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‘That Dog Will Hunt’
Maintaining a Homestead in the Pacific Northwest: #2 1/29/2022
© 2023 James LaFond
AUG/10/23
Helping A Carpenter At Home: Selek, Washington
I have built helmets, shields and grocery displays, that is it. I don’t even know what most of the tools are called that the Captain uses, but he insists that me standing there extending tools when he says, “Scalpel,” hauling light material [he won’t let be carry heavy stuff with the hernias] and remembering his planning digressions and declarations, is very helpful to the point of making things happen, even naming me “Nige the slave driver.” [0]
He describes me as a slave driver, by reminding him what he was going to do next. I can tell, at this age, when a man knows what he is talking about, especially when he is talking about it while doing it. However, the Captain normally runs large crews of men and trouble shoots on massive skyscraper sites in a highly structured environment. He is the go to man among his dozen bosses for fixing the mistakes and directing the work of his hundreds of coworkers.
Driving in the Pacific Northwest is very dangerous: slick narrow roads, steep grades and low visibility. A couple years before I met the Captain he was nearly killed and suffered a bad head injury in an auto accident. He is now prone to “rabbit trails” while working as his own boss. While we were beginning to finish the Cluck Mahal or Poultry Palace—all of his buildings, no matter how humble, having grandiose titles—a Fed-X driver came up the drive and stayed on the truck handing me a box while Toby, “the HNC,” barked his fury at the invader. The driver thanked me, waved at Toby, who chased him down the driveway and the Captain yelled, “Jimmy, wheels, wheels, we’re on the road again!”
The replacement wheels for the cart that tows behind the ATV as a grounds vehicle came, and the Poultry Palace was forgotten as he sang a Willie Nelson song [1]. We were still working on the ramp to the chicken house, wrestling with pry bars and a boulder. I was muddy, on my last change of clothes and we were almost done. The Captain said, “I need to go to Johnson’s to get washers, take a break.”
I reminded him, “We need to stay on the coop, you want it done before you go visit your dad.”
He nodded, “Thanks, Jimmy, for getting me off the rabbit trail...”
He is almost my age, stronger and less injured, but wearing thin. He engineered the moving of this boulder with bars, smaller stones, a shovel, and it eventually gets to its destined place with me merely holding a bar and moving ten pound rocks as fulcrums and wedges. Before finishing this ramp that he cut into the hillside to the eminence the Cluck Mahal is perched upon, above the house, giving him a good field of fire with his shotgun from his bedroom window upon invading raccoons, he ran power 2 feet under ground, and water. The chickens will have their own water pump. Every logistical consideration to minimize the hauling of weight over distance is planned by this builder. His wife will be doing that work while he builds in the big city.
The feed will be kept in aluminum cans within the chicken hall, for instance. Prior to working on this house for chickens I assisted—holding boards and tools—as the Captain eye-balled and built a set of four stairs onto the porch that would go directly to the pump room where I live and his bride keeps supplies, and on the other side of which is the avian compound. If you take more than two trips a day to a destination, he will build a pair of stairs to get you there. A large part of his job on big sites is building ladders and stairs and ramps for men and equipment. The other big part is building box frames of wood into which concrete is poured.
This material is then chopped up with power saws and thrown into dumpsters or hauled off by men with permission from the contractor, who use it for home improvements. I can tell that he loves the texture of building something that will stand and not be washed away by concrete and money, but fall decently to Time and Nature.
I do not understand his calculations with the triangle, how he looks at angles and cuts a piece to fit with the power saw, and screws them with the power driver, after drilling a hole with the power drill. I do understand plugging in batteries to his charger and keep him supplied with charged batteries. He has given up on coaching me on using a power screw driver. My hand is so unsteady and dead that I strip the screws.
I will never be a carpenter and remain a perpetual laborer.
I know what a footer is but not a toe nail.
When being hard on himself, as his extreme manual dexterity with tools slips somewhat in late middle age, hammers no longer being twirled while he skips across a beam as when I met him—he calls himself “lefty,” as in “Come on lefty—one more for Elvis!” as he aims the screw gun true through a tight spot made for a right hander as his stone age helper looks on.
I spy things that need done, like cleaning up tools and trash, and leveling ground so a door can swing open without hitting a tree root; things to do while he is rewriting plans in his mind.
The chicken coop has a separate place for “The baby chickees so they don’t get violated by the nasty roosters,” a small coop with its own door.
The main chamber has a row of boxes with a ramp, with steps on it made of left over molding strips, up to a cedar branch before the little laying boxes cut and roofed out of plywood.
A roost, a six step latter against the wall gives the chickens a place to roost and hopefully poop. The chicken wire is not just tacked on, but secured with exterior wood molding. He has seen raccoons chew through the wire before and looks forward to the coming war. A light for long nights to keep hens laying in winter hangs from the ceiling, slant roofed in sheet metal.
A motion light, used for security on large construction sites, is on the outer corner, right under the overhanging roof designed to keep the exterior of the hen house from becoming a mud pit. These chickens have a covered front porch. The power for these lights was run, with my inept assistance, from his breaker box, under the house and through “spider webs, cat turds and rat shit—narley bro,” to the side of the house under his bedroom window. Here it meets the cable he ran under ground and describes the same angle as his field of fire on invading coons.
Handles and latches are attached to the two Poultry palace doors.
I found waterproof beams for him to cut expertly, free standing with a hand saw to narrow gaps in the quarter acre fencing he built for the courtyard of the Cluck Mahal. A great cedar looms over the chicken palace and the rocky banks on the north side around the cedar roots are home to bush berries, which the chickens will eat, marking this site as having been chosen around cover and snack options for the disgusting little feathered dinosaurs.
The courtyard of the Cluck Mahal shares a fence with the garden, so scraps may be tossed in.
At every step, this man worked to a standard of perfection honed on commercial sites, knowing the angle of a railing required for the steps, the extension of that railing beyond the steps, the height of that railing, the height of a door knob. I observed as he constantly graded himself against these standards, often finding his work wanting and redoing it.
To minimize this he would ask my opinion on occasion, when he was exhausted at grading his work. I had observed his standards in operations and tried to keep faith from my bastion of ignorance.
Sometimes, he would look at the chickens that are not yet there and say, “The chickens will be fine with it.”
He explained, “I have to live with this work and don’t need to walk by what I built and say, ‘What two guys built that—no one man could do that bad a job.’”
As we got into a groove enough for me to predict his next move and hand over the right tool or hold the board just so, or shine the light over his shoulder at the approach of night, when to grab a beer when work extended past 3 P.M., I came to know his grading system:
-F. is unacceptable and requires a demo and rebuild
-D. is unacceptable and noted in progress and brings the encouraging, “Come on Lefty, you can do this,” and the work is corrected.
-C. is captured in the calculating minds eye, judged before the screw is sunk [a D will require the screw to be extracted and resunk] and he will say, “I can live with that, what do you think, Jimmy?” then the screw gun grinds.
-B., this, the highest score this man grants himself when plying his trade, brings the declaration, “Oh, that dog will hunt!” and the screw gun sings its wood-chewing song.
“Thank you, Jimmy, [2] for all of your help this week,” he said, with a hand shake.
It was my pleasure.
Notes
-0. Nige is my cribbage handle.
-1. Not a musician, this man can recall the exact lyrics of hundreds of popular songs.
-2. The folks around here call me LaFond, since the Captain’s name is James. He calls me Jimmy endearingly, I surmise after the fashion his older brother, who has passed, once named him.
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