Could someone please explain to me the relationship that men seem to have with cement? The combination of grit, stone and water in the giant tumbler that we know as a cement truck seems to capture some primeval masculine heart string and pluck it into a frenzy.
I discovered this phenomenon when we were attempting to construct pad of cement about the size of a bathtub on which to set a brand new, weather-proof, never-freezing, jim dandy, yellow automatic waterer for the sheep. Expert help was called upon to construct the frame which would contain the cement. It took Mr. McCutcheon and his helper half a day to build a frame worthy of containing the volume of cement required.
Of course, you can rent cement mixers and do it yourself, but that route has its own follies. Inexperience can lead to cracks and other horrors to awful to contemplate.
The key word became "pour," and the source of the "pour" was a cement truck. So I called the sand and cement company that operates with half a mile of my farm and described my needs.
Well, it seems you don't just buy as much cement has you need, instead you must buy a "yard" of the stuff. No one ever adequately explained to me the dimensions of a yard of cement, but they were able to tell me that I would have about half a yard too much.
When a woman starts fooling around ordering cement and pours, word gets around. My neighbour Ken "the Hooter" Houston soon caught wind of the plan since he pals with Paul O'Dwyer who drives truck for the cement plant which borders his beef farm.
"Hear you're planning a pour," Hooter said emerging from his truck with his shovel in his hand, even though the cement was not scheduled to arrive for two days.
After inspecting the frame which would enclose the pour and dutifully adding a few shovelfuls of dirt to shore the whole thing up, Hooter turned his attention to the question of what to do with the leftover cement.
Where I would put cement if I had it is not a question that I had ever considered. Perhaps a nice walkway in front of the pheasant pens, maybe a really big bird bath.
Ultimately, Hooter and I decided we would build a ramp into the barn, smoothing the way for the tractor which has been bumping and jumping every time it goes in and out during the barn cleaning days. Hooter brought over some gravel, since apparently cement does not cling well to plain old dirt. Then we took a few pieces of lumber and framed the ramp.
The day of the pour dawned brightly. Hooter came early to announce that Paul O'Dwyer, himself, would be driving the cement truck, so I had nothing to worry about. Mr. McCutcheon just happened to drop over to check on the frame and my neighbourly road superintendent came by to make sure "the pour" went as planned. As more and more neighbours arrived, I began to wonder if I should be selling tickets to the great event.
A cement truck is an impressive sight at close range. The fact that the huge drum rolls slowly at all times gives the whole vehicle an appearance of life. Red-haired O'Dwyer waved to the assembled crew from his perch in the truck cab as he rolled toward the waiting frame.
The first pour took about 15 minutes. The cement wriggled and rattled down a sluice that came out of the cement truck like some kind of grey elephant's trunk. Once the frame was filled the men gathered to tap it lightly and smooth the top with trowels. They looked a little bit like kindergarten kids playing with Play-Dough.
The creative work came when all hands gathered at the barn door ramp. Discussion ensued about whether or not the frame Hooter and I had constructed was up to the test, but we decided to pour anyway. The cement truck drum hummed away and the cement oozed out in irregular clumps which were quickly raked and shovelled into an even shape.
"She's a darn fine pour," Hooter hooted, when he gave his turn up on the rake to the road superintendent who was anxiously awaiting his turn. Mr. McCutcheon muttered something about amateurs and ran back to his truck to get a huge nail to shore up the frame. There was no way I was going to get to touch the actual cement. Wavy lines were pressed into the grey matter so that the ramp would not become an icy peril in the winter. It looked like a giant finger-painting.
Paul O'Dwyer drove off like the Lone Ranger in a cloud of dust, and the sheep gathered at the gate to watch the cement dry. This prompted a fine story from one of the gang about a cow that had wandered into fresh cement pad and fallen asleep while the concrete dried around its hooves. I moved the sheep to a far pasture.
Everything was perfect until the work of art was sullied by my singular duck who thinks he is a rooster. Groucho Duck was faster than the four men chasing him when he caught sight of his favourite hen standing inside the barn at the edge of the ramp. Duck prints in the concrete, added just the right amount of character to what was heralded as "the Boulton pour."
That night I went to the barn to see how things were settling. Concrete looks like concrete even in the moonlight. I thought I would close the barn door and let everything get back to normal.
Then I realized why there had been no ramp to the barn in the first place. The barn door closes sideways on a large sliding hinge, and its bottom is now six inches lower than the cement ramp.
Maybe I would have been better off with a giant bird bath.
Read a story from Letters from the Country IV
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