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.

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.