Trench Warfare

Honestly the last few weeks have been so jam packed that we have hardly even turned on the computer. But, don’t worry. We’re still snapping pictures and keeping tabs on the goings on here… In retirement I’ll return to the posts I never produced. We’ve adopted a new mantra… for Curio, for this renovation, and for our lives in general:

“When it’s done.”

As in:

Q: “When do you plan to open?”

A: “When it’s done.”

or, as we mentally prepare for New England backlash for our impending Slowbar (lovingly referred to by a friend as a “high concept cafe”):

Q: “So, like, I’m in a hurry but REALLY need some coffee. When can I get my caffeine fix from this fancy pour over contraption?

A: “When it’s done.”

or, in reflecting on the complexities of my day-to-day… the web of relationships I navigate with my partner, Fitz (love… so much love, difficult business and finance decisions, creative/silly/artistic collaborators, designer/contractor vs project manager, FRIEND… the list winds on) – the strange course my life has taken since I _______ (left Illinois… left San Francisco… left the house this morning) – the 4 weeks we’ve spent without a toilet – the washing of dishes in a bucket with an electric kettle – the cooking in the dark – oh and we mustn’t forget those several months without heat… all leading me to ask:

Q: “Will my life ever be normal?”

A: “When it’s done.”

Tonight I’ve got a story where the picture is worth a thousand words. But, ironically, the “before” picture is almost exactly the same as the “after” picture… a concept not often explored at Amber Lane.



Remember the whole “We Need 2 Bathrooms” mandate? And… to top it off… they have to be huge… bigger than the length of that brick wall in the picture above.

Well, in order to install 2 bathrooms up to code, we had to move the entire plumbing system in the building – and re-pipe everything… cast and copper from the moment it enters the property to the moment it pops out the roof. And that, my friends, is a LOT of work. One of the steps in this on-going plumbing saga (that is STILL not over) involved trenching through our concrete slab to lay the new waste line. The slab itself is 4 inches thick. We needed to make a trench 2 feet wide by 14 feet long.

A very big and complicated Step #1:

Once the concrete was out, these nice gentlemen left… but not with the concrete! To be fair, we did know that was going to happen. But, man, it makes a lot more of an impact when a huge pile of rocks is just sitting there on your floor!


This pile of rocks.

Step #2: laying the new cast iron pipes. We left Joe and his team to their own devices for this one. Here are some images of the aftermath and our pretty awesome trench. I mean how often do you get to see one of these?!

Step #3: Building a brick wall

No, we didn’t get distracted mid-project. Fitz and I became self-taught masons overnight! The concrete slab begins where our crawl space ends – at the divide between the 2 halves of our building. The property used to be 2 buildings with a common wall… now we are 1 big, odd building. The waste stack comes into the building at the far end of the crawl space – travels the length of it – and then jumps through the common brick wall to go onto our slab. So, in addition to cutting that trench, we also took out a portion of the wall to allow for the new pipe. And what comes out must go back, including the brick wall!

Step #4: As we waited for the mortar to set on our brick wall (aka the sturdy dam against a potential concrete deluge in our basement!), we went out and bought concrete… and then went out again and bought more.


This x 2!

So. Heavy. —> Similar observations made in many other steps.

Step #5: The back fill! Talk about back-breaking!

Before we began, we acknowledged the obvious: this is the perfect place to hide a body! In fact, probably more than one body! We looked around for suitable candidates but being more accommodating than violent, we soon realized it would have to be us lending our trench to someone else’s need for body disposal. We looked around again for people we know with bodies to dispose of… but no one really came to mind. So… 10 minutes later we began the back fill, sans bodies.

First we re-filled the dirt… probably about 6 inches or so? After that, we filled in the remaining space with broken up bits of concrete. To ensure a firm surface we couldn’t put in huge rocks. We tried to cap the biggest pieces back in the hole at a little smaller than the size of my fist (waving in anger at the trench!). πŸ˜‰ So those small pieces had to come from somewhere…

That somewhere was a couple of hours of Fitz and I breaking up that pile of rocks with sledge hammers. Just another Friday night at Amber Lane! Once all the back fill was in place, we poured 12 gallons of water along the slab – at the recommendation of our mason. Apparently, as the water settles, it pulls the dirt and rocks down – using gravity to tamp the earth. This creates a compact, level surface that won’t later settle and cause the concrete to crack. Tricks of the trade!

After the 12 gallons of water (and a night of sleep), Fitz got the genius idea to finish the fill with sand. We remembered a free sand pile at the Department of Public Works building and ran out to grab some. The only carrying devices we had on hand were grocery bags from Trader Joe’s. We filled about 10… each was probably 65-70 pounds of heavy, god-forsaken sand. Those came back in the Scion with us (poor Gordie!)… and into the building… and into the trench… minus the ones that broke in the car… and the sand that remains in the car… <ahem>

Step #6: The next day was Cement Day! Charlie, our electrician, offered to help us with the project since we have never poured cement before. He also has a wheelbarrow. And he’s 6’5″ and pretty huge. So he was a big help, literally!

Each 80 pound bag of concrete was mixed with water in the wheelbarrow and stirred with hoes. Then it was shoveled into the trench where I was stationed on my hands and knees with a trowel to spread everything out. I learned how to move the concrete with the trowel, how to get rid of air pockets, and how different concentrations of cement work better in different applications. Sometimes you want it to run and pour into crevasses. Sometimes you want it to inch along and stick in position. After the concrete was poured, the men left me to obsess over the details. I leveled the slab for another hour – filling in low points – using a 2×4 to “skeet” the surface. When it was all said and done we cleaned off the edges and popped a few last bubbles.

… 2 hours later the wind kicked up in the building and blew a bunch of hay from the rafters onto the slab! Luckily I noticed and we scrambled to pick out all the dirt and straw from the setting concrete. That led me to sweep the slab itself which produced an interesting textured pattern and further leveled the partially set slab. An accidental discovery!

The slab needed a couple of days to set… but we steered clear of it for about a week. As we learned though, a concrete slab actually takes about 50 YEARS to fully set! Long after we’ve passed this beast on to someone else. πŸ™‚



But, of course, that’s not the end of the story. Because, guess what’s lurking right outside the picture above? The rest of the pile of broken up concrete! What have we learned so far at Eliza Spelled Backwards?

1. There is never a neat and tidy ending.

2. But there is always Craig’s List!

Yes, that’s right. I found someone on Craig’s List to come and take away our remaining rubble pile for free! A really nice guy looking for back fill for a gravel road in the back woods of his property. We loaded up his pick up truck with every remaining shred of evidence from the project and sent him on his way.

A happy ending for Trench Warfare at Amber Lane, compliments of Fitz and Kitty!

Hard to read but "Fitz -n- Kitty" in the concrete!

Hard to read but “Fitz -n- Kitty” in the concrete!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: