By Ron Pestone – Part I
The names and places in this article have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.
My nephew Mike is a small home contractor specializing in carpentry. He can do it all from framing to finish carpentry and he does it all beautifully. Over the years he has done many projects with and for me and my wife and has been a major contributor in creating a truthfully beautiful house for us. Mike is smart, talented and a real hard working honest guy who always has a backlog of work waiting for him. While he might not be rich he makes enough to fish and hunt when he wants to and to enjoy his motorcycles and other toys.
The problem is, if Mike gets sick or gets hurt and cannot work for an extended period of time he will be in real trouble. Worse yet, if he gets stiffed by a couple of his customers or if one large customer stiffs him, he is out of business. Yet Mike has no bad habits and always manages to put money in the bank. For all the beautiful work he does, it just doesn’t seem right. Nobody that talented, hardworking with no real bad habits should always be that close to the edge. But for now all seems well with him.
One of the projects Mike helped me with was in the building of my barn. Years ago I has contracted with a company in Ohio that specialized in building barns and after some prolonged and serious negotiations we signed a contract and shortly thereafter I had a very nice 40’ X 30” two story barn sitting on my property. A real contractors dream, a place to store all my material, tools and equipment.
When the barn was up and standing it looked enormous. There was not a single thing in it. I couldn’t wait until I started filling it. My wife was equally happy because she was hoping to get back the 2 ½ car garage and store room behind it.
So, I started loading the barn. In went my International tractor, Oliver bulldozer and Oliver loader and all the tractor attachments. Then came all the large tools that were in the garage and storeroom. That was the first floor. Within four months the 2nd floor was bulging with material. I was a happy man. Only problem I had was the actual floor on the first floor was dirt. Building on a budget my plan had been to get the barn up first and later on to put in a concrete floor.
Well, later on turned out to be a little later on than I had originally though. In fact it was a few years later than I had first thought. Right after the barn was up I started building a large pond and waterfall and like everything else I tackled it turned into a major production. It came out beautiful but it took more time and money than I had originally thought. But it was well worth it. I had built many things in my life and more than my share of boxes but the pond and water fall were the first things I ever built that gave life. I mean it, that pond gave life. After the pond was filled and the water fall working the pond suddenly become populated with frogs. We had and have no idea where they came from but one day they were there and they have been crocking ever since. When people ask me about them I always say, “One day a bus came up the mountain and stopped in front of the pond and out came all these frogs with their suitcases and they just moved in.” We didn’t want the frogs to be alone so we put in Koi and in a short time they started having babies galore. We should have bought them a television. With the water, frogs and fish came the wild life. From our windows we watched a civilization come to life.
Meantime although my machines were out of the weather it was no fun working on them off a dirt floor. There were the dry times with dust, the frozen times with steel floors and ice patches and my least favorite times, the muddy times where you had to work in boots and every step required an extra effort.
After the pond and waterfall it was time to put in the concrete floor. I was really starting to feel it working on dirt and so I put the floor on the top of the list. First Mike and I unloaded the barn. In the years after it was first occupied the stuff had really grown. We had more stuff squeezed into that barn than we had baby fish in the pond and that is some statement in itself. I took the better part of three days to totally clear out the first floor. You would not believe what we had stuffed in there. The machines were less than half of what came out and they came out the easiest. There were tools, steel, pipe, extra parts for the machines, attachments, oil, grease, cutting torches, it went on and on. Every square inch had something to give.
Then Mike and I had a discussion about how we were going to pour the slab. I wanted it 6” deep with plenty of steel in it so it wouldn’t crack and I wanted it poured as tight as possible. I also wanted 6” of heavy gravel under the slab so water would never be a problem during the monsoon period. Eventually we got it all worked out except the actual pouring and finishing of the slab. Now I’ve been around for a long time and I knew that part of the project would have to be done by a pro. If I really wanted a glass finish without any valleys we would have to bring in a professional crew. In addition if we attempted to do it and it got away from us we would both wind up in the hospital.
Turned out Mike knew some guy he had worked with on a lot of jobs by the name of Johnny who had a three man crew. Mike said they did some beautiful concrete work. I asked Mike to arrange a meeting where I could go over with Johnny what I wanted and agree on a price.
About a week later Johnny came to the house and the two of us headed for the barn. The guy looked like he did concrete work. He was about 6’2” and 190 pounds, none of which was fat. He was all wire, musclel and grizzle. He looped when he walked and with the exception of his teeth, which were bad, he made a good impression. He was very cautious with his word, almost like he was being charged ten dollars a pop so I let it all happen at his pace.
After about 5 minutes of looking at the job and me explaining what I wanted he looked at me with the brightest green eyes I ever saw and said, “You frame it, put the gravel in, level it so I don’t have any problems and lay down the steel and I’ll pour it real dry and finish it for you for a grand.”
All my adult life I’ve been a contractor so my first instinct is to always negotiate down the price. But it seemed so cheap I just couldn’t do it. Instead I asked, “When can you do it?” He looked at me and said, “Mike said you’re solid so I don’t need anything up front. As soon as you get your part done call me and I’ll do it no later than two weeks later.”
We shook hands on it and he left. His hands were as hard as rocks. I had a good feeling about him. Mike and I started framing the following weekend and two weekends later we were ready for Johnny.
End of Part I
Remember: We Build America