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Gail sits and ponders the situation during a three-hour stand-off
By Wednesday, March 2, we knew that we would be expecting two delivery trucks, each fully loaded and 65 feet long. They were scheduled to arrive by 8:00 am on Friday morning, March 4. Frank Gilbeau would be at the abandoned store with his crane to offload the trucks onto his own, smaller truck.
On March 3, Gail heard from both truckers. One had misread the name of our town, and was somewhere hundreds of miles in the wrong place. Gail set him straight. The second was on his way, on schedule.
Our neighbor Scott had laid six loads of gravel onto our dirt road, and he was still not confident that it would be enough. He would be standing by in case we had any problems. Our realtor Scott also volunteered to come by and help.
That evening after Russell got home from work, we left Cameron and Joss in the capable hands of Grandma and drove up to Calaveras. We turned in early at the local motel, ready for the fun to begin the next day.
Friday, March 4, started out with cloudy but clear skies. We arrived at the abandoned store at 7:45 am, and discovered that we were the only ones there. Numerous cell phone calls told us that Frank was on his way with his crane and his son-in-law, Ryan. Frank's wife Lee Ann was going to meet one of the trucks at the local Wal-Mart and escort him the rest of the way. She discovered that he was at the wrong Wal-Mart, in a different town an hour's drive away.
Frank showed up, followed by the first truck. It was driven by Floyd and Mike, two cousins from North Carolina. Frank and Ryan immediately set to work offloading the building material onto Ryan's smaller 20-foot truck. Ryan, in his early twenties, was one of the hardest workers -- and one of the nicest people -- we had ever seen. A farmer by trade, he is used to long and hard physical labor.
Frank and Ryan, at both ends of the crane
Normally, a forklift is used to "stick and pick." Loads have "sticks" put under them to allow the forks to slide in underneath, then they are "picked" up. Although we were not using a forklift, these sticks were still needed so that we could fit the bundles with crane straps. Unfortunately, Topsider had not put enough sticks into the lumber stacks, so we were forced to pick up huge stacks, as well as go through the tedious process of inserting additional sticks before the material could be offloaded.
Our dream home: Topsider Project 1414 (some assembly required)
Our neighbor Scott also showed up to help, bringing his own 20-foot trailer hitched to a dump truck. In addition, he had parked two tractors/backhoes on our property -- one at the bottom of the hill, and one at the top of the hill -- just in case we ran into trouble. (Scott ended up staying with us for the entire day, cancelling another job in order to do so.)
We finally had Floyd and Mike's truck almost completely offloaded by the time that the second truck showed up at almost 10:00 am. David, from Missouri, had never driven a winding road before in his life. He looked absolutely pale and stricken, and the back corners of his truck were still wearing foliage. He confessed that he had knocked down several road markers and a tree on his drive up.
Neither of the two cross-country trucks had been flagged, or given pilot cars.
(In another side note, Gail learned from the drivers that the two cross-country trucks had actually left more than a day after Topsider had told her. Gail could have had the trucks delayed after all, to avoid arriving in the rain. Before the end of the day, we would very much regret this miscommunication.)
The first semi-truck being unloaded.
By 10:00 am, the second semi-truck had also arrived.
It was almost lunchtime when we finished emptying Floyd and Mike's semi truck. Their job was done, and they were happy to be on their way. About 3/4 of the first semi's materials had been loaded into Ryan's and Scott's smaller trucks, and they were ready to roll. The rest remained sitting in the parking lot of the abandoned store. It was at this point that we made one of our more regrettable decisions of the day.
David was in a hurry to leave, but his truck had not even begun to be offloaded. Being paid by the load, he was anxious to get unloaded and on his way -- he had another job waiting for him in Los Angeles. Frank asked if we should just go ahead and unload David's truck, leaving the materials at the abandoned store while we went to the top of the mountain.
Russell was concerned about leaving an entire semi truck load full of materials on the side of the road unattended... and possibly rained upon. He reasoned that it wouldn't take too long to bring the crane and two 15-foot trucks to the building site, offload them, and come back. He asked David to wait. David, having no choice, reluctantly agreed.
Gail with her new-found trucker friends, David, Floyd, and Mike
Scott led the way up the dirt road to the building site, followed by Frank's crane, then Ryan's truck. Halfway up, Scott decided that he wouldn't be able to make it on his own, and stopped. He would have to bring his backhoe down and tow his truck up. He asked Russell if Russell had any experience either driving a backhoe or driving a truck. Before Russell had to answer, our other neighbor Todd showed up.
Together, Todd and Scott were able to tow Scott's truck up to our lower knoll. Unfortunately, because Scott had stopped back on the hill, both Frank and Ryan had lost whatever uphill momentum they had. They would also need to be towed. Dutifully, Scott brought the backhoe back and towed Frank's crane up.
A small caravan: Frank's crane leads Ryan's truck up the hill.
Scott's truck being towed by Scott's backhoe.
By the time Scott brought the backhoe back down to get Ryan's truck, it was now early afternoon and had begun to rain. Unfortunately, because Ryan's truck had a gooseneck coupling (instead of a hitch), it was more prone to fishtailing. On the last curve before the top of the hill, Ryan's back right tires fishtailed just off the muddy edge of the dirt road.
He couldn't move. He couldn't be towed. He couldn't be lifted. So an entire load of our house building lumber -- several tons -- sat, uncovered, in the cold and rain. For three hours.
Ryan's Curve (in the background, Jessica and Lee Ann stand under an umbrella)
By this time, we had attracted quite an audience. Frank's wife Lee Ann, her uncle Fred, and Ryan's wife Jessica had all come to look at the building site, and were of course stopped halfway up the road. Neighbors Scott and Todd, as well as Frank and Ryan, brainstormed, tried, and failed at several plans of action. Meanwhile, somewhere a mile away at the abandoned store, David sat in his fully-loaded semi-truck and waited for hours, wondering what had happened to us, and losing business by the minute.
Earlier, Gail and Russell had talked about taking the entire crew out for a nice lunch in town "after we had finished." At this point, the only food that anybody had was some shared pizza that Lee Ann had brought for Frank, and some leftover muffins that Gail had brought for breakfast.
Ultimately, the team talked a reluctant Russell into making the only decision left. Ryan's truck could not be moved as long as it was loaded. Therefore, we would have to unload it here. Scott took his backhoe down the back road and came up behind Ryan's truck. Then, the entire load of building lumber was stacked on the side of the road.
At Gail's suggestion, Frank brought his crane onto the upper road, extended the 150 foot arm, and attached to Ryan's trailer. Scott attached his backhoe. While Frank pulled, Scott lifted. The unladen and lighter truck nudged back onto the road.
The final solution: with our house lumber sitting in the mud, Frank's crane (on the upper road) helps to lift Ryan's truck (on the lower road)
By this point it was late afternoon. We made the decision to split up. Gail would go with Frank and his crane, Ryan and his truck, and Frank's family back down to the abandoned store and try to unload David's remaining semi-truck. Todd would go with them, bringing his own truck. They would bring all vehicles down by the back road in the hope of avoiding additional spinouts.
Meanwhile, Russell would stay with Scott and unload Scott's 15-foot truck. They were joined by realtor Scott, who had come to help and watch the "fun." Realtor Scott was a perpetually non-plussed personality who was always good for morale. As he put it, "The interesting stories are the memorable ones."
Scott, Russell, and Scott proceeded to use the backhoe as a miniature crane. They offloaded Scott's truck pick by pick at the lower knoll, and tractored them up to the building site.
Scott's amazingly versatile backhoe, doubling as a crane
Meanwhile, Gail's team discovered that the backroad was not much better than the front road. Both Frank's and Ryan's rigs had to be towed out, wasting what was left of daylight. By the time they reached the abandoned store, it was nearing dusk.
Frank was concerned about doing crane work without adequate light, especially given the numerous live power lines that criss-crossed the parking lot. Frank asked if David would be willing to try driving his semi directly up to the building site. David, by now completely fed up as a result of his lost day, respectfully declined. Frank asked if David would be willing to call it a day and wait until the morning to unload. David respectfully declined.
So Frank and Ryan began the difficult work of unloading David's truck in the near-darkness. Todd's pickup truck was loaded and he departed. Our earlier bad decision (the one that had caused David to lose an entire day) ultimately made no difference, because the rest of the semi-truck was offloaded onto the side of the road at the abandoned store. Gail covered it up with black plastic as well as she could.
Unloading David's truck in the near-darkness
By this point, our work had attracted the attention of Gerald, who lived in the houses behind the abandoned store. In addition to pitching in and helping, he reassured us that nothing bad would likely happen to our stored material overnight. But he advised that we not leave it there for more than the one night. (Fortunately it had stopped drizzling by now, and it would remain clear for the rest of the night.)
It was after 8:00 pm by the time that Gail and Russell were able to call home. Grandma had already taken the boys over to their Aunt Debbie's earlier that afternoon. We asked if they would like us to drive down, get them, and drive back. Instead, Debbie offered to keep them for the night. She had other plans the next day, but we arranged for the boys to be transferred to their Aunt Joanne's tomorrow morning. Cameron and Joss were very disappointed that we weren't coming home tonight. So were we.
Gail called the local motel, and Margaret cheerfully offered us another room for the night. Russell called neighbor Scott and asked if by any chance he had any availability tomorrow to continue helping us. Scott said he would see what he could do.
As we wearily turned out the lights, Gail mused that our house currently resided in five different places: on the side of the road at the abandoned store, on the back of Todd's truck at his house, halfway up our road in the mud, on the lower knoll, and on the building site.
Hopefully, tomorrow would be a better day. Hopefully, it couldn't be any worse.
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