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Concrete Progress

Hello All,


Since my camera, after lots and lots of very solid abuse, broke just into the process, what you won’t see in this entry are pictures of the second half of pouring the concrete footings for the foundation of the kitchen building. When it croaked, I got the bright idea to take photos with my phone, which, in spite of the fact that it was my maiden voyage, seemed to work out, except that now I can’t get them out, and they’re pretty small for you all to gather round and look at, not to mention the distance thing.


So I’ll go back to the stone age and tell you about some of what didn’t find its way into the digital record.


Things started off well at 7:30 am. We had twenty one guys working, plus Gilbert and Isaiah and Raphael and myself. Our mission was to pour a nine inch, steel reinforced layer of concrete in all 382 feet of our completed trenches. Everyone had his job. Benson was the concrete mixer operator. Gilbert oversaw the mixture proportions. We used a 1-2-3 ratio. One part cement, two parts sand, three parts ballast (large gravel), and enough water to make it right. We used karais to load the machine, shallow metal plates that we shoveled the sand and ballast into and that guys would carry to the mixer and toss the stuff in. Four guys handled the ballast, two shoveling, two carrying and tossing. Two guys took care of the sand, and one guy managed the cement. What the photos I do have don’t capture is the frenetic activity of this crew. They worked like synchronized mad men. They shoveled and carried and turned into cement 44,000 ponds of ballast, 26,000 pounds of sand, 8,150 pounds of cement and 7,000 pounds of water , and then the three guys on the other end shoveled it all over again into the wheelbarrows…before lunch. The deal was that they got free breakfast and lunch (which by agreement included meat) extra wages, and we would quit whenever we were done, at midnight or at 10 am.


There were four masons working and eight guys manning the wheelbarrows. When a load was fully mixed in the mixer, it was dumped out onto an area covered with tin sheeting and then three guys there would shovel it into the wheelbarrows which were lined up waiting and they would wheel it to wherever the masons needed it. The masons controlled the levels and used the probe vibrator to get all the air pockets out and make it all smooth.


We had one early glitch. The 3000 liter tank on the stone stand at this end of the property was filled the night before so we could pump water out of it to the 1500 liter tank we had moved near the mixer when we ran low. Gilbert told me, just when we needed to pump the water that the 3000 liter tank was now empty. The valves connecting it to the perimeter drip system for the trees had accidentally been left on. Water is one of the four basic elements in this stuff. It was a little like being in Switzerland at the big bang factory and hearing,”What? I thought you brought the particles!!


But as always here, there’s a way. We loaded up the empty 1500 liter tank in the big truck, gave everybody a short break for tea and headed to the dam to get some water. About that time, David, our unflappable, hooligan neighbor, came riding through the gate on a beautiful, dappled grey horse, with a fine English saddle. David doesn’t have two shillings to rub together, so this was odd at best. He rode over to me and said,”Mista David, do you use one of these?” (Can I ride?) “Sure.” Although the last time was in Mexico when Allison and I both almost killed ourselves. So he dismounted, handed me the reins and said,”These is brakes, and steering.” With those fine pointers, I hopped up and took that beautiful horse for a spin around the five acres. The water could wait. The workers looked at me like maybe I really was Lawrence of Arabia. Not many horses around here. But since it came after the death of the camera, you’ll just have to trust me.


What you also won’t see is me shoveling concrete into wheelbarrows, scraping ballast into piles, fixing, with Gilbert’s sharp eye, an oil leak on the one cylinder diesel motor, with the crank start, of the cement mixer, while it was running. My right ear is still ringing from that. Or generally having a fine time walking all over the place supervising and bossing everybody around. It really was, I think the single best day I’ve spent here. The most fun and the most satisfying.


So here are the photos the camera took in its death throes. I’m working on prying the others out of the mobile phone, and will slap ’em up here if successful.



Here’s hoping all our buildings, and feet, are on solid ground.


Yours for evenly curing concrete,




  1. Chris says

    What a day this must have been. I’m really happy for you, for everyone. Who could miss this line: “It really was, I think the single best day I’ve spent here. The most fun and the most satisfying.”

    You all deserve it.

    Just when I had gotten acclimated to those beautiful straight poles, here comes the frenetic beauty of this wild day.

    How do you — and Gilbert, Isaiah, Benson, and Raphael? — conconct and decide upon working arrangements, like this one for the frenetic concrete day: “The deal was that they got free breakfast and lunch (which by agreement included meat) extra wages, and we would quit whenever we were done, at midnight or at 10 am.” Do a few of you sit down and then say, “Hey, maybe this strategy will work best?”

    I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s comments here.


  2. martin says

    these are pics of a real, actual, bona fide construction site. i’m awestruck. bet i wouldn’t even recognize the place.


  3. Peggy says

    David — You may not have pictures of the rest of the day, but what we did see is amazing and — exhausting. What time did you finish?

    In the States we may have dug those trenches with a backhoe, poured the cement with machines, but, as Chris suggested, we could never have choreographed 21+ men working together. Bravo to all of you for one heck of a day!


  4. david says

    Hi Chris,

    I got the idea for the pay structure and time frame from Joel, my friend here. And yea, Gilbert and Isaiah and I sat down after work the night before the pouring and decided the specifics. The concrete work here is so hard that it’s not unusual to make some different arrangements and incentives for that day.

    Gilbert is really growing into his expanded role, and Isaiah has turned out to be really good as well.

    Thanks for you good word, as always.


  5. david says

    Dear Martin,

    If you’re not careful you might even be dragged back into the vortex and pick up a shovel yourself. A hard hat (not that we have any here) would be a good look for you.

    You’d recognize a few smiling faces.


  6. david says

    Hi Peggy,

    We finished before lunch, at about 1:30 pm. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more ugali disappear in one sitting.


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