Perched atop an old ladder I load a screw into the front of an electric screw driver. Rain is running down the walls in little trickles, and I wipe the space in front of me dry before leaning forward and setting the screw into the wall. I push, and the ladder moves backwards. Thereâ€™s a window next to me, so I wrap one leg through it and brace my calf against the inside of the wall before pushing the screw into the Styrofoam wall.
It seems like building technology has come a long way since I was a kid. I grew up in a world where â€œfoundationâ€ meant stacking up some cinder blocks, leveling them, and filling them with cement that you mixed in a wheelbarrow. If you wanted to be fancy you put rebar down through the middle of the blocks before pouring, and if you wanted to be really fancy youâ€™d outfit each pillar with a permanent jack so that you could re-level things when earthquakes, permafrost, or life knocked them out of whack.
Iâ€™ve spent the last few hours on a more modern foundation. Itâ€™s made out of interlocking Styrofoam, with rebar and stuff running through the middle. Weâ€™re reinforcing the Styrofoam with strips of plywood in preparation for the cement truck, which will pump thousands of pounds of cement between the two layers of Styrofoam. The novelty of it all is almost as astounding as the sheer amount of brain wracking, detail oriented work.
â€œDamn piece of shit.â€ Somebody underneath me drops a board.
â€œNo,â€ someone else corrects her. â€œItâ€™s a piece of wood, not a piece of shit.â€
I climbed down the ladder and walked slowly along the wall, scanning for an X that meant the spot needed reinforcement.
Part of the joy of hobo-ing is that you can jump with both feet into other worlds without being expected to stay. I had wanted to brush up on my house building skills. Luckily summer building is an even bigger Alaskan tradition than gold mining or fishing, so there is no shortage of building projects to immerse myself in.
Down here building seems more like building in the movies, everything is done right and when itâ€™s finished it will look like those fancy matching houses in lower 48 subdivisions. Where I grew up houses had more character. They were often built in chunks: the first summers building and then an addition for every summer, or for every kid.
Iâ€™ve run out of Xâ€™s to cover with reinforcement, and the rain has picked up a little. I look around and people are doing things with rebar now. My phone says itâ€™s 7 PM and I want to get to work early tonight, so I say my goodbyes and climb into the hobo-stripper-mobile.