Bill Roper (billroper) wrote,
Bill Roper

Renovation Realities

My name is Bill Roper. My wife, Gretchen, and I are going to replace the mailbox that a snowplow ran into this winter. We've been holding it together with a bungee cord and epoxy for several months now, but the ground is finally thawed, so it shouldn't be too hard to dig out the old mailbox and replace it with a new one. I figure I can probably handle this after work on Friday.

The Roper Project:

Goal: Replace the mailbox
Budget: $200 or so
Time: A couple of hours

I figured I could save some time by picking up the new mailbox and post at Home Depot over lunch. The mailbox had taken cumulative damage from plows and mail trucks over the years, so I might as well replace the whole thing. Here's a little steel post, but I don't think it will hold a large mailbox and I definitely want a large mailbox. This white post is all plastic. That seems like a bad idea.

OK, this looks like the old post. And this looks like the old mailbox. That should work. We'll just plant it a bit further from the road this time.

Back home to some more work, then off to Katie's school where I was scheduled to be the Mystery Reader for her class this afternoon. Katie was delighted to see me. I brought the third Clorinda book to read, "Clorinda Plays Baseball", since it was baseball season and all of the clues to my identity had been baseball related.

After we walked home, I figured I'd go ahead and dig out the old post while the weather was good. I grabbed the big spade and set to work.

Of course, I'd set the old post in concrete. Apparently, a lot of concrete. I removed enough dirt around the concrete to get the post to wobble substantially, but the post wasn't coming out.

I asked Gretchen to run to the store and get a masonry chisel and hammer and some gravel and sand -- because I never wanted to dig through concrete again -- and I'd go back to work while she was gone. I finished up the current bit of the project at work successfully and went back down when Gretchen returned.

It turned out that the fellow at the store had advised more concrete, because he didn't figure the gravel and sand would hold in disturbed soil. He was probably right.

I set to it with the chisel and hammer. Then Gretchen set to it with the chisel and hammer. Then she held the chisel while I took a few more whacks at it. We managed to remove a couple of inches of concrete.

The post wasn't coming out. And it was time for dinner. So we went out to Sweet Tomatoes.

On the way, I realized, "Maybe if we had a second shovel we could lever it out." So on the way home, we stopped at Lowe's and I grabbed a Kobalt digging shovel with a fiberglass handle. And then I went out and assaulted the concrete blob.

The blade on the Kobalt shovel immediately cracked down the middle.

My old spade had taken this sort of treatment all day without complaint. (I'd complained, but that was different.) I looked at the crystallized metal along the broken edge.

Apparently, 20 year old tools are a bit more robust than what they're selling nowadays.

Gretchen and I poked at it a bit more, as there was nothing else I could do to hurt the already dead Kobalt shovel. A huge piece cracked off of the blade. I picked it up, threw the shovel and broken piece of blade in the car. That was enough for the evening.

The next morning, Katie and Julie had soccer games to play and team pictures to be taken. We grabbed lunch, got stopped by a freight train on the way to the field, but eventually got everyone's picture taken and watched soccer being played. Katie and Julie each had a turn as goalie for their teams, Julie successfully stopping a penalty kick. Katie's game ended in a tie; Julie's team won.

Earlier that morning, I'd done some research and had determined that what I needed was a demolition hammer which I could rent from Home Depot. So after soccer, I went back to Lowe's to return the corpse of the shovel. Then it was off to Home Depot for a four hour rental of the demolition hammer.

(For those of you who are counting, this is either four or five trips to the hardware store, depending on whether you count this last trip as one or two.)

It took a while to get everything together, Katie having liberated the safety goggles the night before, but I eventually accumulated all of the gear, greased and loaded the bit into the hammer, plugged it in, and powered it up. The engine whined, but the bit did nothing.


Unplug, remove bit, reinsert bit, plug in, turn on again.

Same result.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

OK, maybe it doesn't do anything until you actually jam the bit into the concrete.

Thappa, thappa, thappa, thappa, thappa!

Shower of flying concrete chips.


I kept breaking up concrete. Gretchen pulled out the broken bits and tossed them in a bucket as I took a break. And another break. And another.

A neighbor eventually came by and helped us wiggle the post. It still wasn't going anywhere.

Finally, I managed to break the last of the old concrete away from the post which happily pivoted out of the hole.


Gretchen and I finished cleaning out the hole. I used the spade to clear a few inches to the rear so I could move the new post farther from the street. And now it was time to assemble the new post.

It turns out that the old post was aluminum and pot metal construction. The new post is aluminum and composite plastic construction. This is not an improvement, save that the new post is not yet broken.

Katie helped by handing me tools and holding the post while I sat in the hatch of the minivan assembling the post. Then Gretchen came to help when we needed more hands. And we got the post together.

I took it out to the old hole and embedded it where I wanted it. Now we needed the Quikrete. It's pretty simple. Pour the powder in the hole, then add water. All we need is a bucket or a hose.

Fortunately, I'd bought one of the new compressible hoses about a month ago at Sam's Club. We plugged it into the front spigot, I dumped the powder into the hole, and I added water. Then Katie brought a couple of bricks from the back yard to hold the post in place and I declared (temporary) victory.

The demolition hammer was due back at Home Depot. And I was hungry.

So for today, this renovation is over.

(Tune in tomorrow as we attempt to attach the mailbox -- which Gretchen assembled -- to the post. We're up to five or six trips to the hardware store and have blown the budget, but not by too much.)

Tags: home, kids, musings, television
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