"The Rock in the Basement"

7 March 2012



My parents first home was a 1920's along side a major highway in Virginia.

After:  renovation of the kitchen; the sanding of all wooden floors; cleaning out the attic and garage; cleaning out the cistern to be used as a bomb shelter (was in the early 1960's and nuke attack by the Russians was all the talk) and one thousand other things I can not even remember, the last major effort was to expand the basement.

"THE BASEMENT" was not really a basement at all but a small area cleaned out under the house that hosted the coal fired steam heat system. Unlike the attic, which was huge and could host all sorts of boxes and other, the basement was only the furnace and nothing more.

Well, after my dad had fixed, reworked or other wise had his hands on every other aspect of his first home, it was time to dig out the dirt under the rest of the house. Easy enough. Cut a hole in an outside wall and then shovel dirt into a wheel barrel and dump in the back yard.

And so that was the plan and sure enough, a hole was cut in an outside wall and we and sure enough, this was a "we" to include my bother and I, began to tunnel into the basement. And for a while, we made great, if not slow progress. After a while it became obvious that the wall that had been busted open, would have to be shored up or cracks could begin to appear inside the house. So lumber was brought in and placed under the wall while dirt directly under the wall was removed. Then forms were made and concrete brought in and poured into the forms.

A minor setback but I suspect not unexpected by my Dad who did have some experience in home building.

With the outer wall shored up, work began again in earnest to get dirt out from under the house. Eventually, we tunneled far enough under to be able to bring the wheel barrel down into and out of the "the basement" via wood planks and a local neighborhood kid would bring over this old garden tractor and pull the wheel barrow out of the cave.

After a while, we had gotten to the point that all dirt was removed down to a depth, which would allow my brother and I to stand upright but not much more than that.

And than bad news. Now and again, up to this point, we had had to use a pick to break up some hard packed dirt and even to lift out a rock here or there but when we tried to shovel out the next couple of feet of dirt, we began to fit rock. Not rocks, but solid rock.

Ok, a minor setback. Dad hired a guy who owned a jackhammer and this guy comes in and works 8 hours or so and drills out rock.

In 8 hours of jack hammering, he manages to bust up maybe a foot of rock. Not over the entire area to be excavated but enough so we could work without feeling totally trapped, closed in. But rock is a lot heavier than dirt and so it takes my brother and me and the neighborhood kid and his tractor days and days to clear the loose rock out.

Another session with the hammer and more rock busted out but the deeper Mr. Jackhammer goes, the harder the rock becomes.

2 days, all day, to bust out a foot of rock and more than a week to haul it out.

Jackhammer, haul out rock continues for weeks until some of the basement is almost to a depth my dad could live with.

Now to expand the area dug out.

Once again, more dirt and easy enough and then once again jackhammer but then disaster. Jackhammer man hits a rock, a huge rock sitting under the back wall and no amount of jackhammer breaks loose any of this rock.

Dynamite? Nope, not possible.

So day after day, my dad goes into the hole and stirs at this rock and it was a nice rock too. Other than some marks where Mr. Jackhammer had tried to bust it up, the rock was smooth and perfectly shaped being extremely wide at the bottom, sloping up to the back wall that sat on it.

Now this was unexpected and after additional jackhammer attempts and sledge hammer blows, the whole project was halted, the hole in the outside wall closed and as far as I know, we never went into the basement again.

Been 50 years now since that effort was made and I wonder if anyone ever managed to complete the project? I suspect not as that rock must reach all the way to the center of the earth and no telling if it had actually been removed, what would have happened.

Years after, used to hear my mom in some argument with my dad and they like to argue a lot, would say, "you never finish anything". I wonder....after the rock in the basement, did his finishing efforts actually decline because he was not sure of what he might find in the final phase?? I wonder if we all have to experience a "rock in the basement" at some time in our life? Some sort of cosmic lesson to be learned?

Still can see that rock in my mind after all these years and suspect it will be there way after I am gone.