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

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 16

The sun was just coming up the next morning when most of the crew was finished with breakfast. “Guess there’s nothing much to do but start getting the floor up,” Jim said. “I don’t think I need to tell any of the carpenters here about how to do that. Mike, Randy, get started on the pads for the ramp. If you need any help, there ought to be some available. Bob, I don’t know how much material they’re going to need lifted up to the floor level once they get the joists in, but you might want to keep the fork tines handy.”

“It won’t be for a while, yet,” Bob said. “I thought I might start cleaning up some of the mess across the street so your aunt and uncle won’t have to look at such a disaster area out their front window. If someone needs me to do a lift, I won’t be very far away.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jim agreed. “But you probably ought to have someone to drive the dump truck for you.”

“Oh, I can do that,” Rachel said. “I haven’t driven it much, but I know how to do it.”

“Why do I get the feeling you are your brother’s sister?” Jim grinned. “We get back to Spearfish Lake and the next thing you know you’re going to want someone to teach you how to run the grader.”

“Hey, that sounds like fun!” she laughed. “Would you like to do it?”

“You might be surprised,” he grinned back at her. “Go ahead and drive the dump truck for Bob.” He could just imagine her in the cab of the big John Deere! And yes, she was the same kind of hands-on person as her brother – she’d probably enjoy it.

He turned back to the rest of the crew and said, “I’ll hang around for a while until we get going good, and then I’ve got to go hassle some utilities people again.”

People finished their coffee and set to work. Jim watched for a few minutes as Russ started to organize how he’d put the floor joists together – it was something that he’d only taken the mildest interest in previously, and there was a chance of learning something. Mike and Randy and a couple others were at work with shovels, starting to build forms for the pads for the handicapped ramp, while Ken used the transit to keep the heights accurate, which was something Jim at least understood. Bob started in clearing the lot across the street with the backhoe, and Rachel proved she really did know how to run the dump truck by firing it up and driving it over to where Bob was working.

It seemed to Jim that everyone knew what they were doing and were busy doing it, so he figured he might as well go and see about the electrical stuff. Usually when he’d run such errands, he and Bob had killed two birds with one stone by using the dump truck and dropping a load at the collection point on the way, but now the dump truck was busy. He went over and got in his pickup for the first time in days and drove it over to the electrical company’s emergency office where he’d been days before.

“We don’t have a house up yet,” he told the guy. “But we should pretty soon.”

“Like I told you the other day, get a house there and you’ll have power for it. It normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but right now we’d have to set up a construction service panel. If you get the house in place and the wiring in okay without it, we can save some useful time by not having to deal with that step. How soon do you think you’ll be ready for service?”

“I can’t say, but pretty soon,” Jim told him. “We have a couple electricians flying in next weekend to take care of that part of the deal, and if things go the way we’re hoping they will, I think we’ll be ready for them.”

“Good enough,” he said. “Can you do without electrical service until then?”

“I think so,” Jim told him. “There are a couple of portable generators, and we have a motor home generator we’ve been using. We can probably make do.”

“We’ll have a crew over there a week from Monday,” the guy told him. “If you fall behind schedule, let me know so we can reschedule.”

“I will if we have to,” Jim told him. “But with any kind of luck, we should be OK.”

“Just let us know. Lately, we’ve been pretty much able to meet a schedule when it gets set, but we have some help that’s been lent us from other power companies. They answer to us, not that joker who tries to get every piece of equipment that comes to town over to that Beach Boulevard project. Have you had any run-ins with him?”

“Yeah, he’s tried to get us over there a couple times. I don’t see what the big yank is all about, there’s plenty of other stuff to be done, and I don’t see why that’s so much more important than anything else.”

“Well, he’s the only one who thinks it’s important,” he electric company guy said. “You know much about the politics down here?”

“I assume they have some, that’s about it.”

“Oh yeah, they have some, that’s for sure. In general everyone is pulling in more or less the same direction, but the real problem is that the mayor has health issues and hasn’t been an effective force. The city attorney is trying to act like an acting mayor, but his authority is limited, so that leaves room for little empire builders like that joker. He does have some drag with some of the assemblymen but there doesn’t seem to be anyone around who can tell him to sit down and shut up, then make it stick. If outsiders don’t know better they can get sucked right in.”

“I can see that,” Jim nodded. “If we hadn’t been down here with a specific job to do we’d have been sucked right in with them. Bob went over there for a day when our truck was broke down, and he said he didn’t see anything anyone needed to be in a big hurry about.”

The electric company guy glanced around to see that no one was listening, then explained in a low voice. “Before Katrina came along the main economy in this town was the casinos, and there’s a group that seems to think the quickest way to get the town rebuilt is to get the casinos running and everything else will follow along in time. In a way they may be right, but it ignores everything else that needs to get done. Even then it’s probably going to take a couple years at least to get the hotels and casinos built. But there are people who think it needs to be done sooner. You can guess who is behind that group and whose pockets the money will be going into.”

“Thanks,” Jim said. “That explains a lot.”

With that bit of information in mind, Jim decided to head back over to the city office to let a little pressure off the guy that dealt with water and sewer lines. The guy was as busy as ever, but was relieved to hear that they’d installed a temporary driven well, so that was an item off his list. “We’re still going to need sewer,” Jim told him. “You think we’re good to go on that?”

“That may be an issue,” the city utility supervisor told him. “We’ve discovered a couple breaks on the mains over in that part of town. They’re going to have to get fixed before we can even test that part of the system further, and equipment is at a premium what with so many resources going over to the Beach Boulevard project.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of a pain in the neck, isn’t it?” Jim asked, now knowing a little more of the background and interested in the guy’s reaction.

The city utility guy didn’t give him one. “Well, most of the time we can keep up with what needs to be done, but sometimes it gets to be an issue.”

“Like I said, I have a backhoe available if it’s really needed, and the guy who owns it is down here now. I think he’d be willing to say that it can’t be used for anything that doesn’t directly affect getting the house done, and he’s not a guy to argue with once his mind is made up.”

“Well, that’s good to know. You’ve got what? A couple weeks before you have to have the sewer hooked up?”

“Something like that, but I expect the backhoe will be disappearing about the time we’re done. We almost headed back north with it the day before yesterday, so if you want to use it, it’s a case of use it or lose it.”

“I’m hoping we won’t have to, but I’ll keep it in mind.”

Jim headed out of the city office with the realization that sewer service was now going to be a determining item on when Aunt Rita and Uncle John were going to be able to move back into the house. It wasn’t a big issue now, but it looked like it had the possibility of becoming one.

He and Bob just hadn’t worried about that. They’d used occasional handy bushes and the johns over at the volunteer center for the period they’d been down there before the rescue party arrived from Spearfish Lake. They were now using the john in the motor home and an extremely primitive porta-potty that someone had assembled out of scrap. But that was pretty inconvenient and had some issues of its own. Bud had said that it was going to be necessary to drive the motor home someplace to dump the holding tank today. It looked like it was going to be a daily issue as long as the big crew was there.

But that was something that couldn’t be done with Aunt Rita and Uncle John. Jim knew that about all he could do was to check in frequently and try not to be too much of a pest about it.

As long as he was out and around, Jim figured that he might as well take a swing by where Aaron’s Amish crew was working, just to see how things were coming and to return the visit from the day before. It took a little finding – it was well past where Aunt Rita and Uncle John’s house had been – but he found a big crew there, one that dwarfed the Clark Construction crew. It was mostly made up of Amish men in their uniform of blue shirts, black pants with suspenders and wide-brimmed straw hats, along with a few women in their blue dresses.

There was one thing out of place – at the house with the most framing going on, there was a motor home sitting there with a non-Amish man and woman using power saws powered by the motor home’s generator to do a lot of the heavy sawing. They were an extremely busy couple and there was still a lot of hand sawing going on.

Jim soon found Aaron, who was mostly supervising the finish work two houses away – the one in between was just sitting there, with the exterior complete but the project obviously not yet done. “You people are really going to it,” he said.

“Yah, we’re used to working like this, and we’re mostly able to work on the existing foundations, so that speeds things up a little.”

“What’s the deal with that house?” Jim said, pointing at the partly completed house.

“Ah,” Aaron smiled. “Not many of us know much about electrical, as you might guess, so we get a house as completed as we can. There are a couple electricians that come by every now and then to do the heavy wiring in two or three houses at a time, and then we can go ahead and finish up.”

“Makes sense,” Jim nodded. “I’ve got kind of the same problem. I think we’ve got people enough who know basic wiring, but we have an electrician coming to do some of it to meet code requirements. We have a couple flying down next weekend to help.”

“If they have a few extra days and time to spare, I think we can probably find something for them to do,” Aaron said.

“I don’t know for sure how long they’re planning on being here, but I’ll ask,” Jim promised. “Our company owner is down here, and I think he’d be interested in seeing how you do things with a crew this big.”

“Bring him by some time,” Aaron grinned. “’Tis not an easy thing, but it helps when you have people who know what they’re doing.”

It was interesting watching the Amish work – they worked fast, but they also did quality work, Jim could see as he stood and watched. He didn’t stay long, realizing that he’d been away from the job long enough.

He drove back over to the Clark Construction job to find that the floor joists were all in place, and the first layer of sheathing was being nailed onto them, working from a stack of plywood on the fork lift tines on the front of the backhoe’s loader. There was so much hammering going on that it sounded to Jim like they were in the middle of a nailstorm.

Jim went up a ladder and found Russ busy laying out sheathing to be nailed into place. “How’s it coming?” he asked.

“Not bad,” Russ told him. “We should be framing up the exterior walls before we break for lunch, probably have them up and roof trusses up before we’re done today.”

“Got a question. Are we going to be far enough along for the electrical guys to be here in a week?”

“Oh, yeah, easily. They could start in a couple days but it’s not absolutely necessary. We can run wire to stay ahead of them. It wouldn’t hurt to have them here early, but you’d have to talk to Randy about that. He was the one that worked out the deal with Schoonover.”

“Good enough,” Jim told him. “Just keep at it, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“Nothing in particular right now, but you never know.”

Figuring again that the best thing he could do was to stay the hell out of the way, Jim went back down the ladder and walked over to where Bob was sitting on the seat of the backhoe. “Staying busy?” he asked.

“Not particularly, but this isn’t going to last long,” Bob told him. “That joker from the Beach Boulevard project was over here bugging me to get this thing over and help out there again. He was really sounding a little desperate. Apparently he’s lost some of his volunteer help and equipment in the last few days.”

“I found out what the deal on that is” Jim told him, “And I can imagine why he’s losing volunteer help if that word is getting out.” He went on to explain what the guy at the electric company had told him, about the work being to facilitate reopening the casinos.

“That kind of sucks,” Bob agreed when Jim had finished. “Yeah, the casino workers need their jobs, but they’re going to need places to stay, too. You realize he’s going to be bugging us again, especially if we’re cleaning up across the street, or if he finds this thing just sitting.”

“Yeah, and I think we need to do something about that,” Jim said. He looked around and saw Randy working on a pad for the handicapped ramp not far away. It didn’t look like anything that couldn’t be put down for a minute, so he yelled and asked him to come over.

“What’s up, Jim?” Randy asked when he got over to the backhoe.

“Just a little problem we need to have you involved in,” Jim told him, explaining briefly how the guy from the Beach Boulevard project had been pushy about trying to snag equipment from other projects – and why. “I figured you needed to know the whole story before he demands to talk to you. We could probably let go of this machine for a little while if it was really needed, but I don’t think we need to get sucked into that one.”

“Me either,” Randy said. “We do an awful lot to facilitate casino construction, but we get paid for it. We’re doing this job for free, but I don’t think we need to give freebies over there, especially for a commercial project. What do you need me to do?”

“Well, mostly back Bob and me up if it comes to that,” Jim told him. “Now I realize you think I’m the super on this job, but you still own the company and the backhoe. I want you to give us a direct order that we’re not supposed to use this machine for anything that doesn’t add to getting this job done.”

“No problem with that. The insurance might be a little iffy if we use it for something else, anyway. You and Bob can take it as an order.”

“Good enough,” Jim said. “That ought to be the end of that. Bob and I have already told this guy no a few times, but it keeps getting harder.”

“You can tell him that if we get direct orders to go over there from someone who seems to think he’s in charge, the backhoe goes back on the trailer and goes back to Spearfish Lake. That’s unless he wants to talk about a specific contract at an adequate price, and I’m the one he has to talk to for that.”

“That’s just exactly what we needed,” Jim told him. “I think Bob and I can deal with it from here and let you go back to playing like you’re on the concrete crew.”

The rest of the morning Jim mostly just tried to make himself useful, but still it was exciting to watch. The floor sheathing was still being nailed into place at one end of the building while the first of the exterior walls was being framed up, and sure enough it was standing upright along with a second wall before they broke for lunch. The third and fourth walls were up not long after the lunch break. Sheathing was soon going on all around the building to stabilize the walls, and soon the roof trusses that had been built the day before were being lifted and nailed into place, with roof sheathing going on almost before the next trusses were there to it nail to. Hammers and nail guns were thumping, and there was the scream of saws trying to keep up with them.

It was a heady sight; when they started in the morning there had just been the pilings sticking up out of the ground, but by the end of the day they clearly had a house there, although there was still a lot of work to go.

Some work was still going on as the sun went down. Dinner came slowly, mostly since Bud had limited space for the steaks he was grilling, so that meant dinner was spread out and some of the people that had eaten early went back to get a little more done on the house. Only when the light got too bad to work did the hammering slowly come to an end, and people drifted over to what had been the traditional bonfire – now fed with wood scraps from the building, along with some Katrina debris that had been gathered.

Once again, the fire didn’t last long, and by the time it had more or less burned down most of the workers had drifted off to bed with the prospect of another early morning in front of them. And, once again, Jim and Rachel were among the last to be sitting around the dying coals, this time not alone but with a handful of others. “This has been a pretty spectacular day,” Rachel commented. “I mean, this morning there was nothing, and already it’s starting to look like a house.”

“It usually goes pretty much like that,” Russ commented. “Although usually not quite that quickly. With the extra hands we did several normal days work here in one day, and it looks like we got a lot done. And, really, we did. There’s still a lot of work to do, and we’ll look like we make progress every day, but it won’t be the spectacular progress we saw today.”

“Those Amish I went over and looked at this morning throw up a house pretty quickly,” Jim commented. “But they have even more people, and I don’t think they do as well as we did today. And besides, they’re working on slabs, not up on pilings, which makes it harder for us. I think we did pretty damn well.”

“There’s no doubt we did,” Rachel said. “And it was a lot of fun to watch, and even more fun to be a part of. I’ll tell you what, I’m bushed, and I’m ready to turn in for the night. Jim, I hope you don’t think I’m leaving you and I really don’t want to, but after the late nights I can barely keep my eyes open. I’ll make it up to you some other time.”

“No problem, I’ve been thinking about turning in early myself,” he said, realizing just exactly what she was talking about, and realized that she’d said it the way she had in order to slip it by the rest of the crew. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

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