Saturday, June 30

Roof arrives

The metal is very deeply sculpted. This picture doesn't show the true depth.
When the county building code folks told us we couldn’t use our real ceramic roof tile because it’s so old it wasn’t rated for energy efficiency, we searched for an approved tile that looks similar. We found it in Decra metal tiles. They’re made of zinc/aluminum coated steel that has crushed stone bonded to it. It isn’t cheap. In fact the driver who hauled the load from the north Fresno Home Depot store was told by his manager, “Be careful. This is an expensive load.”

He was careful and the five pallets arrived in fine condition.

Big beams

Karla and I went by the house site on the way to a day of shopping for the high ranch. She loved what was going on so far since she hadn’t seen any of it since the floor joists were finished. Before leaving, we watched the raising of some of the support beams. They’re big, and one of them is immense. But the crew moved quickly and efficiently and got them in place in practically no time at all.
Big beams get muscled into place

But BIG beams…
…get a little help from a machine.

“Hm-m-m,” thinks Karla. “So THAT’S how they did the pyramids.”
Karla didn’t really think that. Just kidding.

Thursday, June 28


Rule number one about hydraulics: Plumbing is the bane of civilization, humanity’s greatest folly. Being closely related to plumbing, hydraulic systems are doomed to failure. Often. Constantly. Eternally. The rule of frequency of failure:
  • Easily-accessible hydraulics fail the least.
  • Difficult-to-access hydraulics fail the most.
Randy crawls under the boom, freeing a bound-up hose
That was today’s problem. The lift we depend on decided that its longest hydraulic hose was due for failure, which it did. Not only longest, but most difficult-to-reach since it’s inside the 30-foot-long extensible boom. Randy was up to the task, having replaced that line several times. But this failure had a novel feature since the hose was trapped between a thick steel cable and a pulley and had to be cut loose with a power saw.

My job today was traveling back and forth getting the needed tools from our shop a mile away on our bad road. But we prevailed and the lift now works. Meanwhile, the building crew were busy putting on the additional bracing needed before the roof goes on. And plumbing up the walls. It’s so nice to have plumb walls. For the workers, it could be called a plumb job. Ha ha.

The capper on the day was the good news that Karla would be home from Florence Lake tonight. I can’t wait to take her down to the new house early tomorrow morning and watch her face light up as she sees the potential of living in this wonderful space. I was so pleased today as I saw the actual sizes and shapes of all the rooms we worked so long to plan. The reality is so much more exciting than our guesswork as we laid everything out on paper. The window sizes are so much different from what I imagined. They’re huge! We can see forever, and the vistas are so much greater since the house is so high off the ground. The dining room is big enough for a thousand people. We can easily accommodate a party of two thousand in the great room. Even the bathrooms can allow several people to use the facilities simultaneously if they like each other.

Well, almost.
It helps if your DNA retains ancient monkey-ness

The different ceiling heights starts to show in the outside wall profile

Again, the monkey genes come in handy
It will be hard to be unhappy in this wonderful house!

Wednesday, June 27

Instant house (almost)

Pick a wall space and nail the plans for all to see
Just follow the plans and put the right numbered panel in the right place and repeat. The pictures tell the story that started around 7:30 this morning. I expect all the wall panels will be in place by this afternoon, exterior and interior. Wow. Four workers and one guy who knows this place by heart and can do it without plans.
Stand the wall panels up one at a time
Nail them in place
Later, much later, put a grand piano in this room
Bring up more wall panels with the loader
Then start putting up interior walls
Tomorrow, we may start putting up the roof. That takes more time since each of the pieces has to be braced to the one next to it, then add another, and brace it, and add another….

The really fast stuff is over. After the roof is on, then we think about finishing the exterior and interior. That will take time, too.

Tuesday, June 26

A nice feeling

Looking westish from the bedroom

Walking on a raised-foundation floor is so nice! I had forgotten how there is such a feeling of give, of lightness, compared to a concrete slab. I am sure the floor isn’t bouncing like a trampoline, but it sure feels good.

I took pictures of the views from on high. I am standing nearly eight feet above the ground in the northish view, and around five feet in the southish view.

Looking northish from the piano room

Looking southish from the Great Room

The subfloor crew will be finished today, then the real fun starts—the walls get stood up!

Monday, June 25

The benefits of living in the boonies

Today the county building inspector came by to approve our understructure. He had been here before, jokingly complaining to the contractor: “My advice to you: BUILD SOMEWHERE ELSE!” He wasn’t fond of the three-hour round trip journey plus our bad road just to do his ten-to-fifteen-minute job of checking our progress. Today, as he checked the work done so far on the house, he looked at me and said, “I’m just going to save myself a heap of grief and sign off the whole job right now!

Randy, Kim and the Inspector General
I looked at Randy, our plan designer/lead contractor, and said, “It WORKED!”

(He didn’t sign off the whole job. Just kidding.)

The floor is going on, but first…

Randy points with one finger; the inspector uses two. He must be double-checking.
…the County Inspector has to see that the substructure is up to par and according to plan.

It takes a sledgehammer to persuade thick stuff into place
There's more where that came from, says Randy
Then Randy uses his lift to bring up the flooring material. And Kim’s two floormen start laying it down. It’s both glued and nailed so it won’t squeak.

The floor under the grand piano is doubly strong, with the joists only a foot apart. The rest of the house has its joists two feet apart. The subfloor isn’t three-quarter-inch plywood like so many houses; it’s a full inch-and-an-eighth thick. Randy likes really strong floors, and so do we.

Thursday, June 21

Two for one

It's like a house under our house.
When we saw what the construction crew had done so far, we were amazed. There’s a whole other house under the one we’re paying for on top! Our plan calls for plus or minus 2,800 square feet under roof. But between the floor and the ground we’ll have another thousand feet of usable space. In fact one of the spans is large enough to install an under-house swimming pool!

Pool space under the kitchen!

"Not quite Olympic, but I could adjust," says Karla
Imagine! A little bit of excavating and we can put in an Endless Pool® and swim year around! A pool table will be harder to install because the walls are too close, but a pool is better than a pool table any time.

The floor from up the hill a bit.
After admiring our guys’ work, we had a little celebration with apple slices, cheese, bread, and good Mexican beer.

Wednesday, June 20

A rousing, raging wonderful success!

Bill, Candy, Karla, Thurman, Luke and Bruce wait for the house to arrive.

After thinking of every little thing that could go wrong, obsessing about not being able to widen some of the narrow places on the road, worrying about trees or branches that are too low, and every little thing that could get a great big truck stuck in such a way that we would have to give up and pave over it, it worked!
The first truckload arrives!

The second truck with its load of roof trusses
A forklift was used to transfer to our trucks and trailers
Roof trusses, looking like a wooden delta-wing plane, went on John’s truck
We followed John in, eating his dust.

Luke stops John and has him ride on ahead to check out a couple of tight spots.
Randy uses his forklift to pluck a pile of roof trusses.
Thurman arrives with his second load
Luke and John head back for more. This is getting fun!
Bill arrives with a trailerful
Bill unstraps the load
Randy spreads out the house parts just where he wants them
And through it all, another crew was putting in the pony walls to support the subfloor

The Whole Operation Went Off Without Even A Hint Of A Hitch!

Unbelievable! Nothing went wrong! We got the house parts to their destination in only two-thirds the time we had anticipated. We now have an entire house and a big garage spread across at least an acre of land. The roof trusses didn’t get caught in trees, the low trailers hauled by two of our neighbors’ pickups sailed through the tight spots, and the big semi and trailer didn’t have to back up even once on the tight corners.

Thurman, our backhoe operator, brought the same truck he uses for his bulldozer and since it had been in here before he just laid back with one hand on the wheel and whistled a tune while sightseeing on his way in. Piece of cake.

Karla and I tailed John’s big tractor-trailer rig on its first leg of the trip. Luke acted as his pilot car, and even once stopped and drove him ahead on the road in his pickup to show him what to expect in the worst spaces. John is an incredible driver. He has traversed the awful Kaiser Pass Road to both Florence and Edison Lakes for decades since he was a kid with tons of horses, tons of hay, and tons of courage since the road only gets worse every year.

Randy used his huge forklift to pile all the parts exactly where he wants them for quick assembly into a whole big beautiful house. While all this was going on, Kim’s crew was putting up the pony walls, on which the subfloor will be laid. We were surprised to see how far off the ground the floor will be. It turns out we will have a rather large basement to use, with headroom even for Luke!

We heartily thank all the friends and neighbors who were so enthusiastic in helping with the project. We owe you guys big time!

All photos: Tom

Monday, June 18

Omigosh! Tomorrow! Omigosh!

Tomorrow is the DAY! We have been preparing for this time for several weeks now, and have had some real successes and some real disappointments. The bad parts include making reservations for three flat bed trucks to help haul in the house parts past the place where the delivery trucks can’t go. When Karla went to the truck rental place to see the trucks, and found that they weren’t there, and wouldn’t be there when we needed them, things started to fall apart.

Funnily enough, we have friends whose son works at the truck rental place. He said that earlier in the week the company shipped all its flat bed trucks to San Diego. Turns out there was a big parade planned, and the trucks would be decorated as floats. I guess sending your trucks out for a long-term rental pays more than our simple one-day event. Makes us not ever trust that rental company again though.

We have rounded up a whole contingent of good friends to make up for the bad rental company. Neighbors have volunteered to lend us their trucks, trailers, tractors, and horses (kidding) to help get the house parts up our road. Our lead contractor, Randy, has gone way beyond the call of duty in finding alternative routes to get things closer to the final destination, including scouting a route through Mariposa County (nix on that one) and a tortuous route through eastern Madera County (another nix). We’ll settle on the simple one, six miles from the house site.

So with the mix of tractor-trailer trucks, flatbed trucks, trailers, tractors, and other stuff along with four-wheel-drive pickups volunteered by friends, we may actually be able to get the house panels delivered to the site. We owe so much to friends and mainly neighbors for their efforts in bringing this whole shenanigan off.

It’s nice to see that the old Amish tradition of barn-raising neighbor volunteers still exists even in the over-urbanized culture of California. I guess it’s just human nature after all.

Friday, June 15

What’s happening

I’ve been remiss in updating the progress on the house. Mostly because the pictures I’ve taken really stink. It seems that whenever I go by the building site the lighting is really bad, and I don’t like publishing crummy pix. Besides, there is little excitement in showing a big pile of lumber or foundation walls without the forms in place.

I was pleased to see that the local lumber supplier was able to haul in some 40-foot-long floor joists without incident. That means we can maybe get some of the near-40-foot roof trusses in without incident.

Today a big piece of equipment came in, Randy’s high-lifting forklift which can lift things clear up to low earth orbit (or 40 feet, whichever comes first). We can use it to raise our lumberjack crew up to trim trees that are too close to the house. It can also raise the pre-made roof trusses into place.

The real action starts Tuesday when the three flatbed trucks we are renting will haul in the walls and roof trusses. Two or three trucks from Elk Grove (near Sacramento) will deliver all the pre-built parts of the house that are above the subfloor, clear up to the roof. The big tractor-trailer rigs from Sacramento can’t make it in to the house site on our twisty roads. The company will give us six hours of use of their forklift to get the parts off their trailers and onto our trucks. We will haul them down the six miles of bad road to the house site.

This should certainly be blogworthy, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 12

It’s that time again

I stepped outside the house a few minutes ago and was hit with the “sign of summer”—smoke.

Sure enough, there’s a wildfire going north of us in Mariposa County with a rather large contingent of firefighters and equipment working on it. We’re pumping extra water into our tank in case it gets close. The last thing I ever want to see is one called "Geezer Fire."

Thursday, June 7

Concrete arrived this morning

We drove down to watch 42 cubic yards of concrete pour into the forms at the house site. A total of ten people were involved in filling the holes and trenches and the above-ground forms to make our foundation. It looks super strong, and should keep the house from either sinking into the ground or flying off in a strong wind.
Five trucks brought in the load, spaced 30 minutes apart. Each in turn backed up to the concrete pump and dumped nice wet slurry which traveled down the hose to a man whose job was to distribute it among the forms. He wore a wireless control box which allowed him to turn the pump on and off remotely as he dragged the hose from one spot to another.
The last part to be poured was the little twelve-by-twelve-foot parking pad where we can drive up with groceries and take them through the mud room to the pantry. We plan to put a fridge and a freezer in the mud room to supplement the refrigerator in the kitchen. When you live in the boondocks, you need additional food storage so you don’t have to trot off to the grocery store every few days.
After the forms are removed, the next thing is to put up the “pony walls,” the wooden walls on which the floor joists will be secured, then the sub floor.

“Oh, how I wish…”

Ben stares longingly at the huge concrete mixer truck as he clutches his little yellow pickup truck.

Photo: Hilary Hurley Painter

Tuesday, June 5

When you come to a fork in the road, take it

Left to right: Ben, Bill, Hilary and the geezer
“When you come to a fork…” we won’t have to say that anymore to people who want to find us. Now we can say, “Take Winter Ranch Road.” Wow. We have a place on the map. We even have a house number, even though the guy who made our sign put 41143 on one side, and 41134 on the other. He’s going to make us another sign with 41143 on both sides. Oh well, maybe that’s why things take longer than they should.

Photo: Karla Hurley

Saturday, June 2

Today’s good deed

As I sat at my computer answering requests from Muir Trail hikers needing mailing labels for their resupply buckets they’ll be sending to the ranch this summer, I saw that we had a few mud dauber wasps in the house. They were at the windows, trying to get outside so they could find some mud to make their nests for the next generation of mud daubers. What a curious existence, I mused. The wasps had only recently emerged from their mud incubators and already they were preparing to build more nests for more daubers.

The process goes like this: First they gather little globs of mud, about the size of a really tiny pea or a rice grain. They stick that piece of mud to a solid surface, preferably where it won’t get rained on, like inside a building. They keep adding more mud daubs, making tubes. Our wood shed is replete with nests, some of which have expanded over several generations to become big enough to plant an oak tree in. They lay an egg in the tube, then go hunting for spiders to anesthetize and stick in the tube as food for the baby. So here we have a nest about the size of a walnut with several tubes stuffed with spiders sealed shut with mud. Inside that walnut is a bunch of snoring spiders, awaiting their opportunity to become food for a tiny little maggoty thing several months down the line. Once the maggot metamorphoses to a fully-fledged wasp it chews its way out of the mud house and flies away to find a mate.

Whoever thought this up?! What a crazy existence! Is it some plan to rid the world of spiders? If so let me tell you it isn’t working so far. But still, I respect nature’s plan and want to support parts of it at least.

Back to the wasps buzzing around me as I sat at the computer. (Actually, they don’t buzz—at least to my tinnitus-ravaged ears.) I put out the thought message to them that if they would land on the nearby window, I would capture them with a plastic tumbler and stiff card and take them outside. To my pleasure, four of them took up my offer and now are outside hunting for mud. They could have found dirt in the house, but thankfully not mud.

Makes me happy.