Updated: Nov 26, 2022
As I described in Part One, Chip and I (and maybe our contractor Marty, too) were biting our nails over the concrete bond beam pour on our tire bale home... and the time had come!
Our biggest concern was that the concrete would flow down through the many openings in the tire bales, bust out through the bottom of the forms, or blow out the forms completely. We were especially worried about the giant gaps, and the small cracks. The giant gaps were daunting because we weren't sure how to fill such a large space in a robust way. The small cracks were threatening because some of them stopped right there, while others opened up below into unseen caverns that could potentially gobble up a yard of concrete during the pour, and you could't tell which were which. Here are a few of the gaps to show you what we were dealing with.
After the forms were in place, Chip and I were able to bend the wire up so we could fill the bales. We spent a couple long days stuffing cans, shredded tents, and garbage bags filled with paper and cardboard into the myriad holes, and slogging heavy buckets of dirt and mud up to plug smaller cracks.
Marty and his crew filled in on the sides with boards screwed in to the gaps, and Great Stuff to seal the remaining cracks. Over the next days we went around and around looking at the structures from various angles and at different times of day, seeking telltale flickers of light coming through, and filling the holes we had missed before.
Marty's crew installed the reinforcing rebar, and Chip bent the wire mesh down and in to embed in the concrete. Since the forms are uneven due to the extremely uneven tire base, Marty shot a level line which he marked with a red line and nails, to make sure the bond beam would be level on top. They also reinforced the forms with braces on top, and drilled the bottoms of the forms, tying them together with 9-gauge wire. Marty was determined not to have a blowout!
We were ready for our pre-pour inspection, and eager to get the concrete in on Friday, since the following week lows were supposed to dive into the teens and twenties again, and there was a winter weather warning for Monday. The inspector came out Thursday afternoon. The last time he had been out was before we poured the foundation, so this was his first look at the tire bale walls. He scratched his head a bit, and shook his head a bit, and finally said "It is according to the engineering plan, which was approved for your permit..." which we took to mean "I am grateful my signature only indicates you followed the letter of the law!" So in spite of any reservations he might have had about our unwieldy project, we were good to go!
I measured the forms and Marty calculated that for a 10" bond beam it would take 10.8 yards which he'd normally round up to 11, and then add a half yard for possible overage. Given the unevenness of the tires, however, he thought we ought to get 13 yards. I was more nervous about under-ordering than over-ordering. Since we are an hour from the concrete yard, there's a $150 travel charge for a truck. They also didn't have a truck until 1:00, so with an hour between trucks, it wouldn't give us a lot of time if we had to order more. If you need to add a truck that you hadn't reserved, there's always the possibility that they can't provide it. If you cancel a truck after they have already started preparing the mix, you need to pay for it. After discussing with the very helpful office clerk at C&E Concrete, we decided to order "ten plus" yards. This meant that they would send the first truck with ten yards (full), and hold a second truck for us. Once we started pouring and knew how fast it was going, we could call in to tell them how much to put into the second truck. She was sending trucks from their Gallup partners, Eagle Ready Mix.
Just in case we did have extra concrete, Chip had formed up one of the lower buttress bales for a tabletop on the east patio.
I had to drive out to the gate to meet the cement truck, so we asked them to have the driver call us from the highway so we'd have time to drive down to the gate by the time they arrived. Our 1:00 pour time came and went, and no call... I drove down to the gate and continued to wait. As it turned out, our pour didn't start until 2:00. The traffic from Gallup was horrendous. Chip and I have been stuck in that Gallup construction traffic a couple of times in the past month, so we know that an extra hour is not that surprising -- I-40 has no decent alternate routes for much of the way. Still, this was already pinching a pretty stressful timeline on a job with lots of unknowns and the lingering possibility of disaster... the guys got down to business quickly and started the pour.
Marty's dad Melvin and son Isaac had picked up a fork lift with a bucket in Albuquerque in the morning. Melvin drove the machine which got the concrete from the truck to lift into the forms. B. Brown worked the chute and filled the bucket.
Up top the rest of the crew worked together, but it was mainly one guy shoveling the concrete out of the bucket and into the forms, Isaac working the "stinger" to vibrate the concrete down around the mesh and rebar, and Marty troweling out the surface and inserting the concrete-embedded hardware (anchor bolts and post bases). We held our breath for the first several feet, but things seemed to hold, and we didn't see any seepage.
It went smoothly and they worked efficiently, but still by the time they were moving up toward the top of the first (east) leg of the beam, it was 2:40, and Eagle had said that 3:00 was about the latest we could order the second truck. The driver estimated that he had about 3-4 yards left in the mixer, and we hadn't even finished a short leg -- the concrete was going fast! I hollered up to Marty. He and Melvin talked it over, and realized that would mean we'd need 20 more yards, not 3! We held off on calling it in to make sure.
As we got closer to 3:00, the first leg was done, they were rounding the corner, and I checked with the driver again -- he thought he had about 3-4 yards left. I double checked with Marty again -- we needed 20 more yards... two mare trucks... and we didn't know whether the concrete company would even be able to furnish a third truck! I got on the phone and called it in. Eagle didn't have a third truck. I was audibly stressed. Eagle said they could call over to Grants to see if they could get a third truck together. I offered to, and they agreed (I knew I'd be less stressed calling than waiting for a call).
I called Grants, explained our dilemna with tension in my voice, but the clerk was relaxed and understanding, and put me at ease -- she had a truck! We made the arrangements, and I ran back to the build site to give Marty the good news,
Well, by that time. the guys had finished much of the back wall. still on the first truck of concrete! Marty said whenever they asked the truck driver how much concrete he had left, he kept saying "about 3-4 yards." Marty said we needed to cancel the third truck, and he thought we really only needed 3-4 yards in the second truck, not the full ten.
This was a $2500 error! I panicked. I called Grants. I hurridly explained our situation, and asked anxiously, "but you already started the truck and we have to pay for it, right?" She calmly replied, "No, no problem -- our guys just got back from their other job and are cleaning out the truck now. We can just cancel it." What a relief! I was a wreck, and she was utterly calm and understanding. I imagine that this is the type of issue she has to deal with all the time. I knew that Eagle's truck was underway. I asked the Grants clerk if there was anything to do about the amount, since we probably would use less than half of the second load and had based our order on the completely erroneous estimate by the driver. She said, with a murmur of sympathy, that we would unfortunately have to pay for the whole 10 yards.
The guys finished off the first truck and the second hadn't come, so they were able to take a dinner break. Chip called Eagle and explained our situation in an... emphatic... way that resulted in assurances that we would only have to pay for the concrete we used, and that we should send the truck back with the remainder rather than having them dump the concrete on site, which is how overages are usually handled. (When we did the bale foundation we used the extra to pour a pad for our water tanks, for example.) That was another relief! Marty was impressed by their accommodation.
The second truck finally arrived late afternoon. I was kind of strung out from all the back and forth and heading into dusk, but Marty was unconcerned about working late, and had some lights to help. They just pushed on through and got 'er done. And we never saw any leaking concrete anywhere! Everyone helped get Chip's patio table poured, which used a tad bit of our load of extra concrete. We asked the driver how much he thought we left behind in the hopper. He said 3 to 4 yards... yeah, right....
We thanked everyone profusely, and they wrapped up and headed home, the toughest part of our entire house job behind them!
The next morning I went out early and walked around on the solid beam. Sure enough, it didn't wiggle or sway when I pushed back and forth. Later when Chip came out and I sat on the concrete, I could feel the give very slightly when he jumped up and down. So it still compressed slightly, but didn't move back and forth.
With the crooked forms, it was hard to assess the beam itself, but there were no cracks anywhere. It cured over the weekend, and we had a surprise rain, which is supposed to be good for new concrete.
On Sunday night the expected cold front came in, and Monday snowed hard. Tuesday was chilly, but good working weather. The crew came out and removed the forms. There were a couple of spots where the concrete didn't get past the mesh to fully fill the form (the second to last picture), but that can be cleaned up later.
With the catawampus forms gone, it was nice to see how level and straight the bond beam turned out! It's a little harder to get up on top without all of the forms' handholds, but once up there, it is a solid three-foot wide path -- so much more comfortable to walk on than those wonky bales. Even I can handle it with ease!