For Want of an Air Conditioner, Part 3

This is the final installment of my three part story that originally appeared in the Shed Builder Magazine.

Our on-site job in Newalla was going terribly. The first day went great until we discovered our trim was cut wrong, and decided to come back and finish on the second day. The second day was going reasonably well until I needed a couple things from the truck, only to realize we hadn’t transferred them from our tool truck to our air-conditioned truck. We had gotten back from gathering the needed supplies and worked a little while laying shingles when my helper began to puke off the end of the roof. That’s when I asked, “What else could go wrong?” If you’ve lived long, you know better than to ask that question!

                I sent my helper down to the shade to rest, and tried to get a game plan together to finish the building. I still had to build the double shelves inside, hang the doors, attach the ramp, touch up my helper’s finger painting, finish the roof, and then go through my checklist to be sure I hadn’t missed anything. It was about 4 pm, and my helper needed some nourishment, so we went back over to Newalla’s only gas station. After reviving my helper and resting a few minutes in the truck myself, I walked back down to the shed to try to finish.

                I’m sure my fellow shed builders would be bored reading about hanging the doors, installing the ramp, building the shelves, etc., so I’ll fast forward a little bit. I finished everything but the roof and piled up the tools, materials, and scrap as I went. I told my helper to begin taking stuff from the pile to the truck while I finished. As I came around the shed to grab something, I noticed that my pile was about the same size it had been when I started. I also noticed that my air compressor and air hose was nowhere to be seen.

                Don’t forget that my helper was a recent high school graduate who was equipped with the standard amount of wisdom and knowledge of boys his age. Also, he paid attention to instructions about as well as most.  He had been hauling things I still needed out to the truck, while walking around my pile of unneeded stuff!

                It was about dark, and I was somewhat discouraged, when I climbed back up to finish the roof. It had been a long day. I shingled as fast as I could but still had to finish with my cell phone flashlight. I climbed down, thoroughly exhausted. “At least all I have to do now is collect,” I wrongly thought.

                I told my helper to finish loading (the pile wasn’t much smaller yet) while I took care of the customer. We signed the paperwork, I collected the check, shook their hands, and headed to the truck. There was my helper, sitting in the passenger seat.

                “All loaded up?” I asked.

                “No,” he replied, “I was waiting on you.”

                “What!?!” I yelled, “You were supposed to have this all loaded and ready to go!”

                His answer still confounds me. “I was scared of the dark,” he said. We were in a backyard with the pickup’s headlights shining down to the building. I was on the back porch with the customers. THERE WAS NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF!

                Well, pinching his head off wasn’t going to help me get home any sooner so I started making trips with our onsite materials back to the little truck. Keep in mind we had traded our big dually tool-bed truck with a trailer for a little F-150 with no trailer. We piled stuff and piled stuff until it was finally all loaded. The fenders were only an inch or so from the tires by the time we finished strapping down. I had to drive extra carefully and slowly. We left the jobsite around 11 pm and I didn’t get home until almost 2 am. Just one of those shed builder days…

For Want of an Air Conditioner, Part 2

After a stop by the hardware store for a pallet of blocks, we made our way back to our Newalla job site. We had transferred all the necessary tools to the truck with A/C the evening before, so we were confident it would just take a little while to finish up. It was heating up by the time we arrived at around 8:00 am. Our helper got right to work hauling the blocks to the building while my crew leader arranged them under the shed. I picked up where we had left off on the trim and everything was clicking along nicely.

I should say a few things about our helper right here. He had just graduated high school a couple months earlier, and was equipped with the standard amount of knowledge and wisdom associated with boys of that age. For weeks, he had been begging to go with us to build on site. It was an adventure! That attitude stayed with him for the first few loads of concrete blocks, but quickly gave way to reality as he traversed the backyard.

Throughout the morning, I made good time on finishing the shed. My crew leader – who shall remain unnamed – worked hard to level the shed with our helper. They finished their work a little while before lunch. A coworker had been dispatched to our jobsite to bring a few things we needed, and arrived about that time. The shed was just about ready to paint and so it was decided that the crew leader would leave our helper with me to finish up while he went back to the shop to keep things going there. It all sounded like a great plan.

We painted both coats on the shed before lunch, and then it was time to trim paint. After searching for the 3” trim roller for a little while, I discovered that maybe we hadn’t transferred everything we needed from the tool truck. So, I decided to lay shingles until lunch. After searching for the roofing gun for a little while, I discovered that maybe we hadn’t transferred everything we needed from the tool truck. But, we did have an air-conditioned truck!

I decided that we would both go to Norman (about a 45-minute drive) so that I could rent a gun and buy a trim roller. It took about two and a half hours to get our needed tools, grab a quick lunch, and get back to the job site. Once there, I set up to shingle and told him to start painting the trim. I checked on him before climbing up on the scaffold and discovered that he had all the talent of a finger painting toddler. There was trim paint everywhere!

It was clear that I couldn’t trust him to paint the trim, and he had no clue to how to lay shingles, so I put him to work taking unneeded tools and materials back to the truck. I painted the trim a couple coats, then climbed up on the scaffold to start laying shingles.

I put him on the roof handing shingles down to me. It was about 4 pm, the hottest part of an Oklahoma summer day, and the shingles were sticking to anything they touched in an instant. My head was down and I was just laying shingles as fast as I could. I waited too long for the next shingle, and so I looked up in time to see my helper losing his lunch off the end of the shed.

 “What else could go wrong?” I wondered. I should have never asked…

Delayed Launch…

Everyone,

I am sad to announce that the launch of Treasure at Fort Arbuckle will be delayed for another week or so. The delay involves the illustrations in the novel. I have never dealt with an illustrator and am learning a lot.

The support for my work continues to amaze me and I hope that all of you will understand this hiccup. Thanks in advance for your continued help in my efforts!

To the launch team:

You guys are amazing! The feedback I have received has been very detailed and helpful. I cannot believe that so many of my friends were so willing to volunteer their valuable time for my project. You went above and beyond in your efforts! Looking forward to continuing our relationships.

Kindle Pre-order available soon!

Very excited about my novel, Treasure at Fort Arbuckle! Release date should be May 1, but the Kindle eBook version will be available for preorder today or tomorrow.

Still working on some final details with editing and layout, and waiting on my illustrations and book cover. Once those things are done, then I’ll be publishing!

For Want of an Air Conditioner, Part 1

This column first appeared in the Shed Builder Magazine in February 2017. It is the first of three installments of this story. You can also find it in chapter 11 of my first book, Three Men and a Barrel.

                Our on-site truck is getting on up in age and miles and has been for several years. It is a great truck for going out on location and constructing a building. The tool bed allows us to keep our guns, hoses, saws, nails, hand tools, etc., stocked and ready. All the extra dents and dings give it character. By most measurements, it is a great truck. However, the air conditioner doesn’t work.

                In July 2014 I was assigned to join my crew leader – who shall remain unnamed – on an on-site job in rural Oklahoma. He loaded up the day before the job was scheduled, and early the next morning we set out for Newalla, OK.

Newalla is a sprawling place with an estimated population of over 9,000. There is one gas station. That’s all. I’m not kidding. I asked the cashier where Newalla was, and she said, “This is it.” It is a huge unincorporated area just outside of Oklahoma City, populated with folks who love rural life but work in the city.

As we arrived and began to unstrap, I had a feeling this job was going to be tough. The carry in was pretty long (I timed it and it took almost a minute, loaded, to walk from the truck to the build site) and littered with stumps, brush piles, and other debris. A tornado had come through recently and they were still cleaning up. Oh, well. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?

So, I grabbed the skids and headed on down to the site. I won’t bore you with the details. Basically, just repeat the first sentence of this paragraph substituting other building components for “skids” about a hundred times. We stopped for lunch, at Newalla’s only gas station, and then went back to work. While I had been carrying all the stuff in, my crew leader had been assembling the shed. After lunch, I joined him building and we made progress quickly. Soon, we were ready to put the trim on the end of the shed.

I should mention here that the back of the shed was about three feet off the ground, while the front was sitting on the ground. To say that we hadn’t brought enough concrete blocks would be an understatement. It was already clear that we would be returning the next day to finish blocking up the building, even if we finished everything else.

My boss climbed the ladder and began installing the rake trim. Uh-oh… The trim was cut for a 10’ wide building and we were building a 12’ wide. Unfortunately, we had forgotten our board stretcher and we didn’t have any extra material with us for trim. By this time it was mid-afternoon. In July in Oklahoma in mid-afternoon it is HOT! After visiting about it for a few minutes, we decided to load up and go home. (I’m not saying the heat had anything to do with our decision, but I’m not saying it didn’t either)

We determined that we would return in the morning, fresh and invigorated, with a helper. It would be easy to finish the shed the next day. After all, we were almost ready to start paint prep! Tools were put away, the backyard was cleaned and straightened, and away we went.

My crew leader – who shall remain unnamed – decided that we should bring our little F-150 the next day rather than the tool truck. Why? Air conditioning! If only we had known the consequences of choosing comfort over practicality…

Ignorance is not Bliss

I have heard the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” repeated a few times in my life. That statement is incorrect. Ignorance is ignorance. It is dangerous, and diminishes the quality of life.

Far too many Christians today are ignorant of God’s Word. They can repeat slogans said by famous pastors, they are aware of a few of the great “culture war” issues, but they do not really know how to take Scripture and apply it to their daily lives.

Far too many Americans are ignorant of our history and the bedrock of freedom in our nation. They are easily swayed by whichever narrative is predominant today, but will change their mind depending on what their news source tells them tomorrow.

One problem with ignorance is illustrated by the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Charles Darwin correctly pointed out in his book, The Descent of Man, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” The Dunning-Kruger Effect relates the truth that, often, the most ignorant among us believe that they are the wisest in the room. They will debate people who have spent a lifetime studying a subject after spending a few minutes on Google themselves.

These people are convinced that others have no idea about the subject if they disagree. Sadly, the best efforts of others to educate these people usually fail.

Ignorance should never be glorified. I’m not proud that there are things I do not know. We should all be willing to admit that we do not know things, but it is not a point of which we should be proud. Ignorance is not a crown to be worn!

There is a way to combat our own ignorance, though. Humbly listen to others who disagree with you. Be willing to learn from them. Read more books. To the Christians in my audience, read your Bible (as a Christian myself, I hope everyone can find peace and hope in the Bible). Challenge the things you think, not with weak, straw-man arguments, but with difficult questions.

Go out there today and learn something!

Overcoming Fear

                One of my favorite coworkers in all my years of building sheds was a young man named Trey. He came to work with us sometime around 2012 and is featured in my story, “For Want of an Air Conditioner”, a three-part series that ran from February to June 2017 in this magazine. Like many of the great people who have joined our team, he became a friend.

                When Trey first joined our crew, he had almost no experience building anything. He had just recently graduated high school. His only job had been at a fast-food place. However, he and a friend had been recommended to us by the gentleman who teaches the Carpentry class at our local Vo-Tech. It seems that they had done well in their carpentry course there and were hoping to find a job in which to use their new-found skills.

                These two young men (the other one’s name was Caleb) came to work and immediately began to provide entertainment. I am sure that all of you other shed builders enjoy helping new guys learn the ropes. There are so many fun things to do to new guys!

                We did have a lot of fun, but that is not what I want to discuss today. I was assigned to train these young men how to build sheds. Since my day job is teaching, I have historically trained most of our new builders. That is why Billy is such a great builder!

                Trey did fine while learning how to build the floor and then the walls. He built the trusses. Then, it was time to stand on the scaffold and roll the trusses. I have trained quite a few people to do this. I have never had anyone react like he did that day.

                He had told me that he was afraid of heights. I climbed up first and told him to join me. I expected him to have a little trouble with the scaffold, but nothing had prepared me for what came next.

                He managed to climb up to the scaffold and perched there on his knees, clinging frantically to the top of the shed wall. I encouraged him to take a minute to get comfortable before trying to stand up. After a couple long minutes, he shakily stood. He still clung tightly to the top of the wall and he was not looking down!

                It took quite some time and a lot of coaxing to get him to walk down the board to join me. There were tears in his eyes as he stood there watching me prepare to stand the first truss. He was crying from fear! I told him that he could get down if he could not handle it. He refused. At our shop, our builders build sheds from start to finish. If he could not work on a scaffold, there was no way we could keep him as a builder.

                With gritted teeth, he watched me roll the trusses. I did not think he was quite ready to try to do it himself, so I just let him watch and learn. Then, we climbed off the scaffold and went around to the other side. I generally climb up a ladder and walk the top plate to nail the second side of the trusses. Anytime I train a new guy, that is the way I train them. He watched me climb up the ladder, but there was no way I was getting him on that wall plate!

                I allowed him to set up the scaffold to nail the trusses off and he did it that way for several months. Over time he became more comfortable with heights and developed into a passable builder. That fear I saw in him the first day was real and he still dealt with it during that time. He told me, though, that some day he was going to walk the top plate to nail off the trusses.

                I’ll never forget the day that he called me over to watch him roll the trusses on his building. After securing the first side, he climbed up on the top plate of the second side and walked down the wall, nailing trusses as he went. I snapped a picture of him standing there and it was one of my proudest moments as a shed builder. The young man who cried from fear when I first began working with him had conquered his fear rather than allowing it to conquer him. I was glad that I had been patient with him!

                It is easy to dismiss the fears of others, especially when we do not have the same fear ourselves. However, remember people really do deal with fear. Encourage them! Everyone wins when they overcome! Let’s all make another shed builder’s day better today!

Be Careful What You Eat!

August 21, 2020, was a beautiful day here in Oklahoma. As is typical in August in Oklahoma it heated up quickly. I joined Billy and his crew at the shop that morning long before daylight and we headed up to the Oklahoma City metro area. Our plan was to build a 12×16 Gable style shed in the extreme southern edge of OKC, then travel about half an hour further north into OKC to build an 8×12 Lofted Barn. The trailer was loaded, tools were ready in the truck, and the five of us were full of optimism.

Billy’s crew is a collection of unique guys. In all my years of working in this business, we have always struggled to find hardworking builders who would stick with it for very long. Billy has been an anchor in the shop for almost 15 years, but I have not yet been able to clone him. This spring we experienced (like many of you did) a huge demand for our products. Sales surged for us and suddenly we were overwhelmed with orders. Billy had been keeping up with demand with help from a high school student that attends our church. Now, suddenly, that was not even close to enough.

Billy and I both scrambled to find some help for him. Coincidentally, we each found a good candidate on the same day. We agreed to hire both of them. They were oilfield guys – just like almost everyone else out here in rural Oklahoma – and the oil prices had killed their jobs. Neither of them had much experience in construction, but both were eager to learn. A couple weeks later, Billy found another man looking for work and hired him, too. He had a lot of construction experience and was able to contribute to the team quickly.

By the time this particular morning rolled around, these guys were starting to mesh as a team. We arrived at the job site and everyone quickly moved into their role. It was a well-oiled machine! Jason and Donny worked on unloading and carrying everything around to the back yard. James helped me as I began blocking up the skids to level the floor. Billy helped keep things moving and organized. The floor was built soon, then the walls. The ground was very sloped. This made it difficult for us on the downhill side, but we worked through it to stand the trusses, deck the roof, and finish prepping the building for urethane and then trim paint.

By the time Jason and I had finished shingling the roof, the other three had finished hanging the doors, touching everything up, and hauling out the trash. I settled up with the customer and we left a little after 1pm.

We were feeling very good about finishing both these onsite builds in a day. It wouldn’t be dark until about 8:30 that evening and our next building was smaller and simpler. We decided we had time to enjoy a nice big lunch at a Mexican restaurant that we all liked. Some of you are already seeing where this story is going and wondering if this was our first day to work in the August heat.

I ordered the amazing Stuffed Avocados. If you’re not planning to work through a hot August afternoon, I highly recommend them! The other guys ate like I did, stuffing ourselves with chips, salsa, queso, and then huge entrees. We left stuffed.

The few minutes’ drive to the next location passed quickly and then we were repeating the process from earlier that morning. The problem this time was that when I leaned over to build the floor it nearly made me sick. According to my scientific tests that day, stuffed avocados do not mix well with extremely hot weather in the stomach of fat, middle-aged carpenters.

Everyone seemed to be struggling to keep up the pace as the hot afternoon wore on. There was absolutely no breeze. The sun was unhindered by any cloud cover. It was brutal! By the time we were working on the trusses, I had went as far as I could. I found a shady spot to lean against the fence. Everyone stopped periodically to cool down a bit.

Then, as we were preparing to spray the urethane coating a small rainstorm blew in. It was only a light shower and moved on quickly, but it did cool the temperature significantly. We managed to get both coats of urethane sprayed. We painted the trim, hung the doors, and began installing the metal roofing.

 Our customer was a very pleasant gentleman who owned his own electrical business. He had been in the yard with us most of the afternoon and we enjoyed visiting with him. His father joined him on the porch that evening and we had a good time interacting with both of them. The lady of the house came out to inspect the shed as we wrapped up just after dark.

They paid us and we said our goodbyes. It seems that many of our onsite customers become friends. This was the case again on this fine day. Two jobs well-done, new friends made, and five tired men heading back toward home concluded this memorable day in the life of a shed builder.

My Interview with the Shed Geeks!

I had the opportunity to discuss my book with the guys on the Shed Geek Podcast a few days ago. Part One aired on Wednesday, April 7.

Listen to the episode here.

I’m very excited to see the changes in the shed industry! There are good things ahead for those of us who make a living providing quality backyard structures. Shout out to Shannon and Kyle for what they are doing in this part of the shed world!