Monday, October 21, 2019

Sue Foster, Who Really Knew Her?

A woman I was friends with a long time ago has passed away in the last few days. I learned about her death last night and have been thinking of her ever since. For the passed forty years we have lived only ten miles from one another but I've not seen Sue Foster more than a few times since our friendship faded in the 1970s. Yet my memories of her and the impact she has had on me are strong, and good, so I want to write about Sue today.

She was a private person, calm and self-contained. A Texas girl who graduated from a Christian college, moved north to Colorado when she married Jim Foster, a local artist. I believe they met in college. Sue was a strong, capable woman who saw life with an artist's eye. Well educated with a love of literature she chose a rural lifestyle, supporting the career of her husband, raising her children in a modest home on the outskirts of town. I won't pretend to know the real Sue, have only had small glimpses into her inner life of hopes and dreams and disappointments, but I liked her and trusted her and cherish the friendship we shared when we were young.
A favorite memory of mine is the vacation trip we made together to Taos, New Mexico, in the early 1970s, two couples on tight budgets with young children at home. We left the kids with grandparents and drove to Taos in my company car, stopping many times along the way to stretch our legs and gas up the car. At that time Jim was going through a phase of hanging upside down every chance he got as a health enhancement tactic. At one gas station he spotted a horizontal bar and promptly straddled it before hanging from his knees, the first I knew of his latest health craze, surprising me and imprinting a visual not soon forgotten.
In Taos we rented a two-bedroom motel kitchenette unit so we could do a little cooking to offset the high cost of dining out. Jim had artists friends in Taos who invited us to their studios where we viewed their latest works in process, and later dined together at a local restaurant. It was my introduction to a new form of art, living art or performance art. I'm sure that is not the correct name for it, but I remember an example that was told to me. A graduate of an art school chose this as his masterpiece, to gather his class at the shore of the ocean where they watched him row away from them into the limitless horizon of the ocean. That was his art form.
My favorite part of the trip was our visit to the Indian pueblo where we took many photographs of the ancient adobe dwellings and searched out local jewelry artisans.

As we walked along the hard-packed dirt trails at the Pueblo Sue bent down and quickly arranged a couple of rocks and nearby sticks to create the spider in my photo. And then with her enigmatic Mona Lisa smile she walked away, leaving the spider for others. Later, on our way back home, we pulled off the highway to rest and eat a sack lunch. There was a small dry creek nearby. Sue took a little walk and came back with her hands full of smooth rocks, small pieces of driftwood, and tiny plants. She nestled them into bowl and created a beautiful still life. I was in awe. It was during this trip that I realized Sue was an artist too, like Jim, but she kept her light under a basket. She also had beautiful handwriting, a calligrapher's precision and grace.

On our return from Taos we took a side trip east, out near Lamar, Colorado, where we visited Bent's Old Fort, an amazing place which Bob had studied thoroughly. It is a recreation of a trading fort along the Sante Fe Trail which in the 1840s was a bustling marketplace and rest stop where buffalo hides were traded, wagon trains were restocked with supplies, and travelers could find a real bed to sleep in. It is my favorite Colorado tourist destination.
We parked our car far from the fort, parking designed that way so as visitors walk up over the rise and see the fort for the first time it looks like a step back in time, no cars, no electrical lines, instead a herd of horses and donkeys milling around the building. And once inside the adobe walls of the old fort that illusion of being present in 1840 is enhanced with the costumes and demeanor of the blacksmith, the storekeeper, and traders. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there with Jim and Sue.

Sue once told me she didn't spend much money on clothes but when she bought something to wear she chose quality and versatility. An example of that was a multi-colored poncho, the one she is wearing in the photo above taken outside Bent's Old Fort. It was probably a Pendleton wool blend and I have seen it on her many times over the years, always looking stylish and comfortable. I admired Sue's confidence and poise, ever present whether she was milking goats, making adobe bricks, or attending an art showing. She wasn't a talkative, exuberant woman but when she said something, she meant it. My sister recently told me that she ran into Sue one day in Fort Collins and Sue smiled and said, "Now here is someone we love!" Fran never forgot that. That simple sentence conveyed the warmth, acceptance, and kindness that endeared Sue to her friends.

Sue was brought up in a Christian home, graduated from a Christian college, and continued to study the bible as an adult. She and I belonged to a small bible study group for awhile and I enjoyed her depth of knowledge about the scriptures and their application to our modern lives. I hope that she has moved on to her promised victory, to a place without pain. Thank you, Sue, for being my friend.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Building the Dome, Those Who Helped Build It - 9

Throughout the building of the dome and remodel of the old farm house, Bob had good help from family, friends and local tradesmen. I've mentioned Doyle and Frances placing those support beams under the house, and Lee Tucker and Mr. Beckstead digging the basement. Lloyd Vlcek laid block walls under the house and the dome. And Dave the college student who nailed on shakes while standing high in the air on a scaffold plank.

Bill West dug trenches and built dome walls early on, and over the years contributed so much more from electrical outlets to handrails.

Mike and Jim were brothers-in-law who rewired the old house and the new dome.

If I recall correctly, at the same time they were working for us they were starting a plant nursery business in Fort Collins, Gulley Greenhouse.

I so well remember the day I took that photo of Mike putting in an electrical box in the upstairs bedroom. He didn't know I was there with my camera and when my flash went off he jumped a foot! Although he knew for certain there was no hot wire in that box, the flash caused quite a reaction. Sorry Mike. Love the photo though.

I should mention that we initially we took out a building permit for a remodel but as soon as the dome appeared, large and looming over the small farm house, we got red-tagged and told to cease construction until we "got things straightened out" with the Larimer County Building Department. That was a scare! But it ended well when we agreed our project was an addition rather than a remodel, paid the extra fees, and got the green light to continue building.

Hershel "Dutch" Schnug was a professional plumber and an old family friend.

He stayed around to drink a beer with Bob on the east facing deck.

We hired another plumber from Wellington to install our hot water heat boiler. I don't remember his name but he married one of the Hottam girls.

John Messineo, the photographer, brought his wife and his wife's parents out to visit. We had lunch beneath the newly built dome structure.

I know I have forgotten, or didn't photograph, several other people who worked with Bob in the early stages of construction. Later, when we get inside and he insulates, drywalls, builds cabinets, and on and on, there will be more stories to tell, more people to thank. All those tradesmen I've mentioned did great work. Really conscientious, skilled craftsmen. Thank you, guys, for helping make our dream a reality.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Building the Dome, Shingles - 8

I have totally missed addressing the subject of windows. Sometime after the 1x6 pine was nailed to the struts and before the shingles went on, Bob put in windows, not only in the dome but in the old house as well. Three of the windows he put in the dome were premade Marvin Windows, small single-hung wood windows that we purchased from Union Mfg. And two of the windows that went into the old house, both on the west walls, one in the upstairs bedroom and one in the bedroom on the first floor, Patrick's room, were large double-hung wood Marvin Windows. Those were relatively easy to frame in. But Bob custom built five triangular windows for the dome and one tall, narrow rectangular window in the dome wall near the entryway. None of these custom windows open, all fixed in their frames.
One pair of the triagular windows was high in the living room right above the deck. The other pair of triangular windows was in the second floor on the northwest side in the room we refer to as Bob's office. The fifth triangular window was a small one in the downstairs bathroom. He made the frames out of 2x6's and used clear plexiglass in the openings. I don't have any photos of this window project and frankly, don't remember much about it.

When it came time to shingle the old house and the dome I don't believe we ever considered any other roof covering than 3/4"-5/4" heavy butt handsplit cedar shakes. They were quite popular with local builders in the 1970s and Bob's association with homebuilder Carl Nelson had him designing and drawing house plans for many homes that specified heavy cedar shakes.

Unfortunately, they were about twice the price of asphalt shingles, but we got lucky. Our employer, Union Manufacturing, sold a lot of shake shingles and there was often a pile of loose shingles near the full bundles. Some had been returned from job sites but most were set aside when a bundle broke open accidentally by a fork truck handler. During yard clean up we were allowed to buy the loose shakes at a reduced price, and that we did, stockpiling them at home until we had enough to cover the dome.

Before the shakes could be applied Bob connected the dome to the foundation by nailing a 4' high skirting of 1/2" plywood all the way around. That was necessary because the dome only touched the floor where the steel hubs rested. The plywood insured a tight bond between the walls and the foundation, no air leaks around the floor, and a good nailing surface for the shakes.
As he began to shingle he first nailed up 36", 15# roofing felt over the area he planned to shingle that day. He started on the far southwest corner of the dome at the foundation and nailed on a row of cedar starter shingles.

Then one by one he selected and nailed each shake in place using roofing nails and his trusty hammer, the one he used when he framed houses for Bartran Homes. Between each layer of shakes he put 18" 30# felt, standard application for shake shingles at that time.

Bob did most of the shingling himself but at one point he hired a young college student named Dave to help him. He built a moveable scaffold secured by ropes and while Dave stood on the scaffold plank Bob hoisted buckets of shingles up to him in a five gallon bucket.

Now when we look at the two photos we took of Dave on the roof we realize we were asking a lot of him to work up there with no safety harness. We just never thought of it.

Building the Dome, the Entryway - 7

There were two more framing projects that Bob undertook prior to shingling the dome and those were the construction of the dormer in the upstairs bedroom of the old house and design and building of an entryway to the dome.

The dormer was complicated. First Bob cut a seven foot wide opening in the southfacing roof of the old house. He extended the floor joists out another three feet, then built a twelve foot wall at the end of those joists. The side walls and roof were sloped, twelve foot at their tallest then framed to meet the old roof line. What we ended up with was a lot of light in that master bedroom for he put two french doors on the south wall and narrow fixed windows on the sloped walls. We grow plants there now, year 'round. I call that area the-stick-em-out.

The entryway was a challenge for Bob as he had to build a heavy beam and set it in place above the doorway. I was worse than no help, mostly offering unwanted advice, cautioning him to be careful, that sort of thing. One day I was standing below when a 2x8 got away from him and instead of stepping out of the way I tried to catch it. It glanced off my hip and left me sore a few days but mostly convinced both of us I didn't have good sense on jobsites. That is the only accident I recall throughout construction of the dome. Bob always enjoyed working with Bill West. They seemed to be able to read one another's minds and intentions. So we and I had a private joke between us when our working together just didn't work. I would say, "Yeah, yeah, I know, if Bill West were here...."

The entryway was built so that its floor is one step down from the floor of the dome. It had a flattop roof on it which for years served as a deck off the master bedroom upstairs in the old house. Because it was flat it didn't drain well so years later Bob built another roof over the entry that sloped and drained well. We quit using it as a deck but it is still a good access route when he needs to go up on the dome roof.

Building the Dome, photographs - 6

Throughout the building of the dome we took photographs with whatever camera was handy. I always have had a camera of some sort since my dad bought me my first Brownie camera when I was in the sixth grade. For awhile I had a small, inexpensive camera that shot 110 film, but most of those years in the 1970s I had a camera that used 135 film. And I had no skills, just a desire to save a memory on film.

Fortunately, we had a friend in the 70s named John Messineo, a professional photographer and fun guy. I believe Bob met him through their mutual friend Jack Pierson, also a photographer and longtime friend. Both John and Jack worked at the photo lab at CSU. John and his wife Barbara were interesting people to know and good friends. John took some terrific photographs of the dome under construction and captured Bob in action. I treasure these photos and recognize John's skill and perspective.
Thank you, John Messineo!

Building the Dome - Pine Boards for Sheathing - 5

Plywood applied over the struts would have given the dome more rigidity and provide a solid base for the application of shingles but plywood was expensive, wasteful, and heavy.It would have required two men to lift in place and nail down. Bob opted to sheath the dome in 1x6 pine boards instead, a decision he would change if he could go back and do it again. He made 2 jigs or patterns out of 1x4 boards that he would use over and over again to precut the 1x6 boards to length before nailing them over the triangles. The dome is made up of just two different sized triangles, hence the need for two jigs. On the floor he would lay out some 1x6's of appropriate lengths, tails wild, then put the pattern on top of those, run his skill saw along the edges of the pattern cutting the 1x6's beneath.
He could have beveled the ends of each 1x6 but that would have been so tedious and unnecessary. Gathering up the pile of newly cut 1x6's Bob nailed them in place with hammer and nails, one triangle at a time. He started on the bottom row and worked his way around the dome. I loved the effect, the beauty of the wood, the geometric designs and wished we could live it in just like that, without insulation or drywall or even shingles. It was so beautiful.

Early on in this construction project we rented scaffolding from a local rental agency, three layers each about 6' tall. Hindsight being what it is we would have been money ahead to buy the scaffolding for we rented it for years! Erected inside the framework of the dome Bob used it for framing, sheeting, insulating, and drywall.
He did all the sheathing by himself and says it went fast and without incident. As the structure took form many people drove up to see what we were building. Some stopped just long enough to take photographs, others wanted to chat. I loved this phase of construction for that fresh cut pine had a scent so clean and sharp that it made me happy just to breathe it in. And the lines and angles of those triangles soon created hexagons and pentagons...magical.

Although the dome was far from rainproof, we set up a table and chairs inside and entertained people. I found one grainy black and white photo of someone opening a bottle of champagne while seated at that table. Everyone watched the cork fly high into the air.

Who knows what we were celebrating that day. I like to think we were celebrating friendship and domebuilding and life!

Along with making new friends and celebrating with old friends, my family came to visit from Illinois. First was my brother drove out in 1973. Mike helped us dismantle the old chicken house, drank Boone's Farm wine with us, talked about music and reminisced with me about our childhood. I was happy that he and Bob hit it off and had lots to talk about.  My sister Fran drove out from Illinois with a friend and she and Lana sunbathed on the concrete slab that use to be the porch of the old house, now located about 20 feet away and in full sun. Oh, the sunburns they got! Doyle fixed them up with one of his homemade potions and they healed slowly but surely.

My favorite photo of this phase of construction. That cupola Bob made was gorgeous with its intricate design, operable windows all around letting in fresh air. We imagined a big swing hanging from the center hub, like the swing in the Debbie Reynolds movie, or was that Doris Day? Wait, I think it was "The Girl in the Red Velvel Swing" with Joan Collins! The closest we came to realizing that dream was the day Bill West swung from a rope Bob had tied to the struts and managed to walk up the sidewalls, higher and higher with each swing. That must have happened before the stovepipe went in.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Building the Dome - It's a Dome! - 4

About two years after we moved on to our property the dome structure was framed. It now looked like a dome. We were proud of the way it looked at this stage and often stood and admired it. These photos were taken by a friend and I'm thankful to him for taking them and sharing them with us.

The next phase would be sheeting the dome with 1x6 pine boards. That project took place in 1975. Bob enrolled at Colorado Aero Tech in Broomfield to study airframe and power plant mechanics. Five days a week he drove to and from Broomfield and worked on the dome evenings and weekends. He started there in February 1975 and graduated in June 1976 with his license. We packed a lot of living into those years. I was selling lumber for Everitts and Patrick was a 2nd grader at Wellington's Eyestone Elementary School.