We stumbled across this column originally published on Valentine's day in 1989. No, it isn't about Valentine's day; however, we hope you chuckle at it much like we did. Enjoy!
I am currently having a problem with the coefficient of friction around this place.
Now I know that most of you out there know a lot more about the coefficient of friction than you are inclined to let on, but for those not quite up on the subject just let me remind you that the constant ratio of the friction to the force pressing the two surfaces together is called the coefficient of friction. Press two stones together hard and there is a lot of friction.
That’s a good thing, too, because my cellar walls – and yours too, probably – have no cement to bind the stones together. All that’s holding them is a high coefficient of friction, although I doubt that the settlers who laid those stones up, stood around admiring their handiwork and saying:
“Yep, that sure is a high coefficient of friction we’ve got going for us there; why, I bet the constant ratio of friction to force there is ‘way up somewhere around, oh, maybe even 0.65.”
“Oh gosh yes,” another would put in, “those stones over there, now, they’re mighty rough, and right down there at the bottom of the foundation like they are there's probably a value of 0.70 or 0.75.”
“All I can say is, it’s a good thing stone doesn’t have a low coefficient of friction, like a couple of oiled metal plates,” says a third, “those stones’d be popping out of there like a kid spitting watermelon pits.”
As I say, I doubt that conversation ever took place, but you never can tell.
Oddly enough part of my cellar wall seems to suffer from a low coefficient of friction. Back around there to the left as you come down the stairs from the pantry, something odd has been going on in a quiet way for quite some time. It was being so modest about the whole thing, though, that I really didn’t think much about it. I was aware that where the cellar wall joined the wall in the stairwell there was a certain gaposis through which entered, from time to time – but not all at once – the winter rat, fine snow which piles up picturesquely on the settling pail for the milk and all over anything else within a five-foot radius. And, frequently in a winter like the present one, water.
One year the spring run-off entered with such gay abandon that I thought we were going to have to abandon ship. Indeed, we had lowered the lifeboats to the level of the first-class accommodations and had everybody in life-jackets, when a neighbor who had heard the distress signals we had sent out over the wireless twelve-party line – it had to be wireless because the phone company kept assuring us that “there is nothing wrong with the wires” – came rushing in waving a sump-pump, and before we could splice the main-brace the water in the bilge was receding nicely. Although, my Aladdin kerosene heater, which had been reposing in the basement, never was the same after that.
Anyway, that wall began depositing chunks of itself on the cellar floor and round and about. I initially dismissed the note of hysteria in the voice of my dearie. After nearly thirty years of marriage, however, I knew better than to say “pish” or “tush” or pat her hand and say, “there, there.” I hefted a couple of the offerings, hummed in a sincerely concerned way, and thought no more about it. Some of those bits obviously had a low coefficient of friction, that was all. At least, that was all until the morning I happened to do an “eyes left” as I groped my way down the stairs and saw immediately that we were dealing with another leaning tower of Pisa (admittedly one with less marketable appeal – I can’t see running tour busses over here from Magnetic Hill to show folks the Leaning Cellar Wall of King’s County).
At the moment, the wall and I are experiencing a truce. We will wait and see what we have going for us in the friction line and if all goes well, we’ll augment the friction with a good slug of concrete in the spring. That is, if the spring run-off in its enthusiasm doesn’t lower the coefficient yet further, and we have stones behaving like watermelon pits.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.