Marc and I were 20-some-feet in the air sitting on the principle rafters of two adjacent bents, setting a ridge beam as it was gently lowered into our hands from the nearby crane. “Well,” Marc said with a sly smile, “here we are again.” Marc and I have been setting ridge beams for 30 years together. This one was in Sisters, Oregon just a couple of weeks back. The sun that day was a merciful 96ºF (given that the day before had beat the 100ºF mark) and we were heading towards the end of a reasonable long crane day.
I still do raisings. But I’ll also admit that at 66 I find myself a bit more tired at the end than perhaps I used to be. Why is it that I’m still “riding the ridge” so many years later? Why is it that Marc, still more fit than 80% of Americans half his age (I kid you not), is willing to fly out from his home in North Carolina to help us out? The answers aren’t all too tough a riddle: we love raisings. As Marc said at the end of that particular day, “I feel such a sense of accomplishment.” It’s mostly that simple. It’s also the reason why our raising team is made up primarily of the same folks who cut and finished the frame in the shop. That sense of accomplishment, of bringing one’s work to completion, with a bonus scoop of circular learning.
The other big reason is that we are swamped. We’re blessed with a daunting load of work in this strong housing market and have been for the last few years, maybe longer. So, it’s an all-hands effort. Out here on the west coast, my coworker Darren and I represent the bulk of experience on raising day. While the team in the shop are gaining ground quickly, and are enthusiastic, much happens on raising day to make it safe and efficient, and to solve the various challenges and fittings that happen all day long.
Here’s how Katie, our client last week on Bainbridge Island, described our process:
Marc began with me in 1988 (!) and while he and his wife Tracy have since moved to North Carolina from NY, he still is working as hard as ever with us all over the country. His coming out west to run a raising or two is so welcome. Plus, we have fun.
Or mostly we have fun. He had just driven up from raising a frame for an event center near Yosemite. 105ºF heat, smoke from a too-near forest fire, and 3-person crew when the fourth had to fly home for a family emergency set the project up to fail, or at least take much longer. On the Thursday morning they were scheduled to be packing up and heading home, I expected a call needing another day or more. Instead, I got this photo:
I can tell you I was shocked. And delighted. We had a tight time budget and a crane scheduled for the following Monday at the next project, which meant he had to drive the 12 hours, rest a tad, then head over the Cascades to the dry side of the state and pre-assemble the bents through the weekend in Sisters, OR. In more hot weather.
To have finished the California raising meant a lot of skilled and hard work. Both our guys with him had to work hard as well, and word has it that each threw up with the heat and all on the last day. (“It was the smoke, not the work,” asserted Dave C.) But the job was complete, and gorgeous. “I’ve been working for Robert [the owner and longtime builder] for 18 years,” said the site foreman, “and I don’t remember seeing him this impressed with a project, and guys like you.”
On Sunday I drove out to Sisters and grilled a wild salmon dinner for the team of Marc, Calvin, Jorge and Andrew and Jill and Scott, our clients. I still love hanging with the team and getting to know our homeowners. Monday the raising, and the start of my story, above. Scott did a time lapse if you have a couple of minutes. They’ve been married for 30-something years and to talk to them is like talking to newlyweds. "Why are you guys like this", I had to ask. “Because we’ve lived a blessed and lucky life,” Jill answered. Scott just smiled, as he is wont to do.
Four raisings in four weeks out here on the west coast. We’re not as large or as established as my amazing coworkers in New York, who have their own story to write, but by timber frame company standards we’re definitely not small. Even so, this is a lot. Back to Katie’s words:
The project in Bainbridge had special meaning, as it challenged all our notions about bracing, moment stresses, metal and wood connections and modern fastening. Fourteen hundred (1,400) ¼” diameter self-drilling steel dowels and double steel inside knife plates was what it took to meet the very modern shape of this structure, where massive glass panes were designed to completely fill the spaces from timber to timber. The Europeans are once again ahead of us in wood technology, and we are lucky to have a French born and trained team member, Quentin with us to share his knowledge.
I won’t pretend it was easy, nothing about the project was, but when I’m tired or a bit stressed, I go back and read words from folks like Katie. Thanks. And btw, I’m not sure we’ve ever been given gift bags as we loaded into the truck for the long ride home. All our clients seem pretty special, but the bar just rose again, I think. Yup—thanks for sure.
We wrapped the four-in-four raising exercise with Eric & Mary’s place in Corvallis, OR. Andrew and Jorge again with me. Got tired in the heat towards the end and David Shirley, who some know as our lead architect out here, jumped in to help with a spark. We are a team.
At less than 1,800 square feet, this home is what I call modest. Maybe I should call it “human-scale". We’ve been pushed hard on this project to increase our offering towards sustainability, more than normal, which isn’t too bad, as you might know. For this one we’ve re-started our off-site wall pre-panelization in Oregon, modeled after our east coast’s HPEz (High Performance Made Easier™) efforts. Our goal is not only high performance (less heating and cooling needs, more comfort and quiet, etc.) but a much smaller carbon footprint in the materials we use in the build. And the materials we do use should help us to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Materials like the wood in the timbers and enclosure. But more: cellulose insulation in the cavity, wood fiber rigid insulation to stop thermal bridging, real wood siding like our Shou Sugi Ban that we make in Pioneer Millworks. One of New Energy Works' 4 tenets,The Beauties of Wood, is so very much on display.
I have long said our clients teach us and push us beyond what we might otherwise achieve. Here again this becomes so true. Eric—an oceanographer, said "I want to help save the earth". "Yes", said Mary—a musician and artist, “and it needs to be beautiful.”
It’s 100ºF outside on this Sunday afternoon as I re-group and rest a tad. It’s been quite a month. The summer’s not over though—Marc will be back to help some more and the whole team continues to rock and roll. We’ll be back in Sisters, up in Washington, and south to California and Tahoe over the next month. Yes, Marc, “Here we are again.”