Sunday 5 April 2015

A little help from the digger

You'd be within your rights to chide me for taking the high moral ground by not using a chain-saw on Good Friday.  I didn't fire up the chain saw, but I didn't shirk work entirely on the day by making up a batch of sand-and-cement and put another couple of courses on the rough stone wall that fills a two meter gap between the end of a shed and a five-bar gate.  It's part of a cunning plan to corral sheep and lambs when they decide to appear in a few days time.

On the very next day, Saturday, the ban on machinery was lifted in spades because we had an appointment with John Nolan the digger [L] to do some care and maintenance. A couple of years ago,  I got a bit anxious about a blockage in the drain that runs down the side of our lane and serves to keep water off the surface.  The channel ran under the entrance to the gate in an engineering marvel called a box shaw (boxed shaugh?) in which the water course is constrained by two parallel rows of vertical stones with rather smooth inner faces and the (w)hole is capped off with a series of the largest flattest stones that you can find. The gaps between these flat capping slabs is chinked up with smaller stones and then covered with sod.  I can't find any pictures because I'm not even sure how to spell it!  I looked up the lower orifice of the tunnel and saw that over the decades, one of the capping stones had broken and was now partly occluding the water-course.  I measured the distance and started digging from the top to do some geological dentistry.

After a while I was able to reveal the edge of a stone maybe 1000x600mm in size and with some difficulty and an iron bar succeeded in rising this monster off its bed to shine daylight into the dark below.  Needless to say, I'd lifted the wrong stone!  But I could see the broken one beside it and was able to clear the channel of roots, twigs, leaves and accumulated mud. I knew I'd never get the rock back in place without doing damage and, in the worst case, causing a complete drain blockage.  The hole was still partly blocked by the original cap and partly open like a really inconvenient man-hole cover.  At least one person plunged into the depths while crossing the gate. Sorting out the drain was Mr Nolan's first task yesterday.  We agreed, with reluctance, that the box shaugh had to go and be replaced with two lengths of 300mm reinforced plastic drain pipe which comes in 6m lengths and can be conveniently lifted by two people.  Bright and early, John the Digger arrived and promptly started shifting earth and rock while The Boy and I stood back and leaned on shovels. I feel a little guilty about the shaugh but I'm really happy to have a working gateway.

There are some things that are impossible to achieve with a single man-power (which is much less than a horse-power; which is 750 W) even with the help of an iron-bar for leverage: restoring that capping stone would have required both power and precision.  But there are numerous tasks that can be achieved if that man has a shovel, a wheel-barrow and a lot of time.  It has been calculated that a gallon [4.5lt] of gas/petrol is the equivalent of 600 hours! of labour.  When we/he had sorted out the gateway, John went at a couple of big heaps of building stone and another of soil and tidied them flat or out of the way in about 40 minutes.  That would have worn out a wheel-barrow and taken me 100s of hours.

We've known John since the first month we took possession of the farm. He opened a gap in a wall wide enough to get the well-drillers rig into the yard. Our pal Roy, from England, was over that July having a working holiday to help us out with his labour.  He was in awe of just how handy John Nolan was with his digger and said that if you had an annoying speck in your eye, John would have it out in a jiffy with the small bucket of his back-hoe.

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