Stephenson Tales


The Guest HouseWhen we bought our Harper House from the bank in Traverse City, a year after Mrs. Harper died, in addition to the main house the property included: a vacant lot next to us, a garage across the street behind the main house, and two lots back farther back in the woods across the street behind the garage. All this came with the package. Although Mrs. Harper did not own an automobile, and, in fact, had never learned to drive, she had had the garage made from what had been a small cottage. It had one electric line, no water, and no floor. My father had been a civil engineer before he got his PhD and became a professor of history. He could do anything. The renovations began when he laid in a concrete floor for us in the garage. After that he took off the big doors and put in a huge picture window which looks past our house across the vacant lot next to us to a lovely view of the lake. He then began putting in pipes for plumbing. He put in a little toilet room with a shower, and installed a kitchen sink for the kitchen area--all this at what had been the back of the garage. He got us a water heater and put it in a little shed which he built and attached to the back of the house behind the new kitchen. Of course there was no water, so I asked him if we were going to have a well drilled. He looked sly and said, "Just wait." Over the next couple of days he was busy in our utility room in Harper House while I was teaching at the National Music Camp, as a result I did not keep track of what he was doing. I came home to find he had taken a pipe from the main pump water supply through the utility room wall and out the back of our house. I asked him what he planned to do with it. "Just wait." was the reply.

That evening after supper he said, "Now we're going to take the water to the Guest House."

Guest House with Mr. Yon's house behind"Across the road???"

"Just wait."

We dug a trench about eight inches deep from where the pipe came out of the wall until we got to the road. "Now what do we do?" I asked. He went to his station wagon and took out a pick axe--one of those evil looking items that is rather like an axe but has a sharp pointed spear on each side of the business end of the tool.

"Dad," I squeaked, "You're going to dig up the road???"

"Just watch." He laid into that asphalt surface and in about twenty minutes had a continuation of the trench that went across the roadway.

"But, Dad, we can't do this. People will see it and report to the county road commissioner that we have wrecked the road."

"Just wait."
He was a man of few words, but this was getting monotonous!
We laid the pipe in the trench, caulked and tightened the joints and extended the trench a few feet farther on to the Guest House lot. At that point we stopped digging and covered the end of the trench with leaves. He then filled in the trench in the road with the asphalt he had removed. I felt a little sick as it looked exactly the way I had expected it to: it looked exactly as though someone had dug a trench across the road. He went to his car again and got out an old-fashioned gasoline blow-torch.
"Tamp that down hard with the end of the pick-axe while I get this going." I did.
Beginning at one side of the road he began melting the asphalt under the yellow and blue flame of the torch.
"Now as I move on hammer it down with the back of the shovel so it is flat." I did.
When it was finished, the path of the trench could still clearly be seen.
"Bring me a couple of scoops of sand in the shovel." I did.
He scattered the sand over the still-soft asphalt and stamped it down with his foot. The path of the trench became less and less obvious. It was now quite dark. That night it rained and as the little traffic went over the hidden pipe, scattering muddy water and debris over it, the natural look of the road returned. In two days no one would ever guess that eight inches down under that solid surface lurked the water pipe to the Guest House. It remained in use for over 36 years before the Guest House got its own well.

© Jim Bob Stephenson 1992.

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