Barn: Part 2

Monitor Barn

As most rural Vermont residents know, there are five seasons spanning the year. Winter, spring, summer, fall, and Mud Season. Well, Marion and I have extended that list to include one more. Construction season covers the two month period from mid-September through mid-November. It is the time of year when we are able to concentrate our efforts on the big building projects.

In the fall of 2011, we had built the rubble trench on which the barn footings would rest. In the fall of 2012, we built the footing forms, poured the footings, and brought in the materials needed for the foundation stem walls to be built atop the footings.

In the photo below, we’ve completed the forms and installed the necessary rebar reinforcements, all laid perfectly level and square atop the rubble trench. The interior walls of the root cellar do not have stone beneath them as the root cellar will be insulated by banked earth and will remain above freezing year-round (we hope).

Monitor Barn

Once the footing forms were completed, we scheduled the delivery of 5 cubic yards of cement. One of the advantages of bringing cement to our site in October is that the road is at its firmest at that time of year. The big unknown, however, was the ability to back 50,000 pounds of truck and concrete down through the orchard to the barn site.

Monitor Barn

I met the driver at the bottom of our road to lead him the half-mile up to our land. The driver parked at the entrance to the orchard so I could show him the plan. A look of concern quickly spread across his face when I told him that I expected him to back down between the apple trees to pour the footings.

“I just want you to know,” he said, “that if I get stuck down in there, it’s on your dime to get me out.”

We’d come this far and I knew that there was no turning back. I confidently told him that it would be no problem. The orchard soils would support his truck. He climbed back behind the wheel and backed it down. So far, so good.

We’d scheduled him to arrive at 1 pm for the pour, after he’d delivered to another site from the same batch. The inevitable delays prevented him from getting to us until nearly 3 in the afternoon, but we still had over two hours of daylight to get the concrete into the forms. Unable to reach the far end of the foundation with the chutes and extensions he attached, we used a wheelbarrow to get the mix to those areas.

A typical crew on this type of job might include a handful of men and women, but, as with most of what we do here, our work crew was limited to two – Marion and me.

Hustling as fast as I could with the wheelbarrow, with Marion leveling and vibrating the mix within the forms, all seemed to be working out as we approached the final section. With the sun below the trees in the western sky and less than a quarter cubic yard of concrete needed in the forms, the driver looked at us and said, “Uh, oh. I don’t like that sound.”

“What sound?” I asked.

“We’re empty,” he replied.

Crap! This can’t be! Footings can’t be poured in stages without compromising strength at what are known as “cold joints” between pours. I had to get more concrete before the mix that he’d poured set up.

Knowing that it would be dark soon, I ran for my keys and leapt into the car for a trip to the nearest supplier – 45 minutes away. I made the trip in record time (30 minutes), grabbed eight bags of ready-mix and headed back in the growing darkness.

Back at the barn site, Marion was working by headlamp, setting up the pump to draw water from the stream (200 ft away) and preparing the tools we’d need to mix and pour the concrete by hand. Working by the light of the car’s headlights, we got the job done. As we’re fond of saying, “Always an adventure!”

Monitor Barn

The completed footings (above) would cure for a few days before we removed the forms.

Monitor Barn

Next, came the delivery of the palettes of block. The road in was dry and firm. No added adventure there.

There was, however, still work to be done before we could wrap things up for the season. We had to transport all seven palettes (90 blocks each) to the foundation. Let’s see, 630 blocks at 35 pounds apiece. That’s 22,050 pounds, and all of that lifted twice (once to load, then once to unload). And that’s all before even a single block gets laid!

Monitor Barn