Friday, June 1, 2012

Dirt Hole and Castle

The start of June bring back memories of summer vacations when our kids were small... We read somewhere that kids needed a place where they could we set aside a back corner of the yard and give the kids coffee cans to use in digging ... soon this was the favorite activity for all the neighborhood kids.  It was not unusual to see four or five kids all out moving dirt. Over time, this hole continued to grow wider and deeper.   For several years the “dirt hole” was a favorite place to play with toys – to live out fantasies. 
Our boys and two friends in their dirt hole years

When the hole got to be about 4 foot deep and several feet long and wide... a friend of our was working as a construction engineer on the new Dumbarton Bridge project...He said that they had large amounts of remnant wooden timbers that would be great to cover the dirt hole and turn it into something resembling a mine shaft... great... just the thing!  We acquired a big pile of wooden boards and timbers of all sizes.  With all this wood we got the idea of building a castle (the kids were at this time very much into a medieval theme – so they told me what they had in mind and we set to work...

The Castle - dungeon is below and runs to the left

The project began simply and over time expanded... As the structure grew, I was afraid that I might run afoul of the city building code – so I went down to the city office and told them what we had in mind – They got all official with me and started talking about earthquake factors and wind sheer ratios...adequate cement for footings and providing railings... I asked “what would happen if I just went home and built it the way we had it originally  planned” ... there answer was “ Nothing”... so that’s what I did...
The final structure had a ground level floor with a trap door that went down into the “dungeon” (i.e. the dirt hole)... a short ladder went up through another trap door to the upper deck about 5 feet off the ground... then there was a “tower” with a ladder that went up another ladder, through a trap door to the upper platform about 8 feet off the ground... As a responsible parent I made sure that there were safety railings.   On a project like this the work is ongoing  and continual modifications were added to the structure.
Sword fight with cardboard helmets

  This was the site of many amazing adventures.  The boys cut loops from tire inner tubes to make giant rubber bands... it was great fun for them to “shoot” them with wooden rubber-band guns made using my electric jig saw.  The guns had a wooden firing mechanism that could “shoot’ the rubber band for several feet... What epic battles were held in and around the castle!  Note:  Being hit by a loop of inner tube is highly symbolic - there is no danger or pain on impact...

Firing mechanism for rubber band "gun"
Our eldest son escalated the conflict by constructing a wooden catapults powered by multiple rubber bands that were capable of projecting an overripe tomato flying across the entire yard.  I fear that at times our youngest son and his friends took on the roll of “target” – but the catapult was notoriously inaccurate so I don’t recall that they ever hit anyone.
Surviving 'Medieval' shield
On one occasion the youngest son and his friend decided to make a small twig fire down inside on the bottom of the dirt hole...their goal was to roast hot dogs... The neighbors smelled the smoke and fearing the worst looked over the fence, and saw smoke billowing out of the underground... In alarm they called for the boys... who emerged from the hole and sheepishly had to face the neighbors and tell what they were doing ...Good to have observant neighbors.
As the boys moved into their teen years the old wooden castle began to show signs of decay- termites and dry rot... it was a sad day when the tower had to came down and the dirt hole filled in.

2 shot rubber band gun made of 1/2 inch plywood- the rubber bands fit over the front end and then are pulled back and fixed over the firing mechanism - A small downward movement of the lever releases the rubber band

Even today when I dig in the area I feel like an archeologist because I often find wheels from old Fisher Price toys, pieces of construction sets, or plastic action figures.  It is pretty funny  how cut inner tube loops do not deteriorate when buried in the ground.