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August 17, 2005
Marathon part 4: Raising the deck purlins

Steve with a block and tackle pulley

Russell's friend Steve was available for working from Sunday evening through Tuesday evening.  By Tuesday noon, we had finished installing the eighth and final lower-story wall, as well as its accompanying triple purlin, and we wondered what to do next.

Our overall goal is to do the minimal amount of work and construction necessary to achieve a water-tight shell before the advent of Winter.  For Russell, this makes the metal roof the number one priority.  Looking ahead, however, at some point we will have to close off the last roof panel in order to complete the metal roof.  And currently, we have left this panel uninstalled in order to provide access to the top.  So the "chicken and egg problem" is, once we have completely sealed off the last panel, how then do we climb up onto the roof?

Our experiment last weekend, using a picnic table, a 22' ladder, and a bunch of rope, showed us that we shouldn't access the roof this way.  After examining the problem, Russell reluctantly came to the conclusion that the best solution would be to install the exterior decks before we install the metal roof.

There would be a total of five decks in various places around the exterior of the second story: a set of three contiguous deck sections outside of the sitting room on the west and south sides; a single deck outside of Cameron's bedroom on the north side; and a single deck outside of Joss' bedroom on the east side.

In preparation for installing the decks, Gail had spent weeks on the phone with Topsider trying to get additional detail from their vague deck blueprints and instructions.  Every time she checked in with Russell, he came up with additional questions.  Finally, only days before our marathon work week, we felt that we had all of the answers.  And now that Steve was here and available on Tuesday afternoon, we could begin the actual installation.

Step one would be to install the deck purlins.  These triple purlins, like the ones that supported the second story floor panels, would be installed like a ring around the spokes of the glu-lam beams.  Actually, step one would be to somehow get these triple purlins up to the second floor.

When we installed the original triple purlins, we had the luxury of Frank's crane and a whole crew of workers.  Today, we had no crane and only Steve and Russell.  In addition, the deck purlins would be longer, and thus heavier.  On the other hand, we had a couple of block and tackle pulleys that Gail had purchased several months ago.  Using some scrap wood and chains, Steve rigged a couple of booms for the pulleys to rest on.

A rig for the block and tackle pulley

Meanwhile, Russell prepared the first two glu-lam beams for their future decks.  First, he installed our old friend the bitumen-based vapor barrier.  Next, he cut and installed pieces of composite decking material in order to raise the surface level by two inches (this is necessary to reduce the step-down from the interior floor level to the exterior deck level).  Finally, he installed the hangers for the triple purlins.

How to prepare a glu-lam beam:
1. Stick on a bitumen-based vapor barrier
2. Nail a piece of composite decking material to raise the level
3. Install the purlin hanger

With the pulleys cutting the weight of the triple purlins to about one-third, Steve and Russell proceeded to hoist the first triple purlin ten feet up in the air towards the second floor.  Unfortunately, this only brought the lumber within four feet of the second floor.  The remaining four feet had to be accomplished using a lot of shoulder and muscle power from two middle-aged men on ladders.

After an incredible amount of labor and coordination, we succeeded in getting the first triple purlin up to the second floor.  We then engaged in a process of lifting, kicking, and sliding the huge purlin over to the north side, where we pushed it out onto the glu-lam beams to rest in the hangers.  Again, we could only push it so far.  The last several feet had to be accomplished using a lot of shoulder and muscle power from two middle-aged men on ladders.

How to raise a triple purlin

With one triple purlin hoisted up and dropped into place, we decided that the best use of Steve's remaining time would be to raise the remaining four purlins up to the second floor.  This gave us four more chances to repeat, refine, and improve upon our block and tackle pulley process.  Unfortunately, we only succeeded in bringing up three of the four remaining purlins.  By this point it was past dinner time, and Steve was already an hour behind his departure schedule.

Reluctantly, we called it a day, with one purlin still sitting on the ground.  Exhausted, Steve offered one last piece of advice: "Next time, we need at least three strong guys to do this."  With that, he said his goodbye and drove back off into the real world.

As usual, Russell couldn't resist the challenge.  On Thursday morning, all alone, he set the pulley system back up and acted out both parts.  It took two hours of excruciating labor, but he succeeded in bringing the last triple purlin up to the last floor as a one-man job.

Russell, showing off a matched set of four triple purlins


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