Its like the idea of the rain barrels at the down spouts of the roof. There is no better way to wash your hair then in water from the barrels on the down spots, or water from the cistern if you had one. I think the idea of the rain barrels and the cistern stopped being popular when it was discovered that mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. With construction of the Panama Canal, and all the people that died from malaria, and it was discovered that mosquitoes carried malaria. The return of people from world war 2 didn’t help. My father was one of them. He suffered from recurring malaria for a long time. He wasn’t bitten by a mosquito repeatedly, but once was enough. It didn’t help that people drowned in cisterns when they fell in them. And, as I said, water began being delivered through pipes. Eventually the cisterns were filled up by companies that specialized in that sort of thing. I found out that river sand works best because of its ability to pack down. There were others who filled them with tree branches and other yard waste and built something over it, like say a sun room. They broke down the neck of the cistern and covered it with pressed wood left over from the sunroom and covered the whole thing with dirt. That was the case with our cistern. Except that they didn’t cover the entire cistern with the sun room. They planted climbing, clinging rose bushes next to the pressed wood that covered the opening. The bush worked great, I didn’t even know about the cistern for several years.
One day I was out mowing the yard, and the rose bush decided the cling to me. That wouldn’t have happened had I trimmed the bush, but I didn’t, I just mowed the yard and those thorns hurt. Now in the rose bushes defense it was beautiful and the roses really stood out against the vines that covered the screen that covered the sun room which partially covered the cistern. Ok, I didn’t do much yard work that year, but I kind of liked the privacy that that the vines created. I even thought about how I could get them to grow on the other side of the sun room. That was the plan until the day that I mowed the lawn and the thorns got me. I looked at the roses in a different light. I realized that the roses weren’t that beautiful, and vines weren’t great growing against my sun room, or against my fence (a six-foot chain-link fence.) In fact, the vines did do harm. I realized then that I would have to dig up the roses and rip out the vines. In the process of taking out the rose bush I discovered the cistern. Now I figured that the cistern was nearly full of yard trash and that if I laid back the pressed wood and covered the whole mess with dirt it wouldn’t cause a problem. I lived with that delusion for several years until I fell through the sun room floor after I had taken out the carpet. (Not into the Cistern or I probably wouldn’t be writing this story. See the previous Blog for details.) I had asked contractors the cost of demolishing my sun room, fixing the hole in the roof over the kitchen. I did mention a room in the back that they would add but I didn’t tell then about the cistern. Every one of the contractors said it would cost 30 to 40 thousand dollars, but they would not be able to get to it this year or next. I did not have the aversion to contactors that I do now. You would think after I fell through the sun room floor and discovered the of the cistern that I would question the contractors a bit more, but they really lost me when they said 30 to 40 thousand dollars. It took until I opened up the house before I questioned contractors particularly the contractor who had owned my house. It cost me over 30 thousand dollars to do the job, and I did it myself (me and anyone I could corner into putting in a full day, usually my wife and son or sons in law.) Anyway, the actual cost led me to believe they were just kidding about the 30 or 40 thousand dollars and that they would have charged me much more. But at 30 thousand dollars I did end up with more than I had given them in their original estimate but that was after I solved the problem of the cistern.
At first, I assumed that the yard trash was enough to fill up the cistern. Was I ever wrong. Most cisterns were about 10 or 15 feet in diameter and about 15 feet deep. Mine was huge and the yard waste reached to the top, but those were branches. So, I threw in some dirt and it went down and down. I imagined that someone falling in would probably be done in by the old and sharp branches sticking up and not make it to bottom. I quivered at the thought and decided to fix it. I called someone who repairs old cisterns and found out that sand worked best for filling them in. I thought I could fix it until I heard that by sand, they meant river sand because it packs better. Plus, I would have to clean out the yard waste from the cistern. Regular sand would just allow a person to sink slowly into the sand. I quivered at that thought and decided their must be another way. Did I mention that I would have to clean out my cistern. That thinking went on about two months as I staked and re-staked the area. Then came August 1999 when Dad and Mom were visiting. He said that my stakes were wrong. How could I think that 10 feet was enough room for a room that might one day include them? I thought about that and went out and dug up the stakes, added two feet for the room and then told Dad about the dilemma of the cistern. He said don’t worry about it so much. A solution would present itself if I just would get started. Meaning, I would take any solution to keep the project going but he didn’t say that. I started to dig and went down the required six feet and then went a few feet farther for the foundation of the new room. That meant I was down beyond where the neck of the cistern was broken, and I would have to put a wall right across where the opening of the cistern was, and that gave me pause. I couldn’t figure it out and that hole in my back yard stayed there for at least two weeks as I talked to everyone, and I mean everyone. Had I really listened to Dad, I would have gone around the cistern, causing the room in the back to be an addition to the Wally’s room and an addition to the kitchen, something I have thought about since. But the plan was that I go over the cistern and that was all I could think about.
Some one finally suggested that I get a piece of iron (called something) that was long enough to go over the opening of the cistern and go about one foot on either side of it and be about 6 to 8 inches wide. Not wide enough to cover the cistern but that was okay they said. Well, I did worry about that, and I worried, and worried some more. Finally, I decided to try their approach. I bought the metal and struggled to carry the thing because it was so darned heavy. I laid it in place and shoved dirt next to it in hopes that the cement wouldn’t just spill into the hole on either side of it. I don’t know how I did it, maybe I took that piece of pressed wood and covered the hole and covered the wood in dirt. At any rate somehow, I made the dirt stay on either side of the iron and poured the cement foundation over the iron. It worked and I wasn’t about to complain. I let the foundation dry, (probably too long.) I put in the wooden forms or shell that I would pour the cement into to make the walls to the main floor. I had my wife climb down to the now dry foundation to sweep up the dirt that fell on the cement (I couldn’t imagine pouring a wall on top of dirt and wondered how in the heck the contractors had someone as thin as my wife sweep up the dirt. I found out later that they didn’t sweep, and that a foundation is just that, a foundation, never mind a little dirt. I did not tell my wife about that until later, -- much later.)
I was going to be gone for two weeks on a trip for Gateway, and I thought what a perfect time to pour in the cement walls, while I was gone. They would cure and be all ready for me when I got back. My wife could supervise and as I said it would be all ready for me when I got back. I still get darts of anger in her eyes when she tells about the day that everything went wrong or what happens to fresh cement walls when the forms blow out. But that’s another story and I’ll pick it up there in the next story which I lovingly call Addition Part Three—The Cement Wall.