A lot has happened in the past 30 days. Thanks for the comments and feedback – we LOVE hearing from you – comments of all kinds!
After a big push, the 2nd floor is ready to cast. While the beams are tied on the ground, the guys form up the floor with channels that the beams will be set in, then 2X4’s go in to support the plywood for the floor.
The 2X4’s are supported underneath with bush sticks, cut to the exact size the floor needs to be level.
As soon as the bush sticks are set, the steel grid that ties the beams and floor together are set in and tied.
Juan Diaz and his sons come in for a day and a half to set the electrical and plumbing that will be covered by the cement, thus permanently becoming a part of the building. The plumbing is pressure tested to make sure we have no leaks. We are right on schedule for a cast on Friday!
Omar and I had crunched the numbers and decided to use “maquinas” or machines to help with this pour. It’s frowned upon on the island to use machines because it replaces men that go around the island and contract cement work for a day’s pay. The guys literally follow the cement mixers around knowing that where ever it stops, there will be a pour there very soon.
We decided to use machines because we are on the 2nd floor and would need around 35 men for a bucket brigade, plus as many as 3 cement mixers. Financially (and theoretically) it would save some money and men’s backs, to use the machines. We contracted with a local guy who owns a mobile batch plant and a cement pump. It is the only one of its kind on the island.
The machines were supposed to be on-site to set up Thursday afternoon but were a no-show. THAT is when the 3-day nightmare started. Friday morning, we had 40 or so guys standing around waiting for the equipment to show up, hoping to be picked for the limited crew we would need with the machines – maybe 10-12 guys. Around 10 am, the machines rolled in and started to set up. The machines come with a crew who worked until 11:45 setting up. We decided to take lunch before starting the pour at 1:00 pm – a little risky with this size pour…but the machines would get the concrete to the roof in a hurry! At 1:00 pm, we’re ready and the batch plant
is loaded (10 yards of cement mix, 70 bags of cement and 300 gallons of water). The plant mixes the cement and augers it over to the pump which pumps it through a fat hose to the roof where we are casting. They fire it up and hit the hydraulics to start the auger and “POW” hydraulic fluid everywhere and no auger moving. Evidently, they didn’t clean the auger out the day before, so the cement they poured, became concrete overnight.
The next 3 days of incompetence was like none I’ve seen before. What I saw for the next 3 days is below. The only difference was that on Saturday and Sunday they had different clothes on.
Suffice it to say, the laborers were right, we should have used men instead of machines. We sent everyone home Friday, after way too much of this…
They came back on Saturday at 7:00 am and we called it off at 7:45 am (again) and decided to shoot for Monday. The “mechanics”, who were STILL working on the hydraulics on Sunday at 3:00 pm, said when they took it apart, they couldn’t remember how to put it back together again. I told them politely (hmmmm?) to get that machine off my land.
We poured the floor using cement mixers. We dug a hole in the ground, lowered the pump into the hole, then built a ramp up to it. We brought in a 2nd cement mixer and crew, then a 3rd around 1:00 pm. Using two wheel-barrows per mixer, men took the cement up the ramp and poured it into the pump. It took three days (only one after we finally got started!), 37 men, 3 mixers, over 90 yards of sand/gravel mix, 440 bags of cement and 25 “I told you so’s”, but at 6:30 pm Monday night, just as the sun was setting, NIGHTMARE OVER!
Now we get back to business as usual. The guys start stripping the side forms and start hauling up block for the 2nd floor. The week flies by with the guys getting almost all the walls set and some form work for window and door lintels. We can really start to see the 2nd floor take shape!
My main man (left) on the heavy lifting is Jinx (Walter)
but new guy Gasper and everyone else pitches in to make it all come together.
In this photo (left), you can see a temporary hoist Walter built to get the blocks to the 2nd floor. One by one, block after block, they come up using a heavy pulley, rope and MAN POWER.
They also use this hoist to lift buckets of cement when they pour the lintels, doors frames and columns. LOT’S of hoisting – ALL DAY LONG!
The other important happening is the spiral stairway on the front (beach) side gets started. Erwin is the main guy on this project and sees it right through from forming the base,
then the stairs, then the steel.
He is in command when the cement starts flowing and he calls for the right consistency. Too wet and it all flows to the bottom. To dry and it will be honey combed. He does it ALL and it comes out SPECTACULAR!!! It will end up being a show-piece for the place!!
(He might be getting a little tired of the photo ops, but hey, the guy’s gotta take some credit for his craft!!)
Within a few weeks, the walls are locked in place and the columns, door and window lintels are done. The plumbing and electrical crew is busy on the first floor, but spending a lot of time on the 2nd floor also – making sure outlets, kitchen appliance connections, plumbing and everything else is solidly in place. It HAS to be done before we can start forming up for the 3rd and final floor. Juan Diaz reminds me daily that it’s a lot easier to make changes now, then to go back and change later!
So far we have been on schedule – just as Omar laid it out before we started. To stay on schedule, Omar lets me know that we need to contract out the plaster work. This is the coats of cement that go over the block to finish the wall systems. By contracting the plaster out, our crew will be able to advance on the 2nd floor, while another crew advances on the 1st floor (plaster).
By contracting the plaster work, we can also control the costs. The plaster guys get a set amount per square yard or foot of plastering. They know, and we know, how many square feet there is total, so they can work at their own pace. We monitor the quality of the work, so as long as the work gets done correctly and in a timely fashion, everyone is happy. We hire a GREAT plaster crew and let them go to work. It looks like by the end of week 4, the first floor plaster should be DONE.
At this point, we now have our main 12-man crew, a 4-man plaster crew, and 2 or 3 plumbers/electricians on site everyday. We lost a few of our original crew, but added some great talent as well On top of that, we have suppliers stopping by weekly to make sure we are on schedule with lighting and plumbing supplies, lumber for cabinets, tiles and the like. When I say it’s a busy site, you should believe it! We’re hopping now, baby!
It’s not too long after the 2nd floor is cast that we start framing up the 3rd and final floor. One crew framing and a 2nd crew on the ground, tying and cutting the steel.
We eliminated a column that would have come down in the center of the kitchen so the overhead beam is MASSIVE. But Pinky (Victor) is on the job and it’s no problemo!!! We use a lot of ($$$) 5/8″ steel, tied with 1/2″ steel and we increase the size of the beam to 21 inches. Truly it’s massive! The picture to the left doesn’t do it justice!
Mercifully, the 3rd floor is only about 25% concrete, which will become the rooftop entertainment area and unbelievable 360 degree view! The remainder of the 3rd floor will be roofing. This means that we are VERY close to getting this thing under-roof! Critical because rainy season is quickly approaching. If we get this under roof, before rainy season, we will have plenty of work to do inside when it rains.
We’ll also be able to catch the rain-water and start filling up that 50,000 gallon cistern we talked about in the first blog.
After the framing is done, the bush sticks come back up to support the beams. Then framing for the floor with 2X4’s and plywood (again).
We’re finally ready to pour the 3rd floor. THIS TIME, we’re smarter and we hire labor, build a scaffold and start the pour on-schedule. NO B.S. this time around!!!
We use 15 extra guys, 36 yards of cement/sand mix, 160 bags of cement and about 40 5-gallon buckets. We start the pour at 9:00 am and finish at 6:30 pm. A long, hard day on these guys.
As they’re leaving and getting paid, I’m thanking them and asking if they’re all right. I can see how tough it is on them. Never a complaint. I only hear, “Mui bueno”. This is just another day for them, but I’m exhausted just watching them!
I’ve covered a lot of ground in this blog but I can tell you, I’m not caught up yet. The project has gone from this:
Seemingly overnight!!! We have a long way to go, but we’re on schedule and on budget right now!!!
I’ll also put a note in here about the emotional roller coaster we have been on since starting this project. Although it may seem that everything is just falling right into place, there have been many times where we have asked ourselves, “what were we thinking?”
When the craziness was happening with the 2nd floor pour, the many long days and nights worrying about all the small things that go into a project like this, it’s sometimes hard to see the vision through the chaos. Sometimes those bad thoughts creep in that maybe this wasn’t a good decision. Maybe we’re in over our heads.
Fortunately, when one of us has been down and out, it always seems like the other one is there with a smile and words of encouragement. It’s enough to keep going and it’s the inspiration it takes to push on. If anyone thinks they can do this on their own, think again. It takes two very strong minded partners to keep it going.
In the end, it is truly inspiring to look back at what happened that day or week or month and see the real progress towards the goal. We have a long way to go…but we’re getting there!!!
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