The VW’s nav system directed Hoyt to a cul-de-sac somewhere on the south side of town. It was easy to figure out which house was under renovation – it was the one with all the crew cab pickups parked in front and with parts of the roof and siding torn off.
Hoyt parked the VW in front of a house three back from the project, picking a spot that wouldn’t block anyone’s driveway or mailbox. As he walked down the street, he was pretty sure he had picked Ty out of the crowd. Despite Susan’s description, he was not shouting. Instead he was the eye of a storm of human activity. There were people going every which way, but there was only one person not moving, only one answering questions from the chaos: that had to be Ty.
Hoyt had to pick his way towards Ty carefully. He could have easily been knocked down by workers pushing wheelbarrows of landscaping, others carrying windows or still others carrying stacks of hardwood. The odd thing about the effort was that everyone was carrying things toward the house except for the people who were carrying hardwood. They were taking material from the house and stacking it inside one of those portable storage bins.
While Ty wasn’t shouting, it was easy to see that he was stressed out. His denim work shirt has sweat stains under the arms and down the back. The shirt was partially untucked, probably because the belt of his jeans held an assortment of tools, more than one tape measure and a holster for a phone. One of his work shoes looked dangerously close to coming untied. None of this seemed to be on Ty’s radar. instead, he was staring at one end of the house’s roof. His lips were moving as if he was thinking aloud or perhaps praying.
Hoyt walked up to stand beside Ty, looking in the same direction. When Ty noticed his presence and turned to him, Hoyt introduced himself.
“Ty, I’m Hoyt Harris. Susan sent me over to help.”
“Thank the blessed saints. Tell me you’re the structural engineer.”
“Nope,” Hoyt said, “I’m just the hired help. I can do pretty much anything you need me to do, but I am not a structural engineer.”
“Susie hired you?” Ty asked.
“Yes, Susan,” Hoyt was careful not to slip into calling Susan by any diminutive, “told me I was working for you. She gave me the address and told me to find you.”
“Well, hell,” Ty shook his head about the same way a dog does when its ear hurts. Hoyt could almost hear the ears flapping. A pencil that had been behind Ty’s ear flew off but he didn’t seem to notice.
“I need another handyman about as much as I need another left elbow.”
Ty’s attention turned back to the roof.
Hoyt figured the job he thought he had was about to go down the drain.
“Tell you what,” Hoyt said, “Give me something that needs doing and I’ll get it done.”
“Great, hotshot,” Ty was clearly annoyed now. “See that ridge beam?” He pointed and Hoyt nodded. “Termites got into that end,” Ty waved in the general direction of the end of the house where shingles and plywood had been pulled off. Structural wood, the rafters and the ridge beam, glowed grayish-yellow in the sunlight. “It looks like we need to pull the whole damn beam out, replace it with a brand new lam beam and then reattach all the rafters to that. Find me a way to get that done today and you get to keep the job my wife gave you.”
Hoyt was still dressed in the college casual clothes he put on that morning before abandoning his apartment and former life: jeans and a polo shirt. Close enough, he decided, and headed off to get to the attic.
There was a ladder inside the house that leaned through a large gaping hole in the ceiling wallboard. He climbed up, wishing a bit nervously that he had a hard hat like some of the other workers were wearing. Make it through today, he kept repeating in his mind, just make it through today.
Once up in the attic space, there were plywood sheets laid across the ceiling joists to create a walkway over the insulation. He walked along the path to the end of the roof that had been torn off, daylight pouring into the space.
The termite damage was easy to see. The ridge beam – the structural member that runs the length of the roof at the top – was torn open at the end revealing dusty channels burrowed through the wood. Hoyt pushed at the side of the beam and his finger slid straight into what should have been solid wood. He moved to a space a foot further from the damaged end and found the same result. He kept moving along the beam until he found a place that seemed solid.
There was a battery-powered reciprocating saw resting on the makeshift walkway. Hoyt picked it up and used it to make two cuts through the ridge beam about an inch thick right where he had poked at it with his finger. When the second cut was complete, a slice of beam about the size of a short 2×4 fell at his feet.
The beam was solid at the point where he made the cut. There was no termite damage, no holes, just solid wood. He carried the piece back across the plywood walkway, down the ladder and back out in the sunlight to where Ty was standing.
Once he had Ty’s attention, he held up the piece of word. “Here’s your answer about replacing the ridge beam.”
Ty rounded on him like he was about to punch Hoyt out. He looked at the slice of wood then looked up at Hoyt. “How, exactly, is that an answer?” he demanded.
“The answer is: don’t replace the beam. Cut out the bad part and change the roof line to be a hip roof.” Hoyt spoke with all the self-assurance he could fake. “It won’t take a lot of new material to shift that around and you could have the house back under cover before dinner time today.”
Ty just stared at him. Glared at him might the more accurate description.
“How far back did you need to go before you took out this slice?”
“About five feet,” Hoyt answered, “there is still plenty of healthy beam to pull off the change to a hip roof.”
It looked like Ty was thinking about what Hoyt as suggested. He pulled the phone out of his belt clip and spoke into it. “Kirk, come see me.”
“On my way,” a voice crackled out of the speaker.
“Stick around, kid,” Ty said, “Let’s see if your idea holds water.”
It wasn’t long before Hoyt saw someone walking very purposefully toward them. Had to be Kirk, he thought. Kirk looked younger than Ty but older than Hoyt. He was wearing a white hard hat and held a roofing square in one hand. Looked like Ty’s call had caught in the middle of something.
“What do you need, boss?” Kirk asked.
“Kid here,” Ty jerked a thumb in Hoyt’s direction, “says we should cut out the end part of the ridge beam and turn that elevation of the house into a hip roof. What do you think?”
Kirk looked up at the bad end of roof, then along the roof line to the other end. He went back and forth a couple of times. He took a bit before he turned back to face Ty and Hoyt.
“Works,” he said. “We need ventilation on that end. Code says we need the equivalent of a 24” circular vent. Need some way to include that in the change.”
“Other than that, it’s okay?” Ty asked.
“Sure,” Kirk said, “there is enough variation in the outline that a hip roof won’t look strange. Artistically, it would work. But we need some way to ventilate it or we can’t get it signed off.”
Now or never, Hoyt thought. “What about adding a fake dormer on that end? Put a rectangular vent. With louvers, it could look like a shuttered window.”
Ty looked at Kirk. Kirk gave a half-shrug. “Unconventional, but it fits the need.”
That was all Ty had to hear. “Kid, see the office over there?” He pointed towards a pickup truck with a camper shell on the back. “Go inside and pick up a white hard had. You’re now the foreman on the team to rebuild the roof.”
Hoyt started to object, Ty waved his off. “If you have structural questions or want to make sure you’re in code, ask Kirk. If you have people problems with your team, solve them yourself.”
He looked at Kirk. “Go get a couple of hammer swingers and a cut man. Tell ‘em they report to the kid.”
“Does the kid have a name?” Kirk asked. Hoyt started to answer but Ty interrupted, “Just tell them ‘the kid.’ They’ll figure it out.”
Hoyt did as he was told. He went to the office/camper and got a white hard hat. By the time he climbed back up into the attic and walked to the opening, two men were standing in the sunlight, looking up at the ridge beam where Hoyt had made his cut. They were wearing almost identical outfits. Faded jeans, leather tool belts, western style shirts (the kind with snaps instead of buttons) that might have once been blue but were now closer to dingy.
Sucking in a big breath and hoping for enough conviction in his voice, he walked towards them.
“Gentlemen,” Hoyt said, “did Kirk send you to work on the roof?”
A look passed between them at the term “gentlemen” but they let it slide. The taller one said “yep.”
Hoyt held out his hand. “I’m Hoyt, the new kid around here.” Somewhat awkwardly, the two guys offered their hands and their names. Lee was the tall one, Jose David the shorter one.
“Ty asked me to get the roof done today. What we will be doing is changing this gable end to a hip roof. That way we cut out the section of ridge beam with termite damage and don’t have to redo the whole roof.”
He paused and looked to see if they understood.
“Yep,” Lee said. he looked up at the open part of the roof, then down the length of the attic to the other end. “The existing roof is 5/12. Do you want to do the same for the hip?”
Hoyt had a vague idea of what Lee was saying. It was about the slope of the roof. He couldn’t see any reason not to keep it the same. He told Lee to go with 5/12 here as well.
“Makes most of the cuts easier,” Lee said. “The only tricky ones are the two hip ridge beams. That’s going to be a wacky compound cut.” He leaned over the edge of the house and hollered down to someone named Alan. “Better get up here and measure,” Lee hollered, “you need to see this if you’re going to get it right.”
Jose David walked on the ceiling joists to get to the end of one of the exposed rafters. He hammered on the end of the board twice and it swung free. Then he walked back to the center and hammered the other end free from the ridge beam. Hoyt hadn’t noticed it before but there was a triangular cut down by the end that hung over the roof.
“Gonna use this to figure out where to end the beam,” he said as he deftly swung the rafter around without hitting anything or Hoyt. He walked it to the edge of the house and used the cut in the rafter to hold it in place.
“Take the other end,” he told Hoyt, “and raise it up until I tell you to stop.”
Hoyt did as he was told. Huh. Foreman he thought. More like gopher.
“Whoa,” Jose David called, “Slow down. Don’t move so fast. I need to find the right angle. Lower it down a bit.” Hoyt did.
“A bit more.” Hoyt did.
“A tad back up.” Hoyt did that, too.
“Now hold it steady while I tack it into place. A nail gun seemed to appear out of mid-air. Jose Davis shot a nail through the rafter. Hoyt felt the concussion in his hands and arms. Jose David walked back past Hoyt to get to the other end of the rafter.
The longer Hoyt held the piece of wood, the more he felt his arm muscles grow tired. The wood and his arms were beginning to shake.
“Jose David …” he started to say.
“Just David works. No need for the Jose part.”
“Okay, David …” Hoyt started again.
“I know,” David said, “It’s getting hard to hold it steady. Five more seconds.”
In less than that, Hoyt heard the pop of the nail gun and he could relax his arms. They felt so light they practically floated up from his side.
Alan, Hoyt learned, was the “cut man” assigned by Kirk to the project. What that meant was that Alan would be working the compound mitre chop saw. He was responsible for sending up ready-cut rafters based upon the dimensions Lee and David hollered down to him. Hoyt found the concept of being “foreman” of this team didn’t mean much. They didn’t need any help at framing the roof, they just needed someone to make decisions. And, Hoyt figured, take the blame if the decisions were wrong.
He learned that jack rafters were different than hip rafters (one went along the original roof line, the other along the new sloped end of the roof). He learned that a rafter that was even as much as an eighth of an inch too long or too short would be sent back down to Alan as scrap.
About a third of the way through the process of nailing in rafters for the hip roof, Hoyt remembered about the dormer. He got both Lee and David’s attention and told them he needed a dormer on the end.
This elicited a response filled with language that was both strong and foul. Some of the compound words were things that Hoyt hadn’t heard before but which were anatomically impossible. The gist of them, boiled down to clean language, was:
“Oh. We didn’t know that this was to be living space. That change will require us to redo most of what we have just completed. Are you certain of your design?”
That wasn’t really what they said, but it is close to what they meant.
Hoyt managed to get enough words in edgewise to make it clear that this was a dummy dormer to hold a ventilation screen. No, they didn’t need to frame it into the rafters, they just needed to leave a space open for airflow. Once that was clear, Lee continued to frame in the roof line while David worked from the outside to frame the dormer.
At one point, they told Hoyt they were done from the inside and needed to start laying sheathing. They stepped through the space between rafters and hollered something down to Alan. Almost immediately, guys Hoyt didn’t know started climbing the ladder into the attic space carrying 4×8 sheets of thin plywood as if they weighed no more that cardboard. Lee and David tacked them into pace with cordless nail guns. In a matter of minutes the roof was completely under cover. Hoyt looked at his watch, the entire process from getting his hard hat to enclosed roof was less than and hour and a half.
He climbed out of the attic and made his way back around to the newly enclosed section of the roof. The plywood was in place, all the cuts needed for it were done. David was just getting to the bottom of a ladder that led down from the roof. Lee was already down and was walking away.
“Hold it a minute,” Hoyt called to them. “Still need to finish the tar paper and the shingles.”
Lee turned around to face Hoyt but continued to walk, backwards, away from him, smiling. “We’re framers, not roofers. You need to get yourself some roofers.”
Hoyt remembered what Ty had said about solving people problems himself. “Look,” Hoyt told him, “you know I’m new on this job. I don’t know a roofer from a plumber. I appreciate the job you did in getting that roof framed in, but I need your help in finding someone – anyone – who can get it done the rest of the way.
Lee gave a palms up shrug and continued to walk backwards until he turned away and walked off. From behind Hoyt’s shoulder, David said quietly, “C’mon, gringo, I’ll get you some roofers.” Hoyt followed David to what must have been an informal break spot under the shade of a large tree on the property. There were a dozen of so men sitting around, most of them on upturned plastic buckets.
David said something in Spanish and everyone under the tree laughed. David didn’t laugh. He said something again, with a bit of an edge in his voice this time. The laughter stopped. David said something else and this time he jerked a thumb back towards Hoyt. What he said at that point sounded like “the kid.” Four guys stood up and came over towards them.
David leaned close and said “I told them the boss calls you ‘the kid’ and you are the new important person on the job. And that they should do what you say.”
Hoyt looked at David, perhaps with a different understanding than before. “Thanks, man,” he said to David. “My job is on the line to get the roofing down today.”
David laughed, “You will learn. Ty says that to at least five people everyday. If he fired you today and you show up for work tomorrow, you will still have a job. But,” he paused and looked directly at Hoyt, “I figure it is safer to never push it and find out for myself.”
With that, David walked into the shade and sat down. The four roofers followed Hoyt to the house. All he had to do was point at the bare plywood sheathing and before he could say anything about it, they walked off towards rolls of what must be tar paper and stacks of shingles. They hefted loads onto their shoulders and climbed the ladder, setting silently to work.
Hoyt watched them, even if they didn’t need any of his advice, just to make sure the job was complete. Forty-five minutes later, in what Hoyt thought must be a world record for roofing, the job was done. The men came back down the ladder and walked off in the direction of the shade without a glance or a word to Hoyt.
He looked around and found the circle of activity that surrounded Ty. Managing his way into the crowd, Hoyt eventually got to the inner circle. Ty looked at him. “Who the hell are you?”
“Hoyt,” he stammered, “Hoyt Harris. I got the hip roof done.”
Ty looked at him, squinting his eyes in a way that was exactly like Susan. “Right,” he said, “the kid. Go find Kirk. Someone screwed up the rough-in wiring for the kitchen. Make it right. Get it done.”
That was almost an echo of his dad’s voice. Spooky. He turned to walk off and find Kirk.
“Hey, kid,” Ty called from behind him. Hoyt looked over his shoulder. Ty wrinkled hi forehead. “Hoyt, right?” Hoyt nodded. “Good job on the roof. Now go fix the kitchen.”
Hoyt found Kirk, Kirk told him what was wrong with the wiring. “Pretty much everything,” Kirk told him. The outlets are too far apart and they fall smack in the middle of what will be the granite back splash.”
Hoyt told him he could fix that and set off to find where in the wreck of the current house the kitchen might be. Kirk called out to him “And make damn sure they’re on GFI circuits!”
Hoyt waved acknowledgement over his shoulder and kept walking.
This, he decided, was fun.