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Cold Storage House as Good as Our Ancestor s Built

Cold Storage House as Good as Our Ancestor s Built

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Published by: MoreMoseySpeed on Feb 03, 2012
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 By Harry G. Nemec
ack in the early seventies, mywife and I decided to invest inour own ideas to “get ahead.” Iwas not earning enough money. Wehad tried second jobs, but that wasn’tcutting it either. We could exist andplod along, I could see that. It took every cent I was earning to pay ourliving expenses. That meant we wouldnot have any savings. We needed away to use our talents as an invest-ment.We decided to venture out into thewoods of central Pennsylvania. Wepurchased a five-acre parcel of moun-tain land and a cabin, since we couldafford it. The reason we could affordit was because there was no electrici-ty, no running water, and no plumb-ing. An old cookstove was the sourceof heat and cooking. Water was avail-able from a spring a short walk fromthe house.The property was far enough awayfrom the mainstream of life to be acheap place to live. It was a desolatehunting area, and as such, a luxury forsome people, an extra place to getaway to at times. For us, it was anopportunity to have a place to get outof the rain until we could afford to fixit up for year-round living. We dis-cussed the best way to capitalize onour investment. We could clear someland, grow our own food and sell theexcess, raise chickens and sell eggs.We would make it into a five-acrefarm.During the first year, we obtainedelectricity, and with that, power to runthe pump (which meant running waterand inside plumbing) and automaticheat. We were becoming civilized. Wehad an acre of level woods cleared,and we planted a general crop. Wewere becoming a farm, and no farm iscomplete without a place to storepotatoes and root vegetables.I was determined to make the hunt-ing cabin and mountain ground into afive-acre farm. All I needed was abarn, a storage house, a tractor, and apatch.With the completion of the insideplumbing and automatic heat, wecould move on to the next projects.The second was the patch, whichinvolved clearing land and plantingcrops. With our crops planted, weneeded a storage facility so theywould feed us all year and until thenext crop came in.After considerable study on the sub- ject of food storage, moisture, ventila-tion, and rodents, I went on to look atthe many types of construction. Ichose to use what I had at hand—nat-ural mountain field stone.I was told that the stone found onthe ground wasn’t good enough forthe project because it had been weath-ered and wouldn’t hold the concrete.Since I had all that stone just lyingaround, it didn’t matter to me if theywere right or wrong; I was going to doit my way. The way I figured it, sinceour ancestors built barns, houses,fence rows, and everything else usingthe stones that were lying around, Icould too. Their buildings and fencerows are still around. Maybe the roofshave caved in and wood rotted away,leaving the shells of what were build-ings years ago. I could use the samematerial they used and have a storagehouse for the cost of concrete andsome sweat.My mind was made up. I was goingto use the stones that were all over theplace. Next I had to figure how manystones I needed, but that meant I hadto know how big this thing was goingto be. How much of what was to bestored? Now the real thinking began. Ireverted back to the basics: What dowe buy that we can grow? I studiedour shopping habits: potatoes, carrots,beets, apples, yams, cabbage, onions,and the like. I could grow them andstore them. I computed the mainstaysand came up with 400 pounds of pota-toes. (We usually used five pounds perweek, and I added some to plant, andsurplus). I then went to the store andlooked at the pile of 20-pound bags,and measured the volume that madeup 400 pounds. I figured that I couldput 400 pounds of potatoes into a binmeasuring two feet wide and five feettall by three feet deep, or thirty cubicfeet.I measured in the same fashion foreverything I was planning to store inthe building. I then converted the totalcubic feet into dimensions that wouldcomprise the inside of the building.The result of my calculations showedthat the cold storage house wouldhave to be six feet by eight feet, with asix-foot ceiling, or 288 cubic feet.This measurement included walk-inspace.The next part of the project involvedbuilding materials. To determine howmuch stone I would need for this pro- ject, I used the same measuring tech-nique as I had used to measure thespace requirements for the contents of the cold storage house. I had to deter-mine the thickness of the walls andmake an allowance for the depth of the wall into the ground to the footer(or foundation), minus the space forthe door. I had enough stone to start,and I would find more while digging.I chose a portion of the land that hadbeen used previously as a place topush unused ground while leveling forthe house, since it faced the patch. Istaked off the area, allowing for thethickness of the walls. Then I grabbedthe pick, shovel, friendly digging iron,and gloves.The initial day’s digging went fast,as I was digging from the side of asmall depression into a steep rise. Idid not need shoring, since the rise
 January/February 1996 Backwoods Home Magazine
Here’s a cold storage houseas good as our ancestors built
was only six feet or so. I was able tothrow the dirt right into the patch.Because of the purpose of the build-ing and the design of the walls (morethan a foot thick), the footer had to be24 inches wide and 6 inches thick, andit had to be down below the frost line(in our area, 34 inches).The dirt floor acts like a chimney,permitting earth-temperature, mois-ture-laden air to flow into the coldstorage building. It is this moisture-laden air that prevents the stored foodfrom drying out or freezing.The design calls for a ventilationpipe to provide an air passage for theventilation of the moisture coming outof the ground through the dirt floor. If the footer isn’t deep enough, frost willuse the passage through the vent pipe,freezing everything in its path.In a couple of weeks I had the foot-er dug, and a sizable pile of rocks thatI’d found in the digging.I mixed the concrete for the footer,using the same formula I had used foran earlier septic tank project (one partconcrete, two parts sand, three partsstone), and reinforced it with scraps of re-bar, stones, and fence wire.The stones were protruding out of the footer, ready to accept more stonesthat would make up the wall.Since I was using concrete ratherthan mortar, I had to let each day’smixing set before I could continue. Iwas thankful for that.I placed the stones vertically, in sucha fashion that there was a spacebetween them. I was building twowalls with a small space betweenthem. When that concrete hardened, Ifilled that space and put up more verti-cal stones, creating another space.Before I set each stone in place, I triedit several ways to get the most verticalcoverage out of each stone. Then I wetthe stone and set it into a “cushion” of concrete and propped it into place sothe concrete could set.Every day I would come home fromwork and mix up a batch of concreteand set some stones. Eventually, theugly hole began to take the shape of acrude building sticking out of the sideof the rise in the ground.I began in the corners, setting stonethat would comprise the walls againstthe dirt sides of the hole first, since allI had to do was climb over the footerrather than go around the wall to work on the other wall. (I had figured thatthe raw stone would hold the concrete just as well a few months later as itwould right that instant, just as long asI had used a wet concrete mixture anda dampened stone.) It got to the pointthat I was sorting rocks to find theperfect rock for the next placement. Ithen began to try breaking off some of the rock imperfections, rather thanspending so much time finding thebest fit.Sorting a pile of football-sized rocksevery time I needed another rock seemed like a waste of time, so I draft-ed my wife to assist. She sorted whileI set the rocks. That lasted for a coupleof hours; then I was sorting and set-ting the rocks by myself again. (I mayhave insulted her by discarding a rock that didn’t fit where I had wanted it.She was better at sorting the laundryand stuff like that, anyway. I remem-ber some words about where I couldfind more rocks that she didn’t need tohand me.)By that time, the structure was tak-ing shape, and the walls were highenough that I could begin planning forthe roof and ventilation pipe. The pipehole had to be planned so thatvarmints couldn’t gain access to thefood that was going to be storedinside. I used a three-inch pipe and puta quarter-inch wire mesh screen insidethe pipe to keep varmints out. Theground floor of the structure wouldprovide a “warming” effect in the coldwinter weather and circulate the natur-al moisture around the food that wasstored. The vent pipe permitted this airflow. Failure to have air circulationpermits fungus to grow and ruin thestored food.Getting back to the roof construc-tion: Once the vent pipe was posi-tioned, I straddled the six-feet-apartupright walls with 2x4s on edge abouta foot apart and put a furring striplengthwise in the middle (to pre-stressthe poured roof). I covered that withhalf-inch plywood, tacking it on theedges to form a slight bow.Since the 2x4s were on top of thewalls, there were open gaps betweenthem at the ends, between the top of the wall and the plywood roof. I filledin these gaps with concrete and smallstones. I was now ready to work onthe front wall, which would containthe door.I measured the door frame using anold door I found out back. I made a2x8 frame around the door and tackedit together so that it would remainsquare (or as square as the door, any-way) by nailing triangle pieces on allfour corners.I had left a roughed-out opening inthe front wall, and I placed the 2x8frame in the opening to be sure of thefit. Then I removed it and carefullydrove 20-penny nails halfway into itfrom the outside, all the way around it,so that the heads would hold onto theconcrete. The frame resembled a por-cupine until it was set into place. Thisframe was first held in place by brac-ing, and then by filling in the voids inthe stone wall with a concrete mixturebetween the stone wall and the nails. Ithen installed the doorstop trim on theinside of the frame, using a commonfurring strip.The door I used was now going to fitinto the 2x8 frame. Next, I had toframe it out to make it into a thick insulated door. I made a 2x4 frame onit, filled the openings in the framewith insulation, then put a piece of half-inch plywood on the open side of the frame. Before I fastened it alltogether, I put the door in place andtried to open it. I discovered the sidethat opened out needed a bevel toensure a snug fit. I removed thescrews holding the panel to the frame,made the bevel adjustment (hitting theopening-side 2x4 a couple of timeswith my hammer) and trimmed the
 January/February 1996 Backwoods Home Magazine

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