Heavy Machinery

At the beginning of our site excavation I arranged for a local contractor to bring his track hoe out and level, clear and trench for our foundation.
I had met with him for a consultation and we had decided the easiest way to clear the site was for him to push over the massive 100+ foot fir and hemlock trees with his hoe, while I would buck up the trunks into lengths for future milling. It turned out to be an epic three days of bone crunching machinery and screaming chain saws.

From Site photos

This was way up my ally.
Our track hoe operator was skilled and careful, swiftly turning the dense forest into a clean and workable job site. His track hoe moved as if it was itself alive and doing my bidding. Earth was moved, brush was piled high and neat, “timber” was hollered and the sweat poured. When the dust settled, the base and simple foot print of our future home was visible in the rocky soil of our little piece of Vashon.

From Site photos

I must admit it is a very powerful and a bit scary to rend earth and move great trees with such speed. I assure you, great care was taken by all of us to keep our little forest as whole as we could.
Our plan is to join the ecosystem, not to destroy it for our use. The mighty maple, of which I am so fond, still sits, undisturbed, as a back drop to our endeavor. Like a sentential of the forest. Now as the track hoe lumbers away down our gravel road, we plan for our next move-the forms and steel of our foundation.
It’s hard to imagine a house here in these piles of dirt, rock and raw timber but it has truly began now.

From 2010 operation foundation

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

Lumber delivery

Saturday the four of us piled into two cars and headed to Vashon, leaving one car at Fauntleroy and stuffed ourselves into the big truck for the island part of the drive. We brought over the load of scavenged wood Dad and Forrest had picked up the other day and did a run at the local lumber yard.

Getting the load ready for the ride

The weather was beautiful and the ferry was as swift and majestic as it can be when you aren’t commuting on it. Squeezing into the truck wasn’t easy, but it was fun watching dad menace the oncoming traffic with our massive grill. The unloading went quickly and we then headed off to the Island Lumber, to check out their stash of 20 foot 2x10s and 2x12s.

Got there safe

The lumber was beautiful, clean and all fir. The lumber yard guy was happy to leave his forklift with a palet of lumber on it for us to pick through, though the boards were so nice, there was barely any need to.

Loading up

Passing it up

Dad told me this afternoon he was so excited about the quality of wood he hardly slept last night, thinking about it. We offloaded the fresh lumber and headed back into Seattle before the sun started to set.

Happy Building Permit!

Our good news of the week was that our building permit came through. All we have to do is pick it up. A couple weeks ago we also increased our fleet of vehicles by one enormous truck. She doesn’t have a name yet, so feel free to make suggestions.

Addition to the fleet

Dad and Si have been busily scavenging lumber from craigslist and picking through the stacks at Lowes, the front yard in Seattle is now full of 2x10s, 2x12s and corrugated steel. This week Dad and Forrest took the big truck to Sumer and picked up a big load of recycled timbers, which we will be taking out to the Island on Saturday.

The front yard

Today, to celebrate having a beautiful day off all together (oh and Christmas) me and Mom went for a swim in the lake. We got a curious passerby to take a couple pictures of our mild lunacy.

Christmas Swim

Wading in

We were in the water for about 8 minutes, the first 2 of which were almost torture. I was almost convinced that my collar bones were going to just break off and float away. But they didn’t and by the time we were out far enough to see Rainier, we were officially numb. When I first get in the water, my heart races and everything hurts, my bones, my toes, the back of my neck. But once the numbing happens, my heart rate slows to a thick, steady beat and I feel like  I’m swimming through a viscous liquid. Oddly enough, in water like that, numb feels like warm, and the only tough part, for me at least, is the crazy stiff ache that my hands get.

Once I’m out of the water I warm up even more, my skin gets bright red and feels like the slightest rub would tear it. It’s hard to dry yourself very vigorously in that situation, so I just try and get clothes on as quick as possible. Mom says the dangerous part is making sure that you are clothed and warming up when your circulation starts back up again. Hypothermia sets in when your circulation sends blood back to the very cold regions of you body and then brings the cooled blood back to your core, dropping your core temperature. Warm drinks and movement help. So we drank tea and walked our bikes back through Madison Valley.

Some of the cool stuff we’ve been up to.

Because it’s the winter and our permits are still in the works, nothing is happening on our property, except the lumber curing under the very large tarps. So instead of talking about that boring process, this post is all about the other stuff we’ve been doing.
Simon has had a couple of really awesome jobs work out and there are pictures of the first one here- Jason’s Flickr set
The weekend of Thanksgiving we pour a concrete sidewalk for our helpful and wonderful neighbor Dave. Normally you wouldn’t think of such an activity as being exciting, however there were several elements that were exactly that. For one, the dudes that filled up the cement trailer at the rental place decided to helps us out by filling the unlidded trailer to the very brim. Some of you may have never been to our home on Capitol Hill, but I’m sure most of you have and thus you know, there is almost no way to get to our house with out going down an extremely steep hill.

So there is some cement from us slopped out on Thomas. Sorry about that cyclists.

The over filled trailer of cement

The overfilled cement trailer

The form

The form
Scraping it out

Scraping it out

Another exciting aspect to the project was the very narrow space we had to work with. Because of this, Simon could only dump cement at the very far end of the form, which meant my job was shoveling cement from one end of the form to the other. And with a very determined bush poking me in the butt the whole time. Mom even got in on the scraping action.

Mom scraping

Mom scraping

Dave and me

Dave and I

Surveying the scene

On Saturday we loaded the whole crew up and headed out to the property. We needed to survey the land and talk about a site for the house. We had cleared some in order to pull the fallen trees out for milling, but it was still unclear what would be the best location for building. Dad and Si set up the transit level and we started crashing around in the under brush, trying to figure out where would have the least elevation change, not require too much clearing of the big trees and still be behind a screen of trees from the surrounding properties.

Transit level and the guys

Transit level and the guys

The forest floor on our property is about a foot of duff before you actually hit solid dirt, so there was some digging around and poking it with sticks to try and find the actual ground level. The site we had been thinking of had a drop of around 8 feet, which would mean lots of digging and building of retaining walls, so we shifted our plan to the west a bit. While plotting out that space, Si realized it would push the house into the one full size maple we have on the property. He vetoed the removal of that tree, so we had to shift again. After about an hour of running around the property with the biggest measuring stick you’ve ever seen, we found a good location.

Screen shot 2009-11-01 at 9.38.01 AM

Dad makes notes

Screen shot 2009-11-01 at 9.37.46 AM

Dad and Si

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Measuring the distance

It was a beautiful day and we ended our trip with a couple margaritas and a lovely drive to our friend’s new property on Maury.

We will be staying on Vashon this week, hopefully enjoying this last little bit of sunny, dry weather. I will post some photos of our sweet set up in the little cabin when we get back to town.




Verizon Blows

Just a quick note. Simon might end up with out a phone for a while because when his phone broke last month and we went through a bunch of hoops to get it replaced, they told us we didn’t need to return the old one. This seemed strange to me, so I asked, more than once to be sure that it was the truth. After being assured we could keep the broken one, we took both phones home and took apart the broken one. After establishing that there really wasn’t anything we could do to repair it, we threw it away (Without the battery, of course).

Today we get a bill from Verizon charging us 400 dollars for the damn thing. After much haggling with a rep (who was pretty pleasant, considering the situation) it appeared they were totally willing to charging me the 400 dollar even though it was clear it wasn’t our fault. The only compromise we could come to was to send Si’s current phone back and then find a replacement on craigslist. One way or the other, it’s a serious pain in the ass. And Verizon sucks.