Putting up the trusses

September 6, 2010

Instead of a tale of foible and error, I offer this week one of sore muscles and fatigue. Putting up trusses is strenuous work for an old guy who thinks twice about a trip up the stairs, let alone an excursion across wobbling trusses at the top of a roof. But Martin and Charlie were available, and it was the best chance we would have to get the trusses installed and keep the project moving.

The last time I hauled trusses along a top plate was in the summer of 1974, and I was flat-out terrified. We were building the house on the hill now owned by Joe and Elaine Laxton, and all I can remember is that the huge trusses were on a tractor-trailer bed at one end of the house, and I had to pull one end of these thirty-foot monsters along this narrow, wobbly top plate, the full length of the house while staring down sixteen feet to rocks and concrete below. I hadn’t figured out how to backfill at the rear of the house, so things were a bit ragged down there. Falling was not an option.

The worst of it was that my dad was fearless around heights. My nephew Jonathan picked up the same gene, but it skipped a generation with me. But it wouldn’t be manly to show fear. The house wouldn’t get built, either. Better to risk a fall. So off I went, dragging this truss across the tops of the interior partitions of the house, my dad on the other side, cheerfully picking his way along. Then came the the living room/dining room with no central partition, and the top of the truss dropped into the gap. Yikes! Turned out it was easier to carry in this position, so on we went, tiptoeing down our parallel tightropes.

I was very pleased to complete that day’s work with all my limbs and some of my dignity intact.

But that was then. Today’s trusses seem a bit lighter in construction. And there are no partitions inside a garage, so we were able to bring them in through the opening for the wide door, push one end up onto the far wall, then combine our efforts to gain the other wall. Then it got tricky. The guy on the bottom, usually Charlie, hooked a 2X4 into the top of the truss and pushed while Martin and I reached down and grabbed.

It looked risky but it worked. Nobody had to walk the top plate. Martin was even able to lounge on a rolling scaffold unit. Equipment has improved since the seventies.

Unfortunately the nail gun didn’t seem all that good at driving spikes through the plates holding the ends of trusses together. The hammers came out. Charlie started a strong, steady routine with the spikes, but Martin’s taps showed great effort, reasonable accuracy, but little skill or effect. Charlie explained what his grandpa had taught him, and Martin immediately improved his swing.

My job was to crawl around in the middle with the nail gun, installing braces as needed to keep the whole thing from falling down. Hurricane Earl had sent a few tentacles northwest, and we found it wasn’t hard to tip the trusses up — just let the wind get under them — but bracing needed to be quick and sure.

Gradually we ran out of space inside the garage for the nine-foot-high trusses. This meant hauling them up over the end of the building, but that went pretty well until the final truss, #13. Have I mentioned how the number thirteen seems to have it in for me? I could hardly wait to see what was in store.

Just to play it safe I lifted the heavy end-truss onto the top plate with the tractor. No disaster, despite Charlie’s worry and Martin’s objection to the slowness of the machine. Everyone’s back was still intact. We slid it into place and tacked the ends. And then the air strike hit. A sudden downpour of water and hail pummeled us as we struggled to brace the truss, but one shot from the nail gun connected with a 2X4 in the right place and we dashed for cover. They were up.

The following day Charlie and I faced the sobering challenge of the package of “ladders” which had come with the trusses. The end units are smaller than the others by the thickness of these ladders which fit over the ends and nail to the side of the next truss in. The 16″ of the ladder which hangs over then becomes the overhang for the roof.

I had no idea how to put these things up. Charlie suggested a scaffold, so we set up three lifts at the west end of the building. Some of my climbing planks are a bit old, so I grabbed a 10 inch oak plank off a pile of new lumber in the yard. My goodness, a chunk of green oak is heavy to place up 15′ on a scaffold. On the other hand, once it’s there it doesn’t move.

By the fourth section of ladder we had the system figured out and the only question remained, “How will we get the scaffold down now that we have built the eaves of the garage over it?”