A Requiem for Mr. Diggy

Mr. Diggy as he appeared in his youth.

Mr. Diggy as he appeared in his youth.

Way back when I bought my Practice Home, twenty years ago, I went to my local highfalutin’ nurseries and asked the experts: what are some plants that can tolerate full sun, full shade, lots of water, but also drought conditions? The lists cross-referenced to Viburnum davidii and junipers. So then I went to my local big box store and bought about 20 of each, which I planted in alternate all around my bachelor cottage, evenly spaced four feet apart. Then I went about my business of half-assedly learning about home improvement while trying not to spill the cocktail I held in the hand NOT holding a tool.

I couldn’t help but notice, though, that while ‘gardening’ and ‘shovel’ would SEEM to be compatible, they are in fact NOT. Even though I was trying pretty hard to not garden, I still had occasion to pry up a root or a stone and then SNAP would go the wood handle on my shovel. This issue worsened at my second home, where at first I kind of wanted to garden, and eventually, like anyone who identifies as a ‘gardener,’ became obsessed with plants and landscaping and raingear. I went through four or five shovels a year for about five years. I tried a shovel with an ‘unbreakable’ fiberglass handle, but the springlike bendiness of the handle made it worthless for doing anything but digging in the loamiest of soils (and who has those, anyway). It was then I saw Mr. Diggy for the first time, and it was love at first sight.

With the tang and blade welded directly onto the all-steel, one-piece handle, Mr. Diggy is as much prybar as he is a shovel, and has been my nearly constant gardening companion and helpmeet for the last twelve years. We have hacked out tree roots, excavated boulders, dug a few thousand holes together; potentially a superior Mountain Beaver flattener, should the opportunity ever have presented itself, Mr. Diggy was the only thing between me and a very angry mother racoon last spring AND was to be

When the diggular force meets the immovable object.  Mr. Diggy stands defeated.

When the diggular force meets the immovable object. Mr. Diggy stands defeated.

the last line of defense after running out of post-zombie-apocalypse ammunition. Mr. Diggy was, quite simply, the finest tool I have ever owned…and of course, I repaid him by abusing him horribly.

If there is anything good about owning 50,000 square feet of glacially-scoured and compacted forest soil, it is that it is lousy with rocks…and I mean that in a good way. Dig a (very difficult) hole, excavate a free rock. While I sadly do not have one of the semi-truck-sized erratics like my neighbors do down the street, I’ve got pebbles, cobbles, and boulders from about a foot in diameter up to one-, one-and-a-half-, and two-man-sized boulders in spades. They are the “gift with purchase” that came with my property, and make handsome landscape features when brought to daylight with the help of my uber-shovel.

About a year ago I came upon one such boulder in the woods; rocks sometime reveal themselves through the shifting forest duff, and the lightly-mossed tip of the stone poked up like an iceberg from the sea. I began to dig, and realized this rock was a bit larger than most I excavated and carried around my clearing. I dug off and on over the months, and could see a pleasingly irregular shape forming. I could not tell the degree to which the clay had formed vacuum on the base of the rock. Placing my boon companion under the boulder’s edge, I leaned heavily on the fulcrum of the handle. The crack might have been the breaking of my tool lover’s heart as the metal of the blade snapped. Mr. Diggy was done for…at least as a shovel. I turned him

My daughter and I try to puzzle out this gift...I guessed iPod.  Wrong.

My daughter and I try to puzzle out this gift…I guessed iPod. Wrong.

around and jammed the handle underneath the rock, and finished freeing the large stone from the gluey clay. And there the rock sat, too large to lift, and no way to pry it from the depression in the soil.

Happily, I received a replacement shovel as a Christmas gift from my wife and daughter, who understand very well that the best gift you can give a guy is something that he already has and likes (only in a different color, if it’s clothing). My new Mr. Diggy and I owed it to the old Mr. Diggy to Get That Rock; and so armed with my new shovel, a handtruck with very large wheels, and several bungee cords, I went to the woods to be both stronger and smarter than a rock too big for me to lift.

I estimate the weight of the stone at 350 to 400 pounds. I could not in any way lift it off of the ground, and could not even flip it over the ‘long way.’ First, I used the new Mr. Diggy to lever the stone from the hole (because even though this wrecked my old shovel, I was working on the assumption that lifetime metal fatigue had just as much to do with Mr. Diggy’s ruination as the stone itself. I have no idea how many years I took off the life of the new shovel, but in the near term I was right). I then used my super brainiac problem solving skills: I was able, with the kind of effort that makes you able to HEAR your own connective tissues straining, to get the stone upright on its ‘side.’ Then I placed the handtruck on its side next to the boulder, and secured the boulder to the handtruck using six heavy bungee cords. Then, deploying all the qualities I have in common with a trained gorilla, I pushed the boulder with my foot and gravity caused it to flip on top of the hand truck as it fell. All that remained was to drag the boulder on the handtruck through the woods to my clearing, about 125 feet, and upright the stone into its new spot. This only took me about four and a half hours,

And the great stone shall henceforth be named "Shovelkill"

And the great stone shall henceforth be named “Shovelkill”

during which time my daughter became bored and went inside, leaving me to yell ‘SHANE! Come back, Sha-a-a-ane!’ for myself. Then I took a nap.

While the handtruck, bungee cords, and my ability to both reason and expend stupid amounts of brute strength were important parts of this operation, I could not have done it without the shovel. I would say, get you one, but in fact this shovel is not for everyone. First, it weighs about four times as much as a wood-handled shovel. Second,the rolled-steel handle, slightly ovoid in shape, is quite a bit larger in diameter than its wooden counterpart. These two things in concert mean that the user can potentially burn quite a bit of strength and energy just using the tool; this is not a problem for me, for though my hands are puffy and strange, they are not overly large–but I can crack a walnut with my bare hand, and so gripping something big and heavyish isn’t a problem over a long landscaping day. Also, at thirtyish bucks plus shipping, this shovel is two or three times more expensive than the one hanging on the wall at the orange apron store (though one every twelve years is waaaaay cheaper than 4 or 5 every year). Obviously, if you can buy it in a store you save the shipping, but I can’t remember where I got the first one 12 years ago, and have never seen one in a store since; but they are plentiful on the intertubes and can be purchased manufacturer direct or from Amazon. At that price you also get a lifetime warranty, though I won’t be making a claim–without even reading the terms, I am positive I violated them repeatedly with the first one, and at least once already with this one. If necessary, I’ll just buy another ten years or so from now. Mr. Diggy is gone…LONG LIVE MR. DIGGY!

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8 Responses to A Requiem for Mr. Diggy

  1. James Golden says:

    As I think of my cheap “disposable” Home Depot spade rusting out in the rain, I’m asking myself if I need a Mr. Diggy. I do have lots of subsurface rock. Digging a hole for planting is hell. Usually takes six times as long as I thought it would. Thanks for the entertaining requiem.

    • calvincaley says:

      I know that you are a fellow connoisseur of the free rock, what with your argillite and all. You should definitely get the Fiskars shovel, the tool is the difference between a slowly expanding depression in the soil and a proper ‘hole.’ Go ahead, treat yourself! You deserve it!

  2. Chad B says:

    I’m not currently in the market for a new shovel but I appreciate the review and will definitely remember to try this one out when the time come. I’ve been more or less happy with the few other tools I’ve purchased from Fiskar’s.

    By the way, if you have Amazon Prime (the best $79 I have ever spent) the shipping for Mr. Diggy’s brother shovels is free.

    • calvincaley says:

      Chad, if you don’t have a Fiskar’s shovel, you WILL be in the market for a new shovel eventually. I never noticed until I wrote about Mr. Diggy’s unfortunate demise, but I have a number of their other tools too, all pretty to very good. I am not sure whether my household would be better or worse off with Amazon Prime, I kind of feel like Norm from Cheers when I am on their site (HI CALVIN!), but we probably should look into it. Any action on your house? You have been in my thoughts with that, and also in my Second Life creation process, as I try to figure out an appropriate housewarming gift (that will play nicely with denim furniture).

      • Chad B says:

        We’ve had a little action on the house. We received an all-cash offer from one investment group that has been buying up properties to turn into rentals or quick flips. But, predictably, they are trying to make some money so their offer was significantly lower than our asking price. We’ve had a steady stream of people traipsing through out house since it officially went on the market and right now we are hopeful that something will happen very soon. In the meantime, life itself feels like it is on hold. I can’t wait to get back into gardening and hopefully break a shovel this spring so I can get into the market for a new one!

      • calvincaley says:

        I am glad your market seems active. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. Selling your home is occasionally a necessary evil, but selling in a buyer’s market can feel unnecessarily evil. Also, be certain to secure your child’s piggy bank, that pile of change you keep near wherever you get dressed, hide any significant bottles of wine, and pack that set of now-discontinued dishware that you received for wedding gifts. Oh, yeah, those three Vicodin left over from that root canal, the ones you have in the very back of your bathroom drawer just in case of extreme gardening related soreness or injury? They are NOT hidden well enough.

  3. Pingback: Change of Mind, Change of Heart (part three, a change of plan) | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

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