Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 14

Things got started early the next morning – a little too early, at least as far as Jim was concerned. He could hear the sound of what sounded like a generator roaring across the street. That seemed a little strange – and then it struck him. He remembered the whole bunch from Spearfish Lake showing up late in the afternoon with everything they needed to build his aunt and uncle’s house, the dinner, the evening with Rachel . . . and yes, the long, soulful kiss they’d shared after the fire died down. He’d thought about that a lot as he’d been falling asleep. What did it mean? Did it mean something? Anything?

In the sober light of early dawn – what there was of it, that was – he couldn’t believe it meant much of anything. Oh, sure, he’d known Rachel ever since she’d come to Spearfish Lake a year and a half before, and he liked her. She was very friendly, she was not bad looking, and she seemed to be an all-around nice person. But, on the other hand, she seemed like she was so far out of his league – and she was Randy’s older sister, which made it seem even more unimaginable.

The kiss probably meant nothing – but damn . . .

Jim became aware that Bob was stirring too. “Sounds like they’re starting early,” he mumbled, just to let his partner know he was awake.

“Sounds like it to me, too,” Bob agreed. “The sun ain’t even up yet.”

Jim lay in bed while Bob got dressed. They’d learned that it was very crowded for two of them to be up at the same time in the cramped confines of the camper. It only took a few minutes, then Jim took his turn as Bob headed out the door. “Yep,” he heard Bob say from outside. “Looks like they’ve got breakfast under way over across the street. Guess they want to work from can to can’t.”

“Well, we’ll have to see if Bud is as good a cook as those church ladies down at the food tent,” Jim said as he pulled on his last pair of clean underwear. In the two weeks and more they’d been in Pass Christian they’d pretty well gone through all the clean clothes they’d brought from Spearfish Lake. If they were there another two weeks, as Randy had seemed to hint, they were going to have to break off and do laundry at some point. They’d had some opportunities during the rain storm and then when the hydraulic pump on the dump truck broke down, but they’d just not thought of doing it then. Gonna have to do something about it though, and pretty soon, Jim thought.

He pulled on his boots and laced them up, then headed across the street to see what was going on. Sure enough, there were a couple big electric coffeepots going, being run off a line to the motor home’s generator. Bud was herding around an immense collection of home fries, sausages and scrambled eggs on a cook top he’d put on the gas grill. Jim grabbed a cup of coffee and stood around talking with some of the people who were up and about.

“Not bad coffee,” he heard Randy said. “Not quite up to Colorado River standards though, that’s for sure.”

“How’s that?” Jim asked – he knew that Randy had done some trips down the Grand Canyon but hadn’t heard any details about them.

“What they do out there is take this big damn pot,” Randy explained. “Fill it up with water and dump a couple pound cans of coffee into it, then boil it with this big damn noisy propane burner until a horseshoe will float in it. If the noise of that burner doesn’t do a pretty good job of waking you up, the coffee sure will.”

“Being this close to Louisiana, I thought about throwing some chicory into it just for local flavor,” Bud said from behind the grill. “But I didn’t think of it in time.”

After a while, Jim saw Rachel crawl out of her tent. She didn’t look her best in the early morning light, but she did take advantage of the time right after first standing up to brush out her hair and freshen up a little before joining the group. He thought he ought to say something nice to her, but decided it probably would be better to wait at least until she’d pulled herself together a little.

After a while, she came over and got a foam coffee cup, filled it, and stood around while Bud was working on breakfast. “Jim,” she smiled, “I just wanted to say that I enjoyed last night, and I mean all of it.”

She had to be referring to the kiss, Jim thought, although it seemed likely she wouldn’t say anything in front of everyone. “I did, too,” he smiled back. “You’re looking bright and chipper this morning.”

“I may look it,” she shook her head. “But it’s going to be a couple hours before I feel it.”

More and more people kept showing up, and soon Bud was serving breakfast. It was a good breakfast, even if they had to stand around holding their paper plates while they ate it. Before long everyone was finishing up, having a second cup of coffee, or whatever. “Well,” Randy said finally, “we might as well get started. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

“Well, what do you think we ought to do first?” Jim said.

“Hell if I know,” he smiled. “Jim, this is your job, you’re running it. I’m just the truck driver and a carrier of heavy objects.”

“No way!” Jim frowned. “I’m not a site superintendent, just an equipment operator. Besides, I don’t know what you have on the truck or where it is. Mike is a site super. He ought to be the one running this.”

“Well, like I said, this is your job,” Randy told him. “You’ve got to get your feet wet sometime. Mike knows concrete and footers pretty well, but he’s not exactly a carpenter, either. We already talked it over and agreed that this is going to be your job. As far as what’s on the truck, there are prints and a materials list in the cab. I’ll get them for you. I don’t know where everything is myself. All I know is that Russ and a couple of the guys did the packing and loading.”

“We tried to get everything loaded so it’ll be more or less in the order we need it,” Russ piped up. He looked a little grizzled, not having shaved that morning. “Like, we’ve got cement, Sonotubes, rebar, and the cement mixer right on the tail, since Ken said we were going to have to pour pilings first.”

“We’re going to have to bore holes for the pilings before that,” Jim said. “We can dig them out with the backhoe, I suppose.”

“No, we threw in the auger, too,” Russ yawned. “It’s right there on the tail of the truck, too. You’ll probably want to get the tines on the loader to get the cement off. It’s heavy, but it’s on skids. The auger is right behind that.”

“Well, I suppose that’s the first thing,” Jim said, starting to realize that Randy wasn’t kidding when he’d said the job was his to run. “Bob, why don’t you deal with that?”

“Yeah, can do,” Bob nodded.

“I suppose we have to know where we want to drill the holes for the pilings,” Jim said. “Ken, I suppose you have a site plan that shows them?”

“Right, and we have a laser transit and tape. I can lay that out for you if you like.”

“Do it then,” Jim told the draftsman. “You can get started on it while Bob is getting the first items off the truck. Russ, what’s next to come off?”

“This is going to sound a little out of order,” Russ said. “But the next thing you’re going to come to is bundles of precut pieces for the roof trusses. I didn’t think there was going to be enough space in there for them if they were assembled, and there wasn’t. We’re not going to need them for a while, but we might as well start putting them together now since there are more people here than we need to work on the pilings.”

“OK, I’ll let you take charge of that,” Jim said. “Mike, concrete and foundations is your specialty. I’ll let you ride herd on that.”

“Good enough,” Mike agreed. “We’re going to need sand for the concrete, but Ken said this lot was pretty much all sand. We ought to be able to make it work out of what gets drilled up out of the piling holes.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty sandy,” Jim said. “There’s a little loam on top, but it doesn’t go down very far. You’re going to want to keep an eye on it and sift it before you start mixing it.”

“Figured that,” Mike said. “Where are we going to be able to get water?”

“Good question. The city hasn’t hooked up the water here yet.”

“Ken said he thought that might be a problem, but he said you told him that the water table isn’t real deep here. We brought a shallow well pump, a drill point, and enough pipe for it. If we can get water less than twenty-four feet deep we ought to be all right.”

“Cripe, Ken threw that in too?” Jim said. “The other day, the utilities guy said we wouldn’t want to drink anything from the water table, but that it was OK for washing stuff down.”

“Yeah, I think it’s in the furniture truck somewhere, there are a few overflow items in there. This soil is soft enough it shouldn’t be any problem to drive a well. If they can get the water hooked up here, it won’t be any problem to pull it later.”

“OK, good thinking,” Jim said. “Now, does anyone have any more questions than I do?”

No one had any, so Jim said. “All right, let’s get going. We’ve got us a house to build. Ken, I haven’t even seen the prints yet. You want to dig them out so I can at least get a glance at them?”

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll be back with them in a minute. Someone want to come with me to get the transit?”

In a few minutes, Bob was using the backhoe to drive a well, mostly banging the point and the pipe into the ground with the backhoe bucket. It was a job that went quickly. Although the driven well would be shallow and a little on the primitive side, and of limited capacity, it would be better than no water at all. In less than an hour, they had the pipe in the ground, and the little shallow-well pump hooked up to it, being run by a cord to the generator in the motor home – and they had water! By that time they were ready to start mixing concrete, and a hose was quickly run to the pump to help with that.

Before long the place was busy with people doing various chores, while Jim commandeered the serving table from breakfast and unrolled a big roll of prints, with Randy at his side. “Not a bad looking little house,” Jim said, glancing at the side view. It was clearly based on a commercial plan for a fairly spacious two bedroom house, if a little on the simple side. There were notes on the plan in Ken’s neat handwriting, pointing out where he’d departed from the commercial plan.

“Yeah,” Randy said. “It would have been easy to go overboard, but we decided that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. We wanted to keep it easy to maintain.”

“Ought to be,” Jim said. “And it looks like it ought to go up pretty quick. Ken did a good job of throwing these together.”

“He does a good job at this sort of stuff,” Randy said. “He really ought to be an architect, and he is kind of a bootleg one. This isn’t the first time he’s taken on an architect’s job and run with it.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen him do it before,” Jim said. He noted that there was no one standing close by, and said in a low voice, “Hey, I appreciate you saying that I’m the super on this job, but I want you to know that I’m pretty over my head to be doing it.”

“Didn’t sound like that just a few minutes ago,” Randy said. “Look, after the job you did on the Windmill Island project, I have no doubt you can do it. Hell, you took over this morning like you meant it, and you’ve been planning this for weeks. Just keep at it.”

“Yeah, but I’m kind of like Mike, I don’t really know that much about construction.”

“You know more than you think,” Randy told him. “Look, Jim, let me give you a word of advice. I may own the company and I may even think I run it once in a while, but I learned a long time ago that I don’t know all there is to know about the nuts and bolts of construction. Like, I know how to run a backhoe, but you could do in ten minutes things it would take me all morning to do. I’m trying to learn this stuff because I like running equipment, but when there’s work that needs to get done quickly and get done right, I’ve learned to get out of the way and let people who know what they’re doing get the job done. You’ve got Mike to handle the footers and Russ knows about all there is to know about building a house like this. The biggest thing you have to learn is to tell them what needs to be done and then let them do it their way. I’ve had to do that for years, and while I may not like it, the job done right when I do that way.”

“Yeah,” Jim sighed. “I guess I’ve seen that happen. It’s just that there’s so much about this I don’t know.”

“Big deal. You have people here who do know it, like Russ knows how the truck is loaded. Let them do their jobs, and you just try to pick at the problems they can’t handle. This project isn’t that complicated, so it’s a good one to cut your teeth on, and when it’s over with you’ll be able to tell your aunt and uncle that you built their house for them along with some pretty good help. Don’t worry about it, Jim. You’ll do just fine. Now what do you need me to do?”

“How about standing beside me so I don’t run off in sheer terror?”

“Aw, bullshit,” Randy grinned. “I came down here to get my hands dirty. I don’t get to do that on a job very often and I kind of miss it.”

“Well, all right,” Jim smiled. “It strikes me that Bob told me once you started out on a concrete crew.”

“Yeah, what seems like a lifetime ago.”

“Then go over and ask Mike what you can do to help.”

It wasn’t long before Bob had the heavy stuff out of the back of the truck and the auger on the backhoe. By then, Ken and Mike had used the transit to shoot in the locations for the pilings, each marked by a small stake. It only took minutes for the auger to dig out the holes for the pilings, unlike the Windmill Island job where sometimes it took days and dynamite to get one hole deep enough for a piling. Bob no more than withdrew the auger from the hole when someone put in place a Sonotube already containing reinforcing bar – the soil was wet and consolidated enough that the hole wouldn’t cave in so long as they worked quickly. Other people used shovels to backfill around the cardboard form to keep it in centered in the hole, tamping the sand down as well as they could. Randy was waiting right there and as soon as they were done he shoveled a wheelbarrow full of some of the leftover sand, which was taken over to the cement mixer and run through a coarse screen. Soon the cement mixer – the same one they’d used on Windmill Island – was working hard, and a bucket brigade was hauling concrete over to the first piling.

Things seemed to be going well and Jim decided it would probably be best to not get in anyone’s way, so he walked around to the far side of the job, where there was a great deal of hammering going on. He found that Russ had laid out the pieces for the roof trusses, and they were quickly being nailed together – a couple were done already, lying off to one side. Rachel was right in there helping, helping lay out the pieces under Russ’s guidance. He noticed that she had a big smile on her face, like she was really enjoying what she was doing. He noticed that everything had been pre-cut, and asked Russ what that was all about. “Oh, we had a little work bee out in the shop at the office a few days ago,” Russ said. “We thought it would make things go a little quicker down here.”

“Looks like it is to me,” Jim agreed. “It looks to me like you have things pretty well under control and the biggest help I can be is to stay the hell out of your way.”

“Yeah, we ought to have these all put together by the end of the day,” Russ said. “That’ll save us some time later on.”

With that said there wasn’t a lot else Jim could do but go find something else work on. The best thing he could figure was to go back and get a little more familiar with the house plans, since it was clear that the house would start going up very soon – and very quickly. There was no point in trying to understand something on the run. He figured that he might as well try to get ahead of this crew of busy beavers while he could.

He was just heading back over to the blueprints sitting on the serving table when he saw a strange sight – an Amish buggy pulling up in front of the job. An old man got out, wearing the Amish uniform of black pants, blue shirt, black suspenders and a wide-brimmed straw hat.

Well, Jim thought. It wasn’t that strange – he knew there was an Amish and Mennonite crew from Indiana and Pennsylvania working at building some houses elsewhere in town, and maybe two or three times he’d seen an Amish horse and buggy around town. Just to be neighborly, he headed over to talk to the old man. “Looks like you’ve got a house raising going here,” the man said. “I saw the activity where I had seen none before, and thought I’d drop by to see what was happening.”

“Well, not quite a house raising, not yet,” Jim smiled. “But it should be in a day or two. I’d guess that you’ve been to one of two of them.”

“Yah,” the old man grinned. “One or two, now and again. Your people seem to get going at it pretty good, like they’ve an idea of what they’re doing. There are places about town where I’ve not seen it like that.”

“They ought to know what they’re doing,” Jim told him. “With only a couple exceptions, this whole crew is on winter layoff from Clark Construction in Spearfish Lake, Michigan. They all came down to help me build this place for my aunt and uncle.”

“I believe I’ve heard of the town,” the old man said. “In the Upper Peninsula, is it not?”

“Yeah, back up in the woods a ways,” Jim agreed. “You’re with the group building houses, well, somewhere in town, I guess.”

“Yah, about ten blocks from here.”

Jim talked with the old guy for a few minutes, learning that his name was Aaron, and he was more or less in charge of the Amish crew from Indiana that was working on one of the projects. He confirmed that most of their materials were trucked down from Indiana and Pennsylvania, and Jim passed along that the materials for this job had been trucked down from Spearfish Lake.

“I can’t work as well as I used to,” Aaron explained after a while. “I’m getting too old to work like that, so they keep me around to solve problems when they arise, and just keep everything moving in the same direction. You seem to be doing well at it.”

“I sort of got the supervision job dropped in my lap, since the house is for my aunt and uncle,” Jim told him. “I’ve never done this kind of thing before and I feel a little lost.”

“You need not feel that way,” Aaron advised. “You have people who know what they’re doing, just as I do. The best thing to do is to let them do their jobs and try to help them when you can.”

“Thanks for the advice, sir,” Jim replied respectfully. Randy had told him much the same thing, but coming from this man it seemed like even better advice. “Feel free to drop by any time you’re in the neighborhood.”

“Yah, I will do that,” Aaron said. “And if you should find yourself a moment free, you might like to come by where we’re working to see how we go about a house raising. It may be a lot of work, but it always is a lot of fun, too.”

“I’m beginning to see that,” Jim grinned. “I’ll tell you that I’ll be glad to see what this place looks like when it’s done.”

“Yah, I will be too,” Aaron replied. “I’ll be on my way, then. I’m afraid I’ve got a couple problems I must solve with the volunteer coordinators. Nothing serious, but someone must do it, and the job falls to I.”

“Well, you have a good day,” Jim told him. “I guess I’d better get back to work too.”

Jim watched as Aaron got in the buggy, chirped to the horse – which hadn’t been tied or anything – and got on his way, with the clip-clop of hooves heading down the street. In a couple minutes, he was back over at the serving table, studying the plans when Bud came over to gab for a minute. “There’s something I never thought I’d see down here,” he said.

“The old Amish guy?” Jim asked.

“Yeah. They always struck me as a little weird, not that I’ve ever seen much of them.”

“Well, they may be,” Jim admitted. “But I’ll tell you what. That guy heads the second-best house building crew in town, at least if what I heard around the volunteer food tent is right. They do more work than a lot of the other groups put together.”

“Second-best?” Bud grinned. “Who’s the best?”

“You’re in it,” Jim laughed. “We just have to prove it.”

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