At last my desk is somewhat clear and I can catch up my family on the building of our house! This will be a long, picture-heavy post, covering two months of work. Future posts will be more succinct and far easier to load, I promise.
Just three days after Jon and Amanda’s wedding, on October 18, the concrete foundation forms — insulated forms called Fox Blocks — were delivered to the farm, along with a small excavator.
Seeing the transit laser tripod the builders left in place reminded me nostalgically of Allen.
Here is Allen taking down the transit laser level in April, 2009, after we had sighted for the foundation of the garage. I rented a transit for several of our projects. Allen always did the readings while I carried the measuring stick in various trenches.
It made me sad that he was not here, that so many years had slipped by. He and I thought in 2009 that we’d put up the house in 2010. Damon enjoys needling me that Allen once sighed to him, “I’ll be dead before she gets that house built.” I try to remind myself that many aspects of my life have been out of my control. Still, starting again without him felt bittersweet. I took a last photograph of the half-dug cellar hole Allen had begun in 2009 and never got to finish, now grown up in weeds.
Then I told myself: Onward!
I’d been a little alarmed to see that Nick, the builder, and his father, Mike, had brought only the small Bobcat excavator, smaller even than Damon’s small excavator. To me, accustomed to big machines, it looked like a Tinker Toy. My eyes slid from the little Bobcat to the the giant boulders littering the property. Allen had pried a mammoth rock larger than the big CAT cab from the cellar hole in 2009. But maybe it would be OK. Maybe Allen had removed all the big ones. I had hired these men to do the job and I must simply keep quiet. (The very hardest thing for me.)
It was going to be strange not being part of the team down in the dirt and merely checking in after school. I told myself: get over it.
At the end of the first day, the men confessed they’d run into a problem.
There was a big boulder, too big for the Bobcat. In fact the bucket of the Bobcat had broken on it. They had decided to rent the CAT 312 for a couple of days.
I agreed that this sounded like a good plan.
When the old CAT was delivered the next morning, I smiled at its scarred sides with affection. How many times had it been to the farm?
With Mike at the controls, rocks and soil were removed from the basement hole. Mike is a talented and careful operator, but slow. It drove Damon crazy. “What the hell’s he pokin’ around for?” he snorted. I hushed him. I am not paying for the job by the hour, and I knew Damon was sad that he could not run the machine himself.
In two days the main excavation was done and the CAT was sent back. The finish work on the foundation would be dug with the repaired Bobcat.
Unfortunately, it was at this time that a monster boulder was found. There was consternation. Mention was made of trying to use Mike’s small excavator plus Damon’s small excavator, which is parked at the farm for the winter.
First they tried drilling into the rock and using Bentanomit, a chemical that is mixed into a slurry and poured into the drilled holes. As it dries, it expands, theoretically cracking the rock. The Bentanomit was sluggish in the cold. Hairline cracks appeared, but in three days the rock did not break.
I knew this boulder was “not my problem.” Nick, the young builder, had given me a price for the job. In this neighborhood large boulders were to be expected. However time was slipping by. It was becoming colder.
I told Nick that I would pay the extra money for the CAT 312 to return for a day.
The CAT pried the boulder out, easily breaking it into giant chunks scored by the Bentonamit cracking agent.
Now we could move ahead. Here is Jerry, Nick’s uncle, supervising crushed stone being dropped in the trench under the future footer beneath the basement door.
The footers were poured.
Damon came out from time to time with a cane to inspect the work. He has been in and out of the hospital for over a year and he misses being part of a crew.
The basement floor was filled with sand and tamped.
At the end of every work day, to protect it from the weather, tarps were stretched over it.
Now they started building the forms for the walls. Fox Blocks are like giant styrofoam Legos, and stack together neatly.
In this, as in everything, the builders were meticulous. The form walls rose slowly.
Nick was still finishing up other jobs during these early days, so Mike was often working alone, with Jerry as his helper.
At last the forms were ready.
I was able to get someone to cover my lunch table at school and I raced down to the farm to see the walls poured. My phone had been cold in my pocket and unfortunately the photos are misty.
The first concrete truck arrived right on time.
Mike made last minute adjustments on the Fox Block walls.
Nick signaled the concrete truck as it backed to the forms. Stuck in the waistband of Nick’s jeans was a child’s sand shovel — a tool for scooping and smoothing errant concrete.
Here the men guide the trough to the wall.
It was tricky to get the truck close enough around the dirt piles and crevasses.
But eventually it was accomplished.
With a whoosh! the concrete mix slowly filled the forms.
I had to go back to work before the second truck arrived. When I returned after my classes, the men were completing concrete reinforcing pads down the middle of the basement, which would underlay the finished concrete floor, supporting the center posts.
At this point there was a long week of cold weather, too cold to pour the floor slab. I was chewing my hands. At last we had a break — 36 hours above freezing. The floor was poured while I was at work.
Nick and Mike floated it smooth and then covered it with a layer of tarps.
I donated bales of mulch hay to spread, and they covered the hay with another layer of tarps. The job was finished just under the wire. The following night we had a foot of snow.
Luckily the basement floor was snug under its blankets of hay and tarps.
The first load of materials from the house company was delivered.
As always, just the stacks of lumber tagged with my name gave me a thrill.
Nick and Mike set up a carpentry shop in the open basement.
Mike brought his boom truck (retired from the local electrical company) to the site.
With small stones Mike built a short retaining wall on the south side of the house…
… and the Fox Blocks were sheathed in water shield before he backfilled around the foundation and the wood-framed walls began to rise.
I was sick with a cold and racking cough and it was at this point that I learned that the retaining walls around the basement door were not included in the package. Mike and I had some tense moments. Nick stepped in and offered to pay for his mistake in communication. In the end I told Nick I would again cover the cost of the machine. The CAT returned.
That evening I was eager to see the walls, which I expected to look like those shown on the plan.
Instead I found Mike had built a big wall on a cut-away down the future front lawn. (This photo was taken the next morning.)
I was sick. I had not slept in a week. I was frantically worried about money. I looked at the wall my scant dollars had purchased and wanted to scream. I struggled for calm.
“It doesn’t look like the wall in the plan?” I asked carefully.
Mike was dismissive. “This is much better.”
Many, many pieces of my life are out of my control these days. Due to our school housing, I am regularly surprised by workmen in our spaces, overnight guests, or parties to host. I constantly grind my teeth in my effort to appear polite and reasonable. The wall felt like a last straw. How dare someone change my house plan without even speaking to me? I wanted to sob with rage but I had no energy — and there was no point. It was a pretty wall. I dashed my tears away in the dark and thanked Mike for his hard work.
Jerry and Mike dug and poured the Sonotube footers for the wrap-around porch. Jerry is very quiet. You never see him without a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
The first floor joists slowly went up.
Here they are using the boom truck to lift a section of the big middle beam into place.
The house delivery was scheduled for last Tuesday. On Monday night I raced down to the farm, expecting to see the deck laid on the joists. They were still nailing up blocking.
“Are you still expecting the delivery tomorrow?” I asked tentatively. Nick said yes. I had arranged to take Tuesday off from work. I wondered if they were going to get up very early to lay down the deck, but I didn’t want to seem pushy.
Later that night, I heard from the building company. On a phone call to them, Nick had explained they were not ready. The wall panels still had to be delivered because it was too late to change the date; the truck was loaded. However, now the building company representatives would come up Thursday. I canceled my day off and laboriously switched all my coverage so I could take Thursday off and watch the panels go up.
Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day in the 20°s. On Tuesday and Wednesday the deck was laid.
Thursday morning, however, it was spitting snow and too windy to work. The windchill was -17°.
I canceled my day off again and went in to cover my classes.
On Friday the windchill was -35° F. The wall panels would wait.
Luckily, now I am on vacation and for the next two weeks I can watch the house’s progress at my leisure.