Saturday, October 23, 2010

That's it for now

Remember, if you have not been on the site for a while, scroll down to the bottom and read UP from where you left off.

I will also post some more random photos just to get you into the drama. This shot is Linda Joseph and I in front of her new gate (Old gate to Linda's right). This was one big goal completed for Linda.

The tile starts to go in place.

Like any tile project the full tiles go fast but cutting edges and making gables, ridges and valleys takes time and talent. Patric and Eric are good at the field placement but not so hot on the details. Our French workers do not understand that when you break a tile it can be used later to cut, they simply grab a new tile and cut off the corners rather than using the broken ones. It is very hard to determine from a huge stack of tiles just how far it will spread on the roof but soon it becomes clear that we will not have enough. We start to develop a system. I load the tiles in the bucket of the Manitou then drive to the house lift the bucket right into the back pockets of Patric and Eric. Patric hands them to Eric and he places them on the roof. It dawns on me that I am lifting every tile and they sit and wait while I drive back and forth to the stack. They take a cigarette break while I load all by myself. Clever these French “workers”. It only takes me about half of the roof to get the big picture and then have Patric and Eric alternate coming down in the bucket to help me load.

Roof is stripped

The first layer of wood that will become the ceiling in the Hay Loft.

Within 3 days we have the roof completely stripped. It is determined that we want to keep the old oak rafters for their looks but they really need to be supplemented with new ones to support the weight of the new tile. Off we go in the work van to the Toute Faire. Another 1000 euro and we have rafters. These rafters are put in place with nails that are bigger than any sold in the US. We need a bigger hammer. The old tiles were set on slats with broken pieces of tile under each one to shim them into place. The new tiles require a flat surface so that they can interlock. It will be necessary to level these beams both from side to side and front to back. A time consuming process. After the rafters are put in place the batons are placed across them and spaced so that the tiles precisely overlap. These batons must also be very straight or the roof will look like ocean waves. Jules and Eric find their rhythm and Patric becomes the narrator (Vs the worker). This “team” Patric and Erin we find out later do less work when they are together than when alone. It seems that their process is for Patric to pick up the tile and hand it to Eric to place when Eric could pick up the tile himself. They like the Café the lunches the cigarettes and oh yes the euro so they work together at twice the cost to me. It is not long that we let Patric go back to catching and killing chickens.

The other end of the Hay Loft

Open air Hay Loft

Another shot of the Hay Loft

Our newly formed team... now two Americans and two French get down to work.

The Hay Loft sans roof tiles...

Patric and Eric look at the beam project and tell us that we are crazy. We are in their country so we listen. Sure enough they come up with a better solution. This by-lateral international planning program takes about 2 hours. Now it is time for lunch. Linda has the Hertz rental so our only means of transportation is Eric’s work van. It is a 20 year old reneau full of tools and parts and it smokes worse than Eric. It is a diesel and it is slow, it has 3 bald tires. I jump in the front seat, Eric at the wheel and Jules and Patric sit in back with the doors open for their feet to hang out. Off to lunch we go. Lunch in France yes even very rural France (France Profunde) is a big, slow deal. There are three levels of prices for the Plat dejour. 12.50 for the full lunch including entre, wine, main course, and desert. 9.50 is for the plat and wine and 8.50 plate only. I write these numbers on the place mat get Eric’s attention and cross out the 12.50 and the 8.50 and make a big circle around the 9.50. He gives me an affirmative toothless grin and I think all is well. Remember that the Euro costs me $1.30 so lunch at 8.50 euro costs me well over $13 each. The French waitress comes to the table and we make a choice from two main courses. There is a side conversation with the waitress and Eric. I think they must be friends. I order the 9.50 euro deal as does Jules. For some strange reason both Eric and Patric get an entre. Then out comes the main course and a large carafe of wine. Humm who ordered that? We all get down to work. It is delicious of course. As we finish there is another conversation with the waitress and Eric. The plates are cleared and out comes desert for Eric and Patric. They clean their plates eat all the bread drink all of the wine eat desert roll and smoke two cigarettes each. Jules does not drink but smokes. This process takes 2 hours and Jules is chomping at the bit to get going. Jules eats on the job with one hand while running the hammer with the other so this lunch process is truly foreign to him. He is type A and going nuts to get back to the job and my inner calculator is running at full speed. I get up and walk in to pay the bill 52 Euros. Yep they ordered what I told them to order then added on all the other stuff one at a time. One lessens well learned by me. On the spot Jules and I decide to pack lunch and give these bozo’s 10 euro each and let them buy their own lunches.

The story continues - this is Barry's Post.

This is Linda at the base of the steps going into the room we call the Hay Loft.

The size of the job becomes a reality, we will need help. Back to JP for assistance. He has a “worker” that is paid 15 euros per hour. He is a crazy Frenchman and spends every dollar he earns the day it is given to him but he has tools and a work van with a roof rack for lumber, he has no front teeth, and is meth amphetamine thin... “But if you watch him he will work for you”. This is my kind of guy. We tell JP to have him show up the next day.

The Manitou and Eric show up first thing in the morning. Terez and Joseph invite the entire group in for Café. At Jules and Eric’s combined hourly rate each Café break costs about $35. And after Café there is cigarettes, Eric rolls his own cigarettes so that he can mix in a little marijuana to make the day go by a little faster. Oh yes the smell of tobacco smoke, pot and liberal amounts of French calone make Eric, well “aromatic” at best it is a good thing this is outside work.

The first day with Jules and Eric is roof strip day. Roof tiles more than 100 years old begin to fly off the roof and form stacks on the ground. These tiles will be broken up and used as fill around the building. The French waste nothing!!!

The roof stripping job becomes difficult and slow. There is literally tons of tiles to be removed plus tons more of rotted wood slats that support the old style tiles. At the end of the day Eric tells us he has a friend that will work for 12 euro per hour so that we can get this project done much faster. We agree to hire Patric. He can’t start for a few days because he works at a chicken ranch and is catching and chopping off the heads of chickens at night and sleeps by day. We tell Eric to work this out and we will take what we can get.

When Patric arrives the cost of the Café beaks goes up to $45 each. That includes the time for all of the kissing and smoking. We are told that we are getting a great hourly rate and part of the deal is that we feed the workers lunch. How bad can that be?

Another angle shot of the beam

With the help of cousin JP we are told to go to another village to the Toute Farie (not to be confused with the Tooth Fairy). He knows the manager there and has an account. Jean-Michel also speaks a little English. Barry and Jules find the blocks, of course they are larger than the ones used for the last post project (we think the old blocks are circa 1940) We buy a stack of blocks, all that will fit in the back of the Hertz rental car, put a few bags of concrete in the back seat and off we go back to Montegut. This is the first day and I am already lost in the drama. So glad I brought my Kindle. After all the materials are unloaded I park the car in the shade and get back to my book. Every kind of construction noise comes from the barn. Wood cutting, concrete drilling, block cutting, hammering, by the end of the day there is a stack of blocks that reach the floor above. Barry and Jules agree that day one was a good one. They are both filthy beyond belief, covered with sweat and pouter from the terracotta block cutting and saw dust from the post cutting. Jules is covered with concrete from head to toe. There is about 2 feet of straw on the second floor of the barn with about 2 inches of dirt under the straw and on top of the board floor. It takes Barry and Jules about an hour to dig a path through this stuff to make sure they do not step in any hidden. Both must wear masks because of the dust. After all this... Yes, they plop themselves down in the Hertz rental and we head back to Monteseque and Bassouse. This will be our daily grind for 3 weeks. It is clear to me that I am not needed on a daily basis. I will run errands from time to time but full time contact with the project is not necessary.

The Poutre Project

Because the Manitou will not arrive for a day or two Barry and Jules decide to start with the poutre. The poutre beam is the single most important support beam in the barn roof. It is some 25 feet long and the thickness of a large oak tree. It actually is a large oak tree. One end has rotted out because of a multi-decade roof leak and the beam has fallen about 14 inches. It is propped up with one of the jacks and another oak tree limb. The position of the beam is such that the roof line has a major sag. There is a beam lying under a foot of straw that looks to be the same length. And another one the right size to be a support post. After a lot of discussion Barry and Jules decide to build a support structure similar to the one that supports another beam. This is a stack of terracotta blocks joined by concrete-mortar. They must drill holes in the concrete floor to put in reinforcement bars so that the stack doesn’t move around and then as the stack grows a row at a time reinforcement bars are again added to link the new stack with the old one so that the support structures will work together. They will then wait until the roof is stripped removing the weight of the tiles from the beam before they jack it into place and install the post.

Every morning we are greeted by Joseph and Therese.

Therese is 82 and Joseph 86. No matter the hurry we are in there must be time for the Bise. Everybody gets kissed once on each cheek. They do not speak one word of English and are both deaf so there is a lot of hand waving and pointing. They shrug, smile and go back in the house pulling us behind for Café. This routine will expand to Café in the morning, at lunch and at 5:00 and for Barry will include wine and if a project is completed a shot of Armanac. There are about 20 to 30 assorted chickens in the yard. Therese is raising a new batch of chicks and is training them to move from the barn to the garden. She uses a bamboo stick for herding and a pan full of feed for motivation. It is really cute to see her work with the chicks. Little do they know that in 2-3 months they will be in the freezer? They all seem happy now.

We arrive early in the morning.

The Manitou is supposed to arrive this morning or maybe the next. JP One of our French cousin has arranged for the delivery and a “special price”. JP’s help has been fabulous. One thing for sure is that the old roof must be stripped off so that is where we will start. The back side of the house is only 1.5 stories high and more accessible than the front full two story approach. The back side is also at a lower angle. Jules does not want to “walk” the front side of the roof and prefers to “work out of the bucket”.

Georgette invited Barry to use any and all of Jean’s (her deceased husband – another cousin) tools so the first stop is at Mommoulouse to shop around in his garage. Barry had been in there before and was impressed with the tools and equipment tucked into various cabinets and a large loft. There were also 10-15 jacks made for tunneling in a rack at the back of the garage. These would come in handy for the “pootra” (major support beam) part of the project. Jules approaches the garage with a take no prisoners profile. He is like a kid in a candy store. Soon the rental car is full to the top with rakes shovels jacks all sorts of hammers and electrical tools from grinders to cut off saws. This is where I begin to think that the Hertz rental car just became a utility truck. The only thing missing was the roof rack. Off to Montegut we go. The rental Fiats is riding down on its bottom and struggling to move at all.

Will it rain?

Today is slightly overcast and the roof at Montegut is still open so we hope that it doesn’t rain. I can see that Barry is trying to relax, however his brain is tabulating the costs of the work so far and what it will take to get this project wrapped up. My hope is that this trip, including all the work is well under the original estimate for the repairs we received in May. That estimate is what motivated this “do it yourself” trip, so far we are well under the estimate price, and hope to stay there.

The MANITOU, the material lift, alone costs $260 a day and each day our workers burn through about $400 and the cost of materials is really stacking up. A single sack of rapid set concrete cost $20 (less than $4 in the states we have invested $3,000 in rafters so far and $1,300 in wood lap to cover the ceiling in the hay loft. Barry is hoping that the roof tile that is already on site will be enough to cover the roof sections that have been opened.

Work gets started:

Barry will post a little later about the construction process. This is what it looks like to me. He has been successful in finding the right products, getting them on site, explaining to the workers what to do with them and supervising the process while working the heavy equipment. He loves this kind of three ring circus atmosphere. I have a photo of Barry operating the material lift with Jules and Eric (local French worker- the spitting image of Peppy LePue) in the bucket being lifted to the top of the roof of this 2 story building. The lift boom is 40 feet long when fully extended. I know he is exhausted at the end of the day, but I know he is also having a blast. He loves this kind of stuff!