Working in the trenches

On the morning of Thursday, June 15th I waited for the backhoe to arrive. The sun was already at its apex before the backhoe and operator finally came rumbling up our rocky driveway. The goal for the day was to get the footings dug. It was going to be a lot of work, so we got started right away after we exchanged some brief pleasantries.

The previous evening Megan and I had reapplied a fresh layer of chalk showing clearly where the footings needed to go. Using a backhoe to dig footings makes the job exponentially easier than digging by hand, but it’s a bit harder to be precise. As we started digging, I’d check the depth and width of the trench to make sure we were making the footings the proper dimensions.

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The backhoe at work

After about 6 hours the digging was finished. The backhoe puttered back down the driveway and I re-strung the string lines to the four batter boards that represented the main dimensions of the house. I could tell that it would take a lot of shovel and pick work to clean up the trenches and fix the areas where the backhoe had gotten off track, but this was a good start.

The next morning Daniel and I arrived to begin cleaning up the trenches and getting the footings to the exact dimensions they needed to be. We were armed with shovels, pickaxes, and a rock bar. I’d routinely run a tape measure off the string line and use a plumb bob (aka best name for a tool ever) to find if the trench was wide enough at a given point. We had quite a bit of trench-widening to do, although the depth seemed to be mostly good once we cleaned out the loose dirt that had fallen back into the trench.

It was a +90 degree day and the digging was hard. We listened to music from the likes of Bad Brains and Big L, and we made good progress. I can’t romanticize the callouses and raw skin that occurred as a result of this work, but it felt good to be sweating away in the trenches of our future house. The frustration of clanging unsuccessfully against a solid piece of granite at full strength is matched only by the triumphant destruction of the rock with a subsequent blow.

By the end of the day we were worn out from the strenuous nature of the work and from the exposure to the hot sun. As we looked around at the finished product of our day’s labor, I found myself pleased by how much we had accomplished. There was still a lot to do, and we’d return the following day to continue our work, but the squared sides of the trenches we had finished were proof that we were up to the challenge.

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Daniel at the end of our first day
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In the south wall trench on our second day

8 thoughts on “Working in the trenches

  1. You’re a fantastic writer! How did you and Megan decide to build this type of house? I’ve heard of a few other people doing it. I look forward to more updates.

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    1. Thanks, Liz! Adobe is a building method that is fairly easy to learn and do. I like that it is a tradition of the Southwest, and as such, is well-suited for our climate. More people should build this way! Thanks for your interest and for checking out our site!

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  2. I love the play by play and seeing what you and the team are accomplishing! Great photos, too. Can’t wait for the next post! Also remember that SPF 50 and lots of water.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Those trenches look perfect. Can’t tell you how much I hate a digging bar. It means real work. Wonderful to be able to follow your progress. – Anne

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    1. Hi Anne, thanks for the compliment! I think we finally finished digging in those trenches yesterday, at least, I hope we are finished! Thanks so much for checking out our site. Look for a new post this weekend!

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