I called a couple of local safe companies to come and take a look. Each of them looked the safes over, looked at the access, turned and fled. This tipped me off to a few things:
1) Getting the big safe out in one piece was gonna be a mother. 2) The safes themselves had little worth. 3) I was on my own.
But Mr. Larry Caldwell had clued me in on how safes are constructed. Namely an outside layer of fairly thick metal, gypsum filler, and a thin inside layer of metal. This was confirmed by one of the safe guys before he left skid marks in front of the house.
I don't own a cutting torch, but I do have an angle grinder and a recp saw. Off to the blue borg for implements of destruction. A few metal cutting blades, a few metal cutting disks and down to the basement.
At this point I should mention that I have a 4-year-old boy who (for now) thinks that everything I do is the coolest thing ever. He is almost always at my side during hardware store runs and while I'm doing projects. He has his own safety glasses and ear muffs. And so it was on this day as well.
I figure I'll start small, so I bolt a cutting disk into the angle grinder and go to work on the top of the small safe. The grinder unleashes a 6 foot long gout of sparks from the safe. It makes quick work of the first cut and the disk is only about half chewed through. So far so good. I turn to look at my son who is sitting cross-legged on the floor on the other side of the basement. He looks at me, pauses, then says "That was the coolest thing ever!" with wide-eyed astonishment. Yes, it's good to be the daddy.
So I make the next two cuts and now I can pull the sheet metal back to expose the gypsum filler. I try beating on it with a hammer, but it's too soft to do much good. I manage to dig out some by driving a cold chisel into it. Once I have some room to work, it comes out in big chunks. My son gets in on the fun by giving it a few whacks and helping me pull out the big pieces.
Now the inside is exposed. Back to grinding. This time it goes even easier. In no time, I'm inside the safe. And there's something there. An old shoebox. So I pull it out and it's heavy. It's full of rolled change. Even a few bills. There's a bank bag with more change, a few pieces of silver flatware, and another shoebox full of rolled pennies. About $200 total. More than I was expecting, but I can't retire on it. Darn.
Now that I'm inside, there's a plate screwed to the inside of the door. I take it off and the combo is written on the inside. *Now* I can get the door off.
After a break, I tackle the beast. I go to work on one of the sides. I burn up a whole cutting disk just making the short cut across. I grab the recip and see if that works any better. Actually, it does if I start a hole with the grinder first. And so it goes, alternating between grinder and recip. I takes more work to get through this, but it's not too bad. After I peel off the metal, I'm left with a wall of gypsum. But this stuff is much harder and solid than what I encountered with the small safe. Good. I grab a small sledge and start wailing away on it. It breaks apart like soft concrete. Quickly, I'm to the interior. The recip makes short work of it and I'm inside.
Now you know that if I found something in the small one, that the big one *must* contain even more wealth. Jewels, cash, land titles, stock certificates, who knows! It was, of course, empty.
But at least I now know how to get the damned things out of the basement. We'll be getting a dumpster to get rid of some garbage that was left in the yard, the bits 'o safe will get thrown in there as well.
Many thanks for all of your suggestions. I appreciate your help.