Monday, January 10, 2011

April 2008

When I arrived on the property in April 2008 I found a barren place. The snow had recently melted away revealing only sparse vegetation and a lot of mud. The area around the house was littered with building materials and bits of wood scraps that had been buried by the snow falls over the winter. The house in it's surroundings looked bleak, but the warmer weather was a welcome thing especially in light of my next project: installing a metal roof.
Some of the metal came from Buxton's Building Supply nearby, but most came from my neighbor, Peter, who had a surplus of blue metal that he had left over from a previous job. He sold it to me at a good price and even delivered it to me.
I spent the next several days on the roof. Before putting down the metal I attached firing strips to the sheathing and rafters. It was important for a metal roof to have these strips of wood underneath to account for air flow and expansion and contraction. After that it was all about laying down and lining up sheets of metal and screwing them down. During some of that time I had company on the ground; a couple of electricians from Mac Electric.

Since the Fall of '07 I had been going through the motions required to bring electricity to the house. At first it involved making some phone calls and getting permits. There were power lines along rt.139 (also known as Main St. or the Monroe Highway) so there was not a considerable distance to run the line. My first step early in the Fall was to have a pole sunk roughly 125 ft. in from the pole at the road. I contacted an older fellow by the name of Gene Bonnie to set the pole. Gene was well liked and well known to the folks at the power company and the local electricians. Apparently Gene had worked for the Central Maine Power Co. inventing some of the devices used to set poles in areas with difficult access. He was reliable and quick to sink a pole for me. I would have liked to see how he did it but he ended up putting it in when I was between trips.
I contacted a handful of local electricians starting in the Fall of '07 and all had proved to be either very elusive or drunk, perhaps a little of both. The first guy to come by was nice enough but struck me as strange with very spastic mannerisms. I thought I caught a whiff of whiskey on his breath as he bounced out of his van. He actually jumped into my camper when I mentioned my plans to build off of it. He talked endlessly about his family troubles and his dismal living situation (he lived in a trailer next to his mother-in-law). His ideas for how the cable would run to the house and how the meter would be mounted seemed overly complicated and redundant. When I told him I wanted to bury the cable he suggested I employ his friend to dig the trench (at that time I did not yet have a tractor). The guy made me uneasy with his weird suggestions and stories of personal misfortune. When he asked for a consulting fee at the end of his visit I knew he was not to be trusted.
I asked the few folks I knew locally for recommendations for a good electrician. I came up with two names. I called them both over and over again. Eventually one of them returned my calls; I think his name was Eric. He lived nearby and said he would come out to assess my situation the next morning. It was getting close to Winter at this point, maybe it was November. By that time I had purchased a small John Deere tractor and had used it to dig a trench between the pole and the house. He arrived in a white van with his teenage son in tow. He was a morbidly obese man in coveralls and prominent whiskers. He looked like a walrus standing upright. He seemed knowledgeable in his trade but as I found out later, some of his information was erroneous. He was slow to move, he was so fat. He instructed his son to measure the length of the trench. The boy ran the length of the trench, hopping in and out as he made his way to the house with his measuring tape. He came back with a measurement of about 130 ft.. We made tenative plans for them to come back and do the job of running the cable with a meter box. After that I did not hear from him again even after leaving several follow-up messages. A couple of times I ran into him at the local market/gas station in Brooks during the Winter and each time he assured me that he would get to it in the spring, just give him a call. But as Spring rolled around all new messages I left remained unanswered. So I decided to give someone else a try.
At the beginning of my April visit I called on my neighbor Walter who was qualified to write me a fire permit to burn a large brush pile. Walter owned a small dairy farm and had recently had his power upgraded to 200amps. He recommended Mac electric in Belfast. So I gave them a call and talked to Mark the owner. He came by the next day to check out my situation. He was a young guy for a master electrician, maybe about my age and was quick and knowledgeable. I told him of the recommendations made by the first guy and he politely confirmed my suspicions that the guy was an idiot. A couple days later two guys from Mac showed up in the morning in a white van and got to work. One of them immediately scaled the pole while the other began laying out conduit beside the trench for the underground cable. Mark came by shortly to make sure his guys knew what to do and had all they needed.
In the meantime I worked on my roof.
After only a few hours, the guys from Mac Electric had finished the job of running the electric line from the top of the pole to a meter box at the bottom of the pole and from there to the breaker box inside the house. The breaker box was salvage from a demolition on the Cape. They had also installed a power outlet just below the box; a very professional, efficient job. Now all I had to do was call the power company and wait for them to link me to the grid. That part took a little longer. It was at some point during the summer while I was away working that they hooked me up.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

March 2008

March of 2008 was a milestone in the progress of my house. At the end of my last visit I was able to get about three quarters of the roof covered in sheathing which, as a roofs go, made it about as useless as nipples on a man. It was, however, during this visit that it became an enclosed space and began to resemble a house. But first I was due another not-so-pleasant safety lesson on the first evening of my arrival.
There was plenty of snow and ice outside and inside the house. Whatever had happened in my absence had left a thick sheet of ice on the first floor and the landing at the camper's entrance. Everything that had been sitting on the floor including my sleeping couch was embedded in an inch of ice. On the upside, it was clear to see that the floor was still perfectly level.
I started a fire in the stove but knew that it would be a long time before all the ice melted if the roof was not closed up soon. I immediately went to work that evening with by usual impatience even though there was little I could do before morning without electric lighting. I quickly set up my short extension ladder on the ice at the edge of the landing where the camper poked in, climbed up and began fussing with the window frames above it. I don't remember exactly what I was up to, but I do remember the futility of the act passing through my mind as the ladder slipped out from under me. It didn't come down in one great crash which was perhaps lucky. One of the upper legs of the ladder caught the trim of the camper flipping it sideways before throwing me to the icy floor.
I laid crumpled on my back, momentarily dazed. I'm such an idiot. Who sets up a ladder on a sheet of ice?
On my trip to the floor I had taken the tarp down that separated the landing from the lower floor of the house and had somehow gotten tangled in it. One of my legs was caught between the lower rungs of the ladder which left me in a partially upside down position with my legs still up on the landing and the rest of my body wedged between the lower floor and the couple of stairs ascending the landing. I prayed nothing was broken. I assessed the state of my body, first without moving, just to see where it hurt, and then little by little, wiggling all my fingers and toes up to the major joints. Everything seemed intact, though cut, battered and bruised with my right leg and hip being the most beat up. I would be limping around for the rest of the visit.
The next morning I climbed upstairs via a wooden ladder I had anchored to the wall and floor. No more ice skating for me. I began the work of framing the rest of the NE roof and the overhang. Most of the work required that I stand on one of three ladders. I set them all up very carefully with each move, but I still noticed a new phobia of standing high up on them. Due to the combination of fear and pain, I ascended and descended one careful foot at a time as though it were my first time on a ladder. Climbing the long 30ft. extension to work on the overhang and eves left me especially frightened as I drove nails in upside down. My will to finish the roof, however was stronger than my new found fear of flying.

After a couple of days, all the sheathing was covering the roof and the envelope of the house began to hold heat and melt the ice from the floor. The overall atmosphere inside the house changed remarkably. It finally was beginning to feel like a house. It was truly a happy day!
During the remaining few days, I finished off the eves and made exterior frames for the windows out of strips of rough cut hemlock.

At this point I wasn't ready to do much interior work, but the little that I did usually called for cutting lumber which made me very aware of now being indoors. As usual, I made my cuts with the chainsaw. The echo and exhaust of it's two-cycle engine was maddening. To accomplish the enormous task of finishing the interior I would need do the rest by handsaw or bring in electricity.
I kept a hot fire going for the remainder of my visit and left the house dry and ice-free. I would no longer come home to a skating rink in my living room!