Building My Very Own Geodesic Dome

October 16-31, 1984

Tue, Oct 16
I had Toney helping me cut plywood for the forms today. We still didn't get all of the pieces cut. Out of 48 needed we finished 16 and half finished 32. The rest should be fairly easy though because it means cutting just one side off of fairly small pieces. I have decided to put off nailing the forms together until I get all the parts up to Front Royal. Otherwise I would need several trips up there to get them there because they are so bulky when assembled.

Wed, Oct 17
Today I finally finished cutting the parts for the forms. Part of the reason it took so long is that the wood was so hard to cut. The plywood sheets were so warped and my saw blade so dull that I couldn't get a straight cut to save my life and the blade was binding like crazy.

Big disappointment today. When I called to see about picking up the building material from Arlington Iron Works they told me that they would not be ready today. So now the project is another day behind schedule.

Thu, Oct 18
This afternoon I went to Manassas to pick up the building material. As I was writing the check for the material the salesman notices my Escort and asked if I intended to transport all of that stuff in it. I said I hoped so and he wished me luck. I had to go to three different doors to pick up the various categories of what I had ordered. At the first door no one was in sight but the environment was impressive. Huge spaces with all kinds of heavy metal and machinery around. I went to the second door and found someone who directed me to the right person. He had me back my car into the entrance. When I got out he asked me if I intended to haul all of that stuff in the Escort. I said I hoped so. He then proceeded to help me load the column bases. Imagine one of those column bases, made of about two feet of steel tubing almost a quarter of an inch thick. Actually it is hard to imagine the immenseness of those items. Each one must have weighed about 30 pounds and I had 16 of them.

I then went to the second door. The man who helped me at the first called ahead to make sure there would be someone there waiting for me. Sure enough someone was. He had there a pile of what they call rebar, steel bars that would be imbedded in the concrete to give it structural integrity. Each of those bars was about 3/4 inch in diameter and was about 2 1/2 feet long. The total weight for 96 bars I was told was 160 pounds.

I was then directed around to the third and final door where I found another workman waiting with the bolts I had ordered. That included a bucket of bolts I could hardly lift a sack of nuts that weighed 30 pounds or so and two boxes, one full of washers and one with the 7 inch bolts I needed. By the time everything was loaded the car was almost dragging the ground. The workman told me to take it easy and wished me luck. I took it easy and had luck and arrived home without incident.

This evening I went to the hardware to buy some lengths of wood which would be suitable to support the concrete forms in the proper place above the openings I had for the footers. I hoped to be able to nail the forms to them and lay them across the top of the openings. Then I would also need some shorter lengths of similar material to lay across the top of the form. I could hang the column bases from those strips by use of the 7 inch bolts. I managed to find some 1x3 furring strips that looked like they would fill the bill. They were on sale for 49 cents apiece. I bought about $13 worth. I cut them into the lengths I thought I would need that night. The dullness of the saw blade really came home then. It should have cut those strips like butter but there was some little effort required. Still the job went very quickly.

Fri, Oct 19
When I arrived the first thing I noticed was a well drilling rig set up on the property. It was not a total surprise since I had a slight feeling they might be there, but the reality of it was still very exciting. I proceeded to construct forms while at the same time keeping an eye on the drilling operation. One of the first things I noticed about the forms was that the lengths of 1x3 that I had cut to span the top of the hole and hold my forms in mid air were a tad on the short side. In some cases, where the side of the hole was excavated a little broadly they didn't quite cover the whole distance. Oh well, that is a problem I hope I can adjust. Right now lets go full speed ahead.

The work was surprisingly exhausting for two reasons I think. First I spent most of my time squatting down which is tremendously hard on the legs. Second, I had been fighting off a cold for several days and the battle somewhat reduced my stamina. But I did manage to get all of the forms pieced together and laid awkwardly over each of the footer holes. In the same period of time the well drillers had pierced the earth to a depth of 135 feet without striking water. We all called it a day at the same time. So I am left in a state of suspense. That well can be a killer. If we hit water in 200 feet or less I am in good shape. If it goes much over that I am in deep water.

Sat, Oct 20
I didn't get to Front Royal today. But I know the drilling rig was in operation today. Did they hit water? I don't know.

Sun, Oct 21
I drove up to the site today. The rig was still there. I guess that means they didn't strike water. But it doesn't say how far they went. We saw Charlie Cox and talked with him for a few minutes. He said they had drilled for about 4 hours on Saturday. He didn't know how far they went. I would guess not too far. They were digging through granite now and the going would be pretty slow. I am keeping my hopes up.

Mon, Oct 22
Today has been a real discouraging day. I spent it up at Front Royal from about 8:30 until 2:30. The whole time I was there the drilling rig was roaring away, with no results. When I left at 2:30 they were down to 300 feet. It looks like the well is going to cost so much that it will put the whole project in jeopardy from lack of funds.

In addition, the placing of the forms for the footers has not been going well. The holes are all just enough out of position to make the placing of the column bases off center. Trying to dress up the holes as best I can has taken more time than I thought. As a result I didn't finish the job. I left five holes incompleted. Two of those I couldn't have done anyway because the runoff from the drilling operation has partially filled them with a combination of water and crushed rock.

I called the inspection agent anyway and made arrangements to meet him at the site tomorrow for an inspection. If he can't approve my work, which he probably can't, maybe at least he can tell me the best procedure to get the final results I want.

Tue, Oct 23
Toney went with me to Front Royal today. To my dismay the drilling rig was still drilling away. The weather was wet and drizzly and just a bit chilly. We started to prepare for work when the inspector arrived. He looked over the holes, made a couple of minor suggestions and approved the work. Something good happened. Hooray. After he left Toney and I finished up the holes and measured very carefully in hopes of getting all of the posts right. We had to make a few adjustment but all in all they seem to be lined up pretty well. All except two holes that is. The two that had been partially filled with water and powdered rock from the drilling were still pretty well filled up so those holes are still unfinished.

Then we talked with the rig operators for a couple of minutes. It seems that although they really haven't struck water there is water in the hole. They were down about 400 feet and enough water would seep into the hole overnight to give 300 gallons or so for the next day. About that time Mr. LeHew, the rig owner came by and we discussed the situation. I decided to have them finish the pipe they were presently working on and then finish off the well whether they had a really good flow or not. Mr. LeHew offered to go another pipe or two at his expense just to give it a better chance so I agreed. It looks like I will be paying for 420 feet of well at a cost in the neighborhood of $4000. Ouch!

Toney and I then drove into Front Royal to check prices for cement etc. The first place we stopped told us the mixer would rent for about $40 a day. The next place gave me a price for materials for the cement but told me it wouldn't be much more to have a truck pour it for me. After they told me the amount of materials (4000 lbs of mix, 8000 lbs of sand and 12000 lbs of gravel) I knew I would have to have the truck whatever the cost. I did leave with a promise to buy my lumber needs from that dealer.

Wed, Oct 24
I made a few calls. First to a cement dealer. He quoted me a cost of $52 a yard and said he could deliver with 2 days notice. The weather is bad right now so I plan to have him come out on Monday. The rest of the calls were to lumber dealers in an attempt to get some 6x14 beams. The dealer I had talked to yesterday didn't have those in stock so I felt free to shop around a bit. The first dealer offered me a laminated beam for over $16 a linear foot. That would cost me about $1000 for the material I would need. The next place I called happened to be a sawmill. They could cut what I needed for 40 cents a board foot (that's a board 1 inch thick and 1 foot square). Since my beams would be 6 inches thick that means 6 board feet thick to a depth of 12 inches. That left 1 inch at the bottom that was 6 inches wide making 1 more board foot. Thus I had for every foot of beam I needed 7 board feet of lumber. At 40 cents a foot that would equal $2.80 a foot for my beams. Far less than the other. I asked if they could deliver to Front Royal. They said no but gave me the name of a sawmill in Front Royal. I called that number but got the reply that they would not be able to do the job because they were backed up. That made my choice very simple since there were no other sawmills around. I would order from the original and rent a truck to move my material.

Thu, Oct 25
I drove down to Front Royal today to pay the well driller. The bill came to $3900. Of course, I knew that all I had so far was a hole in the ground so I asked him what all I needed yet to have a situation where I could "turn on the water". He said what I needed yet was a pump with about 400 feet of pipe, a pressure tank and a ditch where they could bury the line to the house, total cost of about $1100. That puts the cost of the well right at $5000. That really hurts.

I called the sawmill in Leesburg to place the order for the lumber I would need. I gave them a whole list and they told me to call back the next day and they would have the price worked out for me.

Fri, Oct 26
Called the sawmill to get my price quote and was I floored. $2100 was the price and delivery would be sometime during the next three months. I use delivery with a grain of salt because they said they wouldn't deliver and that I would have to pick it up myself. I complained that the price sounded higher than the .40 a foot that he had told me before. He explained that many of the pieces were costing more (up to 60 and 75 cents a foot) because of the sheer size of some of the pieces. I told them I would have to think it over and I would call them back later. After I hung up I did some calculating and discovered that even at 65 cents a foot the bill would fall about $300 short of $2100. I decided to scale down my needs and go elsewhere.

Most of the lumber yards seemed to have no difficulty with 2x12 lumber so I decided to make my beams from three 2x12s nailed together and make all my joists and so forth from 2x12s. I called Lowes of Manassas and got a good price so I decided to call them in a couple of days when I knew more exactly what I wanted and make the order.

I didn't get a chance to go to Front Royal but I decided to get up early on Saturday to try to finish off the last two foundation holes and line everything up as perfectly as I could for the big concrete pour on Monday.

Sat, Oct 27
I left early for Front Royal. I took along a length of hose and a gallon of water in hopes of being able to siphon the water out of the two holes I still needed to prepare but when I got there I discovered that the two holes were filled with a very thick mud-like substance which I would not be able to siphon off. So I started shoveling. That stuff was very heavy plus when you tried to lift it out it would let go with a heavy sucking sound as though it was being held in a vacuum.

I did manage to clear the holes pretty well and set the forms. Then I measured all the distances very carefully. Everything seemed perfect except one distance which just would never come out right. I finally gave up on that one and hoped that adjustments could be made when I got to the point of actually putting up the house.

Mon, Oct 29
I got up early this morning to call the cement contractor. It had been raining all weekend and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to pour my concrete. The contractor told me I would be responsible for any towing charges so I postponed the pour until Wednesday.

I went out to buy a circular saw so I could hopefully cut the plywood I needed for the kit more effectively. I came home with a circular saw and a plywood blade.

I tried out the new saw. The first cut was a dream The blade seemed to slice like butter. Every cut thereafter got more and more difficult. Everything very quickly became very hot. I reasoned that since I was making very long cuts (over 8 feet) through half inch plywood that was very warped and not very well supported I couldn't expect much else. Even so it was much easier than working on the Shopsmith. In fact, I know I couldn't have done the job at all on the Shopsmith, or at least not alone.

I managed to cut all the pieces I had marked, twelve in all.

Tue, Oct 30
Today I marked all the pieces of plywood I would need to complete the yellow triangles. That consisted of 26 pieces cut from 13 sheets of plywood. They would be my hardest cuts. When I got to the red triangles all of the cuts will be across the sheet and only be about 5 feet long.

Wed, Oct 31
Today was the big day. Concrete day. To say I was nervous would be understating drastically. I arrived at about 9:00 to check over the site and make sure everything was as good as I could make it. The truck was due between 10:00 and 11:00. About 10:30 I took a break and went over to stand on Charlie Cox's porch and watch for the truck. At 11:00 I went down to the Apple House to see if I could call and find out where the truck was. Not to worry, they were behind schedule but the truck was loaded and on the way. I went back to Cox's to wait and watch and sure enough in a few minutes I saw a cement mixer entering Apple Mountain.

When we got to the site the driver, I'll call him Waldo from now on since that was his nickname, was a little skeptical about getting out from the site once he backed in. Since the other alternative was to cart all the cement in a wheelbarrow I decided to risk it. He backed down to the first two holes and we looked at the forms. He said the cement put out surprising pressure and he felt the forms would probably burst apart at the seams when they got filled with concrete. He suggested that we could pour to the bottom of the form, fill in with dirt all around the form, and then finish pouring. I was a little surprised that you could just throw dirt all over the newly poured concrete but Waldo said that would be no problem. So we did it and filled the first two holes fairly quickly. Of course the concrete knocked my column bases all over the place as it filled the hole and I had to end up setting them all over again. That meant all that time I had spent measuring was wasted. Oh well.

Then we tried to move the truck. Nowhere. Waldo told me that we were talking about moving 60,000 pounds (that's 30 tons) up that slope. Our choices were 1. call a wrecker 2. haul concrete to some of the holes with a wheelbarrow in the hope that when the load was lighter we could move the truck. 3. See if we could get a tractor up there with a bucket. It could haul a lot of concrete for us and then pull us out.

I eliminated 1. When the wrecker came I would still have to cart all of that cement with the wheelbarrow except I would have to carry it all the way from the road. No thanks. I decided to try the wheelbarrow. I went over to Cox's and was fortunate to find a wheelbarrow in the basement. So I borrowed it. Waldo filled it up with concrete and I started to move it. Was it heavy! I guess about 250 pounds. I started to wobble off to the farthest hole. I got there, spilling some of the load on the way and dumped it into the hole. It looked like a drop in the bucket. After about ten wheelbarrow loads the hole was filled. I was tired already and running the risk with each load of losing control of the load, throwing my back out or half killing myself in some other way. I decided to try the third alternative. I went down to the Perry's to use the phone to try to locate a tractor. Nothing was available.

So it was back to the wheelbarrow. By the time I had finished about six holes I could hardly stand. I had lost control of the wheelbarrow several times, sometimes it would careen right into the hole and knock my form all over the place. But by 3:00 or so ten holes were done. The first two we did from the truck, six I did with the wheelbarrow and then we did two more from the truck by adding the extension to his chute. Then we tried to move the truck again. It moved about six feet. That was encouraging. I thought maybe if I dug around the wheels a bit we could move a bit more. Sure enough. We got it out. But we still had six holes to pour, four on one side and two on the other. So Waldo backed the truck down the four hole side. We filled those holes with relatively little difficulty. In the meantime I noticed that evening was approaching and the grass was getting heavy with dew. I had a premonition which was fulfilled when we tried to move the truck out again. It would not budge. This was now time I thought to call the wrecker. So Waldo called for the wrecker and while we waited I returned the wheelbarrow to Cox's.

When the wrecker came I asked him if he could wait around a few minutes after he pulled us out so we could fill the last two holes and then he could pull us out again. He agreed. So Waldo backed down to fill the last two holes. We got one filled and were within 4 cubic feet of filling the last hole when the cement ran out. That was bad news. Once concrete is set you can't pour on top of it. It doesn't form a good bond and cracks develop. Fortunately, I remembered that I had a couple extra pieces of rebar laying around so I stuck those down into the already poured cement so they could form a connection to the additional concrete I would pour later.

So the wrecker pulled the truck out again and I wrote him a check. He only charged me $60 which was less than I had been led to believe. I think he felt sorry for me. Then I went back to pick up the bill for the concrete. The driver told me it was COD. And I had already written the only check that I had brought along. Well there was nothing we could do about that so the driver told me to take a check by the plant in the morning. I thanked him and we all packed up and left. It had been a long hard day, it was dark, much had gone wrong and I was bone tired. But the concrete was poured and it appeared that it would work, so in spite of all the trouble I had to consider the day a success.

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