Stately Blaska Manor’s losing battle on a rainy Labor Day in Madison WI

Rain forecast

This being Labor Day, we should write something about labor, I suppose. But it is raining, the ground is saturated, and the catacombs below the Stately Manor (where the secret rituals are conducted) are leaking despite the heroic efforts of the indentured servants to stem the tide. The Squire was forced to require their unrequited labor on this Labor Day.

The Stately Manor is a non-union shop. Deal with it.

Last month, the white lab coats out in the storage shed ran Ol’ Sparky, our Eisenhower-era mainframe computer, off a Farmall tractor power takeoff. The ancient machine warned of a big rain August 20. Plan B from Outer Space was invoked.

little_dutch_boy_2The ancient pyramid builders built the Stately Manor at grade, not accounting for the lay of the land sloping down to it. That, around here, is the Original Sin.

First order of business was to address the window well at the lowest elevation along the south side of the Manor. First, a row of colorful spirea had to be yanked out of the ground along the house. Which was O.K. because it had long hidden the concrete sidewalk underneath. The neglected window well needed to be mucked out of the soil and debris that had accumulated over the decades. Alongside the sidewalk, the manor’s stable of semi-skilled artisans inserted a  12-foot long, 2-by-12” cedar plank special ordered from Menard’s (saved big money). That would be our flood dam. It was buried three inches into the ground, leaving nine inches above ground to hold back the floodtide. Shorter lengths of the cedar butted up against the foundation and the dam to secure it in place.

Switch grass window dam #2

Window well flood dam #1 with ornamental switch grass (Northwind)

The unlettered field hands, singing “Heigh ho, it’s off to work we go,” covered the bare earth with permeable weed barrier and overspread that with river gravel. A row of ornamental switch grass dressed up the scene. Finally, a cover was snapped over the window well atop a grate (not shown here) to prevent the Squire and his honored guests from plunging into the abyss. Asphalt was squeezed into the space between cedar wall and sidewalk.


Last year, the Manor contracted with Legacy Exteriors of McFarland for extra-wide 6-inch rain gutters and 4 x 5-inch downspouts — nine of them! Those were routed well away from the foundation. This summer, two of those downspouts were routed through 7-inch, corrugated plastic drainage pipe that recedes into a trough dug into the ground to capture more slope and to hide the ugly thing as it reaches the front yard. It’s a good 20 feet long, the last 10 or so perforated to dispose of the water.

Drainage tile

Blaska’s folly: channels rainwater from two downspouts, eventually recedes into the ground

Reading the forecasts, the servants climbed ladders to clear the rain troughs of debris. So came the rains of August 20 (where is Gordon Lightfoot when you need him?).

The gutters moved water down the spouts and through the  hose on the west side of the house out to the street. The flood wall on the south side proudly held. Only problem is that the water sought out the next highest window well up from the first, flowing through it like a miniature Niagara Falls. We measured 5 inches in the basement. So much that all the junk floated to new locations. 

(Said junk has now been transported to the Dane County landfill on the former Rodefeld farm on U.S. Hwy 18 east of town.)

The artisans and field hands were despatched to that second window well for a rinse and repeat.  

OI’ Sparky surveyed the DIY web sites and suggested replacing the rotted out basement windows with glass blocks, vented. You Tube videos suggested the Manor’s poorly paid labor could do the job. A pre-formed glass block window measuring 32 x 19” is on order from the Home Depot just down the road here in Orchard Ridge. And a bag of mortar. All for about a hundred bucks. But the Squire is wracked with doubts. 


Better to find a professional. Brother Bill says it was the best money he ever spent updating Grandma’s four-square house (five bedrooms!) built in 1915. Not even Ol’ Sparky running in third gear with the throttle wide open could find a vendor in the greater Madison area who installs glass blocks. None of the glass companies do. We resorted to NextDoor Orchard Ridge (now that our ban has been lifted). Realtor Mike Thomsen suggested a guy who knew a guy. Tracked down said guy who was known by the guy. 

He’ll do the job for $400 a window, there being five. Sold! He can do the job in October. Done!

Plexiglass now covers all five window wells; the cedar dams protect the two lowest windows. The draining tile/hose is moving water toward the street. But water is still seeping (or weeping) into the basement from the basement floor, the soil is so super-saturated! 

Blaska’s Bottom Line: At least we don’t have Lake Monona in our basement. 


About David Blaska

Madison WI
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4 Responses to Stately Blaska Manor’s losing battle on a rainy Labor Day in Madison WI

  1. Kevin Wymore says:

    Suggested song for this Labor Day: Led Zeppelin’s “The Levee.”


  2. Scott F says:

    My sympathies. Like you, several years ago we fought the staged battles of that wet war at our home in New Hampshire. The final victory came when we installed a sump pump…. From that day on, we laughed when the weather persons reported impending doom from torrential rains……


  3. madisonexpat says:

    French drains slightly uphill from our house form a large V upslope. Diverts lotsa water with almost no maintenance.


  4. Dan B. says:

    So you’ve apparently heeded the advice of those who understand climate change and predict much more moisture in the future and are preparing for a different world. Isn’t all this just cyclical, though? Or sunspots?


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