An ounce of prevention, a flood-free backyard

June 29, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

I would like to take a moment, in the midst of the Maryland monsoon season, to reach out and thank Mark The Groundhog and Frank Of All Trades for giving me something that even the most sophisticated reader of the daily newspaper - your Hopkins researcher, your Blakehurst retiree, your Canton yuppie, your NSA translator, your Fort Meade colonel - can appreciate: GLD.

That stands for Good Lot Drainage.

Men and women who spend their days studying cell regeneration, following the stock market, tracking satellites, designing Web sites - they all know what I'm talking about. Even the most educated and successful professional - too busy for small talk, impatient with conversations about the weather, more interested in foreign affairs than domestic - get all gooey about GLD.

I have seen people weep at the sight of Michelangelo's David in Florence.

I get that way when I gaze upon the drainage system Mark The Groundhog and Frank Of All Trades installed.

Especially during Maryland monsoon season.

It's one of the few gestures of which I am proud - commissioning these two Frederick Avenue guys to build a French drain system. I consider myself a patron of the arts as a result of this.

(By the way, the French did not invent the French drain system. According to what I found via Google yesterday, a 19th-century New England farmer named Henry French gets the credit. His son, Daniel Chester French, was a sculptor best known for the seated Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial. While I admire French's Lincoln, I am in awe of French's drain.)

I don't know where Mark The Groundhog is today. I haven't seen him in a while, and I haven't been able to raise his friend and manager, Frank, on the phone.

They may no longer be working together.

They may have left the state.

They may have gone into Mary Kay sales.

But for a time in the fall of 2004, Frank and Mark dug trenches by hand from the rear yard along the side of the house and out to the street.

They used picks and shovels, digging to the rhythm of whatever came out of a yellow DeWalt radio tuned to 98 Rock.

Frank was the tall, tattooed, tank-topped one. Mark was the older, skinnier, silent one. Frank did design and digging. Mark did digging and digging.

They were nocturnal, working at night under the lights, because they were literally moonlighting. They dug long trenches, a foot deep and a foot wide. They spread a layer of gravel in the trench. They installed four-inch, flexible, corrugated pipe, perforated in places. Using T-shaped and Y-shaped connectors, they linked ground-level drains and downspouts from house and garage into a system designed to carry rainwater away from the structures and out of the rice paddy that the real estate agent told us was a backyard.

Note: The purists will say that a classic French drain does not involve pipe, only the gravel that acts as a filter and keeps water moving away from where it is not desired. Frank Of All Trades insisted that pipe be used. I didn't get a second opinion.

Two winters have come and gone, and now we've had a Maryland monsoon, and at my house we have reached GLD.

Maybe the right rear corner of the yard is still a little swampy.

But we've come a long way.

There was a time when we consider planting basmati between the patio and the swing set.

We live in an area where, historically, there has been a long battle with PLD (Poor Lot Drainage). There are a lot of nice people. We share. We have an annual block party and progressive dinners. We also have progressive drainage - water from one yard progresses to the next, and from there to the next and the next.

A lot of my neighbors have taken steps to try and fix this and to waterproof their basements. Still, we're probably one of Baltimore's soggier communities.

And, until two years ago, my yard was one of the soggiest.

We suffered the heartbreak and anxiety associated with PLD.

Then Mark The Groundhog and Frank Of All Trades came along.

I paid them for their services, of course, and for most guys that's usually thank you enough.

But I know Frank and Mark took pride in their work. It wasn't just about money.

So I wish they could have stood with me Sunday night in the downpour, watching with great satisfaction as water from my backyard came gushing out of the drain pipes and into the street. Thing of beauty, work of art, peace of mind.

I wish Frank and Mark could have been there. I would have thanked them for installing a great drain system - then hired them to cut up the big tree that fell on my car in the storm.

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