Unlike most of the kids of today, my brother’s and I had a lot of physical chores we were expected to perform on a regular basis growing up. Chopping and stacking wood, shoveling coal, spreading gravel, mowing the yard, helping build garage after garage after garage, etc. None of these jobs were particularly fun, we were just expected to do it, and do it right. Our father was a loving, funny, and easy going man, but when it came to performing a job, there were only two ways to do it; His way, or the wrong way. If you didn’t do it right the first time, which in most cases we didn’t achieve to his satisfaction, you did it again.
This was no clearer than when it came to us digging ditches around our property for him. That’s why I wrote this little guide for the current and future ditch diggers of America. If you can dig a ditch to Budd Thompson’s specifications, you have the potential to accomplish anything in this world and lifetime.
What Is The Ditch For?
I could be for drainage, it could be for burying pipe or electrical cable. It could be for creating a moat around the house. Don’t laugh, this was a common one of his. You’d dig a ditch around the outside of the house, garage, or whatever, then fill that ditch in with gravel. This little bit of landscaping supposedly kept weeds from growing up against the house and made it easier for us to mow the yard.
This would have been fine and dandy if we didn’t have to pull the weeds which grew up through the gravel as well. Isn’t that what we dug the ditch for in the first place? So we didn’t have to deal with weeds up against the house? Questions like these were best kept to ourselves. Remember…there were two ways to do things…lol.
The fact is, when it came right down to it, it didn’t matter what the ditch was for. It just needed to be dug. And by god, it better be to his specifications. 😊 He wasn’t an unreasonable man, he just wanted want he wanted. And what he wanted was perfection.
The next specification when it came to digging was how deep he wanted the ditch. It could be as easy as just removing the sod, or it could be so “in-depth” that you would swear you were digging the town’s first subway tunnel. In most cases, it was closer to the former, but there were times I had to wonder if we were burying dead bodies six feet under.
How wide of a ditch was an important factor. If it was only supposed to be the width of the shovel, you could go to town with that puppy; Shovel in, dirt out, step forward and repeat. Just for the record, it was NEVER this easy. Even if it was only that wide, which was rare, there were always other specifications which still managed to make it a difficult job. More likely than not though, you were digging something a lot wider. How do you think the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon came about? Yep, Budd Thompson’s boys digging him a ditch…lol.
This one was usually the most important decider when it came to how difficult of a “little 5-minute job” he had for us. I have no recollection of EVER having to dig a ditch that was only a few feet long. Most of them were several yards long, at the least. Others still were dubbed the Pennsylvania Turnpike. 😊
Keep It Even!
Probably the hardest part of digging a ditch, more so than it’s depth, width, and length was keeping it an even depth and width. We usually were able to handle the width side of this factor relatively easy. Keeping an even depth was a pain in the ass though. Sod and dirt just don’t come out of the Earth perfect like that. He wouldn’t have our excuses though and would be there with a level, protractor, compass, and scientific calculator t make sure we kept the depth even. Okay…okay…a little bit of exaggeration there, but not a lot.
What’s Going Into It?
So now we were done. After attempt after attempt at perfection, we’d finally dug the ditch to his satisfaction! It was time to rest and glory in our amazing achievement! WRONG!
Unless it was a simple drainage ditch, there was something going in there. Whether it was gravel to make one of those “efficient” building moats, or piping or wiring, that ditch still needed to be refilled.
Gravel was a pain, but reburying piping or wiring was worse. The majority of all that dirt you just shoveled out to make a ditch is going back in to fill it. And that sod better be put back in perfectly to hide the ditch afterward. By the time you were done, you could barely tell that you’d actually dug a ditch. Your sore muscles were enough. There being absolutely no evidence of your hard work, after the fact, was a bit soul-crushing.
Yes, I may have over-exaggerated here just a little bit. In actuality, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I make it sound. As a kid though, it definitely felt like the man was trying to kill us. In actuality though, it gave my brothers and I the strong work ethic which we all still possess today; An ethic which is pretty well lost on today’s generation, unfortunately.