Tuesday, June 21, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 172: Cracking the Pool (Part Two)

June, 1994

(This is Part Two of a story that began yesterday.  Part One is here.)

In March of 1994 the rainy season lingered, but you can't wait forever.  The maintenance man ran the backhoe around the perimeter of the pool.  We needed a trench three feet deep.  He could excavate four of the pool's five sides, but one 70 foot side was up against a steep slope and would have to be dug out by hand.  Volunteer hands.  I spent two entire weekends in April shoveling muck with the help of some tireless volunteers including an astrophysicist who specialized in "space plasma."  Meanwhile we had unearthed an underground creek on one side of the pool, which had to be channeled and diverted through a culvert.

Misty rains continued.  The ground was still saturated, especially on the side with the underground creek.  We drained the pool half-way.  On weekends in May when it wasn't raining too hard, I cut and assembled and glue-welded six-inch PVC pipe all the way around the pool with short one-inch pipe runs to the water inlets, for which I would hammer-drill holes in the concrete sides.  Then I repeated the process for a separate drain system, hammer-drilling holes through the upper lip of the pool to the gutters.  You'd normally hire big burly muscle guys for this kind of job.  I was the thin muscle guy, but I didn't dare delegate the work - it had to be right.  At night I slept like the dead.

Normally, the pool would open on Memorial Day Weekend.  This year at the end of May we had a 3/4 empty pool surrounded by a muddy ditch and white PVC pipes.  In the remaining water were chunks of concrete, a layer of mud, and clouds of wiggling tadpoles.  Worried people were asking, "Will the pool open this year?"

I would answer, "I hope so."  I spent that entire gorgeous sunny Memorial Day Weekend alone in the ditches at the pool soldering copper, welding plastic pipe, and patching pool walls.

In early June we backfilled the ditches with mucky mud.  We drained all but a foot of water and mud from the tank.  The ground was drying somewhat, except on the side with the underground creek.

On a weekend - Saturday, June 11 - John Lindstrom rounded up a dozen volunteers to tie steel rebar, set dobies, and shovel base rock in preparation for pouring a new concrete deck.

On Sunday, June 12, the volunteers continued while I ventured into the tank, pants rolled up to my knees, to pump tadpoles out of the bottom, which is 8 feet below ground level.  As I'm working I hear a slow crackling sound.

I look up.  Above me one 60-foot section of pool wall is bulging inward with a spreading network of cracks.  It's the side with the underground creek.

For a moment, I think I'll be buried alive.  I scramble out of the tank as the crackling continues.  We race to run a fire hose from a nearby hydrant.  Our best hope of avoiding utter collapse is to refill the tank, providing counter pressure.

Only a trickle comes out of the hose.  It's a hot Sunday afternoon in La Honda when everybody is gardening.  Our water system is as antiquated as our swimming pool.  There is no pressure.

I dash home for lumber.  Returning, I build a wooden brace 30 feet long from one wall to the other, wedging the cracking wall in place.  Then I have to take my son to a soccer game.  Some things are more important than the imminent collapse of a swimming pool.

When I return a few hours later, the fire hose is pouring a steady stream into the tank and somebody has vacuumed the rest of the tadpoles and mud.  One crack is an ugly inch and a half across, running from top to bottom, spilling raw mud into the tank.  But it's stabilized, at least for now.  Standing knee-deep in water, I apply quick-dry patching compound to the fissures.  The compound has no structural integrity but at least will stop the mud from oozing into the tank.

Eight days later, the wall has not moved farther.  The pool is full of water and we are ready to pour the concrete deck.  For this phase, thankfully, we've hired professionals.  The deck is what will show after all our hard work, and we want it to look good.

We still need volunteers, though, to sleep by the pool overnight guarding the deck.  There are some rather determined vandals in La Honda, and nobody wants to see what they would do with yards and yards of soft concrete.  One of the volunteers, the same old-timer who explained to me about the La Honda way, is a kindly-looking grand-daddy type.  He says he's actually hoping to capture one or more vandals.  It's as if we've baited a trap.

“We won’t turn him in," the old-timer says.  "We’ll deal with him ourselves.  They understand pain.”

I don't think they caught anybody, but they wouldn't have told me if they had.  Some things, you just don't want to know.

Remodeling that pool, shoveling mud and gluing big heavy pieces of pipe, I'd already learned a lesson in pain.  I hired a firm that specializes in cracked concrete.  They poured some 15 gallons of epoxy into the fault lines along the side of the pool.  It hasn't budged since then.

La Honda pool today

There were more details before the pool could open that year.  I posted another call for volunteers: 

Free beer!
Live music! 
Fabulous door prizes! 
Special guest celebrities! 
Clothes optional! 
Enough people showed up to clean the grounds and help with painting and plastering.  Nobody complained that I'd lied about the beer, the music, the door prizes and the celebrities.  And the clothes truly were optional.

The pool finally opened on July 30, two months late.

Seventeen years later, the deck and pool remain, a beautiful sight on a hot summer's day.  I'm proud of what we did.  The town of La Honda is a bit more gentrified these days, and the lovely pool is part of its appeal. 

Volunteering is another part of the La Honda way - as is a lingering fondness for outlaw culture.  It's how we get things done around here.  You just try not mess up.

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