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March 2, 2005
Preparing for the Deluge

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A moment of quiet, on a previously-undiscovered north trail

When we last left our friends at Topsider last fall, we had told them that under no circumstances should our house be delivered before the Spring.  After some reluctance and negotiation they agreed, and we had set a tentative target of the beginning of March, 2005, for actual delivery.  Depending, of course, on the weather.

What followed in the Winter of 2004-2005 was one of the wettest seasons on record.  We were grateful that we had delayed delivery, because the rain started much earlier in the year than normal.  We were apprehensive as March neared, because the rain showed no signs of letting up.

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The rainiest Winter in almost 100 years

In the middle of February, Gail began getting word from Al Fielders at Topsider that they were still scheduling a delivery for the first week in March.  Gail tried pushing back, but got the feeling that Topsider was pretty adamant.  Gail was reluctant to push harder.

With the rain still continuing, we had several concerns:

  1. The last mile to our house is a steep, winding dirt road uphill.  It is considered impassable during parts of the Winter by normal car, let alone heavy trucks.
  2. There were still several roadside trees whose branches would be in the way of large delivery trucks.  We had not yet had a chance to have these branches pruned.
  3. The foundation was not yet complete.
  4. Even if several truckloads of house lumber were to be successfully deposited on our building site, we still would not be able to start construction until the end of the rainy season.  What would happen to the lumber until then?  How could we possibly keep it dry and unwarped?

With the inevitable upon us, we began dealing with the issues as we could.  Compounding the problem was the fact that it was nearly impossible to get any kind of information out of Topsider.  How many trucks were coming?  How big?  How was our material packed?  How much space would it take up?  How would we need to prepare the ground under it?  What would we need to cover it up?  How much?

Per our contract, Topsider had responsibility for delivery all the way up to our building pad.  Gail kept warning them about the road conditions in Calaveras even in good weather.  She had checked with the California Department of Transportation and learned that large trucks were not permitted on the mountain highways.  Topsider kept assuring us that they had the situation under control; they would take care of all necessary flags and pilot cars.

Because the cross-country semi trucks could not possibly make it up to our property, they would have to be offloaded at another site, then transferred to smaller trucks for the final journey.  We discovered that an old abandoned store nearby would serve well; it had a large gravel parking lot out front, and it was currently unused.  The property owner had no problem with our using the site.

We would need a crane or forklift to transfer all of the material, not only at the abandoned store, but at the property site.  Gail recommended our neighbor Scott, who has a backhoe with forklift rig and knows the area.  However, Topsider selected someone else: a local crane operator named Frank Gilbeau.

We hired a local person to cut the necessary tree branches on our property.  Our neighbor Scott inspected the road afterwards, found that everything had not been cut, and cut the rest himself.  We also hired Scott to lay down several truckloads of gravel on some of the muddier and more dicey parts of the dirt road.  We were very sorry that Topsider had not hired Scott to do the rest of the job.

Topsider told us that none of the building material should touch the ground.  Instead, it should be laid on boards on top of black plastic, then completely covered with more black plastic.  Gail wanted to know how much material there was and how much black plastic we would need.  Topsider could not give her an answer.

On February 24, Topsider informed us that the shipment would be leaving North Carolina on March 1st and arrive on March 4th.  Gail asked for a one-day notice on the actual arrival time, so that we would actually be there to receive it.  Gail once more reiterated her concerns about the road conditions.  Topsider assured her that they had everything under control.  At this point, they were finally able to tell us that there would be two fully-loaded 65-foot semi trucks coming out.

On March 1, we received Topsider's latest building manual in the mail.  It contained no instructions on how to assemble the second floor.

On March 2, Gail received an email message from Topsider.  Our 26-foot, 2,600 lb. center post had somehow been left off of the trucks.  It would have to come out in a subsequent shipment.  Gail declared that under no circumstances would she pay for the extra truck.  That would be Topsider's liability, as well as arranging for it to be delivered to our building site.

(The number of cross-country trucks was a big deal for Gail.  We had already had one truck come out in November with the foundation materials.  Gail only wanted to pay for two more at the most.  In fact, she had even cancelled all interior finishing materials with Topsider -- other than the interior wall wood -- in order to reduce the number of trucks needed.)

We looked at the weather report.  The forecast was cloudy, then rain on March 4 (delivery day), then cloudy again.  Gail's journal entry for March 1 sums it up best:

"Should have pushed for an extra week!"

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The completed foundation sits, waiting...


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