Saturday, July 12, 2008

With A Little Help From My Friends

I hate to use such an old photo from another job but I was not able to get any new ones during my short tour of duty at the The Hole. That is what we pretty much called the place due to the fact that the footings and foundations were so big that they basically dug a hole about 30 feet deep and just started forming and pouring at the bottom, working their way up. Of course, on sites now all holes over 5 feet deep must be stepped or sloped to certain degrees so it was not just straight down, therefore, you basically end up with something that looks like a crater. Taking photos on jobs is becoming a challenge now also. The days of just showing up on a site with your tools and going to work are about over. Often times, a whole day of prep work is required in order to be able to work a certain site; orientations, drug test, safety training and background/security checks are the name of the game. I have such a collection of ID badges now I have to double check when I go to a new job and make sure the correct one is attached to my hardhat. Security cameras watch us constantly while we work and any picture taking by us lowly field personnel is highly frowned upon. Not by the company I work for necessarily but by the people we build for. God forbid, some rival company see what their footings look like.

It was a very interesting project though and I almost wish I could have stayed to see what we were forming finally be poured. It will probably take them another week or so to finish the formwork. I'm used to your kind of standard 8" thick walls and stick forming everything. This work was so large they used prefabbed steel forms that had to be set with a crane. The walls are 2' thick and 18' tall. I did get to build a block out though and do some other formwork. A block out is a form that you set inside the main form to "block out" an area where the concrete will not go. When the form is wrecked out you are left with a void of a certain size (hopefully) in which you place doors or windows etc. and so they are about the size of a standard door or window. Some are very small for sump pits etc. This block out was over 18' long, 7' tall and 4' thick and so had to be set in place with a crane. It was the neatest thing.

The photo above is also evidence of one of the nicest jobs I have worked on. We got spoiled on that one. What I mean is, no mud (the railroad likes gravel), shade at lunch time and long, straight walls. The Hole was a little different. It was dry when I went out there but this past week we got some rain. Now, we need it and so no one wanted to complain but it makes for rough conditions sometimes. I was working in one of the Smaller Holes, only 5' deep, forming pile caps 16'x7'x4' deep on Thursday when we noticed the dark clouds forming to the south and west. The occasional flash of light amongst the clouds made us hurry a little and keep one eye on the approaching storm. The only thing nice about a thunderstorm at work is gentle gusts of cool air that precede the rain and they felt like heaven on this day. We were all soaked to our knees from the heat and humidity and down in the holes, it was suffocating. The flashes of light were getting closer and the accompanying thunder claps were now clearly audible above all the rumblings of the machinery and generators. Suddenly, an enormous lightning bolt plummeted straight down with such force, it rattled the windows in the crane sitting scarcely 15 feet from me, it's boom fully extended skyward. After I regained my composure somewhat, I peeped out of my hole and realized we were all surrounded by nothing but lightning rods; the crane, the endless rows of vertical rebar all pointing to the sky. All the guys in the Smaller Holes or above ground were bailing out, running for the tool sheds as the smattering of rain started. One crew that had started to pour concrete continued on though. They were at least away from most of the steel, next to the main building. As we gathered in the tool sheds, the boss informed us that the storm would pass over shortly; the piers they had started on must be poured out so that a heavier downpour would not deposit layers of mud inside the forms and under the rebar. True to the boss's words, the storm passed over in a matter of minutes and we all went back to work, now slogging around in Smaller, Muddy Holes. There is nothing quite like Alabama red clay. It is almost like it has a life of it's own, clinging to everything it touches in a determined effort to draw anything living down to it's level. Many a man has had his boots stripped off his feet in the struggle to free himself from this slimy adversary. Scarcely an hour had passed however, when the next storm hit, this time with very little lightning but a lot of rain. As luck would have it, the concrete crew poured out right as the rain started and managed to get everything covered as well. Something about having been in this business for so long told us this one was going to last though, so shutting everything down and gathering our tools, we headed for the sheds again, hoping for an official rain out. You know that you've got a good crew when you can cram 15 guys in each shed, all soaked to the bone and covered in mud, trying to get tools put up and still laughing and cutting up with each other, proud that they got the job done despite the conditions. We did not let the fact that it was almost quitting time anyway deflate our good mood when the boss said we could all go home.

The next day was my last one as promised. My other boss had called the day before to confirm that I would be coming back to his job this Monday, so there were lots of 'good-bye for now' hugs and collective 'we love yous'. Don't tell anybody though 'cause it would ruin the guys reputations as big, tough construction workers for people to know what gooshy marshmallows they are! There's a lot of days though, when it's 100 degrees or 25 and we crawl up out of some mud hole, tired and sore, if it wasn't for each other, we'd say the hell with this...let somebody else build these things. I only hope I encourage and help the guys as much as they do me.

*The Beatles or Joe Cocker


Robbyn said...

Oh, I'm homesick for the red clay! There are parts of Mississippi I was raised in that had that, and in certain areas it was known as Yazoo clay. I hated the stuff at the time, and it was what our garden was planted in, but oh those tomatoes were the BEST :)

Anonymous said...

ER, based on what I perceive about you from your writings I am sure you bolster the guys!

We have a gorgeous red clay here, it feeds the plants amazingly well. I have often thought I would love to learn pottery making just to try some of it out lol


edifice rex said...

Hey Robbyn! I have never heard of Yazoo clay; how interesting!

Hey Molly! Thanks, I have been told many times I am good for morale on the jobs! lol! Not sure how but that's Ok! Sounds like a very interesting clay, I wonder would it make good pottery. You should try.

Rurality said...

Hey don't order the Persian Carpet Zinnia seeds, I have extras!

Sorry for using this instead of email... I have a new puter and haven't imported all my addresses yet.