Sunday, May 19, 2019

Building the Dome - Flooring and Framing - 3

Always on the outlook for bargains, Doyle attended an auction of building materials recovered from the demolition of the LaPorte Elementary School in the early 1970s and came away with many 3"x13"x24' rough sawn floor beams and a large pile of 4" tongue and groove fir flooring. Bob used the beams as his floor joists and set those heavy things in place by himself, cut the angles on the ends with a hand saw. He covered them with 3/4" plywood and later, once the walls were up and sided, he painstakingly pulled all the nails and cut out the worn areas of that much used 4" strip flooring, nailing it in place with a rented nail gun and that became our finished flooring throughout the dome . It still had the marks on it where school desks had been bolted to the floor then washed and waxed around for years. The worn places were testament to the scuffle of school childrens' shoes beneath those desks. We are both sentimental about items like that, beams cut from old growth trees and flooring that has witnessed the passing of generations of children.

Once the subfloor was down it was time to erect the dome. But wait! First we threw a party to celebrate having the floor in place. It was a big open space just right for dancing. Bob put up some temporary pickets to keep folks from falling off the edge. We invited our friends, made some snacks, and waited for the band that never arrived. The band member we knew was a guy we worked with at Union and he assured us they would show up. Later we realized we should have offered to pay them....ooops! So, halfway through the party Bill West brought in a record player or tape player and saved the day, furnishing us with canned rock n' roll, our favorite music. It was fun!

Back to work. Bob took the scale model he and Mike Jones had made out to the jobsite and started cutting the three types of struts that would form the pentagons, and hexagons of the dome. Each strut had specific angle cuts on the ends and had to be marked and sorted accordingly, and holes drilled in the ends to accommodate the lag screws. He made a pile of "A" struts, one of "B" struts, and one of "C" struts, color coding them to match the holes in the hubs. The steel hubs were made of 6" diameter oil well pipe casing. Bob didn't have a saw that would cut them to length, 5-1/2" each, so he hired that done, then he drilled the holes in each hub with his drill press where the 4" lag bolts would attach the wood struts to the hubs. Some hubs had 5 holes and the rest 6 for there are both pentagons and hexegons in our dome. If you find that difficult to picture, think of tinker toys and how the wooden dowels poke into the holes of the round wooden hubs. Ha! If only it had been that easy.

Friends Bill West and Ben Munsel were there to help with the first layer of dome walls. Because the dome is a 5/8 sphere, the first row of triangles leaned out from the floor, were not vertical like normal house walls. To picture that in your mind think of the dome as an orange. If one cuts the orange in half at the center and discards one piece the remaining piece would be a 1/2 dome, but if one cut the orange well below the center and saved the largest piece it would represent a 5/8 dome, and if placed flat on a surface it would be easy to see that from where it sits on the surface it flares outward before it starts to come back in. Interestingly, as each strut was added the entire construct moved a little, seeking its final form as a sphere.

The first row or layer of triangles went together smoothly without a hitch. The next layer was more difficult since the work was done from ladders but the labeled and color coded struts and hubs sped up the assembly. In the beginning Bob's plan was to construct the dome walls so that when they met the walls of the existing house they would stop there but he soon discovered that in order for a dome to have strength and "to work" he needed to make complete circles with each layer. So he cut holes in the walls of the existing house and marched right through those rooms with his struts and hubs and triangles. It was something to behold.
Only when the dome construction was complete did he go back inside the house, nail the struts to the old house and removed the triangles that had been created inside that building. Rome was not built in a day and the dome was not built in a weekend. We were lucky that Colorado summers are dry and we didn't have to deal with rain rotting our flooring like the builders in the Pacific Northwest. Helpers came and helpers went. There were strangers who wandered in to chat or stare or take photographs. One young man sat on the ground in a yoga position and said nothing at all.
And then there was the day we were way up high on the scaffolding when a car drove into the yard, the doors opened, and out poured a family with children and dogs. Their dogs started chasing our dogs and we were helpless to do a thing, so high up in the air. We yelled down to them asking they corral their dogs and kids and realize this was not a good time for socializing.After some delay they left us to our project and went on their way.
Most days Bob worked alone and amazingly never suffered a bad injury. He no longer worked for Union Manufacturing, was self-employed as an architechtural designer and draftsman, drawing house plans for people and building his own home.
Although there were few problems, there was one that seemed disastrous to me. While the second layer was going up a problem arose with the circle not coming together. They tried to force it, not realizing that one strut had been put in the wrong place, a "C" where a "B" should have been, or something like that. So, in trying to force the triangle to come together lag screws started popping loose from struts inside the hubs. Bob stepped back, assessed the situation, and solved problem by borrowing a steel strapping machine from John Burns, a man we both knew from our association at Union Mfg. Bob had to drill holes in the ends of all the struts, located 90 degrees from the lag screw holes, and there he inserted the steel strapping, ran it through the hubs, and when he tightened it up the dome had a new rigidity and strength. That was design modification on the fly.
One day I came home from work at lunch time only to find two men walking around on the floor of the dome. I asked them what they were doing there and they said they were just looking around. I didn't like them being there and told them so, asked them to leave. They got a little surly and said they would leave when they were ready to leave which really got my dander up. I called the Larimer County Sheriff's office and told them the situtation and was asked if the men refused to leave. I said, no, they said they would leave when they were good and ready but not before. That's when I learned that I would get no help from the sheriff unless they refused to leave. So I seethed with anger while they took their sweet time to mosey around and eventually get into their car and drive away. Grrrr...
One day while I was not at home a couple of men drove up and talked to Bob.
They told him they use to live in the house, years ago, and talked about the apple trees which were already old when we bought the place in 1972. If I remember correctly they were the Schwartz men, related to the two boys in the photo Bob found in the wall. There were three apple trees and a seckel pear tree east of the house, planted in a row when we bought the place in 1972. Forty-seven years later they all still live and still bear fruit. I am thinking those trees are all close to 100 years old!

From another visitor we learned that a man named August Gross lived here with his wife Eva and seven children. They all slept upstairs in the two rooms there, Mom and Dad in one room and kids in the other. One of the daughters, Eva Gross, named after her mother, worked at City Drug in Fort Collins and I called her one day and spoke with her. She was very young when they lived here and remembered lightning striking one of the cottonwood trees out back. From census records I discovered they were living here in 1920 when Eva was four years old and may have still been in this house in 1940. It is difficult to tell from the census where rural folks lived.
So, the dome was framed, with the exception of the cupola when the photo at left was taken. That would have been the summer of 1974. 

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