TIMER MOVES A
By Norris Chambers
By Norris Chambers
Did you ever wonder how a basement got there? We found out the hard
One sunny morning my wife Ella and the kids had gone to pursue some
important errand. While they were gone I got my grubbing hoe and shovel
and started digging on the north side of the house. I started about ten
feet from the east corner and made the excavation three feet wide. When
they returned, I had a nice little hole about a foot deep. The black top
soil had already been transported in a wheel barrow to the back forty.
"What in the world are you doing?" That was a reasonable
question. No doubt she was shocked. It isn't every day that someone starts
digging a big hole by the side of the house.
"I'm digging a basement." If she had been the fainting
type, I would have been picking her up off of the ground.
I had never lived in a house with a basement. In the country we had
cellars, but they were usually several yards from the house. My mother
always said she wanted the cellar far enough away that if a storm blew the
house down, it wouldn't land on the door and keep her pinned inside. This
sounded reasonable, but I always felt like I would manage to get out even
if this did happen.
So, we started a basement, or under house cellar, on that Sunday
morning. For the next several months I spent what time I could spare
digging and shoveling dirt into a wheel barrow. Ella stood above with a
rope in her hands. I pushed and she pulled, and the load came out. I
disconnected and moved it to the back of the lot. Before long we found a
good grade of gravel and I used this for a long, double driveway.
I lowered the bottom of the ramp as the excavation went deeper.
This increased the angle and made the dirt harder to remove. If I were
doing it again, I would have dug the ramp directly into the side of the
house and used a sled or large dolly of some sort and pulled it out with
an automobile. But in those days, things were done the hard way much of
the time, and we continued in the same manner that we had used when we
To leave support for the house foundation I kept the digging about
two feet away from the outside wall. My intention was to remove this dirt
later and pour concrete under the old foundation. At a depth of about six
and a half feet we encountered solid lime rock. Digging deeper would have
been difficult and since the house was about two feet above ground this
gave a good eight feet height to our room. I say room instead of basement
because when you think of a basement you think of something as big as the
whole house. This little sanctuary was only about fourteen feet square.
It could have been larger, but we decided this was large enough for
our purposes. Actually, I didn't have any purposes. I just wanted to do it
because I thought it would be fun.
Next came several weeks of finishing work. I removed the dirt under
the outside foundations about four feet at a time and replaced it with a
six or eight inch thickness of concrete. Building the forms and properly
bracing them was a slow process. I found out the hard way that when you
pour concrete bracing the form is very important. The first section
spilled into the cellar when the form collapsed. Hauling it out was a
tiresome and back-breaking job. I had purchased a small cement mixer so
the actual pouring was not too hard. The next step was laying concrete
tile around the other three sides. These walls were extended upward to the
floor of the house.
Then about two inches of concrete was poured on the rock floor and
leveled. A beam under the floor joists was supported by the tile walls on
the ends and a 2 inch pipe supported the floor in the center. Another few
days was spent in pouring concrete steps up the ramp by the side of the
house. I poured these one at a time so it took a few days to complete the
stairway. I built forms and poured the walls around the stairs.
A horizontal metal covered door that was hinged to the house covered the
stairway opening and finished the project. It sloped downward to carry the
Later I added two rooms and a bath on the north side of the house and
the cellar entrance was enclosed. There was a door leading outside from
the steps and another leading into the bedroom adjacent to it. The
"basement" was finished.
The story isn't quite over. They say the opera isn't over until the
fat lady sings. In this case she hadn't made her appearance. I used the
basement for about five years as a printing shop and it was an ideal work
place. But one spring morning it started raining and didn't seem to know
when to quit. The next day Ella called me at work, obviously stressed.
"The basement is flooded!" she exclaimed.
"How bad?" I wanted to know.
"Pretty bad - it's up to the top of the printing press. Things
are floating around on top. The water is nearly up to the top of the
stairs!" I thought about it pretty fast and came up with what seemed
like brilliant solution.
“Call the fire department and see if they can pump it out’.
She called them and they responded immediately with a pumper and in
a few minutes the problem was solved. She called me and reported that it
was all taken care of.
But by the time I got home the water had risen to the same level. It
leaked in almost like the concrete tile wasn't there. I worried about it
all night, but the next morning the water had receded to about a foot in
the bottom. The shop was a mess.
When I got home that afternoon, the water was gone. The flood
damage was extensive. I started moving things out. The 2000 pound press
had to be disassembled and taken out in pieces in the same manner I had
moved it down there.
I then began a waterproofing job. There are a number of sealers
available that are recommended for waterproofing concrete tile and any
time you use tile you should apply it. That just about corrected the water
problem, but I never felt secure enough to move the shop back in there. It
does have a few other uses.
Would I do it again if I were starting over? Well, I don't know. It
was a lot of FUN,
If this story makes you want to dig a basement get your shovel and
catch your wife gone - when she gets back have a nice hole started on the
side of your house. When she asks what you are doing just say, "We're
fixing to have fun!"