Basement Remodel Surprise

This happened about four years ago.

I was working on a remodel of a 1905-1910 house on Lookout Mountain. Part of the plan was to tear up the shoddy concrete floor of the basement and replace it with a thick, freshly poured slab.

It fell to a friend of mine by the name of Jackson to actually break up and rip out the existing floor, which was at ground level. The tool of choice was a steel wrecking bar. You probably think I'm talking about a crow bar. I'm not.

A crow bar is usually about two feet long with a diameter of about three-quarters of an inch. A wrecking bar is a crow bar on hormones and steroids. This one was about six feet long with a diameter of about 1.5 inch. Just a straight bar with no hook. Steel. Stout. And very, very heavy.

I happened to be there with Jackson when the tear-up was about to begin. We picked “a good starting spot” near one side of the basement.

In preparation to make his first blow to the floor, Jackson tapped the wrecking bar against the concrete once or twice. It had a strangely hollow sound. He looked at me, a bit perplexed, but I explained how the gravel bed beneath a slab can sometimes settle, leaving the slab to “bridge” slightly above the gravel.

(Now just remember, we're standing in a basement that is at the same level as the ground all around the house.)

Jackson turned his attention back to the floor, raised the bar above his head, and brought it down hard on the basement floor. The bar broke the concrete. We expected that.

It also broke through. I sort of expected that it would, with either gravel or soil beneath it.

But it kept going. Down, down. When it came to a halt, Jackson was kneeling on the floor looking at the top foot or two of the bar, sticking up out of a small hole in the floor. In other words, there was around four feet of empty space below us. We both stepped back abruptly from the hole.

Two hours and many chunks of concrete later, the mystery was solved. We were looking at a built-into-the-basement, turn-of-the-century septic tank. Long since abandoned. (and dry.) Who knew?