It isn’t always a straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Sometimes it’s a rock.
Such is the case with Doug and Sara Hudgens after an eighty-four pound rock crashed through the ceiling of their bedroom a couple of weeks ago. In addition to putting a hole in the roof, the rock knocked out half of the home’s electricity, broke a window, destroyed a chunk of wall, crushed a jewelry box and a solid oak dresser, and left a thick coat of dust and insulation over everything in the room.
Had it happened only a few minutes earlier, Sara might have been killed.
That’s why the couple is finally fed up. When they moved into the eight-year-old house at the top of Skyline Drive back in 1985, they were sure they’d found their dream home. It was secluded without being isolated and was just a stone’s throw from downtown Cookeville and Doug’s job at Fleetguard. Best of all, it had a breathtaking view.
They were unconcerned about the quarry just over the hill. “At that time, the quarry was owned by Putnam County,” Doug told me. “They were moving only about fifteen trucks of gravel a day out of there. No big deal.”
He and Sara worked hard at turning the window-filled house and steep three-acre lot into a small slice of paradise. The yard was already filled with mature trees and a plethora of wildflowers. The Hudgens added shrubs and perennials and some quiet sitting areas. “We like to think of it as our own little national park,” Doug said.
But the county sold the quarry and its new owner began to expand. About 150 truckloads of gravel now move out of the quarry five days a week. The expansion has meant ever-increasing noise, dust, and vibrations strong enough to rattle dishes in the kitchen cabinets. Worst of all is the blasting that happens once a week, on no particular schedule.
“If you’re not accustomed to it, it’ll scare the heart out of you,” Doug said.
It was just such a blast on April 11 that hurled the infamous rock high enough to clear the hill and the tall trees that separate the Hudgens’ property from the quarry. Doug figures the rock likely had to travel 200 vertical feet and 500 horizontal feet before it landed on his roof.
For her part, Sara is just grateful that she had a lunch date with her father that day.
“I’d been sitting right there reading for most of the morning,” she told me, pointing to a barely recognizable rocking chair in the corner of the bedroom next to the crushed dresser. “It’s my favorite spot because the light’s good. And I love looking out the window at the view.” She left home at eleven thirty, never imagining the scene that would await her when she returned.
Doug came home for lunch a few minutes past noon and was greeted by thick haze when he opened the front door. “We’re used to quarry dust,” he said, “but I knew instantly that this was way more than that.
“For the past few years, we’ve been unable to enjoy our yard because of the noise. We’ve given up washing our cars. We’ve breathed no-telling-what into our lungs. We’ve had pictures fall off the walls during the blasting. But an eighty-four pound rock in the bedroom is the last straw.”
When last I talked to Doug and Sara, they were planning to don masks and gloves and comb through splintered wood and piles of insulation in search of the contents of the crushed jewelry box. Among other items, it held a strand of pearls and a pair of diamond earrings. And they intend to discuss a buy-out of their home with the quarry owner. “We hate to leave this place,” Doug told me, waving an arm toward the front yard carpeted with mayapples. “But enough’s enough.”
I can’t say that I blame them.
(April 24, 2011)