Knapping

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A roundabout tale of crusher dust, paving and and explanation of knapping.

Submitted: March 08, 2019

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Submitted: March 08, 2019

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Nearly forty years ago, I laid a stack of pavers around our house and I enjoyed the experience so much, I swore I’d never, ever do it again! It buggered my skill-saw – well had I used some water, there’d have been far less dust to clog it up, but for me, electricity and water don’t make a great cocktail, so I didn’t mix it. Laying pavers is especially hard on the knees and because I had no padding, I was in discomfort through the whole process. But hey, I’m not looking for sympathy… Anyway, its somewhat surprising that find myself laying more pavers, big heavy buggers, and every one’s going down with a grudge! This time, I’m setting them on a bed of crusher dust rather than sand, crusher dust has angular shaped particles as compared to sand’s more or less round ones, so I find crusher dust to be easier on my bones.

There’s a knack to most things, and your common and garden gravel isn’t any different. To produce gravel suitable for roading, construction or landscaping, you need a big, noisy machine to crush stones or large rocks into useable sizes. The residue from the process is crusher dust, which may have fragments up to two or three millimetres as well as mainly fine material. Various screens on the machine will filter different sizes/grades of gravel as required. There are standard sizes and each has its own heap at the quarry or yard. For our roading in the forest we had a couple of quarries and hired in plant to crush the rock fit through a one and a half inch screen,. So then, for the job I’ve been doing, I drive out some twenty kilometres to the local big quarry where I buy my crusher dust.

Back in the mid-sixties, I was introduced to the technique of knapping when old, feisty Keith, our district ranger tripped over a stone while walking from his vehicle to the office. The gravel in the yard hadn’t been crushed because crushers weren’t at all common back then. Instead we simply dug into the river bed and carted it to wherever we needed a gravel surface. Any really big stones were picked up and tossed over the bank. But river-run gravel isn’t a very good base, because the stones and the sand are river-worn-round so don’t combine to form a compact surface, and a loose surface is no good for traction, especially on hill country. After Keith’s little trip, he decided we should knap the largest of the stones in the yard and to do so, he sent us three knapping hammers. He’d given us a demonstration of how to do it, using a carpenter’s claw hammer. Knapping is essentially bashing the big stones with a hammer until they shatter to pieces. Just like a crusher. He spent about tem minutes demonstrating it, doing a good job too, but a splinter in the eye was enough for him to end the lesson. Nevertheless the cheeky bugger told us that we could do some each day for the ten minutes or so after we’d eaten our lunch! Out of the three of us, I was the only one to do any, mainly around the door, but the novelty had worn off quite quickly.

My little ute can carry around eight hundred kilogrammes. I know that because the quarry weighbridge told me so. Anyway, to get the paving done, I needed to go out to the quarry three times, which was long enough for me to strike up a conversational relationship with the woman who operated the weighbridge. I was loaded by a big frontend loader that dribbled on a quarter of its bucket until I signalled enough. While waiting to be loaded, there was plenty time for my mind to wander, and the gravel pit at Arusha sprung into my mind! Well, it is related. Actually, I’d been looking for firebricks, strange as firebricks in Africa may sound, but I had a project. I drove up a steep rise which suddenly flattened out and the track followed the lip of a large crater rim. Nobody had told me about this crater so surprise had me switching off the vehicle and getting out to take a look. The first thing I noticed was a constant sound of ‘tap, tap, tap.’ A tinny, continuous sound. The crater wasn’t round, rather, it was more the shape of an elongated comma, about a mile long and half that, or less wide. I couldn’t judge how deep it was to the floor, but the people down there were tiny! I knew immediately what the noise was, there were several teams and they were all knapping rocks. There were two lorries down there and men were loading them with shovels from the small knapped heaps dotted around the quarry.

Out and about on my daily rounds, it wasn’t unusual to see a woman or a group of perhaps three women making a living by knapping rocks on the side of the road. They had no eye protection, nor protection from the sun, but it was one of the few ways they had of earning some cash, albeit a pittance. This is why I quickly realised what was going on far below me. Over the years, a lot of rock must have been mined from that quarry, I have no idea how long people have been knapping down there, perhaps since the Germans started cracking the whip in the 1890’s, but for sure that pit will have broken many bodies and many spirts over the years!

So while zapping my Eftpos card and to make conversation, I gave the woman operating the quarry weighbridge a precis version of the Arusha quarry.

‘That’s why we live here and they live over there.’ Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t the least bit interested.

Forewarned is forearmed. During The Agency’s training and orientation, we were warned that returning from an assignment is often more difficult than the culture shock of arriving in a country where the people and the culture are be very different to our own. Returning to a materialistic society where choice abounds, attitudes differ and where few are truly interested in what you’ve been doing, can be difficult to accept. People you knew have moved on as indeed you have. Priorities change. We found all of this to be very true, people may ask, but minutes into the telling, their eyes glaze over and their attention wanders. Service clubs and others, are always looking for speakers, and I’ve done my share. They ask for a twenty minute talk, but by fifteen there’s yawning and fidgeting so I decided to prepare for only fifteen. Mind you, any wonder they couldn’t stay awake! Most have a belly-full of beer, and then a meal, usually a heavy meal, after which they have the business side of their meeting, and then they expect a speaker to keep them awake! Ten year old Tanzanian schoolkids have a better attention span!

None of that disappoints me, thanks to a fairly tick hide. It’s simply the way I use language, to provide examples, drawn from my experience, to get my point across. It works for me. I know, sometimes I needn’t have bothered, while other times people are happy to contribute to the conversation. Writing is a different kettle of fish, readers are free and able, at their discretion, to abandon the story at any time, if they’re bored or if it doesn’t connect with them. Other times, with a little luck some readers might just pick up a morsel or two.


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