Building things -- concrete or otherwise
Thursday, February 16, 2006 at 09:40PM
Political Mammal in My personal history

Last night I had dinner with my sales team. We went to the Melting Pot in Dupont Circle. It was an enjoyable evening with a significant helping of banter. One subject that came up during our conversation was the difference between types of work. We compared jobs like the framing part of construction, where there is a tangible feeling of progress and creation each day and where you have a visual and tactile relationship with your output, to office work.

That conversation reminded me of my own modest forays into house building. I had for a few years a tradition of building a cabin each summer. The first few were done jointly with my brother. We acquired some discarded edge boards from the sawing of planks at a local sawmill – one those boards, one side was flat, the other curved and covered with bark. We worked on the edge of a field near our house in Vermont countryside. We used hand tools and had a good time.

But the last cabin in that sequence I built alone at age 13 or 14. Twenty-six some years later it is still standing to some degree. I built it in a clearing that has grown in over the years with numerous scrub trees. One dead tree leans at a 45 degree angle against the now-dented in roof. For that one, I used some purchased materials – about $32 worth of two-by-fours the funds for which were contributed by my grandfather. At my Dad’s suggestion, I had drawn plans for it on graph paper. It was quite small, 6’x6’ at the base, 6’ high in the back and 8’ high in the front. The “free” wood I used for siding and decking was actually scrap from the construction of the small house my family was building that summer.

I rolled stones into position at each corner for a foundation. I then built it up from there with 2x4 sills, joists, a rough floor, and 2x4 corner posts, studs and rafters. I pieced together siding with one-by cutoffs of random length and width. A rough self-made front door to pivoted on used hinges. My uncle gave me three or four sheets of rusted old sheet metal roofing from his barn to use -- the most generous he was with me over the years. Those long pieces were not cut to fit, so they overhang the downhill side of the building considerably. I vaguely remember treating the old nail holes with tar that he provided. I was able to add clapboards to the front only and I had a couple of salvaged windows. That little house was overbuilt – I made an inside workbench on the far side and a loft on the near side above the door.

I know that I liked the process of building much more than I worried about the final product – how it would look or be used. I spent many happy hours by myself in that clearing, sawing wood with the handsaw and hammering away on nails.

When I try to connect my approach to those childhood construction projects with my current occupation, I recognize a common thread in my relationship with both endeavors. I probably do not need to say any more than that I see both the strengths and weakness in my personal psychology expressed in both creations.

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