The first part of the Vogelsang septic project was easy. After Snyder’s crew blasted in the pit the first week we were there, we helped lift the rubble from the pit. Then some of us dug the trench from the pit to the leach field site, while others helped lay cinder blocks for the vault.
The trench was an easy task. We ran a string line along the route. Then we just had to dig the trench parallel to the string to keep it straight. This job was all about what we called ‘assholes and elbows’. The term is crude but descriptive. When you are digging—I mean really digging—you need to have your head down, your knees bent, and be leaned over at the waist. Your only body parts that should be up are your elbows as they work the tool and your rear end, since you are leaned forward digging down into the dirt. Hence, ‘assholes and elbows’.
The way to trench quickly is for the first person to break up the ground with a mattock or the grubbing edge of a Pulaski. And remember—assholes and elbows! The dirt should be flying as he/she follows the string line and breaks up the hard pan dirt. Oh, yeah…and don’t even think of cutting the string as you go!
The first grubbing tool is followed by the first shovel, clearing the chunks of broken up dirt out of the trench. There isn’t much thought required here. No finesse. Keep that shovel moving in a steady rhythm: scoop, fling, down…scoop, fling, down. It looks like the job is broken down into three parts here, but it really isn’t. Scoop and fling are in the same motion, so it’s basically up and down, up and down. Assholes and elbows applies here, too.
Another grubbing tool comes through next making the trench deeper and wider followed by another shovel. If necessary, a third grubbing tool and shovel team can follow to get the trench to the right depth and shape for the job.
The trench on this job was several hundred feet long. It only took us a few hours to finish.
The cinder block masonry was a different type of job for most of us. We were already familiar with the concepts of rockwork from the trail work we had already been doing all season. We knew about the importance of laying a good foundation. We knew about breaking the joints with each tier of wall. The new part was working with mortar, which is the difference between standard masonry and the dry masonry we had used for trails. Several people had been assigned to this crew because they already possessed masonry skills. They had either been a crewleader of a construction crew or been masonry specialists. This was the project on which they were going to shine. However, Wayne was the only one left by this time. Well…. Wayne was the only one left when we started in Vogelsang. After only two weeks up here, he rode out on a horse with a stress fracture in his foot.
How do you mix mortar in the Backcountry? Why, by hand, of course! You need a big sheet of Visqueen plastic and two people. Throw some mortar mix on the Visqueen with some aggregate. Splash some water on top from a bucket…which has been hauled up from the creek. Then each person grabs two corners of the Visqueen. One person lifts his/her corners as the other drops his/hers low without letting go. Then the high side goes down and the low side goes up. The mortar mix tumbles on the Visqueen. This goes back and forth, up and down, until the mortar is thoroughly mixed. Good teams of mortar mixers develop a rhythm, and the job can actually be fun! Then the team lifts the Visqueen high, a third person brings a wheelbarrow in, and the mixed mortar is poured into the wheelbarrow to be delivered wherever it is needed.
Since most of our skilled workers were gone, the vault was primarily a job for Snyder’s crew. Since the trench was done in no time, Erin made sure that we started getting some trail work time under our belts. He had us hiking back down over the Rafferty Meadows trail for maintenance.