Digging Deep

One of my more recent projects here at the happy little homestead we call “Haven Hill” took me to new depths of digging. Installing a new automatic watering device monikered “The Drinking Post” by its manufacturer required digging a hole five feet below the horses’ standing surface.

There’s a slight complication in our case: the post’s ground level is elevated behind a low terrace wall about fourteen inches above the corral base. That meant I had to dig the hole over six feet below the ground at the point of installation. Well, I guess I could have built an inclined drinking ramp for the horses but I declined that option. At least initially.

The only seemingly logical choice for location of the Drinking Post placed it in an eight-foot strip near the corner between the corral fence and our small barn. More precisely, it would be situated a foot away from the retaining wall, a foot away from the barn wall, and about six feet away from the adjacent corral fence panel.

Even with the smallest track-hoe or mini-excavator available from Rent-All, those close quarters made the digging real slow for a novice operator. Working within a few inches of the intersecting corner of the retaining wall and barn wall, I slowly dug down, one bucket of dirt at a time. As I pivoted the machine to dump each bucketful of dirt, the top of the cab on the backside came within a half-inch of the barn gutter. At the same time, I had to avoid hitting the fence with the bucket. Adding to the challenge and the frustration was the fact that I was digging in moist clay.

Frequently, I’d have to “bounce” the hydraulic arm to dislodge the sticky soil. Given the limited operating space and the very limited skill of the operator, I could only dig down about three feet deep. Still, that was a big advantage over doing the whole job by hand. Since we were replacing an old, leaking outdoor hydrant in the same general spot, I dug out a space about three feet wide and six feet long with the mini-excavator.

After that, it was all spade and shovel. The next two feet of depth wasn’t just moist; it was wringing wet. The water line had been fractured somewhere between eight months and eight years earlier. Closer to years than months, based on our water bills. Finding and repairing the leak was the actual impetus for the project; installing the Drinking Post was just a fringe benefit. Of sorts…

The clay was so sticky, I’d have to bang the shovel against a concrete block to dislodge each chunk. Sometimes, I’d have to scrape it off. Once I got below the soak line, it got a bit easier. Well, at least getting the dirt off the spade got easier. Getting it out of the intended hole for the post was another matter. By the time I got to the bottom, I was working in an egg-shaped hole about eighteen inches by twenty-four inches wide. Four feet deeper than the adjacent space for the new hydrant, over six feet deeper than the ground surface.

At one point, after a few hours of digging with extremely limited standing space, my back wedged against the vertical wall and trying to lift up a shovelful of sticky clay above my head, that inclined ramp idea started sounding a lot better. To me, at least. I was real sure that Randa would have a very different reaction. As would every subsequent visitor to the corral area. So, pardon the pun, I decided to stick with it.

I finished digging the hole, shoveled in the recommended twelve-inch base of gravel, and covered it with landscape fabric to keep the dirt and mud from sifting down into the gravel and ruining its water dispersal function. (The Drinking Post works like a freeze-proof hydrant. The actual valve sits well below the frost line and is triggered by pressing a plastic flap in the “bowl” at the top. As long as the flap is depressed, fresh water flows up the supply line to the bowl. After the flap is released, it gets cheerful again and the valve at the base shuts off the water flow. Leftover water drains down through the small holes in the bottom of the bowl and empties into the gravel area below the bottom of the post.)

As instructed by the manufacturer, I set a couple of bricks into the gravel to provide a firm level base and water drainage space for the Drinking Post. I connected the water line to the pipe and set the whole assembly into place. Then, I added a couple more inches of gravel and then started shoveling the wet clay back into the hole. Same shovel, different day. Same way of scraping each chunk off the spade and back where it came from. It’s not quick or easy but eventually the hole gets refilled.

A few days later, the whole area is levelled and covered with two inches of small gravel. Only two feet of the white plastic drinking post’s total seven-foot length is visible above the surface. It’s the part that delivers fresh, cool, clean drinking water year-round. No electricity required.

Quite often in our lives, the convenience of our existence depends upon the unseen work of others. And sometimes, too, upon our own acutely felt labors.

Let’s be grateful for both. And to the God who gives us strength and our daily bread.

H. Arnett


About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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