Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Tiny House Thing: My Journey to Memphis and Back

As I'm sitting here, it seems a little odd that I haven't said anything about my tepid tiny house interest until now; then again, I haven't said much of anything on here lately. Sorry about that. If you don't know what the whole "tiny house" thing is about, I'll boil it down to one sentence. People around the world are simplifying their lives, ditching their debt and moving into tiny rent / mortgage free houses. Some of them look totally rad. There are some real master designers / builders (two very different things) out there and you can quickly lose an hour clicking through pictures of the amazing little houses on the internet. A few builders out there are selling these things, like this guy Joe in Tennesse, but it seems most people are interested in making their own; which is how I found myself in Memphis last weekend with a shaved ice trailer behind my truck.

It all started when I stumbled across this poster on the internet:
They had me with the art work. I fell victim to their ultra-slick ad campaign and knew I had to go.

I could write a short story, actually a long story, about the perilous adventures I experienced en route and the long list of amazing, interesting, funny, talented new friends I made, but as my wife informed me late last night, I would probably "sound like the geeky kid that won't shut up about summer camp". I'll stick to what pictures I managed to snap and a few I've robbed off the internet.

I had some more of these barn shots on my phone, but my daughter Wyoming lost that, so I only have this one salvaged Facebook picture.

This is my first time seeing the Shaved Ice Shack in natural light. We pulled it out of the barn two nights before I left for Memphis. I spend many, many hours on these projects just looking and thinking.

This angle helps you see how the "ribs" of the shack are bolted directly to the solid metal frame.

7PM, Thursday night. I'm supposed to be in Memphis, allegedly 10 hours away, by lunchtime the next day. I'm still cool and collected at this point.

The quickest and easiest way to get the shack onto the big trailer (I wasn't about to make the Shack's maiden voyage a 1,200 mile test drive) was to hook it to my buddy Jon's Suburban and back it on to my trailer. I rode the back wheels of my truck onto a "ramp" to tilt the big trailer down, it worked astonishingly smoothly.

Up until this point, I've only been able to imagine what the interior would look like. Building without plans means sometimes it takes weeks worth of work before I can even begin to glimpse the finished product, at which point the nervous puking gradually begins to subside.

I left home around 1:30AM and stopped to sleep in this Lowe's parking lot at about 5AM. I had put the door on in the dark before I left. I picked up a little handsaw and some lag screws to put my sign on when they opened. I cut the little "keystone" pieces for the top of the trim by hand in the parking lot and got some groceries at Wal-Mart before heading back out.
Luckily this tire blew out within sight of a truck stop somewhere past Knoxville. My spare somehow had a hole in it, so I had to plug and fill it at the truck stop. Of course the farm jack I always travel with broke the day before, so I had to roll the trailer up onto another makeshift ram to swap the rear tire.
Yeah... again, this time in Nashville just before dark. This is Kavi, who I tried haggling in to a trade deal for two used tires. If it weren't for the torrential downpour that opened up just as he started to jack my trailer (seconds after he had locked up his used tire shop for the day) I think he might have gone for it. I could tell he enjoyed a good sport barter.
The next few pictures I took from Kent Griswold's very popular and very awesome Tiny House Blog, where you can go for more pictures of the weekend. I knew of the blog but had no idea who he was until the end of the last day, we spent a good while talking. He's a great guy and was really open and helpful. Anyone else with pictures from this thing, please send them to me or post them and tag me or however that works.

Over my shoulder is Carter from Colorado, who does taxidermy and some really creative wood sculpture stuff. The yellow shirt guy is Robert from Kan-tuck, who just got in to chainsaw milling, which I'm jealous of.

Carrie's ridin' Ole Shavey, Robert's figuring out how to finesse the froe (which is what the old tool is called, though you could say the same for his facial hair), Tim (in the white shirt) took a few blocks of white oak with him back to Maine to try this all out and also sings and plays guitar like Damien Rice (much respect), I forgot blue shirt beardy guy's name but he can shred some acoustic guitar leads and the guy with the light blue shirt way back there is Richard, who is so nice and soft-spoken you feel exactly like you're with Mr. Rogers, except he wields a razor-sharp wit for corny word puns with devastating force.

Now these two guys almost make me want to move to Milwaukee. I spent the first half of the day trying to figure them out, I thought they might have been some vagabond street buskers, then it switched to father and son gypsy clan, the truth is even cooler. Jon (standing next to me) is Michael's (in the door way) kind-of boss and an old punk rocker that will always be young at heart. They design and build the architectural displays at Urban Outfitter's. Jon is the most genuinely enthusiastic, larger-than-life character I've met in a really long time. Michael is laid back and mild mannered, but he has a ferocious old soul. Aside from being a fantastic woodworker at the age of 21, he is a profoundly gifted songwriter that ought to be on tour right now. Watch this video of him playing one of his songs in an old Milwaukee warehouse.

Wait F.W., you already showed us these. Nope. About ten minutes after I left Sunday night, BOOM!, trailer tire #3. I put the gimpy treadless tire I have from Nashville back on, in the dark and go back to Joe's house to see if I can maybe buy an old junk tire off of him or something.

In the hour between my departure from and return to the workshop grounds, the handful of people left mingling and packing up when I left had completely disappeared. The front door at the big house was wide open, but no one answered, same for the little house in the back. It was a little eerie. I got the truck turned around and was heading out when I caught Joe's dad coming home with groceries. He was super cool and told me to just grab something from their stack of old tires by the barn. I found one already mounted that looked like it might hold air and headed for a little country gas station off the highway.

After talking with Perry, the gas station attendant for half an hour about the Mennonite builders, and his grandbaby's swimming pool, and the big shed his friend built and almost got someone to transport when he moved but wound up leaving it in the contract for less money than he had into it, I was finally able to get to the air pump and fill up that replacement tire. It was now at least 10:00PM, or 9:00PM, the time change had me tricked the whole time. Just as I was setting up my third set of makeshift board ramps on this trip, this 17 year old kid named Connor pulled in to the empty parking and asked if he could use my phone, to which I replied, "sure man." I got back to business and Connor returned the phone after a minute or two, then asked if I wouldn't mind staying with him for just a few minutes in case one of his parents called him back. His car had broken down and his phone was dead. I told him I had to change my tire anyway, so it was no big deal. We took a look under the hood of his car too, I think maybe the oil pump went out. Anyway, he let me use his jack. I showed him how to plug a puncture hole in a tire, and we had a nice little visit while I got everything squared away. Connor politely replied, "Yes Sir" to almost everything I said and I was almost taken back by his manners. I was going to give him a ride home, but someone finally called just before it was time to go. After he got home, I received this text message from him, "Hey FW it's Connor, I just wanted to let you know I'm home safe and that I appreciate your help, just so I don't worry too much, could you just send me a message letting me know when you're safe in Knoxville, and then back home with your family? I'll be praying for you the whole way."

I had noticed the new tire was a little wonky within the first 5 seconds of driving, the rim was probably bent, because it rattled the whole trailer and the truck along with it. There wasn't anything I could really do at that point, so I just rolled on and hoped for the best. After another long night in the truck, I made it to Knoxville by morning to meet with a new client and made it safely home by late afternoon.



P.S., I came home to some terrible news. The Kohl Family Farm, a local butt-bustin' organic farming family who I've mentioned in the past suffered a terrible and tragic loss to over half of their dairy goat herd in one night. Click here to read more and help them out. They deserve it and there's an important message for anyone into self-sustainability.
Brinn took this picture last year of Spencer Kohl and his daughter Meredith on their farm near our home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


A lot of cool stuff is going on in the I Built That world. I have to catch you up on a lot of things, make some updates, show some pictures and talk about some really cool people I met last weekend at The Urban Chicken down in Raleigh. For now though, I just want to say I'm putting together a real website. The address is: www.ibuiltthatbackyardbuilder.com. I know it's long, but "ibuiltthat.com" costs a small fortune. It isn't finished yet, but maybe you could check it out and tell me what you think, what it needs, etc.

See you soon!


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Shaved: using steam to make ice

*There's a really cool video at the end, don't skip it!

So, last summer I was working late with Coulter (the guy who suffered through the sweltering NJ trip with me in Helga Beast) behind the house when he told me how he had always wanted to open a little shaved ice stand out here. Coulter comes from Utah, where everybody knows somebody who's running some kind of entrepreneurial venture, and shaved ice stands are almost as plentiful as church steeples. Maybe I was especially parched that night, but the idea sounded fantastic so I immediately escalated the situation to the next level, "Dude, screw buying some stupid stand, just buy an old trailer and I'll build a friggin' sweet shack on it!" Next thing you know, we're driving up the valley to buy some old camper-turned-homemade-utility trailer we'd found on Craigslist. As with everything I've ever done, this project is going to be about as far from ordinary as you can get.

We started with some pretty basic ideas, keep the design simple, light weight and above all, low cost. We've since thrown the first two ideas completely under the bus, or trailer I should say, but the last one we're totally sticking to.

This was the last basic sketch I had before striking it rich in a creative "gold mine".

The trailer build was supposed to take place during my "downtime" over the winter, which never really came. Then it was supposed to be the first thing I would build in the barn, once it was finished, but that still hasn't happened quite yet; so, I'm just going for it. Since this is going to be a rolling representation of my handiwork, it needs to lay down more style points than you can touch with a ten foot pole. Just when I was starting to think I might be a little crazy for wanting to build something nobody else had done, I took to the internet and found all these awesome trailers that looked kinda similar to the one I wanted to do. Did this settle my nerves? Let's just say, no. It made me think I wasn't crazy enough, so I stewed up this hair-brained idea to build a shack with a steam bent framework and a curvy roof with hand-split steam-bent shingles. It's a little nuts, but it's going to be the most adventurous thing I've done so far. If I had a sketch I might show you, but this idea's too good for paper.

A few highlights from the interwebs...
Dang... that's kinda like what I was gonna do, so I'm NOT crazy...
Wait, that guy's crazier than me?

...maybe it's time for me to get some better duties...
Lastly, a video about steam bending. If I sound like I know what I'm talking about, it's because I spent a solid 20 to 30 minutes reading online forum discussions followed by a Youtube video or two on the subject... so I'm basically a highly trained expert.

Come back soon, and share this stuff with your friends please, I'm trying to make a living here!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

A "Tubing" Disaster

 *New barn video at the bottom of this post

So I missed a few points in my last post, and I know it's boring to talk about yourself all the time. Let me just say then, that the real conclusion to the whole "I quit my job, boo boo boo, I have ADD" piece is that I turned that frown upside down. Routines, schedules, plans and I go together like oil and water. That's the beauty of it though, the very things that made me a poor fit in the public school system, make me a perfect fit for what I'm doing now. Every day presents a unique problem with a unique solution, zany-braininess is no longer a liability, it's an asset. My "different way" of doing things isn't jeopardizing my job stability, it's the very essence of it.

On that note, I feel impressed to share a funny story with you about the F.W. Willis way of doing things. I told this story in church today (2-3 members of our congregation are asked to present a "talk" each week, instead of hearing from the same person every Sunday). So many people approached me afterwords to tell me how they, "didn't fall asleep during [my] talk" that I thought you might enjoy the story as well. It's a true story about a tubing disaster.

About 6 or 7 months into our marriage, Brinn and I (mostly just I, actually) decided it would be a killer idea to have a Memorial Day tubing adventure. We had only lived in the area a short while, but I knew the best places to put in and take out of the river, figuring the trip couldn't take more than a few hours. We invited some friends of ours, a husband and wife with a 9 month old baby, and planned to park one vehicle packed without picnic supplies at the takeout point. Not having any proper tubes, I assured everyone there was nothing to worry about, all we needed to do was pick up a couple cheap, inflatable air mattresses from Wal-Mart and we'd be all set.

As I recall, we arrived at Jordan's Point Park in Lexington sometime around mid morning. I remember this because there was a guy just coming in from fishing, who stopped to watch the group of people in bathing suits blowing up their cheap, inflatable air mattresses from Wal-Mart at the water's edge. Somewhere in our brief exchange of words, he may have mentioned something about the water being lower than he'd ever seen it before, but I shrugged it off as "iffy" information at best from someone who, for all I knew, could have been a total idiot. With that, we set off, Brinn and I on one mattress, our friends and their baby on the other. At this point I should also mention, our provisions for this excursion amounted to exactly nothing, save for some sunscreen I had applied to my back and the one diaper the baby was wearing. Still, we weren't worried, because somebody knew someone else who's friends had done this very trip, and it only took them two hours. We'd be at our picnic in no time.

About an hour into our trip, we grew slightly alarmed at the fact that we could still see the bridge where we had put in. "Maybe we should start paddling with our feet or something", I announced to the group, "at least until we get through this slow part." I had walked along the river previously, at least far enough to know that the first stretch of water was almost stagnant behind the remnants of an old canal boat lock. The river tumbled over the remnants of the old lock, now a flood-dispersed field of massive water-worn stones, in a gently flowing rapid. "This is the fun part", I said as we approached the gentle rapid, "after this we'll probably zip right along". Not only did we fail to pick up speed in the rapid, we came to a complete stop. The water too low to carry us over the rocks, we picked up our mattresses and stumbled down to the next pool of slowly moving water. Gradually, we began to realize our picnic might be further off than we had planned.

Somewhere around the second or third hour, we encountered what seemed like the 400th set of riffles, or really long, shallow baby rapids for all ye land lubbers. In a canoe or kayak, these can be irritating, as you never quite know if they're passable until you get hung up, in which case you have to get out and drag your craft to more navigable waters. On a cheap, inflatable air mattress from Wal-Mart, however, they can be downright treacherous. So it went for us, on the 400th riffle of the day, as Brinn and I slid our way across what could have passed for a cobblestone street in a heavy rainstorm; WHOOSH, as we sank the entire 6 inches to the river bottom. Now, don't assume that 6 inches of water isn't enough to knock you off your feet, because I assure you, it is.

As I wrestled for balance amidst the tangled wreckage of our deflated mattress, I noticed our companions, close behind, about to encounter the same fate. Maybe I warned them to abandon ship, maybe they took the empty-sack-like appearance of our vessel as a clue; either way, they quickly found themselves struggling to shift from prone floating positions to upright standing positions amidst the current and slippery river stone footing. Maybe the husband got up first, which suddenly offset the mattress, I don't know. All I can say for sure is that somehow the mother wound up on her back, in the water, holding the baby up with one arm as she succumbed to the 6 inch deep current. I lunged forward to grab the baby, which I did successfully, but then found myself falling in like manner. By this point the mother was up on her feet and able to regain control of the baby. Somewhere in the melee I lost one of my flip-flops.

The cheap inflatable air mattress from Wal-Mart, as pictured on the company's website, apparently doubles as a magical, levitating hovercraft. I asked if this mattress could be "used a a flotation device" on their online Q&A forum under the pseudonym RiverCamper. Pending approval, my question should be posted in the next 24 hours.

Now we're hours into the day, down a cheap, inflatable air mattress from Wal-Mart, a flip-flop and a bit of confidence, and we had no choice but to carry on. The only real gauge we had for how far we'd traveled was that we knew I-81 crossed the river somewhere, probably about halfway to our destination point. Thankfully, we were beginning to hear the distant drone of semi-trucks crossing the massive river gorge. Attempting to calm every one's spirits, I knowingly announced, "That's the bridge, we'll probably see it in a couple minutes" every time we heard a distant truck for the next hour or two. Apparently, big bridges work some type of voo-doo physics over water or something to where they can be heard for hundreds of miles. I know this as a fact, because we surely traveled no less than 100 miles by the time we actually passed under the bridge.

What should have been reason to pause for celebration, only served as a mile marker of our pain. The other husband and I had resorted to clinging to the remaining cheap, inflatable air mattress from Wal-Mart while working a modified scissor kick in the water to propel the party forward. At one point, the baby's mother foraged a length of two-by-four out of the water and began using it as a makeshift paddle. All this, and the worst was still yet to come.

Some sort of geological shift occurs in the Maury River at or around the point at which Interstate 81 crosses over it. The most tell tale sign of this shift, evident in the rocky outcroppings viewed from the highway, is the presence of massive bedrock slabs along the river's floor. This bedrock, some sort of demon shale I presume, partially resembles a shark's scales, if they were 100 feet wide, one foot thick and placed the precise distance apart so as to allow a grown man's foot to slide down the backside of one before bringing his shin to a screeching halt against the jagged edge of the next one. Adding insult to injury, the water was just high enough to obscure these underwater death traps without giving any indication of their presence. Aiding the river in its mockery of our mortal foolishness was the sun, angling low in the sky, reflecting a cruel mirage of false security. One minute, we're scissor kicking along when BANG, a stone induced laceration to the shoulder. The next minute we're up, wading the un-swim-able minefield when SLIP, BANG, bloody shins.

By now, the only thing we knew for sure was that we were probably, hopefully, at least halfway to our picnic. Despite the fact that it was now approaching twilight, I think at least some of us felt we might still be able to pull the whole picnic thing off. As the sky continued to turn and the light continued to fade, we began talking exit strategies. We had reason to believe there may have been a road somewhere near the river, as we seemed to have heard the occasional vehicle pass by through the forest. It may have been headlights that tipped us off to the relative certainty of not only the road's existence, but it's distance from the river as well. When it seemed the road was as close as it was going to get, we all agreed to look for the best place to climb out, bushwhack it to the road and walk to our refuge or solicit a ride along the way.

Surprisingly, the first opportunity we found to exit the river, now flanked by steep, muddy banks, came in the form of some redneck's makeshift dock with an even more makeshift ladder leading up the -near vertical- bank to it. Being the first one to the ladder, I offered to take the baby up with me, in hopes of alleviating his mother's efforts to climb the ladder with him. Of course, everything was going smoothly until I was at about eye-level with the skimpy dock. Sure enough, CRACK, the makeshift ladder had detached itself from the makeshift dock and begun a rapid decent into the river. The only thing I could think to do in the moment, was thrust the baby forward and upward as I went down with the ladder. The baby landed safely on his butt atop the platform, while the ladder wedged snugly into the mud along the river bank, just a few feet below it's origin. I clambered back up, the others followed and we kissed dry land for the first time in about 8 hours.

Perhaps the most memorable portion of the whole day, was the five of us walking down a quiet, barren country road in the dark. With our bare feet on the weathered asphalt, we could still feel the warmth of the hot day's sun. The stars were out, they were beautiful and bright enough to light our way and I want to say there were fireflies, thousands of them; but that may be a construct of my imagination. The baby was quiet, I think the only time he cried the entire day was when I launched him onto the redneck dock. We walked in silence, only breaking it to mention how beautiful the night was until we came upon a man in his yard, hosing off a boat, or a truck, or some piece of equipment under the light of a lamp post. "Stuck in the river?", he asked, without giving us a second glance. "Yeah, you could say that", we responded. At that, we piled into the back of his truck and rode, with the night air cooling our soggy bodies, to the second car, parked with our picnic in the dark.

The End.

P.S., 7 1/2 years later, I started building this barn:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

5 Things You Maybe Didn't Know About ADD (or just me)

Loyal followers, bear with me as I cover some old tracks for all the strangers out there. Strangers, I used to be a school teacher. I went to college, got a Master's Degree, sat in faculty meetings, all that. Then I quit. Why? It's complicated. Actually, it's not; I have ADHD (as mentioned in the last post), I thought I could lick it, but I don't think I ever will. That's why. I had a story to share that sorta made my principal look dense, but I've decided to forgo that story because in the end, I'm man enough to admit that I wasn't doing a good job, at least not in a way that mattered to many people.

Before we move on, however, I need expose the core of this matter a little further, because it gets at what I'm doing here in the first place. So without further delay, here are 5 things you maybe didn't know:

  1. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) also known as ADD (at least it used to be, maybe not anymore?) is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That's the big one from back in 1990 that says stuff like, places need to be wheelchair accessible and all that. I don't think most people people with ADHD consider themselves disabled by any means, but there it is.
  2. ADHD is genetic and must be diagnosed in your childhood (or retroactively diagnosed I suppose) for it to "count". In other words, if you were a normal kid and now you just forget stuff all the time, you're a screw up. If you were an ADD kid and now you forget stuff all the time, you're like 80% of the other ADD kids who carry the exact same symptoms -with greater, adult consequences- with them throughout their entire lives.
  3. ADHD isn't a blanket label for "spazzy", hyperactive kids with 4 second attention spans. See, there's something in your noggin called a prefrontal cortex, it's the part in charge of "executive function", or figuring out what you're going to do and doing it. In the ADD brain, the prefrontal cortex is constantly searching for stimulation, like a squirrel looking for a nut. Your squirrel probably finds a few nuts, lines them up and spends its day eating them. My squirrel needs a trainer, it's called Adderall.
  4. Over 50% of adults with ADHD also suffer from anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders. That whole squirrel looking for a nut thing? Maybe the squirrel in my brain isn't Spazzy McGee looking for his nuts. Maybe he's a diligent worker, trying really hard to find just one flippin' nut, all day, every day, but he rarely finds one. My squirrel is smart, hardworking, focused, but he can't show it because there just aren't many nuts in his forest. That's how I feel sometimes. Highly capable, but unlikely to succeed. Kinda frustrating, sad at times, but I'm really not a pessimist; I just get the blues sometimes.
  5. 60% of adults with ADHD claim it has led to the loss of a job at some point, while over a third claim to have had more than 4 jobs in ten years. For some it gets even worse. Adults with ADHD often have difficulty following instructions, getting things done on time and getting along with others; which difficulties often exacerbate issues in work, social and marital relationships.
Too much doom and gloom? I agree. I'm sharing all this because I think it might help you understand me, or maybe someone else you know who could use a little understanding. I also want to share that I just don't care too much about what other people think or say. I love doing things differently, I just about live for it. In the case of this blog, this business, whatever it is, it's different. It's me.

---totally shifting gears below---

I haven't shown this yet, have I? I built this little garden shed as a donation item for a fundraiser auction in Lexington a few months ago. The people who bought it run a bed and breakfast outside of Lexington, they put it in the center of their box garden. It took 5 or 6 dudes to lift the thing up over the fence to get it into position.

This box lock came straight off a bedroom door of an old house in Buena Vista that's going to be torn down.

The hinges came off of an old barn door that I picked up somewhere.

All the siding is hand-split white oak. This is the way they used to do clapboard siding. The word clapboard actually comes from the old German word klapphoult, where klappen means to split and holt means wood.

I built the whole top section as a single unit that could be lifted off and on, which made it a lot easier when it came time to lift the whole thing over the fence at the B&B.
Here's a live action shot. Brinn was over there on some business. You can see how quick the cedar shakes start to fade in the sun.
I do have another barn video ready at this very moment, but I think it would be a little much to just add it on. Tomorrow should be a chilled out snowday, so I will try to do a back to back post for you.


PS, look to the right, up at the top there. Type in your email address to follow me. I will make it worth your time, which shouldn't be hard because it only takes like, 8 seconds.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jordy Gibbons

When I realized I had gone an entire month without updating the blog, I thought, "I'm going to write about what it's like to be an adult with ADHD." So I did. Then, at two months I thought, "Now I'm really going to write about what it's like to have ADHD." Which meant I was finally going to submit the long post I had already written and saved. But I didn't. Suffice it to say, it's not just some make believe diagnosis, it can severely impact peoples lives and they make these awesome little pills that almost make it go away, if you can afford them. Anyway, as the title suggests, I want to talk about Jordy Gibbons. So I will.

Yesterday was the last day of Jordy's high school semester. Jordy, for those of you who don't know, was my mentee; or, protege if you will. He asked if he could  do his program with me back in May when he came out to help with the Wack Attack playhouse. This program is supposed to be some kind of opportunity for kids to go out and shadow a career or something, I guess. Some might call it an excuse to get out of school early every afternoon, I never dabbled in that kind of tomfoolery, so I can't say.

Jordy started out as a willing helper and wound up my second hand man by the end of the semester. I'm not ashamed to say that I really don't like being up high on stuff. Luckily, Jordy is part spider monkey and basically ran circles around the roof of the barn for the past two weeks, while I crawled around on all four. It's too bad he had to go, because he was starting to pull some serious weight around here. Jordy also opened my eyes to the world of high end ginger ale; specifically, Blenheim Ginger Ale (or The 'Heim as I like to call it), the hottest knock-your-socks-off ale on the market.

Despite all the praise I can heap upon Jordy, the one thing I really want to get across, the thing that impresses me the most about him, is that he is the type of guy who is genuinely respectful and nice to everyone and totally cool at the same time. Jordy's parents are -by his own admission- super cool as well, and not in the "we let our kids do whatever they want so they'll think we're cool" kind of way, but in the more difficult "we're open, honest, respectful and loving all the time" kind of way. In short, I want Georgie to grow up and be Jordy, and I want my kids to get along with me the way Jordy gets along with his Dad. I don't think I'm doing a great job so far, but I know where I want to be, so I have to thank my mentee for that.

Just so you know we haven't been totally screwing around, here's a few pics. Also, we're sitting on a bunch of video footage that will be put together to continue the pole barn video series. Sorry about the long wait...
This one's a repeat, but dang. I feel like the barn's been dragging on forever, I guess it's not that bad though considering this was a month or two into the semester.
Laying some decking down in the loft.
The roof has been the longest part of this process by far, largely due to my unconventional, highly labor (and time) intensive choice of roofing. I'll go into it later.
It's going to be most old-timey looking barn (at least from the outside) in the county. If I'm lucky, it will even keep a little rain out.
You might remember my mentioning way back about Jordy's rock and roll band. It's already impressive for a 17 year-old to be able to say he's had a band for almost 6 years; but these dudes topped it off by recording their first album over Thanksgiving break. I've listened to it about 15 times, let me just say this; it's more than impressive and they deserve a lot of respect for it. They have a Facebook page here. I think you can listen to a little snippet of the album here too.

As for the rest of you, maybe you should subscribe to this blog so you can get friendly reminders when I post the rest of the barn videos and stuff like that. I've been a slackey blogger lately, but I've been cooking some major stuff up. So it's coming.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Top Ten Breakdowns

*Pole Barn Video #2 is at the bottom of this post if you want to skip all the jib-jab. 

On Halloween, I was digging poles out from under a dilapidated tree house near Lexington when my phone rang. It was Brinn. "Once again", she reminded me, I had left her car in the driveway with absolutely no gas in it. She had to stop to fill up, which meant I would have to pick Georgie up from school in the truck (with trailer attached), since she would now be late. As I rushed into town, I noticed that I too was running exceptionally low on fuel (surprise). Not wanting to make a bad situation worse, I decided to risk it, as I'm known to do from time to time. I made it to the school, took a spot in the massive, two lane traffic jam of mini vans and SUV's and waited for Georgie to come running out. Of course, as soon as the traffic cleared and I put the truck in gear, "flub-a-dub-bub", the truck's out of gas. I tried restarting it. I tried banging my head against the steering wheel. I even pulled an old hot rodder trick by turning the engine over with the clutch engaged (which causes the starter motor to move the entire vehicle off the battery) just to get the truck out of the way, which only bought me enough forward momentum to lodge the trailer in a flower bed.

All of this, and yet, not the most embarrassing breakdown I've ever had. Time for a top ten:

Some of these I have to borrow from friends and family, because they're just too applicable.

10: My mom once ran the same vehicle out of gas twice, on the same day.

9: In high school, my friend Jeromey ran his van out of gas on a kinda major highway at 1 or 2AM. Luckily, we had just enough speed to eek over the crest of a hill, before coasting a mile or so downhill, taking a clover leaf exit ramp at 70MPH, scooting into a barren, downtown Leesburg, VA and praying for a station within rolling distance. When we almost lost our momentum coming up a tiny hill, all the passengers waited for the precise moment to jump out of the moving vehicle and run along side of it to get it over the hill. It worked.

8: This one's an all inclusive dedication to the numerous times I've buried truck tires, lodged  a trailer, run something over or otherwise broken down in someone's backyard on a chicken coop delivery.

7: Once, while hunting on a friend's 100 acre farm, I discovered upon returning to the Green Machine that she would not start. Thankfully, I had positioned her at the top of a large sloping pasture, worried something like this might have occurred. Regretfully, the grass was a little wet so every time I tried to pop it into gear to jump start the old girl, she just tore huge muddy skid marks down the hill. She wound up stuck at the bottom of the hill, leaving me with a 15 minute walk of shame and a long night of tinkering.

6: The Green Machine once had a crack in the sidewall of one of her tires. I knew it was bad news, but of course I pushed my luck and tried to squeeze a few more miles out of it. One day, I was cruising out in the country with Georgie when the whole thing exploded. I had to hitch a ride back in to Lexington, toting 6-month-old Georgie in his little car seat.

5: I tried to squeeze a delivery in between thunderstorms over the summer. About 4 minutes down the road, Helga Beast ran out of gas. Of course it had to be the stretch of two lane highway through the woods with no shoulder or pullouts, and just as we were about to crest a small hill. No sooner had we rolled to a stop than the heavens opened and poured out the most terrific downpour you've ever seen, bringing darkness with it. I had a 40 minute walk back to the house in the pouring rain, at night.

4: Back when I was teaching, I had a tendency to run a little late in the mornings. Frosty windshields always compounded the problem. I quickly realized the inadequacy of my hasty maneuvering one day; when, after scraping just enough glass to see my way out of the driveway, I was suddenly confronted with a wall of white. The window had refrozen, which is doubly bad due to the intense fog we experience being so close to the river in a mountain valley. I rolled down my window and stuck my head out, watching the yellow lines immediately in front of the truck for guidance. When I thought I had gone about as far as the pullout where we throw our trash in the public dumpsters, I gradually slowed and began veering off the road. I had missed it by about 30 yards, I discovered, as I slammed both passenger side wheels into the drainage pipe marking the entrance to the lot. The sound was not pretty, the result was even worse. Both tires destroyed, one wheel bent, and least of all I was late for school.

3: I recently mentioned this one in passing. A couple weeks ago, I took my friend (perhaps former friend after this excursion) Ron out to a place where a guy we know had a bunch of utility poles piled up. He was letting us take them for free, but the catch was we had to get down the hill behind his house to where they were piled. We surveyed the route, made our plan and plowed down the hill through the brush and leaves. After an hour or so of heavy lifting, we started to talk about how we might get the now heavily laden truck and trailer back up the hill. The best route seemed to be a swing through the woods, out through the pasture to pick up speed, then a daring dash up a steep climb interrupted by a short outcropping of bedrock. It didn't work. After the 2nd or 3rd try, the guy and his wife had gathered at the top of the hill to laugh at our attempts.

Eventually, the motor gave way. I figured we had finally killed Helga Beast, but luckily, it turned out to be something with the carburetor and the engine being overheated. As a last ditch effort, the owner of the house, now at the bottom of the hill with us said, "Oh, we're gonna give it one last try alright... but this time I'm drivin'". He gave Helga Beast all she could handle and I heard her make sounds I didn't know she could make. By the end of it, we had to pull the old girl the rest of the way up the hill with a Toyota. She had completely busted a brake line, totally dislodged the entire exhaust pipe and was sucking for a like a wheezy fat kid during the mile run at school. We drove her home, no brakes, loud as a Harley, wheezing the whole way..

2: This one I already told you, getting stranded in the pickup line at Georgie's school with the trailer over the curb and halfway into the median.

1: This one seriously takes the cake. When I was working at the museum, I had a 40 mile commute each way on I-81. At the time, they were widening some of the long, uphill stretches to 3 lanes. As a result, vast spans of open highway were reduced to two lane tunnels, blocked in on either side by cement barriers. Every half mile or so they threw in some emergency pull-offs; otherwise, there was no way to get off the road if something happened. Of course, something happened. I ran the Diesel (the 1986 Mercedes Diesel I drove for 8 months) out of fuel right smack dab in the middle of one of these death tunnels. As I slowly coasted up hill to a stop, I spied the next emergency pull-off about 30 yards away. I hopped out and started pushing as hard as I could while tractor trailers whizzed around, praying their drivers wouldn't be texting or changing the radio station as they came around the curve. Just as I thought I couldn't push any further, I felt a surge. Two guys had stopped their truck behind me and got out to help push. They then gave me a ride to the gas station, where I was able to fill an old soap bottle with some diesel fuel. A couple of real, genuinely good guys, they wouldn't let me pay them but insisted I pass it on by helping the next guy. Which I did a few days later in nearly the same spot.

In other news, I'm still building a barn. As seen below:

Unloading some more poles. To get the total I needed, I wound up picking out some natural logs from the firewood yard down the road. I got one monster cedar post and a long, gangly locust log that no one has been able to drive a nail into because it's so tough.
Wyoming wanted to help me out.
Awkward pose time, Brinn likes the letters and stuff stamped into the poles.
When the work is done, it's time for some baby kisses. I know I'm publicly divulging my only weakness, but I have to say, I could have been typing lesson plans for some cranky witch of a boss right now if I hadn't quit teaching. I'll take lifting heavy poles and kissing babies.
The walls are coming along. I had a whole crew of guys out here on Saturday, but I'm saving those progress shots for the next post.
Last but not least, a video update. It's a little quiet, and pretty boring. We'll try harder next time.

Pole Barn Episode 2-Spiderman from Brinn Willis on Vimeo.

See you soon,