searching for flat limestone next, probably around 1994 or so.   To bring the rock home from wherever we found it, we used our little homemade one ton trailer towed behind our 1991 Buick Century.  I nicknamed the poor car the Mighty Buick, for it hauled ton after ton after ton of rock right up until 2008 when we finally retired it.  

Where we live, limestone is plentiful.  A few years ago, the little town we live nearby had a yard waste facility (formerly known as a dump, but this sounds better) where the citizens of the city could bring their lawn clippings and tree branches and leaves, etc.  Since the city is built right on ledge rock, many people would dig in their yards for basements or what have you and come up with lots of flat limestone which in turn, they would haul to the dump.  Being intrepid rock hunters, we soon started scouting that dump every night just before dark and hauled home all the rock we could put on the trailer.  Some trips yielded nothing, other trips were bonanzas and we'd have to return several times in one night.  The dump wasn't monitored, nobody cared if crazy people wanted to take rocks or other junk home with them. 

And yes, I found other junk there; the little gate Mom painted for me, and my favorite find---the statue of a little girl and boy holding an umbrella--sure it was part of a  broken fountain, but hey, it's still cute.  I cruised the dump after church one Sunday and found the little statue with its base lying in a heap.  It was Mother's Day, and I was alone.  Well, I couldn't leave this treasure there, what if someone else picked it up before I could go and get help?  So, teetering in my Sunday best dress and high heels, I managed to hoist this gem into the trunk of the Mighty Buick.   To this day, it is still one of my favorite garden statues.

In the above picture Joel is standing in the Rock/Formal Garden.  Can you see the statue of the little boy and girl standing in the pond area?   This was our first attempt at a garden pond, but oh, well, it didn't work out.  The dome occupies the former pond space today.

    Sadly, the dump, ok, (Yard Waste Facility) started having problems with people dumping more than yard waste.  Same old story, a few people have to make it bad for everyone else.   Old tires were a recurrent problem, and then the occasional refrigerator or stove or air conditioners started showing up.  The city posted signs, warning people of eminent fines and penalties, but the problem kept getting worse.  Then the police started patrolling it more often and video cameras were put up on poles to try and catch the offenders.  Finally, the city did what they had to do, restricted access to the dump only during set hours when there was an attendant there and you have to sign a ledger before you enter.  We did go a few times after the new rules and regulations were posted, and even though we don't live anywhere near the city limits, they didn't care if we came in to take stuff out, but it was a hassle, so we quit. 

The boys were much younger then, and both kind of enjoyed the trips to the dump, as did I.  (What a cheap date I am.)  It was an adventure but not the same as the adventures Carl and I had as kids, exploring quarries.  After we found our supply of free stone was now gone, we did some investigating and found out there was one more inactive quarry still open to the public in a limited way about thirteen miles from us. we went to check it out. 
The way it worked was simple, you drove into the quarry yard and parked with your vehicle and trailer, if you had one, on the scale and got weighed in.  Then you could proceed to the designated area for rock picking, load up your selected rocks by hand, and then head back to the scale and wait for the ladies in the office to wave you ahead after the load was weighed.  Then I would go in and pay the bill.  
What a working quarry looks like--see the stone walls in the distance?

When we first started going to this old quarry the price of stone was around ten dollars a ton.  The rock you picked through is known as 'blast'--which is the stone pile that results from a charge of dynamite inserted into a solid stone wall and torn apart by the explosion.  The rock is every which way, every size and shape, and it is very hard work to load it.  But we did, for years; we took crowbars and come-alongs and hoisted and heaved and pulled and sweated, swatted and swore.  
Here are some of the piles we got to pick from, the rock is much larger than it looks here, but you can sort of get the general idea.

Ten dollars a ton was quite a bit of money then, especially when you could order a dump truck full of the same stone, crushed for gravel, delivered to your door with no effort on your part, for three dollars a ton!  I think it was probably the liability they were charging for, if someone were to get injured in their quarry, I can only imagine the trouble they would have been in.  As the years went by, the price went from $10 to $15 to $20 a ton, especially as flat rock, especially the big stuff, became more popular in for high-end landscaping jobs.  

We have absolutely no idea how many trips we made to that quarry over the years...and the timing had to be just right, too.  Carl got home from work at 4PM and the quarry, thirteen miles away, closed at 5 PM.  We had a nearly 15 minute drive just to get there, arriving usually around 4:15 and had to load a ton by hand before 5PM.  We usually always overloaded the poor little car trailer something awful, so we had to limp home at around 25 mph on all the back roads just to save the car and the trailer tires rubbing the deck.  Mighty Buick indeed!  In due time, the little quarry's hours of operation were cut down to nothing and as far as I know, it's no longer accessible to the public now, either.

In August of 2002, Carl was restless and dissatisfied with the original little pond we put in.  We had tried the addition of a babbling brook to circulate the water, but it wasn't all that great.  Carl wanted a much bigger pond.  

In this picture, Joel is floating in a pond liner in the little pond.  (He still loves to be in the water at every opportunity)  The bridge and some visitors are in the background, possibly around 1999.
 We were driving past my childhood off-limits quarry one day  and I said, "Wouldn't it be great to be able to stroll through a quarry again?  What a pretty place to build a home, can you imagine looking out your window and seeing all those big rocks?"

That's when Carl asked me what I thought about building one of our own.  A quarry, that is....ummm, well.....

His projects are always big; he's an optimist, I'm a pessimist, but if it's got to do with rocks, OK, I'm in, I guess.  Being a stay-at-home mom poses a challenge and we wouldn't change that for the world, but money is ALWAYS an issue. And rocks, especially big ones, are not cheap. We have always tried to do everything ourselves, necessity is the mother of invention; and we've invented some pretty bizarre things around here.

My pessimistic, practical side kicked in: build a quarry of our own?  Yeah, right.  How in the world would we do that?  And how about digging the hole? In the past we had dug everything around here by hand and loaded the dirt onto a trailer pulled behind the Murray lawnmower; clearly he was delusional if he thought we could dig something that big by hand. I mean, yeah, we have two boys who love to dig in the sand, but c'mon get a grip. 

Carl said, "Oh, don't worry about that, we'll figure something out." 

Uh-huh...I've heard that line before. 

And, my next question was, where are we going to put this thing?  We looked at the yard from all angles and from the house, if we were going to put a Quarry in, well, we wanted to be able to see it from the house.  The only place that made much sense was right where the barn was sitting.  Oh, dear.  The barn would have to be moved.  And there were about twenty blue spruce trees planted in that area, too, what would we do with them?  
Barn before the move
  I decided to make some phone calls.  We have a friend who is an excavator owner, hereafter referred to as 'C' (to protect his anonymity, lol)  who had just built a new home. We had the spruce trees about 12' tall in the area where the quarry was going to go in, so we asked C if he would dig the hole in exchange for the trees. 

He came out one night in late August to look the situation over and said, "Well, I'll take the trees.  But you need to have the barn moved out and the trees gone and a blueprint of what you want before I can dig anything."  

Ok, Step One to Quarry building.....Move Barn.  Ah, ok, how do you do that?  The barn weighed a little over a ton, Carl figured, since we bought all the lumber and tin  for constructing it in one trip a few years before and hauled it home on the little car trailer.  Carl insisted the load 'felt' like a ton behind the Mighty Buick and the trailer tires hadn't smoked too bad from dragging the deck, so it had to be under a ton, as that is all the trailer can handle.  (See, we do everything so methodically...).  Carl took the frame off of an old car from a friend and welded up a trailer of sorts to go under the barn. This was the most nerve-wracking job of all.  We had to jack up the building and try and slide the trailer under it, and keep it even.  
2002, Joel is 16, Carl is 42 and David is 12 in this picture.  They are milling around trying to decide what to do next to get the building jacked up.  I remember this day all too well.....
 There is no permanent slab under the barn, just a bunch of big concrete pieces we got from the dump, so it wasn't like we had to pour a new foundation.  Just pick up the barn, fish out all the concrete pieces, put the new concrete pieces where the barn is going to go next and then 'simply' tow the barn back over the top of the foundation.  Simple, right?   No.  

We decided to put the barn closer to the Rock/Formal garden but there were trees there, too.  So, we had to move some trees over to C's house to put the barn in it's new home.  We rented a tree spade, (which is a story in itself; a 1970 Chevy truck with a bad front end that swayed all over the road at any speed over 20 mph, earning us no popularity contests on the highway) the trees started leaving our yard.

The truck had been repainted, but it was definitely a collector vehicle.  The tree spade part worked great though!  We rented this truck for $200 for the weekend and hauled many trees to C's new house.

I couldn't find any pictures of the actual barn move, but don't fret, because if I continue on with this tale, there will be pictures of it moving again.  Much to Joel's dismay, we have moved the barn three times...the last time being the summer of 2009...and he vowed he would move away and never speak to us again if I wanted it moved one more time!  (The barn is in it's permanent home now, I promise.) 

But back to 2002:  things moved painfully slow after that. Contractors are always busy and this was a side job for C, so not high priority. We did what he had asked though, and moved out all the trees, put the barn in it's new home near the other garden and staked out the shape of the area Carl wanted dug for the Quarry Garden.

Barn is gone here, and the stakes show where we wanted C to dig.
By then, it was approaching October 2002; the days were getting shorter, and the nights were getting colder.
Then, finally, C was caught up with his jobs and headed out our way. 

The Big Day arrived: Oct.17, 2002!  C the Excavator came to dig the hole.  We had our first snow flurries that morning,  I remember thinking how silly it was to start such a big project so late in the year.

I kept the boys home from school, it ain't every day (try never!) that we had work done for us by an actual machine. C arrived at 7AM and by noon and 37 dump trucks of sandy dirt later, he was done. Wow, were we impressed...that would have taken us 10 years. 
C digging while Carl holds a transit for him.  We never did have a blueprint for this excavation.  C just followed our staked out area and Carl did a lot of pointing.
 In the picture above, C is asking Carl for a plan to dig from....Carl told him the 'plan' was in his head.  C said, "Oh, great...I'm supposed to dig this from a plan in your head?"  
Nothing but sand as far as the eye can see, except for the 18" of topsoil.  We didn't want to saw down the trees right behind the Quarry garden at the time we had C dig the hole.  This decision would come to haunt us later on...but more on that to come.  The sand limited the depth we could dig, too, as it would cave in quite easily.  We ended up with a shallow pond, which is another cause for concern in dry years. 
I apologize for the quality of these pictures, but here we see David, age 12, in the foreground with Carl's father, Don and Carl looking on.  C has just hit water for our pond.

Thirty-seven dump truck loads of sand were loaded out of the pond.  The mistake we made was to leave the trees on the north side of the hole AND have the dump truck drivers unload the sand up by the woods in our Back Eight acres.  We ended up hauling all of those loads of dirt back home using our teeny old trailer (hundreds of trips with the tractor back and forth, how silly of us!)  to use when we built the waterfall....see, an advanced plan would been a good idea!
There you have it, C was done by noon and off to his next job and Joel was kayaking in the new Quarry Pond. 

The pond filled in naturally from the ground water we hit and now we had a hole. But, no rocks. 

 Hmmmmm........Now what? Where are we going to get big rocks from? Gee, another thing we sort of forgot about.

Stay tuned for Part, ah, what are we on now?  I guess this was Part 5, so Part 6 is next.  





Gatsbys Gardens said...

Karen, I had no idea that you guys hauled all of that rock for the quarry. I thought some of it was a natural formation on your land. Since, Wisconsin is known for having lots of imbedded boulders, I figured you were blessed. What a lot of work, but it is beautiful!


FlowerLady said...

Thanks again for more of the story, complete with pictures.

A lot of work, but what a beautiful creation.


Anonymous said...

I am so enjoying your story, and if I am ever in WI I will surely stop to meet you and your wonderful gardens. Your family is the most hard working group I have ever seen in print. It is almost like really knowing you rather than just virtually.I too have been to our quarry to get rock.

Did you not feel a little funny at the weigh station surrounded by monster sized trucks. I did at first. My little Jeep and all the big loaders. And the station house person is way up in the air to get the paperwork at the level of the tractor trailers. I felt so small.

Your father would have been mortified removing all that good soil in search of rocks. So funny the farmer named you guys the Flintstones.

I am anxiously awaiting part 6. Love your series.

Darla said...

Just scanned the post, in a hurry here. Love the photo of your son in the floating pond and the canoe...I'll be back to read it thoroughly later....keep 'em coming.

Zoey said...

Whoaa! I cannot even begin to imagine doing all that work to make a garden! You all deserve to be gardeners of year (decade) in your hometown!

xoxoxo said...

Much awaited post! Maybe Gardeners of the century really!
Im a very low maintenance gardener, so I am appreciating all your hard work!

Sall's Country Life said...

Dear Fred and Wilma,
Count me in on that vote for gardeners of the century!! What a great story/documentary. Can't wait for the next chapter.

Karen said...

Thank you, Eileen, We are blessed to live here, but nope, we didn't have any natural rock formations.

FlowerLady, thank you, as always!

Donna, If you are ever in Wisconsin we would be so honored to have you visit! And, yes, going to the quarry with the big trucks all around us and their monster-sized equipment did make us feel so teeny-tiny, like mere ants. Thank you so much!

Darla, I know, I write TOO much...this is turning into a novel. Thank you for hanging on this long.

Zoey and xoxoxo, well, I don't know about gardeners of the decade (though it has a nice ring to it, lol.) I know a lot of our neighbors refer to us as something closer to the Crazy Rock People.

Lisa, Fred & Wilma thank you from the bottom of their hearts. Thank you and thanks for the laugh!