Archive for December 27th, 2006

Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . 


Well, maybe it was not another galaxy, but it was certainly many years ago and far away from here.  In fact, it was thirty years ago outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, to be exact.  The gentleman with his back to us was my husband at the time, who I shall refer to as P., and the other man was one of our very good friends.   What you see in the above picture is the inside corner of the cabin featured in this picture

We were young, idealistic, hardy and well educated.  Both of us also had a well of life experience to draw from.  We were blissfully ignorant of just exactly how shallow that well actually was.   We wanted a place of our own, and we felt sure that we could build it.  We were particularly certain because we had decided on building using the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).  In addition, we had lots of friends with lots of advice and who were willing to help us.

We were committed to the idea that we were equal partners in this enterprise:  in fact we called ourselves S and S Enterprises.  We started by researching land ownership.  In order to own land together as tenants in the entirety, which would enable us to avoid any estate tax liability in the future, we either had to form a corporation or get married.  It was  a heck of a lot simpler and cheaper to get married, plus we didn’t have to have annual meetings and officers and keep minutes of our meetings if we were married.  So we decided to get married. 

In actuality, I believe that it probably is not that bad an idea to keep formal minutes of your meetings if you are married, but that is probably a completely different category than this post.

We had accumulated a certain amount of money while P. was working as a surveyor on the Alaska Pipeline.  I had a pretty good job as an organic chemistry lab technician working on campus for the Hydrocarbon Lab at the Institute of Marine Sciences. The plan was that we would spend all the money we had accumulated on building materials.  P. would build the house during the day and evenings, and I would work at IMS during the week and help on the weekends and evenings after work.

We were both in our early twenties when we got married one chilly March day.  P. went back to work for one more 10 week stint on the Pipeline, after which he was going to quit for the summer.  Then would move out to the small plot of land we had bought from one of my friends in Arctic Chamber Orchestra, and live on site while we built our place.

We had a fairly good sized tent for which P. built a platform.  It was just big enough for our double sized air mattress and a basket with our clothes in it.  Outside the tent, an open air camp kitchen was established.  We had a propane powered camp stove to cook on, and a preparation area with shelves for storing our staples.  We knew enough to keep everything in containers the mice and squirrels could not access.  Off on the other side of the driveway, in a sheltered part of the woods, another platform was built which would serve as “dead storage” for our rather meagre possessions.

The first order of business was to get a decent road in.  We had located a pretty good building site, and laid it out with the house facing south and a parking area on the east side with a y-shaped turn-around on the south of the house.  The house was going to be a rather small place, 20×24 feet with a full basement and a half loft.  We planned on building it out of 3 sided logs, furring it out on the inside and insulating the walls with 4″ of fiberglas in addition to the insulative value of the 6 inches of log, and there would be 12″ of insulation in the roof.

We had a real time crunch going when we built the place.  It generally was not possible to really start building until the ground had thawed out, unless you really wanted to use dynamite for excavation.  The deadline for being closed in was the beginning of winter.  We knew we could count on snow by the first week of October, and we were not really enamored of the idea of wintering over in a tent.

We had a backhoe operator lined up, and one day in late May he told us that the ground was sufficiently thawed and dried out enough that he could dig our basement.  He came and did the job in only one day.  I was very impressed by his expertise.  When he was done digging the basement, our job was to make it level enough to lay out our 2″ styrofoam insulation board.  Truly, it only took about an hour to do the finish leveling, the backhoe operator was that accurate in his work.

We spent the next couple of days laying out the vapor barrier, the styrofoam insulation, the welded wire mesh, and then the rebar that would be imbedded in the slab of concrete that would form the floor of the basement.  It was to be a monolithic pour:  all the footings and floor poured at once. 

We got all that work done before very late in the day before the concrete was to be delivered.  Our date with the concrete trucks was scheculed for 8 in the morning of my birthday.  We were well aware that after pouring and finishing the floor, we probably were not going to be in any mood to go out to celebrate, so we decided to go out that night instead.

I don’t know how redimix companies work nowadays in this part of the world, but at that place in that decade, you were allowed 5 minutes per yard of concrete truck time once he arrived on your property.  After that, you were charged $5 per minute for over time, which could add up pretty fast.  We had ordered 6 yards of concrete, so we knew that we had one half hour to get that out of the truck and send him on his way once he entered our driveway.  God forbid he should get stuck on the way up the hill to the building site.

We cleaned up at the showers at the gym on campus, and dressed for Dinner Out.  We truly had a wonderful meal, enjoyed some wine with dinner, and then betook ourselves over to the Palace Saloon to enjoy the show and have a few beers.  Properly relaxed, we finally headed for home. 

Imagine our surprise when we arrived there to find that we could not drive all the way up the driveway.  It was blocked by a very large pile of 6″ three sided logs, which were destined to form the walls of our cabin once the basement floor and walls were poured.  Delivery of the logs was not scheduled for a couple of weeks.  But the shipment had come in and the lumberyard thought they would do us a favor and bring them right on out so they would be on site when we needed them.  Since we weren’t there to tell them where to dump them off the tilt-bed truck, the driver very conveniently located them in the middle of our driveway so we would notice them when we got back.

I looked at P.  He looked at me.  I looked at my pumps and pretty dress, thought about the plans we had made on the way home. 

P said, “We have two choices.  We can go to bed and get up really early and move these logs before you have to head in to work, and hope we get them out of the way before the concrete truck arrives.  Or we can change our clothes and move them now.  I’m up for either way.  Of course, we don’t really know how long it is going to take to move these logs, you could be very late to work, and we could still be working on the pile when the concrete  truck gets here.  I’m not sure how prompt they will be.”

“They could be prompt like the log delivery, really early,” I replied.  We unanimously decided to shift the logs that night, and repaired to our tent to change our of our glad rags and into work clothes.   I sat on the edge of the mattress in the tent, lacing my boots, and wishing I had not eaten quite so much.

Then we got to work.  We moved every single log off the driveway.   Some of the logs were quite long, and a lot heavier than I believed I could manage.  At least they were all  well-seasoned pine.  I can’t imagine how I would have felt the next day if they had been the nice solid oak we grow around here in the Ozarks.  It was a good thing we decided to do the job that night, it took a long time, longer than we had originally thought it would.  We finally fell into bed around two in the morning, just as the twilight we had been working in began to lighten for dawn.

The next morning, I could hardly move,  and vowed to start doing more upper body workouts just as soon as I recovered from this one.  I dragged myself up, got us fed breakfast, and headed off to work.  P waited for the concrete truck, which I met coming out from town as I headed towards my day in the lab.  It was half an hour early.   

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