Quick Projects

What I like most are those quick, discrete projects that you can just tackle and then they’re done with. But sometimes the gods have other ideas.

This particular one started off innocently enough with: “Honey, would you mind unloading a bag of potting soil from the trunk of my car?”

“Sure,” I said.

This should be a snap. Quicker to just do it and not even jot it down on a list.

The trunk of the car opens readily enough, but lo and behold, the bag of potting soil had leaked its water! Apparently, the “manufacturers” (i.e., baggers) discovered that they could add, say, 20 percent water so the volume and weight go up. Ah, free enterprise. (Last year’s bag of potting soil is not usable because it’s got a volley ball sized ice ball in the midst of the contents.)

Anyway, the good news is that we have one of those expensive, custom-fitted plastic trunk liners, so the trunk itself and carpet were protected. The ingenious design of the liner with its inch-high lip, has trapped all the water. The only things that got wet were the canvas reusable shopping bags, the hiking shoes, the first aid kit, the trekking poles in their cloth pouch, the flares, the lug wrench, the picnic blanket, a stack of newspapers bound for recycling, a bunch of clothing just back from the dry cleaners, a roll of paper towels and the overnight bag with its toothpaste, shampoo, Kleenex, washcloth, bar of soap and some fuzzy little sticks that might have been Q-tips. All of these will have to be removed, wrung out and then hung by the heating stove to dry out.

But for now, I hoisted out the dripping bag of potting soil. Then I made one of those life changing mistakes — I read the instructions on the package. It says, “mix contents with equal parts of native soil.” So, before we can have bright spring flowers in the planters on the porch, I’ll have to gin up some “native” soil.

“Well” I thought, “no problem.” We can produce that here on the premises. I can easily dig up and sift some of our property’s “native” soil composed of equal parts clay, rocks and fir needles and separate out the rocks and sticks over a half-inch in diameter.

I find the framed mesh screen that I had previously made for just this purpose, that fits neatly over the rim of the wheelbarrow. It is in one of the only three places that I keep it. But, the wheelbarrow is full of brush and needs to be emptied first. I’m about to roll off toward the “Big Brush Pile” when I notice that the tire is nearly flat.

No problem! We’ve got two portable air tanks for just this purpose. Now, if I can only get the overhead door to open, (it must just be frozen to the cement) and I can grab the air tank(s). I drag over the tall one which has NEVER leaked and find that it is in fact empty. The other tank has a faulty gauge, but I go ahead and attach its hose to the tire. Uh oh, it’s not filling. Sometimes if there’s less air in the tank than in the tire then the air goes the other way. Hmm? Well, no matter.

I’ll just fire up the compressor and refill the tanks and fill the tire directly.

The compressor runs on 230 volts. The special heavy duty extension cord was last used to power the big radial arm saw in the carport, so it should be around somewhere close. No luck.

Well, I need to stay on track here, so I’ll simply grab a different wheelbarrow and search for the cord later.

This one is a masonry wheelbarrow (long and narrow) so the screen frame doesn’t really fit very well. I also notice that this is the one I purchased in Santa Rosa in 1971, and then moved with it to Taos and then to Colorado and then to here in Washington, and it doesn’t have ANY rust holes. The newer wheelbarrow (the one with the now completely flat tire) is riddled with rust holes after only two years, but that’s another story. Back to digging and sifting with the ill-fitting screen,

I soon have plenty of nicely uniform dirt and a few exactly half-inch-long segments of earthworms who were collaterally damaged. An uneventful trek over to the porch where the planters await and, “There, that’s done.”

“What’s next?” (Did I mention that the ground was frozen?)

Oh yeah. I still need to:

Dry out everything from the trunk
Find the extension cord
Inflate the wheelbarrow tire
Empty the wheelbarrow
Fix the leaking air tank
Fill the air tanks
Put the sifting screen away

and a thought occurs to me: somewhere out there, other guys are playing golf.

Jim McCann is a retired carpenter and lifelong “fixer” of things. He and his wife, Kathryn Fentress, have lived in Bellingham since 1995. “I’ve always delighted on discovering something on the brink of being discarded that, with some repair and restoration, can be brought back to life.”

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