Thursday, December 08, 2005

Something Constructive

Hello my friends. I would like to apologize for going postless (better than postal!) for so long. In the past month, I have completed a major project (keep reading for details), experienced a death in my extended family, and kept a promise to visit my friend Ray (remember Katy?), which was delayed for several months. Finally, at long last, I am back with a new post! I am happy to present to you, hopefully for your viewing pleasure :), a selection of the many pictures that I took to document the largest construction project that my two hands have ever built. So, please sit back, relax, and enjoy the show! (Disclaimer: An occasional mouse activation will be required for maximum enjoyment.)

To begin the program, here are two photos of the way things looked before I began the work. Well, to be honest, the handrails on the stair were falling off, so I removed all of them and then temporarily reattached the ones on the right. Please take note of the yawning chasm at the base of the stair, and the artfully curved and rotated lower half of the stair. The hill is mostly fine sand, which had shifted quite a bit over time, and literally moved and deformed the stair as it shifted! Note also the prime botanical specimens which once called this stair "home sweet home". Not shown, are the multiple three foot tall yucca plants (I will show you one of these monsters in a later photo) that had grown into the stair, which I had already laboriously dug out. They are really nasty plants, and damn near impossible to kill! They kept growing new shoots from their tangled web of tuberous roots. I finally put them down (dead, dead, DEAD!) with some RoundUp herbicide. Normally, I hate using chemical poisons, but this stuff is sprayed on the leaves of the plant and it kills the roots.

Ok, now for some improvements. After a lot of thought about what could be done to remediate the problem of future sand shifting, I decided that the best solution was to construct a substructure in the form of a terrace to contain the sand under the lower half of the new stair. I have a picture of the giant hole that I had to dig (with my trusty rusty spades) in the hillside, but sadly it didn't make the final cut (hey, I have about 45 pics in all, and it was quite a job to load these 15!). So, in this photo, I have installed the wooden terrace structure, which I assembled elsewhere and wheeled down the hill and into place. Also, shown is one of eight new posts to which the new stair and handrails will be attached. Each post is supported by an 8"x8" concrete block set at the bottom of a three foot deep hole. The posts are held in position laterally (as you can see) by a bag's worth of post setting concrete which I poured into an improvised form.

Here, the project is a bit further along. I have installed all the posts and the new stair stringers (beams). The wood on the ground are old stair treads which I placed temporarily to give me something to walk on. Trying to walk up and down a steep hill of loose sand is a skill that I have yet to master (digging holes in that damn sand wasn't much fun either)!

Well, here we have a perfect example of why stairs and dock ramps on the shore of this lake are mostly shot to hell (possible future projects for me!). This lake lies right next to the main river that flows through Indianapolis. Sometimes, the river rises high enough several times a year to flood the lake. When a flood happens, the very antiquated and unhygienic combined storm drain and sewer system of Indianapolis dumps tons of raw sewage into the river, some of which ends up in this lake! Nasty!! The water really rises high. I would estimate that the water is something like 12 feet higher in this photo compared with the previous one! See that big green bushy thing to the right of the stair? That is a yucca. Even floods will not kill those things!

Ok, at this point, the flood has receded and I am back to work. I have removed the old dock ramp and hauled the partially rotten debris to the city landfill. What I am doing here is sinking reinforced concrete footings near the lake to support the weight of the new ramp and also to anchor it in place against future floods. Wood that is submerged has a great deal of bouyancy (tendency to float). I precast these footings elsewhere and moved them into place with my wheeled dolly. They weighed about 200 pounds each and were nearly beyond my ability to lift, but I managed, and thankfully did not herniate myself! I have not shown the pictures of digging these holes. That was quite a pain! The holes were nearly three feet deep, but about one foot below the surface was the level of the lake. Thus, digging down one foot resulted in a hole full of water! I used a large round plastic cylinder (former water softener tank) to keep the hole from collapsing as I dug below the water. That water still stank from the flood too!

Here, both footings are in place and I have set a form of scrap wood to cast a reinforced concrete beam between the footings to give the foundation extra weight and stability.

Here, the concrete beam has been cast and I have set a temporary jig to hold the anchor bolts in position at each end for the next concrete placement.

Behold the finished foundation. Doesn't she look solid? Like a rock! :)

Here, I have skipped ahead a bit. I constructed a wood frame for the new ramp, had some really solid hinge pieces fabricated at a local steel shop, and then, I had to put everything together. Getting this ramp frame in place was definitely not a one man show! I have several cousins in the Indianapolis area who make me look small, and I am no 98 pound weakling. One of them owed me a big favor for helping him move (twice!). So, with our combined hefting ability, some help from my sturdy wheeled dolly and the hill itself, we got that sucker into place and all hinged together in a single afternoon. It was definitely "Miller Time" (cheap American beer) after that, but seeing as neither of us are big beer drinkers, we toasted our success with more Gatorade (it was a hot day!).

Moving along, I have started to attach the deck boards to the ramp frame. Also, you can see the completed frame of the platform to which the ramp is connected.

Here is a detail shot of one of the ramp hinges. Those steel plates are 1/4 inch thick and the hinge pin is a 1.5 inch diameter solid steel bar. I had originally planned to use steel pipes, but the steel fabricator screwed up and made the hinge plate holes too big, so they threw in the solid bars at no charge. The ends of the bars were later secured with large steel rings to keep the pin in place during many years of anticipated flooding.

The next three pictures are "money" shots of the completed project (yes, I did bill for my services, actually there were several bills for this job!). This work is solid! Well, what can I say, I am an engineer, after all. :) Oh, one more thing, I did a bit of repair and reinforcement work on the dock, but it was basically in good shape. In the spring, it will be cleaned and sealed with the same wood preservative that I applied to all the new wood. The wood is treated to resist rot (at the factory), but the sun will damage its surface unless it is stained or sealed. Thanks for checking out my handiwork!


Blogger Dr O2 said...

staring down these stairs it feels like not all steps down lead to losses!

P.S: that's a tricky post David :-) where has this photo been taken??

a nice come back man.

12/06/2005 2:26 AM  
Blogger David said...

Dr O2, you are really quick man! Somehow, you managed to comment before I even finished the post!! Hey, I guess you caught me while I was uploading the pictures. Now, you can enjoy the entire post in all its glory! :)

12/08/2005 3:11 AM  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Wow. Quite a project. No wonder you haven't been sitting at your computer blogging. It looks like such an idyllic spot, too, in your photos. Of course, I am a little sorry for the poor weeds (I think I see some nice mullein in your early photos). And I like yucca, what can I say? Around here some folks plant it as an ornamental (contrasts with our usual forest flora). It does have pretty flowers, great towers of waxy ivory white bells.

12/08/2005 8:31 PM  
Blogger David said...

Jarvenpa, I'm glad you found the project interesting. :) I am not really the Weed Terminator that I made myself out to be. I actually wouldn't mind having a garden area of assorted weeds someday. I like variety in size, color, shape, etc. What I dislike the most is vast areas of lawn. A lawn is like an ecological wasteland, in my opinion. I love to see all sorts of little plants and creatures coexisting. You are right that yucca has very pretty flowers, I like them too. However, behind each flower can grow a seed pod with hundreds of seeds, many of which will germinate. The story that I got about that particular patch of yucca was that they just started growing there all by themselves some years ago. I suspect that a seed floated in with a flood. Now, there are about a dozen full grown yuccas and many more little ones. They are really invasive!

12/08/2005 11:26 PM  
Blogger Dr O2 said...

Wow David!!! this is an artistic masterpiece!! I have always enjoyed carpentery but this makes me rethink it & stay with my own subject!! this has been sth that I could never manage! well done dude.

12/09/2005 2:16 PM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks Dr O2!! I am quite flattered that you find my work artistic! A masterpiece? Well, I don't know, but thanks for that as well. :) Actually, there were many times when I was having feelings other than joy (like pain or exasperation!) during the course of this project, but the desire to finish the creation helped me to push on to the end. I am interested to know what sorts of things that you like to build out of wood?

12/10/2005 1:08 AM  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Good, david, glad you are not wholly anti-weed. I am a great fan of vacant lots, myself, and plants (like your yuccas) that manage to spring up and spread. My naturalist friends try to instruct me on the error of my ways (I have a fondness for bad weeds, also bad birds, I am told--ones that eat the eggs of songbirds). They'd agree with you about lawns (I agree with you there as well). Round up is pretty scary stuff though.
With the ability you reveal in this project I am absolutely certain you'd have no trouble at all building a house someday.

12/10/2005 3:24 AM  
Blogger David said...

Jarvenpa, I think that I could build part of a house at this point. Enclosing a space with a foundation, floor, walls, and roof is within my ability. However, I would definitely need some help with plumbing and electrical installation. I have some knowledge of both, but not enough to pass code based inspections. But, I am still learning. :) Thanks for your encouragement!

I have recently seen TV commercials for RoundUp ready corn. This is either specially bred or genetically modified corn that can't be killed by RoundUp. Now, that is scary to me! I think that farmers are already using thousands of tons of RoundUp. Something like this will just increase its usage. I am quite worried about the use of pesticites and herbicides on farms. Some of those chemicals persist in the environment long after their application. They may not be as bad as DDT, but still I wonder about potential harm to the environment. I only used the RoundUp as a last resort, and I carefully targeted it. Farmers just soak the ground with the stuff!

12/11/2005 2:26 AM  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Glad you are being careful with Round Up (but to my mind it is kind of like being careful with plutonium). Yes, Round Up Ready corn is genetically engineered; there were some test plots planted not very far from where I live, and much controversy about them. Local farmers (not doing the tests) were really upset because of the potential of pollen drift. (all too technical for me, but concerning).
As to that future house--well, you have shown you have skill and intelligence, so you can probably learn plumbing and electrical stuff. (or find some good friends to help).

12/11/2005 9:43 PM  
Blogger Dr O2 said...

David Iranian traditional carpentary has some artistic cuts through wood which has always kept me interested. I would like work of such more while I have sometimes enjoyed a fun session of making me wooden chair or a small desk. Nth special to it as they jus involved cutting, nailing & painting ;-)

12/14/2005 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

really nice!!

12/21/2005 3:35 PM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks Foulla! :)

12/21/2005 11:21 PM  
Anonymous Khodadad said...

Hey David!

Sorry for not having visited you in such a long time. I was dead busy, as you know. I am finally done with everything and hopefully taking it a bit easy.

First of all, congrats on the monster project. Man, you never write about your profession, and it is impressive to know I have such a talented friend. Great job! I should keep you in mind for my water front Villa!:P

Also, have a Merry Christmas and a very very happy new year my friend

12/25/2005 3:27 AM  
Blogger The Humanity Critic said...

Happy Holidays!!

12/25/2005 9:38 AM  
Blogger Sima said...

Hi David!
It's been a long time since I have visited your blog, and oh boy what a long post too! :-))))

Thank you for your Yalda wishes. I wish you a wonderful Christmas. Happy holidays my friend.

12/25/2005 3:08 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Khodadad! No worries mate! :) I know you've been really busy. I'm glad you got everything wrapped up. You have earned a nice rest, enjoy it! Thanks very much for your compliments to my project and my abilities! I'll be happy to help you out with your Magnificant Villa. Maybe it'll be profiled on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous! :P

Thanks HC!!

Dear Sima, it is so nice of you to visit me! :)) A long post indeed! You're lucky I only posted 15 pics! ;) You are most welcome and thanks for your wishes as well my friend!

12/27/2005 1:18 AM  
Blogger Lavinia said...

WOW, David what a huge project! I love watching them DIY/home improvement shows but I'm all thumbs when it comes to doing it myself.

The final product looks professional, stylish and most importantly Safe. I would not have had the guts to walk down the steps in the 'before' pictures, no way.

Good job David. You're so multitalented.

12/28/2005 3:09 AM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Lavinia,

Actually, I learned much of what I know about construction from DIY shows. I've been watching them for years. Engineering school teaches people how to calculate, not how to build anything! I think that even people with extra thumbs can learn to be handy. All it takes is practice. :) Thanks for your appreciation! :)

12/29/2005 2:03 PM  
Blogger Melantrys said...

Happy birthday!

1/01/2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger David said...

Well hello Melantrys! Your birthday wish is such a nice surprise! ;) Thanks!!

1/02/2006 12:29 AM  
Blogger Melantrys said...

That you can keep a straight face saying that, Mr Hey, Did I Mention It's My Birthday Soon..... :P


1/02/2006 2:26 PM  
Blogger David said...

Oh Melantrys, I was just having a bit of fun. Honestly, I do appreciate your birthday greeting. :)

rjqpmlft? *suffering momentary lingustic challenge* :)

1/03/2006 1:48 AM  
Blogger Melantrys said...

So, how's the book? :)

1/08/2006 11:25 AM  
Blogger David said...

Well, I am on page 40 (I am a slow reader, about 10 pages a night) and enjoying the story. The dialogue and visual details, the things that I really like in a good story, are provided quite nicely. I am actually surprised that I never heard of Terry Pratchett before you mentioned him! Thanks for your recommendation! :)

1/08/2006 4:17 PM  
Blogger Melantrys said...

Maybe cos he's British?

Hope I've got you hooked now. ;)

Did you get a British edition or an American one??

Oh, btw, there's also two animated movies, "Soul Music" and "Wyrd Sisters". Of course they had to shorten the plots, but they're really good.
He doesn't get it quite right - the way I imagine it when reading the dialogues - but Christopher Lee sure gets as close to being the ideal voice for Death as any living being can ever achieve. Well, actually he's perfect. ;)

Page 40, hm? You are a slow reader indeed. :P
And you ain't seen nothing yet!!!
(I started reading it again yesterday and am on page 269 now. :P )

Oh, and P.S.: Do you IM? ;)

1/08/2006 4:42 PM  
Blogger David said...

Perhaps because he is British, he is not as well known in the U.S. However, I have a feeling that will change! My edition was published by HarperCollins in New York in 2000.

Animated movies? Interesting. I'll look for them in my local video store. Christopher Lee is great! He must be one of the hardest working actors around right now. He had big roles in The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. I can imagine his voice as Death. It sounds about right. ;)

You are an incredible speed reader!! Well, I suppose that I could read a book faster, but I blog too much! :P

I don't IM, but I am willing to learn if you will teach me. I'll tell you what, I'll spam you my email address and you can give me the details.

upzzea! :)

1/09/2006 1:59 AM  
Blogger Melantrys said...

Ah, for shame, the covers they invented suck!
I really dunno why they don't use the original artwork; it just belongs to the books....

I'm not just a speed reader, I'm also highly addicted to reading, aaaaargh!

You've got mail.

Good night.


1/09/2006 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks a lot for your nice comment. I saw it just 5 min. ago!

1/11/2006 10:56 AM  
Anonymous hamidreza said...

thanks a lot for your nice comment. I saw it just 5 min. ago!

p.s. I am the previous Anonymous!

1/11/2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger David said...

You are quite welcome, Hamidreza! Thanks for visiting. :)

1/12/2006 4:23 AM  
Blogger Preciousbabe said...

hey, thanks for visiting my blog.
that is some project!!! its great!
bey for now!

1/27/2006 2:14 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Preciousbabe,
Thanks for the compliment on my project! I am happy that you appreciate my work! :)

1/29/2006 12:44 AM  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

you have noted that Livewire tagged me--hey David, I tag you. 5 weird things about yourself? Or not...

2/01/2006 6:51 PM  
Blogger David said...

Only five? So, many possibilities! :D

Tell you what, I'll keep it in mind for a future post.

2/03/2006 2:28 AM  
Blogger نیکی said...

thanks for the pictures, it looks great. and glad you are back to writing.

4/22/2006 5:48 PM  
Blogger Tamara said...

Wow! I'm impressed. Now I understand how you got your blog title :) Is this something you do professionally, David? or just something as a special favor for favored friends?

8/25/2006 10:12 AM  

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