Operation: Party on the Patio [Block]

I’m slacking off this month for sure.  I need to get this kicked into gear soon or I’ll be cutting my quota close for the month.  The good news is the smug site is now uploaded with material for this post and a couple more while I was at it.  From my previous post, there was a foreshadowing of upcoming additions on new “operations” that were underway around the lot.  Well, one of those particular tasks was a transformation of this particular part of the lot:

This is a shot of an area of my backyard that happened to be where the builders shoved all the brush and trees during the clearing for the house building phase (about 4 years ago).  A lot of work went into getting it looking in this shape since all the trees were simply piled up with a dozer and excavator.  It took about 3 months to systematically cut free the tree logs (on the right) and deal with the leftover brush it came from on the left.  It reminded me of the old pickup-sticks game having to work my way through the mashed and twisted trees one exposed foot to the next with a chainsaw, loppers and a shovel.  One of the reasons for all this work was the desire to put in a bonfire area.  We put on an annual Halloween cookout party and enjoy starting a fire every once in awhile to roast some hot dogs and have some tasty s’mores (food of the gods by the way).  For the first few years, I simply dug a fairly big hole in the ground and lined it with some of the large logs saved from the clearing pile.  This worked great as long at the weather cooperated (fortunately, the grass finally came in), but the uneven ground wasn’t the ideal situation for chairs and standing around.

This brings us two about one month ago and more accurately, a Friday exactly 9 days before this year’s Halloween party.  The night before my inner voice convinced me to do something to improve this particular area – knowing full well this voice always gets me into trouble by convincing me to take on tasks that have impossible time frames to deliver on.  “Build it and they will come, build it and they will come” kept bouncing around in my head until I finally caved and decided to build a quick patio around the fire pit.  How hard can it be, go to store, get large patio blocks, throw them into place and be done – one day tops!  There is another thing my inner voice always does to me … LIE!  Except for that time when it tried to convinced me to NOT do something on my skateboard (for the record a skateboard given to me by my brother) because I would likely smack headfirst into a concrete stoop… at that particular time it was actually telling the truth ..but alas, I ended up ignoring it and chalked up another visit to the emergency room.  But I digress.    I had already invested in a bunch of 16×16 concrete patio block to help shore up the ground under the bridge so decided to go ahead and just get more of that.  I had a couple left over from that effort and figured if something went wrong I could use one of those.  So Friday after work I cleaned up the area where I wanted the patio to go and made sure the area was mowed and trimmed up.  I also tried to set the dimensions to get and estimate of the block count.   The next morning bright and early I headed off to Menards in the Ram1500.  The blocks were on sale but still came out to around $2.34 each.  I went out and checked the yard to make sure they had enough and then went inside and placed an order for 30 16x16x3 concrete blocks.  At the yard gate, I asked the attendant if he could get someone to lift the block palette up for easier loading..  A clerk eventually came, got the forklift and raised it up to the tailgate where we proceeded to load them into the truck.  While loading them it became apparent each block was running from 30-40 pounds each.  It was then stark reality set in remembering how far the fire pit was from the driveway.  The dude was not willing to come home with me to help on the unloading phase so that left me hauling the blocks out of the bed, putting them on a cart behind the ATV  (max 8 per load), driving out to the pit and unloading them.  I wanted to see how this was going to look so went ahead and placed them down in a loose approximation of where they would go.  As soon as they were all dropped into place, I repeated the entire process with a load of 40 more concrete blocks.

Hit the jump to see when things started going off-course and pictures of the finished product

So now I am sitting at 70 blocks with another 32 left to go.  The next day I headed out to Menards and made the final order.  A quick check before actually making the order assured me there was just enough to get my load filled with the remaining palette (actually there were two leftover, but this allowed me to discard two of them that didn’t look so hot).  A different clerk comes out, lifts up the palette, gets out of the cab and proceeds to stand there and watch while I load them into the truck.  Figuring I was just spoiled the first two times, I went ahead and loaded the remaining blocks.  This was going great until around block 18 when something gave in the lower back.  Ironically, this was about two days after having to take mandatory shop safety classes in preparation for an upcoming event at work.  Those lifting procedures apparently went in the eyes and out the ears without a path through the gray matter.  The drive back was full of worry playing out the worst case scenarios with my back.  It was probably just overworked, but Linda was not going to be able to get them out of the truck.  What to do, what to do?  The only option was to gut it out and get everything done before the muscled cooled down and eventually locked.  While driving the first load to the pit it hit me that the blocks all needed to be moved again to allow me to smooth out the ground with the tiller.  Crap!  So the blocks were unloaded and then all of the previous ones were pulled up and stacked off to the side.  Then I realized that the Halloween decorations needed to be brought down from the second floor of the house so went ahead and did that before finally getting some ice on the now enraged back.  30 minutes later the back was totally frozen and any attempt to stand or even lift the legs off the ground was a pipe dream.  This was soon followed by a chiro appointment for the next day.

Time clock put me at less than a week before the party.  No time to sit around feeling sorry.  After the chiro appointment Monday afternoon, I started up the tiller and went to town on the area around the pit.  Luckily, it was pretty much virgin ground with no roots.  After about an hour of tilling up the ground, the rake was hauled out and the ground smoothed out as much as possible.  There were some serious low spots and figured the leveling process would need some fill dirt so went ahead and tilled up and adjacent area with a small hill in order to have some dirt on hand.    The moon was up and it was time to get some ice on the back again.  Another chiro appointment was set for Wed allowing time to get some of the blocks in place – don’t want to waste those inferential sessions.  Since there was not time to do it properly with compacting sand/gravel, the only means of leveling was to use the dirt.  Each block was put down individually checking the heights relative to each other (a necessity since the ground was not completely level yet).  Shaving the ground here, adding dirt here and there so the block sat as level as possible.  The due date was coming fast and furious.  To help extend the working hours, a bunch of Tiki torches were brought out along with the ATV for its headlights.  By end of  Thursday, most of the blocks were down (had about 20 to go) and the back was starting to feel a little better.  I had another appointment the next day at 10, but decided to cancel it knowing it would be pointless to work in the morning, go to the chiro and get back on it immediately afterward.  To make sure everything was done in time, I took Friday off and completed the project after about 4 hours in the morning.  This also included going back and resetting some of the blocks that experienced some ground settling or I didn’t get placed well in the dark.  Guessing by now you are ready for the big reveal.

What do you think?  As you can tell, there are some waves in it, from block to block it turned out pretty good in my humble opinion.  You are unable to verify, but rest assured, all of the inner block lines are aligned properly which took some special care (and luck) when the patio was closed up.  Unfortunately, the original pit I dug was not symmetrical.  In order to fit into the pattern made by the blocks, I had to dig out the the logs in the upper right and scrunch them in a bit to fit into the square hole.

Here is a better angle showing where the logs had to be pushed in.  It was back-filled with dirt so the blocks had something solid to rest on.  You’re checking the lines aren’t you?  trust me, it’s all good, every single one.  Once all the blocks where in place, I went ahead and shoveled dirt into the edges to help eliminate any twisted ankles from people overstepping in the dark.   Well, there it is.   From concept to completion in about a week with only one major injury, two chiro visits and a lot more sweat than anticipated.

The party went pretty good and I received a lot of positive feedback on the patio.  It may need to be extended by a block or two when it is redone or decide to reduce the size of the fire a tad since people were drifting out to the edges from the heat.  In case you are wondering, that was not a typo.  This was always considered to be temporary and planned to pull it all up next spring and put down the packing sand/gravel to prevent ground heaving (which I expect with the current implementation).  Now I need to go slap that inner voice around a bit!  Oh, for the record,I did break one block and went ahead and had two more chiro treatments just to get the remaining kicks out… that which doesn’t kill me only makes me …you know the rest.

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