Fourth of July

I love the Fourth of July! Grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, playing volleyball with my friends and family, then enjoying the beautiful fireworks display that my hometown of Pauls Valley puts on every year is something to look forward to annually. Also, Independence Day is one of my paid holidays!

                Every year we celebrate our freedom that we enjoy as Americans. I get those patriotic tingles when I hear our National Anthem. I’m very thankful for all we have in this blessed land of plenty. God has richly blessed our nation!

                Now, enough of the feel-good stuff. That’s not what you flip to the back page of the magazine for, now is it? Let me tell you a little story about a Fourth of July prank that happened a couple years back at our plant.

                I’m not one to spend a lot of money on fireworks. As I mentioned above, our town puts on a pretty impressive display at the local football field. The park is packed full of sweaty citizens as local crooners belt out tunes for a couple hours before dark. It seems that most of our 6,000 residents find their way into Wacker Park to enjoy the show. Our church is just right across a field from the park, so we gather at our church to watch the show without fighting the crowd. So, I very seldom spend much at all on any fireworks.

                However, this year I stopped by one of the many firework stands to see what I could find. I bought a couple little fountains, and a few other small items. Then, I saw a huge roll of Black Cats. You know what happened next. Into the little bag they went!

                Now is a good time to explain a little more about our shop. When you come in the entry door on the south end of our shop, the bathroom is right there on the left. The bathroom door is a standard interior door. Not much you can do to prank someone, other than the standard leaning something on the door to fall when they open it.

                The neat thing about the bathroom, though, is that the top of it doubles as a storage area. So, above the bathroom is a dusty area with old stuff that we’ll probably never use, and our children will wonder what to do with it when we die. Also above the bathroom is the vent pipe for the water heater. Now, our water heater is a gas water heater. Or, at least it was. It quit working quite a while ago and we have just never put forth the effort to fix it. Instead, there is a 5-gallon bucket sitting on the pedestal where the water heater was before. 

                I got to work early on July 5th and climbed up to the storage area. I stowed away my roll of Black Cats and a lighter. Later in the day, a coworker of mine made his way to the bathroom. I don’t know if you work with anyone who lives in the bathroom, but I do. I knew I had time to climb up to the top and tiptoe over to the vent pipe.

                I lit those Black Cats, and quickly dropped them down the pipe into the bucket below. They went off like crazy, the sound magnified by the bucket. You should have heard the commotion! Not only were the fireworks making racket, but my fellow shed builder made some noise himself! We don’t have a camera in the bathroom (thankfully), but I’m convinced it would have been a sight to see. Just another day in the life of a shed builder.

Gone Fishing

                Back in the “good ole’ days” of Better Barns, when things were simpler, and I didn’t have a family to support, there were a lot of things done that had nothing whatsoever to do with producing storage sheds. Vance and I were both young. I was in my teens, and Vance in his early twenties. Neither of us were married. Life was good!

                I could tell you many stories (and I may someday) about being called upon to help Vance haul a deer out of the woods, or chase cows out of the yard, or fight nearby fires. We worked hard and played hard and enjoyed every minute of life. Well, almost every minute.

                Our favorite pastime was fishing. The production facility at Better Barns sits on a family farm with over 300 acres to roam. There are several ponds. One of them lies just to the North of our shop. It wasn’t uncommon to find us there on lunch break or after hours…Or sometimes during work hours.

                Vance and his family moved to Oklahoma from Hobbs, New Mexico. Hobbs is a good-sized city and is the county seat of Lea county. In all of Lea county, there is only one bridge. Just one. If you lived in Hobbs, you had to travel a pretty good ways to find a decent fishing spot. So, Vance felt like he had moved to paradise!

                One day, Todd – Vance’s best friend – came to see Vance. Todd was from Hobbs and also liked to go fishing. We worked a little bit and then set out to catch some fish. We fished a little while without any luck. Todd and Vance circled around the pond one way while I went the other. I settled in a spot under a shade tree and sent my lure whizzing out into the pond again. No luck.

                As I reeled in the line, the hook from my little rooster tail lure hung up in the thick moss about 10-15 feet from the bank. My rooster tail was my favorite and most effective lure. I did not intend to lose it! I worked my line back and forth with increasing violence. At last, it popped loose! The line whipped to the left, then back to the right.

                I felt something smack me in the face. I thought it was just a wad of moss. I reached up to brush it off. It was not moss. It was my rooster tail! Two barbs of the treble hook had sunk into my face at the left corner of my mouth – one just above the top lip and one just below the bottom lip. They pinned my mouth partway shut. I tried to just pull them out, but they were in past the barb.

                I tried to get Vance and Todd’s attention by waving at them across the pond. They saw me and yelled across the pond to see what I needed. Well, my mouth wouldn’t open all the way, so I couldn’t yell very loudly. I did communicate to them that I needed some assistance. They headed around the pond and I headed toward them. I had cut the line and left my pole by my shade tree.

                We got together, and Vance helped me by cutting my rooster tail lure loose where only the treble hook remained. Vance tried to pull the hook out with his pliers, but it just wouldn’t come out. Finally, we trekked back to the shop. Vance found a new razor blade for our utility knives, and washed it thoroughly. He made a little slit for each barb, and out came the hook!

                Thus ended our fishing escapade for the day. It went down as the largest thing I have ever hooked while fishing! We still laugh about the day that Tyler went fishing and caught himself.

Lightning and The Jet Hilton

This column originally appeared in the Shed Builder Magazine December 2018/January 2019 issue.

                Over the last few years Better Barns has undergone several changes in strategy. As a small shed manufacturer, sometimes the market demands we find creative solutions and stretch ourselves from our comfort zone. This has been especially true during the last couple years. We have begun constructing large shop buildings and other weld-up units as a main product line. Our tagline is “Storage Solutions since 2002”, so we still consider barns, shops, and garages as part of our offering. This next story involves the construction of a 50×140 barn/shop, so not actually a shed story, but I thought it would perhaps be interesting to some of you.

Getting started! This was a daunting task for a guy accustomed to building 8×16 sheds…

                During the summer of 2018 we landed a job to build a 50x140x16 implement barn and shop for a repeat customer who we’ve done work for on multiple occasions. There were some problems with the contractor we hired to do the work, so Vance and I rounded up a crew to go straighten up the situation. This job was located about 3-1/2 hours from home, so Vance booked some rooms at the nearest motel. The nearest motel was about 20 minutes away from the job site in a little town, Jet, with one gas station which also functioned as the only source of food.

                First, a little side story about the motel. It was a regular old roadside motel run by one of our customers who used the building we built them for the town’s only other establishment – a liquor store. The lady who ran the motel/liquor store also worked at the gas station. I lovingly refer to the motel as the “Jet Hilton”. The rooms were okay, although you could feel the gritty sand in the carpet as you walked. Also, there was a dead cricket in the bathroom floor the whole first week we were there who became part of the family.

The motel and liquor store in Jet, OK.
My room I shared with Josiah for 3 weeks.

                The first day we were there, I got the feeling that I was out of my league. This structure was huge! We got to work quickly, and seemed like we made good time, but by the end of the day it didn’t look like we had done much at all. For a guy who is used to finishing a shed rather quickly it was somewhat discouraging. We worked from daylight to dark every day we could. However, there were days when the weather interfered.

In Northwest Oklahoma the sky feels huge! We could watch the storms coming for quite some time before they arrived. This is probably my favorite photo. Kyler Cottrell used my phone to snap this by the side of the road as we were on our way to the job site.

                Late one afternoon Vance and I were on the roof trying to finish the second side before dark when a storm moved in. We could see the storm moving in for a couple hours before it arrived, and we were racing to beat it. The wind was blowing like crazy! The 33’ sheets of metal were almost impossible to keep down in that driving wind and I was expecting to die any minute.

                Vance and I are very brave. At least that is the nice way to say stupid. We continued to fight the wind along with our helper Josiah. I’m quite sure at least one of us would have been badly hurt if God hadn’t hurried the lightning along. The lightning was the last straw for me. I told Vance that I would not stay on top of a metal building on the highest point for miles around with lightning.

Our ladder praising the Lord 🙂 That is Josiah climbing down off the roof.

                So, we hurriedly swept the shavings off the roof as wind gusted and lightning flashed in the much too near distance. The rain was already pouring on us and the wet metal made things a little more interesting as we quickly tried to finish the task at hand.  We climbed down soaked to the gills.

All the rain we dealt with during this job made the place a mess.

                After seeing that everything was properly put away we bade the jobsite goodbye and headed back to the Jet Hilton. I was glad to be alive that evening as I slipped into my gritty sheets for a night’s sleep after another exciting day in the life of a shed builder.

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…