Category Archives: Vena

Operation Foundation Part 2

My first day at the newly cleared site was a foul, rainy, windy day. Everything in the truck was soaked and quickly, so were we. It was impressive to be able to actually picture a house in what used to be only forest, but with my hood up and coat zipped to my chin, I didn’t do much looking around. We unloaded supplies, set up the transit level and discussed the plan of action.

From 2010 operation foundation
From 2010 operation foundation
From 2010 operation foundation

The clearing had been taken care of, but the trench the footing form would set in still needed to be dug, so our trusty trackhoe operator appeared after we had set stakes for the permitter. He quickly set to carefully excavating the trench, moving with amazing speed and accuracy.

From 2010 operation foundation

(click me for video!)

From 2010 operation foundation

After the major excavation was completed, we started cleaning out the trenches and leveling the ground for the 2x8s that would soon be creating the walls of our footing form. The dirt was extremely rocky and digging in the rain is never fun, so both Simon and I were quickly tired and a little cranky.

From 2010 operation foundation

By the end of the day, we had the trench roughed out for the footing and had enough supplies to start putting it all together.

From 2010 operation foundation

We were also tired, damp and looking towards days and days of more digging, hauling supplies and working in the rain.

From 2010 operation foundation
From 2010 operation foundation
From 2010 operation foundation
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Lining it out

On Saturday, Si, Dad and I headed out to Vashon with stakes, flags, long tape measures, the transit level and the Stihl 015 (a small chainsaw). It was time to line out the footprint of the house for the guy who was going to do the excavation for the foundation and stubwall.

The spot we’d picked for the house was right where a big tree had come down a couple years ago and on the newly exposed forest floor a carpet of baby hemlocks had popped up. They were competing for the sun, growing tall and skinny, close together. In order to use the transit level, Si had to mash through the mini forest with the chainsaw (probably over kill, but we left the machete in Seattle), clearing the line of sight. He had fun and I tried not to flinch as the baby hemlocks fell left and right. They were so hopeful and green, struggling to beat each other out for the quickly closing in sky.

From Site photos

In order to figure out the location of the house corners, we somewhat arbitrarily picked a spot for the southwest corner. The transit level was set up at the corner after much messing around getting it level in the deep, soft forest floor.

From Site photos

Using a compass, we decided the appropriate direction for the west wall, measured out 30 feet and marked it. Dad shot the location of the northeast corner with the transit level, then rotated 90 degrees for the south wall.

From Site photos

Because the house is actually two towers, connected at a slight angle, there was some guestimating for the east corners, but because a trackhoe is not a particularly precise machine, we weren’t too worried.
As I’ve mentioned before, our land hasn’t been cleared since it was logged in the early 1900’s. There are downed trees everywhere, deep, soft duft and small, hearty bushes through out. Getting 30 feet in any one direction requires a large amount of climbing over/under obstacles and crashing through brush. Big rubber boots are the best way to keep dry, but you loose mobility and control.

From Site photos

Staying upright is a struggle, but even damp from falling in bushes I had fun.

From Site photos

And I got to use the chainsaw!

From Site photos

Update and some background

The camera is officially lost so there will be fewer photos for a while. It got left somewhere on the Island and either got picked up by someone or just disappeared into the underbrush. Hopefully we will come up with a way to replace it soon.

Because there isn’t much to tell about this week, Simon painted the ends of the logs to keep them from checking, his folks finally got to see the property and the electrical line has been re-marked, I’m going to give some background info.

Si, my folks and I started looking for property in June. Mom’s oldest/best friend lives on Vashon and she gave us a name of a realtor that came highly recommened. I called Emma and told her what we were looking for and she said something along the lines of “there’s no way”. Her position (a completely reasonable one, by the way) was that you couldn’t buy raw land and build a house for any where close to what we were talking about spending. If you didn’t have my father in on the deal, this is probably true.

However, my dad has built two houses and knew that a. between the 4 of us, we have a basic construction crew, b. careful design and long range planning enables us to not use any outside help and c. savaging/milling your own lumber is awesome.

So I had Emma send me the few listings of raw land on Vashon. There was a sweet 3 acre parcel for sale on the south end of the Island that looked nice, and after some e-mails back and forth with Emma, me and Mom agreed to come out that weekend and check out the land.

To make a long story short, it was the property we ended up buying. Mom loved, I thought it was pretty cool and Emma was wonderful and impressed by the property as well. The next could weeks screeched by until the official offer was put in and we just sat back to wait for the escrow/mortgage stuff to work itself out.

About the same time, Simon had gotten me to call our downstair neighbor, Tony and Kiki (meaning down the hill) and ask them if they wanted him to clean the copious amounts of moss off their roof. Si and Tony hit it off and soon they were talking about Tony’s plans for his 5 acre tree farm. The trees had been neglected for years and were starting to die off. Simon quickly convinced him he could tend to the trees and other issues on the property and started going to the property regularly. In a pretty awesome turn of events, Tony needs almost endless work done on the property and was ok with Si leaving the camper on his property, so Simon has been working/staying out there in between working on our property.

Trenchers and plumbing

Simon spent the first half of the week trying to figure out the best/easiest/cheapest way to get on and off the Island. There’s a passenger ferry that runs from Downtown weekdays and a long term parking lot just up the hill from the dock on the Vashon side, so Si left his Yamaha on the Island and tried taking the passenger ferry. Unfortunately the ferry only goes to Vashon once in the morning, at 7:30, which makes for a bright and early start, and it costs more than motorcycling on to the Fautleroy ferry. There are a few other ways to get on the island, involving water taxis and buses, but they all involved a lot of time and a similar amount of money. So it looks like Si is going to be going on and off Island on his motorcycle. He is not disappointed.

On Wednesday Dad and Si loaded up Si’s truck with plumbing supplies and the newly purchased temporary electrical pole. They headed to the Island, planning to pick up a trencher at the hardware store and get to work early. Si’s truck is a sweet ’78 Toyota Hilux, with a bumper-mounted ball for towing, and totally capable of pulling a trencher. However, at the hardware store the trencher was on a monster trailer, with a raised tongue, making the cup for the towing ball way too high to hook up to Si’s truck. The hardware store’s delivery truck was out on a run, so they had to agree to have the trencher dropped off at the property after 2.

With several hours to kill, Dad and Si started working on putting together the plumbing for the waterline. Even with a simple single hose-bib set up there are numerous little pieces to be purchased and assembled with glue and teflon tape. After much messing around, they realized they didn’t have all the parts they needed and gave up for the day.

The trencher showed up on time at the property and Si set to digging out the waterline. The trencher was a Dingo, which is a large track digger, with a plate you can fold down and ride on, rather than walking behind it. The trenching went pretty smooth, though there are always parts that require hand digging, particularly in a big old forest with large root systems. Dad followed behind the trencher, laying pipe. The most exciting part of the day was shutting the trencher off. For some reason, after sputtering to a stop the Dingo would backfire, extremely loudly. The first time this happened Si and Dad both jumped about a foot in the air. As Si said, when you forget about it, it scares the crap out of you. When you remember and cover your ears, nothing happens. So you end up standing in the forest, with your hands over you ears, flinching away from a totally silent machine.

After the long day, they headed to town for food and margaritas. As before, both Dad and Si were completely filthy, with no possibility of a shower. Dad asked the bartender, “If we don’t touch anything, will you give us margaritas?”

On Thursday they went back at it, Si trenching for the power-line and Dad putting together the waterline that they laid earlier. The saddle valve Dad had ordered for connecting the waterline to the main line had not shown up yet, so even once the line was plumbed, there was no water on the property (a saddle value is a valve that hooks over an existing waterline, seals on to the line and then, when properly in place, punches a hole in the line. Excellent for new construction on existing waterlines because you don’t have to shut off the water to hook up). They had brought some water with them and the cooler with the ends of their food and melted ice. The day ended with no drinking water and a cooler full of dirt. How did this happen? I am going to rely on a straight quote from Si. ” To tell the story right, you have to start with the exhaust fire. What exhaust fire you ask? The trencher exhaust fire!
“I was heading deeper on to the property with the Dingo when I noticed the exhaust smoking. Or I guess, smoking more than it had been before. I shut the trencher off and called Greg over.
‘That looks like it’s on fire,’ I said. ‘Did you bring the fire extinguisher?’
“Greg mumbled, ‘..I’ve been meaning to bring one…’
“Now it was clear we really had a fire. But because we had only one small bottle of water, and it was a particularly warm day, I didn’t want to use it on the fire. I remembered the cooler full of melted ice, tossed the cheese, summer sausage and milk onto the ground, and dumped the water from the melted ice on the flaming forest duff. It did a perfect job of putting out the fire. We set the cooler down and I started shoveling the duff away from the trencher. As I pitched the first shovelful over my shoulder, I realized the cooler was directly behind me. It was a direct hit – the cooler was now completely full of soft, slightly scorched duff and dirt. We still didn’t have any water to wash it out, so at the end of the day we just closed it up and brought it home, dirt and all.”
The cooler is now sitting on our porch in Seattle, still full of dirt. The camera, however, is sitting on a stump out at the property, so no photos this time.

This week’s work

Wednesday morning Si and Dad headed to the Vashon Roasters for tea and sundries, taking the morning slow. The hardware store called while they watching the locals come and go, telling them they were planning on dropping the Bobcat T190 off at the property at 1pm, rather than Thursday morning.

They were planning to meet Tom, the owner of the portable Woodmizer that was going to be milling the trees from the property, at twelve thirty. He showed up and said nice things about the trees and the land, showed them how he wanted the cold deck set up and charmed Dad and Si completely. Both of them are still talking about how nice he was and how much they are looking forward to working with his state-of-the-art mill.

Maybe you haven’t had the pleasure of milling lumber with a small mill before, so it’s difficult to explain the absolute craziness of it. The tree sections spin and spit lumber out faster than you can pull it off the mill and stack it up, soaking wet and coated in fine, itchy sawdust. His mill has a de-barking blade, which means one of the most unpleasant aspects of the job, pressure washing the logs, wouldn’t be necessary. Knowing that I will certainly be involved in the milling process, I am pretty excited about about the fancy mill too.

The Bobcat showed up at one, as promised and Si took to it the same way he takes to any machine.

Whoa! bobcat!

Whoa! bobcat!


The T190 is a small cat with tank treads and a bucket. It took Si about an hour to get the controls down, joysticks for steering, peddles for lifting and lowering the bucket. The first couple rounds of grading were a little hurkey-jerky, but Si has almost limitless patience for figuring out motorized things.
The first 8-12 inches of the forest floor are duft, which is a mixture of soft moss and rotten wood debris. The first step of grading was to scrape this layer off and use it to fill in the low spots in the area marked out to be the parking space/staging ground for the mill. Once he was down to the actual hard dirt, the job of grading got easier and Si quickly leveled the road.

While Si was crashing around with the Bobcat, Dad was limbing the fallen trees and clearing out brush around them to prepare for racking the logs in the cold deck. After the road was graded, Si and Dad set to moving them out of the forest and on to the cold deck. Si would mash the Bobcat out to the logs, they would wrap a choke chain around the log and then using the bucket, Si would drag it out of the trees.

Moving the logs

Moving the logs


Once to the cold deck, they would move the chain to the middle of the log, wedge one end up over the bottom of the deck, lift the log and drive the Bobcat in between the deck timbers.
Cold stack 1

Cold stack 1


Cold stack 2

Cold stack 2

With 15 logs to go, Dad and Si stuck to it, making good progress until 5 when they quit, filthy and exhausted and headed to town for Margaritas and food.

Thursday was more cold stacking and Tom, the miller stopped back by, and was impressed by the amount of work they had gotten done since he was there last. Because they had made so much progress, Tom decided he could squeeze us in before mid-October, which was what he had said previously, it sounds like we will start milling in mid-September.

Dad and Si worked on the cold deck until 2pm when the gravel truck showed up. The driver said, “there’s only 2 of you working?” with mild amazement. Then he drove his truck up the road, opened the bed and tore back down the road, dumping gravel all the way. Dumping gravel at 30 mph down an unfinished road is a feat and Si and Dad were throughly impressed. The driver said, “I drive the concrete truck too, so I’ll see you then!” and headed off.

Freshly graveled road

Freshly graveled road

The cold deck was finished that afternoon.

Big stack

Big stack


Cold stack and truck

Cold stack and truck


There was some gravel raking and then some drinking and eating in town. They headed back the following morning, disappointed that the hardware store had come by early to pick up the Bobcat. They bought the piping for the waterline on their way out of town and were home by the time I got off work that afternoon.

What does it take?

Thursday evening, after working a full day, Dad and Si went in to town for dinner. With no shower on either Tony’s or our property, they were both pretty filthy. Simon was proud of himself for remembering to bring a clean bright white tee-shirt, which he changed into on the way to the restaurant. The day had required lots of heavy lifting, and Si’s shoulders were sore. Sitting at the table, he rubbed his shoulders, trying to work out some of the knots. After ordering, he figured it would be a good plan to wash his hand before eating, so he headed to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, he realized all the rubbing had left his dirty finger prints all over the shoulders of his clean white tee-shirt. Coming out of the restroom, he realized the whole restaurant seemed slightly concerned by their presence. Dad was wearing the same shirt as 3 days prior with “Ride the SLUT” in large, uppercase letters. No one wanted to get close enough to the loud, smelly, slightly intoxicated man to read the fine print “South Lake Union Trolly”.

After they get home, Mom said “There were some things I didn’t anticipate in this process…like the level of manliness it would require.”

Si says, “you can’t turn forest into dwelling without manliness.”
Video of the manly men’s work

Success!

Apparently (this is second hand) some one showed up at the property today when Dad was working to find a land line (who knew people still did such a thing?). He had a locator, which is a neat device that finds buried utilities, if they are property tagged and he let Dad borrow it and they found the water line! Of course it was right in between the 2 ditches that Si had already dug, but at this point, who cares?! We don’t have to dig all the way from the pump house!

I am unfortunately stuck in the city, but Si rode out on the new Yamaha today to stay in the sweet little trailer with Dad. I have a hard time picturing the 2 of them both inside at the same time, but supposedly it works. When he returns with my computer I will post some photos of the cuteness. It has a bright orange enamel stove AND sink.

The new mission is finding a temporary electrical pole/box. Craigslist here I come!