Jackie was a beautiful blonde-haired exercise fanatic. I thought we had a good thing going. We met after work almost every day after work to go out to the archery range and shoot. I was twenty-two, she was about thirty-five. After seven weeks I asked her to marry me. I was ecstatic when she accepted!
At the reception her uncle Bill met me in the bathroom. He looked awfully sad. "Be careful. She's been married five times before. It's never lasted over two years." Well shit. I had my own business as a building contractor north of Wausau. My heart fell through my stomach. I resolved not to get screwed.
She knew that I never got home before nine. I began working an under-the-table job every afternoon for cash. At twenty to thirty an hour as a skilled carpenter and electrician I sometimes made a hundred and twenty a day that I socked away. That meant close to two thousand a month when I got smiled on.
I had a little property left to me by my cousin. It was just north of Tomahawk Lake. It was glacial hills covered in brush and trees with a small river cutting through it. I borrowed a tractor with a front-end-loader and a backhoe attachment for a month or so. I roughed in a one-lane road about a quarter mile long and dug a trench three feet deep next to it. I ran a good armored cable from the utility pole at the road to a service pole back on the property. I was all set up for 220 volts three phase. I installed a hundred amp service box at each end with breakers, then covered the trench.
I then used the bucket to dig out a hill-side some sixty-five feet long and twenty-five feet deep. I made the floor about two feet below grade. That got filled with big rock about eighteen inches thick. I used an industrial tamper to settle it in. Those things will rattle your teeth out! All around the periphery I buried drainage hose wrapped in synthetic burlap, running out into a pair of sub-surface rock-filled sumps about ten feet by ten feet by four feet deep. Then I covered everything to six inches above grade in pea gravel but the sumps. They got a topping of heavy gravel. It took two weeks to tamp and vibrate everything into place. That gave me a classic floating slab foundation.
Before it got cold I had rebar welded in place and the forms installed. Oh, my fucking back! Then I called for eight big trucks of high-strength concrete. First the floor went down and cured. The next week I poured the four walls, twelve feet high and tapering down towards the front. All the concrete pours were eight inches thick. I used probes and more vibrators to clear any air bubbles.
Two weeks later I had five pre stressed concrete slabs delivered and installed. They were twelve inches thick, thirty feet long and ten feet wide. I made sure that the installation crew used one hell of a lot of construction adhesive. The final structure gave me a ten foot overhang A week later I obscured most of the road back to the place with the bucket. The concrete and slab roof all got a serious waterproofing then I back-filled the structure with gravel. The removed dirt was piled on top of the roof to make a mounded berm. The end of the roof closest to the road was left open while the other was slightly filled in.
A prefab two car insulated garage with room for a work-space in the back went in on a slab slightly cut into the hillside, adjacent to what was now a sealed bunker, just where the road began. The last thing I did with the front end loader before returning it was to dig out a two-foot deep squared off pit just in front of the bunker the size of the overhang. I ordered three dump truck loads of road fines to fill in that hole. I used a gasoline-powered tamper to settle all that stone before the snow forced me to stop for the season. The power pole was at one corner of the garage. I ran a line into the garage for lights and a little electric heater.
I brought out a little camp chair and a heavy hibachi. I sat in front of the coals taking in what I'd built so far. The heavy mass of concrete behind and above me gave me a solid sense of presence. the dirt wall beside me and the concrete around me reflected the heat and kept me warm. I quietly smiled and felt comforted in my work. It was all coming together for me. Slowly, but inexorably.
I went back to doing after-work jobs. Jesus, but the schedule I kept was a man-killer. I bought a few things that I took out to the job site. Lowe's had a sale on Franklin stove knock-offs. I bought two and a skid of two-layer smoke pipe. Another home center had an overrun on two foot by five foot thermopane cells. I bought ten. I sent away for a short flat of twenty inch masonry wheels. I bought a heavy hammer drill and a bunch of masonry bits for it. That needed power so I bought a field extension cord as thick as my thumb. I bought a MIG welder and the supplies for it. It was getting cluttered in there so I built a heavy workbench out of 4x4s and 2x8s across the rear of the garage and put in a row of florescent shop lights above it. Then I had a place for all my crap. Next I put in a 220 volt outlet for the welder. That looked so good that I put in another and bought a good air compressor. The lines and tools were cheap once you had the compressor installed. All I needed was a table saw, a router, a drill press and a band saw. Feed me good lumber and a set of plans and I'd make you furniture. (Who am I kidding? Sanding and finishing can be half the job.) Anyway, now I had a place to work. It was a first step and I'd done it right.
I really fussed over how the hell to get the exhaust pipes out of the place for the stoves. I finally hit on ceramic chimneys with caps. Anything I did with steel, even galvanized, would be shot to shit within five years from condensation. I bought the clay sections, the caps and the adhesive to use. I'd have to wait until the ground thawed to dig the holes for the clay pipe channels. Until then I thought about the easiest way to dig the holes I'd need.
I found a ceramic-coated two-inch-thick solid steel door in a pre-hung frame for sale. A company that built high-security vaults for the phone company went out of business. I picked up a sixteen hundred dollar door for four hundred bucks. It was a good thing that it was pre-cut for a standard Schlage lock and dead bolt or I'd never had gotten it done right.
Thanksgiving flew by, as did Christmas, New Years, Easter and St. Patrick's. Jackie and I spent our weekends making out like rabbits, going to the range and enjoying the seasons together. We bought a nice prefab two bedroom house just outside of Rhinelander on four wooded acres. She was the day manager at a Hyatt hotel that just opened in town. The state forests were becoming more and more popular. It drove people in our direction. Sometimes the mommas or grand parents weren't so cool with tents and campers. That's where the hotel came in. Everyone went home happy and they got repeat business.
Once the ground thawed and the mud dried I went back to my clandestine work. I leased a big twenty-inch concrete saw. I used my hammer drill to mark the corners for the window bay and the door, then put on my mask and put in my ear plugs. I started in with the heavy work. I cut the frame for the door, then the windows. There were several days there that it would have been so easy to make up an excuse to stay in bed, but I didn't do it. I got up, showered, ate my Advil and went to work.
I got the door frame finished. The chisel work at the end was the hardest, cleaning the corners. I got the door set into the opening and the lock installed. That was a major step for me. Next the windows went in. Twenty feet of two-layer cells set in place with industrial adhesive. I'd get wood coving put in around them later. By the middle of June they were done. I covered the inside of the door and windows, then sprayed everything with industrial water barrier. From then I worked standing on sheets of plywood.
I drilled through the walls where the electric was going to come in, and where the flues were to go. I had to go out and buy a gas water heater and place it to get the positions right. That kicked me in the head to get the goddamned well dug and the septic field installed. At least the septic could go in downhill to keep from having to use a pump. I left the well and the septic field to the pros. I wasn't about to tackle those jobs.
I ran out of bucks. Once I had the services run I was down to whatever I could do by hand. I did a lot of pre-planning. I settled on a ten inch false floor over the concrete. This would give me room for all the electric, water and septic runs. I'd cut the door in a little low for that, but two steps up into the house wasn't a big problem. Quirky, but acceptable.
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