In the back yard of our house there was an old open-top cistern that was used to hold water pumped from the well by the original windmill and an adobe shed attached to it. The cistern measured about 9 feet long by 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall, and was made out of concrete. The shed was made out of adobe and measured about 5 feet long by 4 feet wide, and was about 6 feet tall. A picture of the house sent to us by a neighbor, taken sometime in the late 1950’s, appears to show the cistern in the process of being built, helping us date it. The shed was already completed in the picture, so it obviously dates sometime before that. I decided to remove these for several reasons:

  1. The adobe shed was damaged and falling apart.
  2. The cistern wasn’t useful anymore (the windmill was long gone and the cistern was too small to use as a swimming pool, even if it still held water and I could actually convince somebody to get into it.)
  3. Both of them blocked our view of the hill behind our house. And they were ugly.

I’m generally in favor of keeping historic structures, but these two items were damaged, served no useful purpose (and probably never could), and would have interfered with our plans for the back yard. The decision was made to remove them, so away they went. Here are a few pictures of what they looked like before the destruction:

And our view out the back door, blocked by the cistern:

This was another project that took almost two years to complete. I started demolition on the adobe shed in September 2017, and finished a week ago in August 2019. As usual, I worked on other projects in between, and as usual there were a few unforeseen problems with this project that slowed it way down.

After getting an unpleasantly tenacious layer of chicken-wire and stucco off the exterior walls, the shed was fairly easy to knock down with my trusty sledgehammer, although I was suprised at how much dirt the adobe bricks generated:

As I ran out of space I loaded the adobe debris into the wheelbarrow and dumped it elsewhere in the back yard. Eventually the shed walls were gone:

And here I ran into my first problem: the shed was originally so filled with dirt and random garbage that I didn’t realize it had a floor. After removing the walls I saw that not only did it have a floor, the floor was made out of concrete. “OK”, I thought, “let’s leave the floor until later.” So, onto the demolition of the cistern walls.

Not, however, right now. It was getting pretty hot out during the day (ranging between 90 and 100 degrees F.) I decided to wait a couple of months for it to cool down, so fast-forward to November 2017.

I didn’t have a jackhammer or anything similar, but I figured the concrete in the walls was old enough that I could take them down fairly easily with my sledgehammer. They came down, but it was much more difficult (and tiring) than I expected. The walls were about 8 inches thick, and had some reinforcing wire in places:

I reasoned that if I took down the two short walls on each end of the cistern, the two now-unsupported long walls would almost fall over by themselves. That was most definitely NOT true. Plus, an added problem was that the porch roof was being supported in two places by one of the cistern walls. I of course had noticed that before, but had conveniently ignored it until now. I also decided that, even with the cooler weather, I was tired of swinging at this cistern. Fast-forward again to January, 2018.

Enjoying the cool January air, I put one temporary support for the porch roof up, knocked down the other short cistern wall, then started on the long cistern wall closest to the house:

Instead of these two unsupported walls just falling over, they seemed almost as solid as when they were attached to their sadly-departed brethren. They grudgingly came apart, but only in small pieces and with lots of hammer-swinging and swearing. After a few days of this, a little progress:

Tired of working on the walls and looking for a distraction, I turned my attention to the shed floor. Just to test how hard it would be to remove the floor I took a few swings at it. The sledgehammer didn’t even begin to crack it, and the floor felt very solid. I dug down the side of the floor to see how thick the concrete was, and it turned out to be almost 10 inches thick. Why? Who knows. It was apparent that a sledgehammer was no longer going to get this project done, so it was time to save up some money and buy a demolition hammer. Forward in time a couple of months to late March 2018.

On a side note, I bought the demoliton hammer in the pictures at Harbor Freight. I don’t tend to buy power tools at Harbor Freight just because I believe in buying quality tools when possible, and I have had a couple of bad experiences with cheaper power tools. This Bauer brand demolition hammer, however, has performed outstandingly. It got me through a lot of this project, even though it was technically too small for this thickness of concrete, plus 80 square feet of bathroom floor in another house I was working on, AND a 110 square foot concrete patio. It has done everything I’ve asked of it with no problems, so I whole-heartedly recommend them if, like me, you can’t justify the cost of one of the more expensive brands. This was only about $300, which was less than half the price of a similar name-brand tool. Back to the project…

I tested the new demolition hammer on a section of the thick floor, and this small section took about 10 minutes:

Satisfied with the progress and excited about using the new tool I continued on:

The construction of this floor was interesting: it was a mixture of concrete and large rocks. It appears that whoever put this in laid down a layer of largish rocks (4-6 inches), then poured concrete over the rocks, then added another layer of slightly smaller rocks (3-4 inches), with a final layer of smoothed concrete over it all. Not a lot of fun to remove, but it was working. I got distracted with some other projects at this time, however (it happens frequently), so after cleaning up some of the spare concrete rubble I didn’t work on this again until August of 2019, a little over a year later. What can I say…

I am glad, though, that I waited. About this time a nice guy in town noticed the work I was doing, and the puny demolition hammer that I was doing it with. He offered to loan me a tool much more suited to such a project, a full-sized jackhammer. NOW we were cooking with gas…

I temporarily supported the final portion of the porch roof and got to work. This jackhammer tore through the 10″ concrete shed floor, the 8″ concrete cistern floor, and the remaining side-walls in about 3 hours. Without it this project would have stretched into a third year, and he saved me hours and hours of work and pain:

It quickly cleared the concrete and turned it into a nice pile of rock and rubble:

This same man then volunteered to help me load and remove the concrete pieces with his Bobcat and dump-trailer. He removed the concrete from this project at the same time he removed the cinderblock pieces from the Laundry/Utility room removal, transforming our yard from what looked like an area for testing missiles (another movie quote, this time from “The Money Pit”) into a mostly concrete-free zone:

With the help of my good neighbor and his Bobcat, I’m calling this project