Monday, October 29, 2007

Big Things I Build Now Or I've Been Working On The Railroad

This is sort of a continuation of a post I did several weeks ago where I talked about how I got started in art and all and where I came from. This is where I am now. After I graduated from college I needed a job and jobs in art are hard to find unless you just bite the bullet and try to be a full time studio artist. I enjoy eating and paying my bills enough that I wanted a little bit more secure job and thought that I could just pursue my art on the side. Also, a family tragedy that dumped a load of debt in my lap sort of forced me to find a job that paid pretty good on a regular basis. I learned to weld in college taking sculpture classes so when I met some fellows ( on a small job I had) that worked construction, they offered to help me get a job with them and the rest, as they say, is history. No one thought that I would last a week. I'm only 5'-6" and then weighed about 130 lbs. Necessity is the mother of invention and determination so I hung on and am now one of the senior carpenters for this company.
These photos go in reverse order so if the progress of the building seems odd that is why. This is one of the concrete pours we made not too long ago. That big arm thing stretched out there is the concrete pump truck. Most of the time we can just pour straight out of the truck but sometimes you have to pump it if the trucks can't get near the forms. We pour about 150-250 yards at a time on this job. That is nothing compared to some really big jobs. This was taken when it was still pretty warm here and so we started pouring before the sun was up.
I love the smell of concrete in the morning! OK, enough of my Duvall impersonation. This is the business end of the pump truck. One guy has to guide the hose so the concrete is shot where you want it. The other guys are vibrating the concrete so that it gets around the rebar well etc. These pours can last for hours and you don't stop unless the concrete does. We can take turns running to get a drink or bathroom break. This is why I am so tired sometimes and don't always feel like working on my house.
A lot of people can't see why I do this and think that the men mistreat me. They are construction workers after all, you know. My brother, the minister, always says that construction ruined me but I think construction saved me. Before I was very, very shy and had no self confidence. I had always been used to working but did not realize what a person could do given a few tools. A successful construction worker learns 2 things: 1. Leave your feelings at home. 2. A construction worker can do anything. Even the most daunting tasks are "just a thang". You just take it one step at a time. So many people seem so amazed or whatever at the work I do but I'm not doing anything that most people can't do. It's all learned. Wonderful old carpenters and steel workers taught me and had patience with me. They teased me and pestered me until I opened up and would talk. And yeah, I get asked out and given gifts and phone numbers but mostly in very gentlemanly ways. They know how to give a nice compliment and have given me a lot of self confidence. These men are almost better to me than my own family. They are not how most of society views them, as knuckle dragging morons. Yes, of course, I have met a few who were but I've met plenty of white collar males that would fit that description too. Now, there have been some times that I could have choked some of them and had to pitch a few "come aparts" as we say, to get some respect but all in all, I couldn't ask for better guys to work with. I always say now that when I first started, the guys would call me "sweetheart" and ask me out, now they all call me "ma'am" and offer to carry my tools.... I'm not sure which I prefer.
The house is progressing albeit slowly. I started the shower tile and will have photos of that soon. The next big item is to get heat on in the house and hot water. My fixtures are on their way from somewhere so I'm hoping to have a working shower maybe in about a week. I've been trying to relax a little lately and not get so worked up about the house but I'm not sure it's working. The results from my heart tests came back and it's nothing bad but it's skipping beats a lot now and it makes me very tired sometimes. Not sure what to do about it. Be back soon!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hey, Crow Doesn't Taste Too Bad!

You know when you rant and rant about something it's going to come back and bite you in the butt. If it's a free bite in the butt though it's easier to take though! Most of ya'll know that I dislike Pella windows because they have a tendency to rot, in my opinion. I even inadvertently attracted the attention of Pella Corp. with my rants here on their product. Well, anyway, I was offered 10 free Pella windows by a dear friend who didn't need them so...... beggars can't be choosers, I guess. They look great and I really, really appreciate the gift. I don't want it to sound like I just took them and didn't really want them, I just need to take some extra steps to assure that they stay dry in their setting. So, this weekend, we set the windows which helps in closing in the underside of the house. This is very important now as winter is approaching and I have bare water pipes under there and an uninsulated floor. We used 3/4" plywood to create a backing for the windows (spaces where cut out in the plywood so that you can see through the windows) and this works to suspend the window in the space above the concrete block so that I can lay the stone around the windows without hindrance. And I can lay the stone at my leisure and the space is still closed in. That stone work is going to take some time and I would have never been able to get it all done before winter with all the other work on me.
Here is a little better view of what we have done. You can see the stone work approaching from the far side. The stone lays out flush with the front of the block work so the windows will be recessed into the stone about 3 inches. I will wrap the outside of the windows where you see the bare wood, with a rubber membrane to keep the moisture out. It's the same stuff we used in the window sills before we set the windows upstairs. This is some cool new plywood too. Well, I don't know how new a product it is but this is the first time Allen and I had seen it. It's called Dryply. It's apparently just CDX with one side embedded with a water repellent. Looks like good stuff. Could have really used that when we put the sub floor down. It's tongue and groove stuff too.
So, this is the "basement" now. My pottery studio will go down here and some storage. This area you see here is where the washer and dryer will go for now. We need to continue that wood frame wall on the right a little more and put up a door and it will be dried in then.
I was finally able to order the tile for the shower and it is on it's way! YEA!!! I have a feeling I will be down there installing that stuff at night to get a little further along. We are working so much that I now only have Sunday to work on the house. I'm making lots of money to buy stuff for the house but no time to put it up. I'm not complaining though. It is funny though that not too long ago when I was laid off, I had lots of time for the house but no money. Ain't that just the way things go?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Tool Shed

I have been promising a story or two from work for a while now so since I don't have any new photos from the house downloaded, I thought this would be a good time. Most of my long time readers (if I have any besides Pablo) know that my real job is heavy commercial construction. I am a journeyman carpenter for a large company and we are building a service center for a railroad company right now. This is right in the middle of a busy rail yard so there are locomotives running back and forth all day around us as we work. Several other bloggers, including Woody and FC have had funny stories lately about crazy things they have done so I thought I would throw my hat in the ring, or my hardhat. Not to try to outdo but to say, at least ya'lls were in the privacy of your own home or car, whereas I insist on making a fool of myself in public!
Ok, here is the scenario: I am the only female working with 20-25 male carpenters, electricians etc. on this job. Then you have all the male train conductors, engineers etc. Well, shortly after coming on this job, I just happen to notice this one conductor, I guess that is what his is; he rides the front of the locomotive and he switches the tracks to move the locomotives from one track to another. Anyway, this means he is on the ground near us some and walking around so we can sometimes talk a little to these guys. Just general pleasantries as most of them are friendly and curious about what we are doing. Well, this particular guy is honestly, one of the most handsome men I have seen in some time. I know I just gawked the first time I saw him coming down the track and he looked down at me and smiled so that didn't help. He is a big man, tall and broad shouldered and dresses much neater than the others. So, despite being around men so much I am the biggest dork when I get near a man like this. I am clumsy enough as it is and I just lose all composure. Well, on the rare occasion that we are close enough to speak, he would make small talk about this and that but we could never talk more than a few seconds and never get within 20 feet of each other since we are both working, so it was not really possible to "break the ice", you know. In fact, we don't even know his name, so he has just become known to all of us as the Switchman.
Now, a little history on the other side. My guys on the crew look out for me and are really sweet so I try to make cookies or pies for them sometimes and pamper them a little and make them feel good. Well, this summer I grew a bunch of Moon and Stars watermelons and I brought 2 or 3 to work to share with the guys. Now, part of the crew eats in the office trailer, as I do, and the rest eat under a little shelter by the tool shed. So, one day I cut part of a large watermelon for the guys and was taking the majority of it out to the men by the tool shed. Well, one of the guys suggested that I cover the melon up with a bag because it might get dusty before I could get it out there. So, I did and headed out the door carrying my prize to them. As I got halfway, I saw that they were running the trains across the road and had it blocked so I would have to walk around the locomotives to get to the guys and, lo and behold, who was on the track but the Switchman. And when he saw me coming he started walking towards the area where I would have to cross over the track. It occurred to me then that I would finally be within a couple of feet of him and get to see him up close. I thought to myself, OK, don't say something stupid. Just remain calm. Breathe deep. So, sure enough, we meet on the tracks and he smiled and made a little joke about blocking the road and I laughed coyly and joked back. Ha, ha... He seemed even more manly up close but I restrained myself from throwing the watermelon down and grabbing him. Now, after 14 years of working construction, I can't hear worth a damn especially with trains around. And I had completely forgotten that I had covered that stupid watermelon and he probably couldn't even tell what I was carrying. So, as I passed by him and I heard him say something about something looking nice and being in my usual mental fog intensified by him, I just assumed that he was talking about the watermelon. Not wanting him to think that I was impolite, I turned and sweetly asked him, "Well, would you like some?"..................... the look on that man's face when I said that should have been a clue to me that we were not talking about the same thing. He recovered quickly though, stepped towards me and said so sincerely, "Lord, honey, I wish I could". It still did not occur to me what I had done, so I just said, "OK!" and wandered off to the guys. I did think that was a kind of odd response but just thought, boy, he must really like watermelon. Later in the day as I was driving home, my mind was slowly meandering over the day's events, I started thinking about things and finally, it hit me what had transpired. Oh. My. God.... I just offered this beautiful man, who I don't even know by name, wanton sex on the railroad tracks. Mortified is not the word.
I had to fix this, so the next day I enlisted the help of one of my guys who drives the backhoe. They were not going to get any more brownies or fried pies until the Switchman understood that there had been a horrible glitch in communications! After all, I was taking that watermelon to them and that had started the whole thing. So, Steve, being a major sweetie, finally gets where he can talk to the Switchman and tells him that there was a terrible misunderstanding over some watermelon and that I needed to explain something to him. Well, a few hours pass and I saw out of the corner of my eye, a train approaching. The Switchman was on board and as we both looked up, our eyes locked on each other at the same time but fear suddenly griped me. God, this man thinks I am a complete idiot or worse! But then I saw a big smile spread across his face and he breaks out in the deepest laugh that I could hear over the locomotive. He came by later and we talked for a moment and he assured me that he was not offended and understood the confusion.
Of course, amongst my crew, I will never, ever, ever live this down. It has become known as the Watermelon Incident. They tell me that I have single handedly set all women construction workers back 30- 40 years and am the kind that gives us all such a bad reputation. Well, at least I give them something to laugh about.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Deck, Part 2

Well, I'm finally back to finish the deck posting. Things have really been busy lately. We used 16' boards for the decking and randomly laid them down something like you would do hardwood flooring so that our joints were well staggered. We let the ends run wild and then popped a line where we wanted them cut off and zipped them off with the saw. I'll use that drop to make a little table or stool for the deck maybe.
I used galvanized screws (2") I think, to secure the deck boards. Two screws per joist. Pressure treated lumber wants to warp badly as it dries and this will hopefully hold and keep the boards straighter than nailing would. Screws don't back out. This was my job as Allen can't stay bent over all day anymore like I can. But it wasn't without repercussans for me either. I was sore the whole next day. Pressure treated lumber also shrinks quite a bit so you want to fit the boards as tight as possiblle to one another. As it dries you will get a little gap between each board but if they are tight to begin with, it will be minimal.

This past weekend we built a small temporary ramp up to the deck for moving large objects (like furniture!) into the house and finally got the ceiling fans installed. The house has been very cool in the mornings now that we are in the low 50's at night but when the apartment is getting uncomfortably warm in the afternoon, the house is still so nice and cool. No air conditioning is needed, where as we still need it regularly at the apartment.

I will try to post again soon. There is much to tell, both here and I have some good stories from work that I think you will enjoy. I have not been feeling so well lately so I am behind on news. My ticker is not working so good and they have me all wired up with this contraption tonight to find out why. My heart wears me out, especially since we have been working 6 days a week now but I will try to catch up soon! I appreciate everyone who reads this blog and hope somebody gets some decent info out of it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Deck, Part 1

Blogger would only let me post these few pics so I will do this post in a series because I wanted to show some details. We started on the deck last weekend ( a week ago) and just about finished this weekend. I have been wanting to get this part of the house done for some time but just felt like some other stuff was more important. The first weekend we framed the deck up and got the posts set etc. Now, this deck will eventually become the dogtrot when the other half of the house is joined here and so will be a covered area. House on both sides with a continuous roof overhead. All of the lumber for the deck is pressure treated pine. The deck is 12'x 28'. The left side (in this photo) is supported by the concrete retaining/foundation wall that the house sits on. The rest of the deck is supported by 4x4 posts for now but when the other side of the house is built, the deck will be bolted to that half at the bands and the posts dropped out. When the whole house is here, you will enter to the left, stepping up as you reach the concrete wall. There will be a lot of back filling against that wall so I'm thinking there will only be one step up onto the porch. Since the supporting posts will eventually be removed, we did not want to embed them in the concrete as you would set most posts. They are merely supported by the concrete and can easily be removed later. We used some temporary 2x's to make dead men, placed about every 12 feet and nailed the band to them as we nailed the band together at the corners. We just eyeballed level in at this point. When we got everything there and nailed up we could shim the dead men up or down, as you can see under that one post on the left to get it actually level. Now, we shot level in with an instrument but I know most people don't have those so a stick level is fine too. We then determined where we wanted the 4x4's, dug a hole for it and nailed the 4x's in place with the ends dangling in the hole. I mixed up some Sackcrete and we filled the hole up just enough to reach the bottom of the 4x. We let the concrete come up on the posts about a 1/2". Then held them plumb with rocks until the concrete set. I hope I explained that correctly; if not please ask me to clarify.
We used the old ledger system to frame the deck. Here, you have a 2x2 that you nail at the bottom of the band that your joists rest on. Oh, the band is 2x10's and the joists are 2x8's. Most people use joist hangers ( those metal U shaped things) but this is what they did before those were invented and probably cheaper.
We used 16 penny galvanized, spiral nails to nail the framing together with. Code requires 3 nails below each joist in the ledger. The band on this side will be bolted to the house with probably 3/8" carriage bolts but for now it is just nailed. I need to do that soon though. Each joist gets 4 nails at each end into the band also.
This past weekend we started the decking. These are five quarter deck boards by 5 1/2" wide. Of course, you know that most dimensional lumber is not the size it is referred to. For example, 2x4s are actually 1 1/2" x 3 1/2". A board that is referred to as "five quarter" is actually a full one inch thick. Whatever. Now, how you put down the deck boards can be done a million different ways and they probably all work fine. This is what we did. We determined a dimension about center of the deck lengthwise that would allow the boards to end with about an inch overhang on the outer edge. We popped a chalk line and began running the boards off of that line. Now, we are using 16' long boards and pressure treated lumber can be wiggly. It can start to get out of square etc. the further you run it, so this way we are only running off our reference line 6 feet in both directions rather than 12 feet if we just started right off the house. Shorter runs make for less room for error. That goes for anything.
Well, that is all of my pics for now. I will show the almost finished product next; hopefully soon. I'm still trying to come up with a handrail design so that is not on yet and we have no steps either. Still climbing up a stupid ladder to get in the house! I will try to get back quickly and if I did not explain something right ( more than likely) please ask me to explain and I will reply. Work has been rough on me lately so I'm down a little on posting. We have had to work some overtime and I'm not as young as I used to be. I'm so bruised and cut up from the job that I am moving pretty slow right now. I need to get some deck furniture so that I can rest some on my new porch! Yeah, like maybe 10 minutes.