Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Old guys, heavy lifting (fiction)

Wade Hawk and Mike Danek finished unloading the last of the bags of concrete off of Milo’s truck. It was almost pitch black.

Benicio was more than happy to sell Capiche bags of concrete. He had pallet loads of them. There had been no construction during the Ebola epidemic. After the epidemic, there were ten buildings for every family that survived.

The downside of Benicio’s concrete was that concrete has a shelf-life. It absorbs moisture from the air and loses the ability to set. Most concrete is given a shelf-life of six months after being bagged at the factory. Most of the bags Benicio sold them had been bagged eighteen months ago.

But what do you do? Certainly, the concrete would not be 4000 psi concrete and probably not 3000 psi concrete. But the demands were slight. Most of the drain-tiles would see less than six feet of “head”. That equates to a hydraulic pressure of about 3 psi.

Wade and Mike were life-long buddies. They had both gone to the Canfield Road, one-room school house. They both played hooky and camped in Horner swamp, snared rabbits and collected bounties on sparrows and pigeons. Their favorite trick had been to go into the barn at night and climb up on the bales of hay. Then, a younger sister would light the Coleman lantern and Wade and Mike would knock the dog-shit out of the birds with tennis rackets.

Good times.

But now they were winded. They through a tarp over the bags to keep any dew or rain off of them. They stretched a line between a couple of trees and threw a tarp over it, too. They turned in for the night.


The West Branch of the Red Cedar river was five-and-a-half miles east of Doan Creek. It was also much more favorably disposed to defensive fighters.

The West Branch had a wide, deep, flat-bottomed valley. For almost a hundred yards in each direction the predominant nant vegetation were cattails, indicative of boggy ground.

500 yards west of the I-96 bridge over the West Branch bridge, Wallace Road passed over I-96 creating an elevated position with superb over-view of the bridge.

Doan Creek, on the other hand, was in the middle of a flat plain with no distinguishing features other than the bridge.

The West Branch was to be the primary line of defense and the Doan Creek was, hopefully, to mitigate against advance units of Livingston County from attacking the defender’s rear.


Wade and Mike decided to leave the drain tiles along I-96 for later. The land immediately around the I-96 bridge over the West Branch was the make-or-break barrier. It had to be perfect.

Wade and Mike decided that they needed to get some practice before they attempted the I-96 drain-tiles.

It was a bit of a learning process. Mike cut a ten-foot long pole. He stuffed most of it up the end of the tile. That gave him a sight line.

Wade was on the other side of the mound of spoils left by the drainage dredging. Mike rifle sighted up the pole and waved Wade to the proper line of attack.

Wade stuffed a spud-bar into the soft, peaty soil. Then he took a post hole digger and quickly drove it down, into the dirt until he hit the tile. In most cases it was clay tile. Sometimes it was concrete. Rarely, it was corrugated plastic.

The fifteen pound spud driven by the post hold driver quickly pierced the clay or concrete tiles. Wade caved in the tops of the tiles. For twelve-inch diameter tiles, he caved in twenty-four inches. For eighteen-inch tiles, he caved in 36 inches of length.

What would work in Wade’s favor is that the spoils bank created a levee that added at least two feet that the water would rise before it would breach and drain to the creek.

Wade and Mike took turns and after two hours they were both gassed.

“Well, this is total bullshit.” Wade announced.

Mike nodded his head. He was too out of breath to speak. It sucks to be in your mid-seventies.

They had disabled a quarter-mile of drain tiles on the east side of the West Branch river. Later, it would occur to them that they didn’t need to disable

ALL of the drains, just the ones closest to the roads. But that would be later.

“Let’s take a break” Wade said.

Mike had no objection.

He had no objection until he found out that Wade intended to walk six miles to visit a friend.

“Moe Tyler, I want you to meet my buddy Mike Danek.” Wade introduced the two.

“Mike, I worked with Moe in the factory. His kid wrestled for Fowlerville and mine wrestled for Eaton Rapids. Different weight classes.” Wade explained the relationship.

Moe was delighted to meet somebody “from the old country” who had survived the plague.

“What are you doing in these parts?” Moe asked.

“Glad you asked.” Wade said. “We are plugging drain tiles.”

Moe winced. Moe farmed. He raised corn and dairy cows. Farmers react to people plugging drain tiles the way Italians react to vandals attacking statues with hammers.

“Now why in the hell would you be doing that!” Moe asked.

“You got some neighbors in Livingston County who aren’t very friendly” Wade said. “Plugging those drain tiles might keep them in Livingston County.”

“Yeah, but it will raise hell with growing corn in bottomlands.” Moe said.

“What price you getting for corn?” Wade asked.

“What kind of off-the-wall question is that?” Moe shot back. “Ain’t nobody buying corn.”

“Then why the hell are you worried about losing a few fields.” Wade said. “You can grow more than you need on your upland fields.”

“Hmmpf.” Moe answered.

“Lemme tell you what I am prepared to offer.” Wade said.

“I am prepared to offer silver coin for firewood” Wade said.

“The thing is, I need it to very precise dimensions and I need it delivered exactly where I need it.” Wade said.

“Whaddya mean? How much you gonna need.” Moe asked. He had lots of trees and dozens of kids and grandkids to drag saws through cordwood. Moe might be willing to go a silver dollar for a full cord of green, fresh-cut wood.

“Here is the thing” Wade said. “I wanna be able to stuff a seventeen-and-a-half inch diameter chunk of stove-wood up an eighteen inch drain. Don’t need to be long. A piece as long as that” Wade said pointing at a piece of stove-wood next to the wood stove. “Gotta be smooth though. No knots or stubs on it.”

“Some tile is 12” in diameter. Some is 18”. Some is 8”. Don’t matter. I wanna give you a list each day and have you deliver the pieces I need the next morning.” Wade said.

Moe frowned. “That don’t sound hard.”

“Maybe not. But that is what I need and I am willing to pay silver to get it done.” Wade said.


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