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Post 328: Let the building begin .....

So …… the excuse for this visit to Boonville is to help my brother Alan and his family to build their new family home in the hills overlooking the Anderson Valley. For a London Despatch Rider it’s quite a change of occupation but hopefully they’ll initially put my building ignorance down to nothing more than English eccentricity. By the time they realise that I know as much about building as I do about string theory I’ll hopefully have learned sufficient building skills to get by …. mai pen rai

Once you’ve found the ideal building plot for the dream home, the reality soon begins to bite. Unfortunately, reality’s got bloody sharp teeth and before you can even think about starting to build, you first need to establish ‘Access’. Access to any building site is usually by road but if no road exists then you’ve no choice but to make one. The building plot is about five miles North of Highway 128 and for four and three quarters of those miles there’s already a perfectly usable sand and gravel track. Thankfully, it’s only the last two hundred yards that are the problem but as we stand looking at the challenge in front of us, it’s difficult to see an immediate and simple solution. A few trees will need to be removed and that’s fine, but the fire department insist that any access road to residential property must have a maximum incline of 16%. A 16% incline is still quite steep, but what we’re faced with looks less like an incline and more like a cliff face. Fortunately here in Boonville, the ’go-to-guy’ for any earth moving challenges is Steve Mize. Steve doesn’t talk much and that‘s probably because he doesn‘t need to. When it comes to this problem, Steve Mize is the ‘Master’ and we’re nothing more than his appreciative audience. He looks at the problem, strokes his full white beard, glances left and right and then jumps into his John Deere ‘Backho’ (Excavator). At the end of a long and hot day, the desired road is in place. It’s twice as long as the original path and curves around giant redwoods and great oaks before arriving at what will eventually be the rear of the house. What Steve has achieved is not excavation ….. it’s art.

It’s day two of the build and we’ve now a got a beautifully usable road leading directly to what will be the main entrance to the new home. The next task is to create a shelf in the hillside upon which the house will sit. Once again it’s the ‘Steve Mize Show‘. A solo performance that see’s him operating his ‘Backho’ in ways that seems to defy the natural laws of gravity. He seems to work in three different dimensions at the same time and without ever looking, he’s always aware of what every arm an lever is doing. It’s mechanical ballet set to a diesel soundtrack and an absolute pleasure to watch. He systematically scoops, moves and dumps tonnes of earth and by lunchtime, the building pad is completed and the laying-out of the foundations can begin.

Steve ‘Guitar’ Derwinski is the Engineer, Project Manager and font of all technical knowledge on the this build. In his time Steve has built everything from houses, to steel boats and more recently a range of amazing acoustic guitars. He’s the guy that we go to with all of our technical questions and he‘s seldom stuck for a answer. Officially I’m a ’Volunteer Worker’ on this build but in reality, I’m just Steve Derwinski’s ‘Bitch‘. I fetch things that all seem to have different names here in America and carry them to wherever Steve wants them. He marks out the holes, I do the digging and I always get to hold the dumb-end of the tape measure. It’s not that Steve doesn’t trust me but while I think in beautifully simple metric measurements, Steve talks in yards, feet, inches, eighths and sixteenths. I try to sell him on the idea of metric but he doesn’t seem to be buying. My brain will instantly tell me exactly how many millimetres are in 12,137 millimetres, but when it comes to how many 1/16th of an inch are in 10 feet, 9 and 7/8th inches, things take a little bit longer. Anyway, however you want to measure it, this build is planned to be completed in 12 weeks and within a couple of days of starting, too many tonnes of timber has arrived on site. Of course, the timber that we need first is at the bottom of the pile, but what else are bitches for? ….. mai pen rai

At the end of a week where the temperature has seldom dipped below a hundred degrees, a lot of progress has been made. The site has been levelled, the access road made, the foundations dug and most of the wooden shuttering and structural metal is in place and ready for the concrete to be poured. The water diviners had previously located the underground sources and one of the two wells is now producing beautifully fresh water at a rate of 25 gallons per minute. On Friday 10th of September the concrete will arrive and from that point onwards, the real building work will begin. However, this area of Northern California has at least three of the world’s top ten riding roads and this afternoon I’m going out to buy a motorbike. I’m not a guy who’s easily distracted, but a combination of the Pacific Coast Highway and a Motorbike are probably more than enough to lead me astray …… mai pen rai

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