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  • Slipforming, part 5 – Dad’s initial view

    This post follows Slipforming, part 4 – Death and destruction.  For a complete list of links to all slipforming posts on this blog, click here.  This particular post was written by my father, William P. Lemoine, and is reprinted here with his permission.

    © Copyright by William P. Lemoine 09/20/09

    Driving home, I look with eager anticipation to cross the bridge, the boundary to my property, look up, and get the first view of my daughters “humble” house. This was a project that I had dreamed of, encouraged, but never really expected that it would turn out as it did.

    In the early 1970s I retired early, to move my family from the hustle of the Washington D.C. area, to a part of the country where my wife and I had our roots.  We wanted the values we learned as children to be passed on to our own three.

    Unfortunately, from our viewpoint, two had already been indoctrinated in a life where the high school had well over a thousand students, and the philosophy was “do your own thing”, and “If it feels good, do it.” Our third child, a daughter, was ten years younger and showed an inclination toward what we thought was a healthier lifestyle, morally and physically.

    A neighbor bought his teenage daughter a horse, and our four year old became truly fascinated with the idea that she, someday also would have such a beautiful animal.

    Within months, I sought out, and purchased, a relatively small farm in a valley I was familiar with, in the West Elk Mountains of western Colorado; and, moved my family there. In comparison to our previous lifestyle, living on the new farm, in an area where the main activity was declining agriculture and coal mining, was a “culture shock” and a challenge.

    Dani kid pics 002Dani, the youngest daughter, was finally in her element. I had promised her early on that when we got the farm, she would have a pony of her very own. And so she did. She got a pony that had obviously raised many children before, and was not particularly interested in taking on the task again. He didn’t however realize that he was dealing with a personality, not only stronger than his, but much younger to the extent that she could outlast him. He could be stubborn but she could be more so. He tried all the ugly pony tricks he knew, but he couldn’t intimidate her one bit.

    The two elder children were not as excited about farm living as Dani. While we had no worry that the other two would eventually return to city life, with Dani it was different.  We thought, “What are we going to do? That kid is never going to leave home. When the appropriate time comes, we are going to have to set her luggage out by the mailbox, and lock the gate!”

    Dani did finally leave, to attend college, but she kept finding her way home. In the winter, when the road reports indicated severe storms in the area and on the passes, we would be thankful that Dani would not drive in that kind of weather. About the time we were really being thankful, into the yard would drive Dani, as if she had just returned from a walk in the park.

    Dani finally got married, had two children, and set up housekeeping in nearby Grand Junction, Colorado. She and her husband decided to acquire, and renovate apartment houses. Since her husband, skilled with computers, was immersed in making a living, she busied herself in the art of negotiation and management required to make their properties livable, and profitable.

    Dani had expressed on numerous occasions the desire to have a home in this locality, where she could give her children the same type of childhood which she so much enjoyed. We decided to offer her a home site on our property, but not so close that she would be living with us. We loved her and her family dearly, but we wished to maintain our own identity.

    There was one parcel of our farm that I had acquired cheaply, because it was practically worthless. It was ugly, but I could see that with a couple days of bulldozer work, its true potential as a homesite would be revealed. If Dani wouldn’t be interested in it, I could put something on it which would provide revenue, so my effort wouldn’t be lost. It had power nearby, natural gas available, a fabulous view of the West Elk Mountains, and most important, the availability of potable, treated, domestic water. Dani considered the offer, and since the price was right, free, she accepted and began serious thought about her potential home.

    My idea of the prospective home was a modest building, one story, frame, with three or four bedrooms, and since it was on a decided slope, possibly a walkout basement. Since I am gifted with an analytical mind, besides having a good library of reference material, I agreed to provide as much help as I could, and for her, the price was again right, i.e. free.After too much consultation with her friends and acquaintances, she finally came to me and said, “OK Dad, I’m ready.  Where do we begin?”   


    [DG:  I asked Dad to clarify what he meant by "too much" consultation with friends and acquaintances.  He was referring to the input regarding the foundation.  I obtained more than one opinion on how to handle the foundation and the opinions were neither consistent, nor similar.  Dad said, "When you get all that input from friends who have nothing to lose or invest in the project, bad ideas get offered and you have to sort them out and get one idea that is good and naturally, mine was the best.  You go with that."  Humility is a virtue that, at 82 years old during this interview, still evades him.  Now, the post returns to Dad's narrative.] 

    To begin”, I replied, assuming incorrectly that she had at least a preliminary plan for the structure, “We start at the bottom and build toward the roof. But first, have somebody shape up your building site and level the ground, so we’ll be able to see if the structure you want, will even fit.”

    It was soon after this point, that I realized that this was going to be an unusual project.

    The site looked good -really good - but I had yet to see a drawing of the proposed structure. I knew she had read numerous published articles, and books, some of which I categorized as “hippie” back-to-nature material -nostalgic but not necessarily practical. 

    She was particularly enamored with one that centered on using a slipform technique for building with concrete and rocks. The concrete and rocks would be poured between the two forms, bonding permanently with the foam insulation on the inside wall, thus when the bracing was removed, along with the outside forms, the wall would stand, already insulated, ready for paint, drywall, or whatever.

    Idea sounds feasible to me,” I told her. “This Montana fellow (Tom Elpel) thinks this would be a good way to build, but he has never tried it himself; and, it has certainly never been tried around here.” Well, Dani was a believer and found a source for five-and-a-half-inch insulation bonded to half-inch plywood, and that was that.

    She wanted her house faced with river rock, but I was confident that idea was temporary.  Yes rocks were in abundance, but rocks are heavy, and it would take many rocks to cover Dani’s house. She had to gather them, haul them to the site, and unload them herself. If I were 50 years younger, I’d consider the challenge; but, let’s be real. I figured a load or two and she would revise her plan, and use wood rather than rock. She didn’t.

    The initial effort proceeded slowly but surely. Mixing the concrete became my responsibility. The batches were small and she carried the cement to the wall beginning with a two pound coffee can. Wet concrete is very heavy. 004A former schoolmate of hers, who weighed in at 90 to 100 pounds, offered to carry the wet concrete from the mixer to Dani, who was setting the rocks into the wall. We proceeded to build at nominal speed.

    Kitty (Allyn) Burns, shown at left, was the good-hearted schoolmate mentioned in this post.  (Photo by Dani Gruber.)

    It is understandable that neighbors driving by the site could not assume that the effort was serious. Two young women and one elderly gentleman usually does not constitute a formidable work force on this type of project. The nature of the project was even in doubt.

    One curious neighbor stopped by and asked, “What are you building?” Dani replied that the rocks and “stuff” were going to be a house. “Who is your builder?” he asked. Dani replied that she was. The neighbor was not impressed. “So, you don’t want to tell me,” he said, as he turned on his heel, got into his car, and drove off.

    Later in the project, as the walls began to take shape, another girl friend who had recently moved into her recently constructed home, stopped by to examine our progress. “Well Dani, who is your contractor?” “ I am the contractor” , replied Dani. “Well then Dani , who is your architect?” “Well, I guess I’m that too”, replied Dani. “Hmmmmm,” considered the visitor, “No builder and no architect…..Well, good luck Dani”, and she left. Within a very short time she was back with her father, a retired civil engineer.

    The father looked the project over, and asked numerous pointed question, then left the scene with no comment. The friend said that her father was in deep thought for the rest of the day. Late that evening he broke his silence, uttered a sigh of relief and declared, “ By George, I think it will work”.

    Some of the visitors, with a knowledge of building, commented that we might have trouble getting windows and doors to match the large opening which we had provided. The truth of the matter was that Dani found a nearby (within 30 miles) outlet for “odd lot” doors and windows. The outlet had a very large number of assorted widows and doors, left over from various building projects in the Rocky Mountain area. Dani spent hours searching for matching windows and doors, purchasing them, and storing them in our barn till they were required on site. The openings left in the rock wall, already had been measured for the window or door that would fit in them.

    When the basic rock wall had been constructed, it became apparent to me that my expertise, for what it was worth, was valuable only to monitor the activity to insure that things that had to happen in the proper sequence, did indeed happen as prescribed. In the whole project, I never had to hear the dreaded words, “ Whoops, we made a terrible mistake, we’ll have to tear that out because we didn’t……”

    Dani and her family have moved into the house that some refer to as “the castle” but, she and her family still have much to do with turning the structure into a home. There is interior trim, decor to take care of, and innumerable other details. That is why it is, and will remain, “a work in progress”; and, that also applies to Dani and her family, they also are a “work in progress.”

    To see “Slipforming, part 6 – The Latest Project” click here.)

    Explore posts in the same categories: On a serious note, Slip Form House posts, Stuff to do when you're over 40, Uncategorized

    2 Comments on “Slipforming, part 5 – Dad’s initial view”

    1. Charlie Says:

      Nice overview! What did ‘Mom’ say about all this, hmm? BTW, I really like the sweet girl in the b/w picture (don’t know about the one riding her, though).

    2. Dani Says:

      How can a minister be so ornery? Reincarnation, maybe? Were you a shetland pony in a previous life??? That pony (who was probably a minister in HIS previous life) thought he was retiring…boy, was HE surprised! Early in my construction years, I tried to build an Indian travois since I thought that would be the envy of the neighborhood. Got my fishing pole – strapped a carrot to the end. Tied a couple long poles with baling string across his back. He tolerated it well enough until he realized what was happening. My first major construction failure!!! It’s a wonder we both lived to tell about it. It’s probably another reason Dad was concerned I was trying to build a house! Thought it would end similarly. As for Mom’s take on the whole thing – she was hoping it was a bad dream!