It takes what to dig the hole?

By Steve Estes

Strictly Drivel by Steve Estes

What is it that happens when you run out of hole to be dug?

Being a country boy from the Midwest, digging holes is not a strange occurrence for me. I don’t do near as much of it as I used to, thankfully, but the occasion does arise now and then.

Digging holes here, though, is, shall we say, just slightly different from digging holes in more northern climates.

When I was young, a foot and a shovel would get you several feet deep in the Earth. Setting a fence post was the matter of just a few hours digging, tossing in some concrete and waiting until the next day.

Not so here.

If you’re lucky, someone has at some time in the past put top soil down on your lot and you may have a couple of feet of soil vertically that make easy digging. If you’re not so lucky, you have a few inches of top soil before you hit really hard stuff.

Such was the case recently when I needed to dig a hole. The foot and the shovel got me down about a foot, then I hit some really hard stuff.

Thinking little of it, I pulled out the old pickaxe and proceeded to swing.

On the first impact, I felt as though I had run head on into a bass cymbal. The vibrations from the impact ran all the way up my arms, across my shoulders and down my back.

What I hit just smiled at me. I hadn’t made a dent.

I swung harder. Bits of rock and clay flew up from the point of impact, showering me with shrapnel, and the impact I made was negligible.

A few dozen more swings of the pickaxe and I had a hole the size of a good shot glass, with arms that still vibrated form the impacts.

This wasn’t working as well as I had planned. I needed to get about two feet deep to set that post back where it came from. At the rate I was going, I might get the hole the right size just in time to celebrate the New Year. If my back and arms held out that long.

So I borrowed a drill hammer from a friend of mine. The vibration of the hammer meeting the rock was little better, though I did make better progress. I could probably declare victory by Thanksgiving at this rate.

But I wasn’t about to be beaten by dirt.

I rented a jackhammer. The machine nearly outweighed me. But man did it dig.

Five minutes of intense vibration that felt like driving Lyttons Way at a high rate of speed, and another few minutes of shoveling out the debris.

After a little while of this type of maneuvering, I grabbed the jackhammer and proceeded to enlarge the hole to allow for the concrete.

I hit solid rock. The jackhammer went forward, I went backward. If it hadn’t shut itself off without my finger on the trigger I’d still probably be chasing that vibrating nemesis down the street.

I grabbed the pickaxe. One swing, two loose teeth. Not a good idea. I tossed the pickaxe in the trash.

After some trial and error I discovered that by aiming the jackhammer straight down I could cut small sections out of the rock at a time. My arms felt like jelly and my teeth rattled like bearings in bad grease, but I was making headway.

I was very near the depth I needed, and nearly as wide as I needed as well, when I saw water in the hole. There should have been no water. I had hit no lines.

But there it was. A tiny lake in the bottom of my hole.

I ignored it and set the jackhammer back in the hole.

I hit the trigger.

The jackhammer went straight through the rock, stopping only when the shaft got too wide for the hole, which is a good thing because had the tool kept going, I would have gone right behind it. As it was, I was almost laid out flat.

You know what happens when you push against a stuck door and the door suddenly releases? You usually fall on your face. And it’s not exceedingly graceful.

Trust me, I would have won no dance awards for those moves.

I had gotten to the end of my hole. Less than an inch below my current depth was the top of the water table, or at least an underground fresh water lens. With a bigger hole I could have dived headfirst into a swimming pool.

Thankfully the water wasn’t under any pressure or I could have started charging admission for a glance at my own personal Old Faithful geyser.

I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my miserably failed attempt at ballet.


The coast was clear.

I reached down, picked up the largest chunk of rock I had been able to hammer out of the hole and chucked it right back in to seal the hole.

I tossed in a little dirt for good measure, set the pole and called it a day.

I’m not real sure on this one, but I have this sneaking suspicion that the hole won the battle.

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