Winter Work

Date Published: 
August, 1925
Original Author: 
Oscar F. Burbank
Hope Cemetery, Worcester, Massachusetts
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention

To make clear these remarks, it might be well to say that the location of Hope Cemetery is in Worcester, Massachusetts, about forty miles west from Boston and contains 145 acres, about two fifths of which is under development. The ground is rolling and the older section has been under development since 1856. No plan showing its topography was in existence until 1918 so that no systematic development scheme could be used.

I shall endeavor to be as brief as possible. I wish to follow in a general way these subdivisions in the order of their importance to the subject in hand.

l. Snow Removal
2. Opening Graves
3. Grading
4. Repairs
5. Manufacture of Articles used by the Cemetery.

Snow Removal. The work of keeping the roads and paths opened and the snow removed is an important part of the work of the winter season. It is our custom to do this work with horses, having tried to do it with tractors without great success. We find that by using four horses on a strong plough and beginning the work as soon as possible after the snow starts falling, that we can at least keep the main avenues accessible for automobiles. We find that it is a much more satisfactory method than waiting till after the snow stops falling as it frequently happens that when the snow turns into sleet and freezes that a hard crust forms which renders the work difficult. At no time during the last ten or twelve years has it been impossible to reach parts of the grounds that were necessary of access.

The objection to the tractors which we tried was that we found that they were apt to ride up on top of the snow and crush it down rather to push it to one side.

After a heavy fall of snow, the avenues having broken out, the next work is usually to pen up the culverts and gutters to allow drainage of the water in case of a thaw. The grounds being well provided with drains and the basins kept open rand in a clean condition, the water finds a ready means of run-off from the lots and the consequence is that there are very few sections in the Cemetery which at present suffer from flooding during the winter or spring. These sections which flood occasionally are being attended to and we hope that within a short period we may be situated so that no part of the grounds will suffer from flooding at any time of the year.

Opening Graves. Now a word in regard to opening graves in winter. We have tried various methods of thawing the ground to make the work easier and concluded that the method which was at once the cheapest and most effective was provided by means of a large sheet iron oven which we had constructed on lines similar to one used at Chicago Cemetery and described in Cemetery Hand Book.

We usually have on hand quantities of limb wood which is of little use for any other purpose on account of its small size. We place the oven on top of the ground to be broken, the afternoon before the funeral and charge it with wood, setting it afire and allowing it to burn during the afternoon. Just before quitting time we fill it up again, putting the cover on and allowing it to smolder during the night. This is effective in thawing out the frost to quite an extent and on removing the oven the next morning, we find that we can drive a pick in it to quite a depth; also that the frost underneath is usually rotted to such an extent that its removal is not difficult. The only expense in connection with this process is the labor of placing the oven and charging, as the wood costs us nothing.

We have never tried the use of explosives in opening graves but we have tried to use them in keeping the face of our banks open where we were removing gravel and other material. The results here proved so unsatisfactory that we thought best not to attempt to open graves by this method.

Grading. At Hope Cemetery it has for a number of years past been considered expedient to continue to employ through the winter a number of help selected from those employed during the summer months. The reason for this is self-evident and sufficient work must be found during the winter to make the employment of these men profitable. Many benefits accrue to the Cemetery by reason of the fact that these men are afterward available for spring and summer, when the pressure of work is greatest and when it might be otherwise impossible to secure the trained workmen which are thus made available.

In regard to the development and layout of our new sections, I try to have these prepared about a year ahead of time. In other words, I work them up in the office during the winter preceding the time when they will be used. This gives ample opportunity for revision and changes of various kinds.

It is very necessary to visualize the section in regard to the conventional placing of memorials. Inasmuch as a section can be either established or ruined by the proper placing and arrangement of memorials, it is important to see that these will fall into positions best adapted not only for their exhibition but also for the general arrangement of this part of the grounds.

Winter work, or rather preparations therefore, begin during the late summer and early fall. Hope Cemetery is so located geographically that there are few winters when grading can be continued without interruption during the months of December, January and February. The last winter, however, was an exception and the work was pushed on driveways and new plots with very little interruption until it became necessary to use the men so employed on other work.

An important preparation for winter grading is the fixing of grade stakes in a secure position so that with the freezing of the ground they will be secure until spring. One of our problems is to provide a bank where filling material may be accessible throughout the winter even when the frost penetrates to unusual depths. This entails the working of the bank every day in order to keep it open. Where a steam shovel and dump cars are available this is a very economical way of handling filling but very few Cemeteries are equipped to undertake removal of dirt by these methods.
Repairs. The season immediately following the close of the grass cutting offers a splendid opportunity to overhaul this equipment, including lawn mowers, both power and hand and all the other tools connected with grass cutting work; also to check up the number of rakes, grass hooks and baskets used in this work, and if numbers are not sufficient to begin the next spring grass cutting, to order sufficient quantities.

I believe that the best methods of handling the automatic machinery like lawn mowers, etc., are to ship them back to the maker with instructions to supply any parts necessary and to return them in first class working order. By this means I believe the power lawn mowers are made to do effective service for many months more than could be obtained from them by attempting repairs and replacements with ordinary labor.

Delays in opening the grass cutting season are very irritating and a complete check-up in the fall should reveal all shortages and enable deliveries to be made in ample time. This check-up is extended even farther to cover the repairs to rolling stock, such as wagons, tip carts and concrete mixers. In fact the systematic overhaul of all machinery and tools is imperative at this time of the year. At Hope Cemetery all the wagons and carts are painted. In no place is the wisdom of the maxim of the paint dealer, "Save the surface and you save all", more emphatically proven than in connection with repairs to Cemetery equipment.

During the last three or four years, or since a very serious ice storm visited this section of the country, we have taken advantage of the winter season to keep the trees trimmed of the large branches which show signs of decay and to give the trees such attention as we feel we can do with ordinary Cemetery labor.

Manufacture of Articles Used by the Cemetery a part of the grounds has been protected for a number of years by wooden fences supported by iron fence posts leaded into cap-stones. In many cases these iron posts have rusted off close to the stone and replacements of the original type would have proven expensive and difficult. We have replaced a great many of them and shall eventually replace them all with reinforced concrete posts, the reinforcements projecting about 18 inches below the base of the posts and spread. These posts with the projecting reinforcements have been embedded in the wall with concrete forms having been set to take the place of the cap-stones removed and the fence stringers connected by means of bolts and nuts. This proves a very effective means of repair and insures a high degree of permanence. Eventually we expect to extend the fence on concrete posts all around the grounds.

At this season of the year, we also find it very convenient to make new lot numbers of cement. We use a machine called the "Havard" type which gives us a very satisfactory number and one which is not only permanent but easily read at all times and which sets flush with the ground offering no obstruction to grass cutting tools. Lots, during the year, which have not had perpetual care previously and are put under such care, makes it necessary to remove the old number and replace it with a new one bearing the letters "P. C." in addition to the number. These are easily made on the machine and by spring when the ground was thawed, it is a simple matter to change them.

In former years we manufactured quite a large number of very high quality cement bricks in the winter and stored them for future use. At present however, the number of bricks required is very small as we build very few brick vaults, having replaced them almost entirely with a type of cement vault. We manufacture only enough bricks to supply our needs in the construction of catch basins and for the use of some other nearby cemeteries who purchase them of us.
In this brief paper, I fear I have not been able to bring before this body anything of novelty or of value. I wish it were within my power and within the scope of my ability to furnish something far more worthy of your attention.

The large amount of valuable information which I have obtained through membership in this and our state Association has placed me in debt to my fellow members. For this reason, when requested by our President to contribute something to the program of this Convention, and knowing as I did the helpful kindness with which I had been received, I could not refuse to accept his invitation to prepare the foregoing on the topic mentioned.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention
Chicago, Illinois
August 24, 25, 26 and 27, 1925