Hacking Dirt

by OWA

I've been reading 2600 more than 17 years and have noticed the request for articles on diverse subjects, as long as they are related to hacking.  I'm no computer hacker.

Until last year, I was still using my 1985 CP/M+ machine for snail mail and WebTV for browsing.  But if hacking is taking things apart and putting them back together in unexpected ways, exploring, and changing the way things work in manners unintended by the originators, I've been hacking dirt and pipe since I was 5... 60 years ago, when I started digging "forts."

My most recent endeavor started with a sinkhole in my back yard about five feet across and four feet deep.  Upon exploration, I discovered a storm drain with a gap between the joints of the pipe of about two inches.  I slapped some sheet metal over the gap, threw some bagged concrete on top of that, filled the hole up, and went exploring.

I discovered that the water company had put a road in their easement way back in the woods on my property.  In their construction, they had filled in a ditch which serviced the storm drain and, as a result, over the years the pipe had filled up with sediment so that only four inches was showing.  This is a 30 inch pipe, so when we got a heavy rain (we got 12 inches in about eight hours a few years ago), it backed up.  I assume this is when it started blowing out the joints in the pipe.  I say joints because last month more heavy rain and a six foot chasm appeared, this time much closer to my driveway.

But after my initial exploration, I set about fixing the original problem.  A backhoe was a bit expensive and, besides, I had no way to transport it and am not very good at operating them.  My specialty is hand work combined with brain work.  Turns out this was a lucky coincidence since a hoe would have destroyed the underlying concrete apron that protected the exit of the pipe, which I never suspected was there.

At first, I hired a laborer to shovel and just tried to dig a ditch.  We ran into rock they had put to build the road and it was clear it would be very slow, tedious, and expensive and leave large piles of soil.  Which would be clear evidence that somebody had destroyed their road, and give them easily available material to fill the ditch.

During the first attempt at a ditch, it rained half an inch and filled up what little we had dug.  I took the hint and, instead of fighting it, I diverted the water to a small slot about three inches by three inches - one pick ax wide.  Every time it rained, it washed away a little more, then a little more.  I helped it each time it rained with the pick, softening up the hard spots and lowering the ditch.  Every time we got a serious rain, the ditch was three inches deeper and, as some heavy rains came, the pipe cleared.

In less than a year, I had a nice full pipe exposed and another ten feet of concrete apron exposed.  And a cute little 2.5 foot deep ravine.  It flows nicely with whatever rain we get and swiftly enough to self clean.

As to the future and the legalities of the matter, a friendly lawyer has assured me this is a civil matter with no possible criminal prosecution.  Just as were computer hacking and exploring in the old days.

My lawyer friend says that when they discover this "washout" and set about filling it in, he will send them a friendly letter pointing out that it is not legal to block natural drainage channels.  Hopefully, this will lead to a pipe, or a bridge.  But if the "washout" did not exist, it would be real hard to convince them to do anything since it's "not our storm drain," and in fixing it, they might be admitting liability for the sink holes.

So this is what a basic dirt hack looks like.  It was a pleasant brain twister requiring mainly patience, persistence, and simple observation.  It was fun and useful just as hacking ought to be.

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