Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Having a blast (a story aged to perfection)

On Monday of last week, when I posted about the mechanic and Alex' beard, there was something else to tell about, but I decided to save it for next time, not realizing it would have to keep for over a week.

Lucky for you, it aged very well. It's a much better story now.

At the time, I was just going to follow up on this post to say that the neighbors directly behind us were finishing up their house - they were pouring the driveway that day - just as the neighbors to our west (to the left as you look in from the street) broke ground for their first house. That lot is a double-wide (well, you know what I mean) owned by a family with three grown children, and will eventually have a house on it for each of them.

That was pretty much it. I took a picture of one poor guy out there all alone, digging a hole with a pick, but then they brought in a backhoe later that day. Turns out the guy was just digging the latrine for the builders' bunkhouse/storage shed.

The backhoe quickly opened up access from the road. The land rises significantly at the front of their lot, making kind of a wide ridge that they had to cut through in order to open the way for, you know, everybody who's going to need access over the next five months.

Guy with a pick:

Construction shed/bunkhouse (with attached latrine):

Can you see those rocks? It's not a real clear picture, but those are some big rocks. Like three, four, five feet on a side.

There is a vein of rock that comes through these properties and everyone who has built around here has had to deal with it. I think our own house is just slightly to the south of it so they didn't have so much trouble, but it angles in and pretty much hits all the other lots.

Down the street a ways, the vein of rock comes out to the road. Rather than cut through it, they built the road up and over, with the result that you can't see oncoming cars in either direction until you get to the top of the hill. I always slow down and hug my side of the road, but people who don't live on the street apparently don't get that and sometimes have to scramble to get over to their side because the road is (only just) two lanes wide, with no center line. Surprisingly, only once in the two years I've lived here have I seen the crest of that hill littered with headlight fragments.

Anyway, this Monday the head of construction for the new project showed up at my gate with the owner of the next house over (which he also built). They said they had come to an area of rock that wasn't just "a rock" but pretty much part of the Earth, and that they were going to bring somebody in to blow it up. See? Much better story.

I asked them to let me know when they would be doing it so I could have Yolanda keep the girls, not because I thought there would be any danger to them, but so that they wouldn't be around to see it if there were an accident with the explosives.

Yesterday they drilled all the holes in the rock and today the demolition guy is here. I went down to watch the first couple of blasts. They put the charge in (dynamite really does come in red sticks!!), pour some dirt into the hole, then cover it up with a sack of dirt and stack a bunch of old tires on top. Everyone goes into the construction shed and they press the button (or throw the switch or whatever it takes to send a current through the wires...I guess I didn't think to look at that end of it.)

You hear a big, but muffled, thump. The tires jump up a little, the ground shakes a little and, at least once, a couple of bits of rock rain down. Then they go and check the damage, set up the next one, and do it again. I stayed for the first three or four, and they've done 14 more over the hour and a half since then. Actually, they've been very regular, with a blast every five minutes, but there was nothing from 9:00 to break, probably.

I don't know if they started slow for some reason or if it has to do with the section of rock they're working on, but the shocks seem stronger now than when they started. With earthquakes, they say most damage is done by longer events with sustained shaking, so I can't see that this would do any harm, especially to this particular house, which has a structure of steel beams (they're steel, right?) covered with drywall, rather than being made entirely of cinder blocks like most constructions around here. We have cinder block in the bathrooms because of the dampness, and those walls do have cracks in from the occasional tremor or small earthquake. There are a couple of hairline cracks in floor tiles and at some of the seams between the sheets of drywall in the ceilings. But the walls, both inside and out, show no signs of anything.

And here are the pictures. That's my house, of course. In fact, that triangular window is my office and I keep looking out it to see how it's going. The triple window with the knotted curtains is on the landing of the stairs.

But enough about me. Both the guy in charge of construction and the demolition guy were very friendly, giving me their cards and suggesting different things to photograph. The demolition guy is self-employed. I've got nothing against that, of course. I'm self-employed, and so is Alex. But I have to say I'd be more inclined to go with a company if I were planning to blow something up. Not sure why.

So here is a general shot of the worksite. The rocks don't look that big, do they?

Until you see some guys beside them (for scale) and realize those aren't regular automobile tires.

Here's one with the sandbags...

And Freddy the demolition guy, showing how they lower the charge into the pre-drilled hole. (See? Red sticks!)


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