Saturday, October 8, 2016

Building Castles

It's Saturday morning and a windy, brisk 39 degrees, I guess fall is truly here.  Today's project will be mortaring the next layer of limestone on Castle Aaargh which Carl has had cut for over a week.  He's still cutting most of the stone by hand but is also using a diamond-bladed saw to take off the bumps and lumps in places.

I took this picture back in September; slowly but surely we're making progress all the way around the building.   I realize this tedious post outlines the tedious job of yet one more year since 2005.  Yes, it's been that long.  

 I've had someone ask me more than once, "Why don't you just hire someone to finish this and get it over with?" 

 Apparently I have kabitzed too much about good ol' Aaargh and people are losing patience with me.  That's ok, I lose patience with me all the time, too. 

Well, here's the cold hard facts; if we hired someone, I'm pretty sure the person(s) would expect to be paid.  Um, yeah, in fact I'm certain that would be the case.  A quick glance at our bank account reveals that ain't gonna happen.  Right now, the only cost to us is a around eight bucks for a bag of mortar and our time. 

But let's say we could afford to hire someone; the stone we're working with is simply rubble from the construction of the Quarry, and none of it is premium building material.  Each and every rock has to be selected and shaped from our stash of rock spread out far and wide in the Back Eight.  

And, since we are not professionals, we have a certain style which would probably send a true stone mason into fits of derisive laughter.  In other words, even if we could afford to hire a professional mason to finish this job there would be a definite change in appearance to the finished work.  

So let this be a cautionary tale: what we'd hoped would be a one or two year project has stretched into well over a decade, mostly because we can't devote all of our time to construction and still keep a garden tour-ready. We have to plant, weed, mulch and guide people through the garden sometime, right?   And another factor has been my health or lack thereof.  There have been some years I've been barely limping along which doesn't bode well for castle construction.   

And the biggest factor?  Our climate.  Prime mortaring weather (when no freeze is expected) coincides with prime gardening weather and in Wisconsin, that's June through possibly October.  

So off we go, mortaring on, slowly but surely.  I've always got the option of calling it a day and renaming Aaargh a garden 'Ruin',  but for now, we're still plodding forward.  

Carl and I have gone to the home improvement store to buy a seventy pound bag of mortar four times this year.  He doesn't like to keep more than one bag here at a time as our garage isn't very dry. Mortar becomes clumpy and basically useless once it gets damp.

Here's the setup right behind the gazebo.  Lovely, isn't it?

 The mortar mixer is an old one which when we acquired it for $60 was in need of a motor and many repairs.  We are so thankful for this machine, without it, we'd have to work a lot harder.  

True, you can mix mortar in a wheelbarrow with a mortar hoe (which looks like a garden hoe with two holes in the blade) adding the dry ingredients with water and raking them back and forth in the wheelbarrow until they are thoroughly mixed.  The mortar mixer is much more efficient and eases the workload substantially.

 Around we go..... in case you'd like to whip up a batch someday,  simply add mason sand to dry mortar and run the mixer until it is well blended.  Carl has a pail for measuring out the dry mortar and a set amount of  shovelfuls of sand to add.
 Using a garden hose he watches carefully as the mixer churns the batch and adds water until he feels he has the consistency he wants. The  amount of water always varies.  If the sand is damp or the humidity is high, you need less water and vice versa.

When he's satisfied the batch is thoroughly mixed, he dumps it in the wheelbarrow and off we go.

Dumping the mix into the wheelbarrow.

Scraping down the sides of the mixer.

 And off we go to the Castle Aaargh, making our layer cake of stones.  Taking an old paintbrush, we wet the bottom and top sides of the course of stone, apply about 3/4 to 1 inch of fresh mortar and squish slightly, making certain of good adhesion.  

I often think of it as making a sandwich cookie (I would, you know, they are delicious but I no longer get to eat them.) Anyway, simply take your two layers of stone and put the filling in between.  

While Carl moves on to the next stones to be sandwiched, I am in charge of 'striking the joints', which means I force the mortar into any of the cracks and rake out any excess, smoothing out the courses. 


A few weeks ago we were running low on sand.  We normally buy our mason sand from a quarry near Mackville, about fifteen miles from here.  We toss fifty gallon barrels on the trailer and off we go.

Here we are approaching the scale; you drive your vehicle and trailer onto the scale and the office personnel record your empty weight.  Then we proceed to the pile of sand and start shoveling.

I was mesmerized looking into the huge quarry (when I should have been shoveling) and had to take a picture of the far away limestone pit.  My phone couldn't capture the sight adequately, but people on the floor of the pit looked like ants.

Carl was standing on top the mason sand pitching into the back barrels and I was on the side shoveling into the front barrels.  As  the load became heavier, I noticed the tire on the trailer was going down.  

"I think we've got a problem here."

"Oh, darn it, I was going to pump the tires up before we left," Carl said, but he kept shoveling.

"Stop pitching," I said, "We're done."

The barrels weren't full, but we'd have enough to finish off the year.  We proceeded back to the scale to be weighed again.  The ritual is the same except this time, Carl (or I) have to go in and pay the bill. 

The quarry is a busy place with trucks and trailers coming and going all the time.  We were waiting behind a dump truck for quite a long time; there were two semis behind us and more coming.  I don't know what the hold up was, possibly the dump truck driver was flirting with the cute weigh-station operator, but finally it was our turn.  

When Carl went in to pay the bill, the truck driver waiting behind us climbed out of his cab and came up to my passenger window.

"Ma'am, I don't know if you've noticed or not, but you've got a soft tire on your trailer.  I don't know how far you have to go, but I just wanted to let you know."

"Yes, we saw it," I said ruefully, "We're going to head for a gas station and get some air.  Thanks alot, though, I appreciate it." 

The truck driver waved and got back in his semi.

Carl came out with the bill, under $6 for a little over eight hundred pounds of sand, and we were limping on our way on backroads at twenty-five miles an hour to a gas station.  After a fill up with air, we were good to go.  

We took our time on more backroads, enjoying the scenery and not pushing our old 1989 Oldsmobile very hard with the load.  

Yep, everything about this job has been slow, but that's ok. 


We'll get there.




FlowerLady Lorraine said...

You 'ARE' getting there. What you are creating is a work of art, as well as heart. Having someone else work on it for the sake of getting it done, just would NOT be the same at all.

Love & hugs to the both of you ~ FlowerLady

Sue said...

Wow, Karen, that stained glass is STUNNING!
You guys have so much talent. You're so lucky to be able to create the beautiful things you have. That means so much more than "hiring out". Keep plugging away-you'll get there.

Beth @ PlantPostings said...

Oh, you are certainly making progress. I can understand the bank account issue. There are so many things I would do in my garden if money wasn't an object. As Lorraine said, you are artists, too, so it's important for you to be in control. :)

Tootsie said...

the cheaper the better I always say!!! You guys are doing great...and I love your adventure narrations. Sounds like you are having a good enough time playing in the quarry and the pride you will have from knowing you did it all yourselves and made some precious memories will make that castle priceless!

africanaussie said...

Oh my gosh that stained glass window is awesome - I was in France in July and wandered through the cathedrals in awe of the stained glass. What a talent you have. I work as a weigh bridge operator at a quarry! (I am not cute though!) said...

You window is phenomenal. I would love to create one like that. I am always amazed at all the work you two always have going on. Ten years? It does not seem that long that you have been working on it. You have a nice set up for doing your masonry work too. I am sure masons would be quite inspired by your work, and I know quite a few from my architecture work.

outlawgardener said...

Wow Karen! Your castle already looks wonderful but when it is finished and with stained glass windows no less, it'll be truly awesome. Slow and steady wins the race! (And free ain't bad either!)

myomyohi said...

That window is absolutlely amazing with the sun shining thru it. I hope it catches the sun for many years to come.