Building My Very Own Geodesic Dome

December 1984

Wed, Dec 5
Getting pretty high up in the dome structure. About fourteen feet off the ground. Working on ladders with little support by myself.

Sat, Dec 8
I went to A & R Tool rental and rented a tool called a lug up and a twenty foot length of cable wrapped around a drum. The drum could be turned with great power with a long handle and gear arrangement. Attached to the cable on one end and the drum housing on the other were two heavy hooks. By attaching one hook to the chain and the chain to one side of the base of the house and then attaching the other hook to the base of the house on the opposite side I hoped to pull in those bulges that I believed were making it impossible to assemble the dome.

Quite a sight greeted me when I arrived at the site. The platform was covered with ice. The weather was quite warm so the ice was melting pretty fast and it was virtually raining inside. I set about trying to put my plan into effect. Of course, I had to begin by clearing ice away from those areas where I needed to work. But eventually I was hooked up and ready to go. I cranked the handle a few times and the base plates actually moved a little. A good sign. When I moved as far as I could, which was about half of what I needed I tried to secure the plates as much as I could so they wouldn't move to their original position when I released the pressure. Then I tried to reposition the machine to pull the other ends of the plates into position. But when I pulled again the original work I had done tore loose and the plates went back from whence they had come. Despair was setting in. I didn't have much time to work anyway and it was looking like I would not have any success. Still I tried pulling various corners in various ways and pretty soon some things began to work. Some places I could pull in a plate and I would have room on the outside to nail a block to keep it in place. Eventually the base started to look pretty good. About then my time ran out so I had to leave hoping that what I had done would do the trick. I would find out on Monday.

Mon, Dec 10
Was at Front Royal by 9:30 to see if all that pulling of the base plates had done any good. I worked for about an hour and a half trying to pull one piece into place. Eventually I was able to make it fit. Before there had been no hope so I was encouraged. Then I moved to another piece that would not fit before. It went in without too much trouble. All in all I was able to complete the installation of three pieces and hang about three others by one end before rain and exhaustion brought an end to my activities. That left me with four loose ends to attach. If I can attach those four ends all that will be left will be the five spokes of the final pentagon plus their hub. If I can get to that point I think the spokes will fit pretty well. The big problem will be the four loose ends. They will require a lot of manipulation and I am not sure I can do it.

Before I left I took a walk through the back of the lot and through Ralph's lot. When I reached the lower road I noticed that someone had marked the corner of Ralph's lot. I looked up through the woods and noticed a flag about a hundred feet up the hill. I went there and discovered the fourth corner of my lot. I don't know who did the marking or why but at least I now know for sure where all four corners of the lot are.

Tue, Dec 11
Monday night Arlington Iron works called to say that the plates I had ordered were ready. I stopped on the way to Front Royal to pick them up.

I pushed and pulled and struggled and managed to fasten two of the loose ends. These were ends that were too long for their spaces and I was able to get them in by pushing ladders up under some of the sections as hard as I could and wedging them there. This in effect stretched the dome out a little and I was then able to eventually get the pieces in after moving the ladders around a bit to find the most strategic spot to use them. The last two ends I decided to save for another day. These were pieces that were too short for their space and some pulling would be required to get them in place. There was no way I could get enough leverage or weight to pull the pieces into place. I decided to follow Stan's advice and buy a little power puller that he had seen in the Dart Drug.

Since I still had a good bit of time I thought I would go ahead and try to attach the last five pieces that would be the final pentagon at the top of the structure. I began by carrying one up and attaching it in a vertical position by one bolt. I hoped then to be able to swing it out to the desired horizontal position and then attach the other bolt. It didn't work. When I tried to swing it the end of the piece would not clear the hub of the connector. With the blue struts there had been no problem. With the yellow struts I had difficulty swinging the pieces out so I climbed down, used a ladder to come up under the free end of the piece and force it up into position. So I decided to try that with the green pieces. That didn't work either. I tried to build a tall platform directly under the spot where the end of the piece should be so I could use it to support the piece as I tried to hold it in the horizontal position. It almost worked but I just couldn't get the platform high enough to support the piece in the proper position so the holes just wouldn't line up enough for me to get the bolt through.

So I tried to tie the piece to the flange and come up with the ladder under the free end to the proper height, rest the ladder on the platform and then climb back up and hopefully shove the bolts home. As I shoved the free end up I could sense the end I had tied coming loose. I ducked out of the way but I didn't take my foot with me. I thought that falling piece of 2x6x7 foot lumber had crushed my foot. As it turned out it was only bruised but it sure hurt like hell. Funny thing, it bruised the bottom of my foot more than the top where the impact took place.

I decided to give up on the green pieces until I could get a better [incomplete]. I dragged myself around then with some of the plates that I had picked up to see about fastening some of them to the base plates. I got some of them situated pretty well. Then I did a little nailing but all in all the starch was pretty well knocked out of me so I soon quit and went home.

Wed, Dec 12
I shopped around at Dart Drug for a while and sure enough I found the power puller that Stan had mentioned. It was just like the one I had rented a few days ago but much smaller. Still it should work very well for the chore I had in mind. And it was only $9.

The puller worked like a charm and I soon had one piece in place. The other was a little more difficult but soon it submitted to the puller and I had all the loose ends attached.

I also had an idea for attaching the green pieces which was so simple that I knew it would work. I would hang the pieces vertically as I had done before but I would use a 16 penny nail to hold it in place while I tried to swing it up in place. That thin nail in a hole meant for a 5/8 inch bolt would allow much more room for the piece to slide in so I should be able to swing the piece into place and then place the other bolt. Then I could remove the nail and replace it with a bolt. Of course it worked and I soon had all five pieces in place. During all this the only real difficulty was that the wind was blowing much harder than the weatherman had predicted. With my usual terror of heights the thought of being blown off the ladder kept me petrified and hanging on for dear life during the whole process.

Once the pieces were attached the only thing left was to come up under them and put the last hub connector into place. Again I had the usual problem. No real way to support the ladder. And the wind seemed to be getting harder. I gave it a try. With the ladder resting very precariously I climbed up and struggled with the hub for a few seconds. The ladder shifted, my life flashed before me, the pile of lumber that I had erected the day before came down with a might crash. But somehow the ladder with me on it stayed up. I tried to support the ladder more firmly using another ladder for support and climbed up again. After a few minutes of struggle with no real success I noticed a car driving up. It stopped and the driver got up as I climbed down to greet him. He asked if everything was all right. It seems he was a neighbor from down around the corner and he had been alarmed by the crash of the falling lumber. I assured him that everything was all right. We had a very pleasant conversation, his name was Don Thomas. After he left I decided I had had enough of working on the ladders for the day and I decided to spend the little time I had left putting in some of the T-blocking and studs. I had just got started when Don came back with a pot of hot water and some instant coffee and tea bags. I thanked him for the kind gesture. Then I went back to work and was able to finish the blocking on one triangle. Then I had to quit. I drank some of the tea which hit the spot and then returned the makings to Don's home and came home.

Fri, Dec 14
Went to Front Royal with a new idea for assembling the last hub. I thought I could lash two extension ladders together near the top and then pull them apart to make one tall "A" type ladder that would be free standing. I tried it and it worked well enough to give me a way to reach the hub and struts without having to depend on them at the same time for support. But the arrangement was flimsy enough that I wanted to get one strut connected and then get back down. I was able to do that pretty quickly. Then I could rest the ladder on the connected strut and get more stability. I then had to use the other ladder to push the dome out as much as I could in order to get the other struts to fall in place. In this way I was able to connect four of the five struts. The last strut was too short. For that I called the old power puller back into action. With the help of that tool it was easy to pull the last strut into position.

The dome framework was completed. I was elated. I can't remember ever feeling so good. A major hurdle had been cleared. Of course, I wasn't sure yet how easy it would be to complete the T-blocking and studs, especially toward the top, and I knew the roof would be a very difficult hurdle to overcome yet. But at least I now knew that the dome would work. The rest might be difficult but I knew it could be done.

After celebrating for a while I commenced to work on the stud work. By the end of the day I had finished several triangles.

Mon, Dec 17
I filled in all of the triangles in the bottom row except for a couple of spots that were giving me a bit of trouble. I decided to leave those spots in the hope that a new day would give me a new approach that would solve the problem. That tactic seems to have worked every time so far.

Tue, Dec 18
The sections that seemed so difficult yesterday didn't pose much of a problem at all today. I finished the bottom row pretty quickly and proceeded on to the second row. I was glad to see that the row went in pretty well with just the use of the ladders. I wouldn't have to worry about building some kind of a scaffold.

Before I left I nailed together all the T-blocking I would need for the second row. There were 13 altogether. So far the most triangles I had been able to assemble in one day had been 9 so it appeared that I would have at least 2 days work to finish the second row.

Wed, Dec 19
The weather was windy and cloudy today. That made the work a little difficult, especially since I had to work up on the ladders. I had worked for a while and was working on a particularly difficult piece. It was a fairly long stud which had to be nailed to the underside of one of the struts about 8 to 10 feet above the ground. It is not always easy to get the ladder resting solidly against the struts because the angles are usually all skewed. I guess in this case I didn't find a real solid position, probably getting careless. All I know for sure is that I was up there trying to nail up under this piece when all of a sudden there was no ladder beneath me. I barely had time to holler "shit" before I crashed to the floor. My nose took most of the shock. I laid there stunned for a few seconds and then raised to my hands and knees. I noticed a few drops of blood dripping from my nose. I went on over to Charlie Cox's house to try and stop the bleeding and recuperate a bit. After I stopped the bleeding I began to feel a bit nauseous so I laid down for a while. After a few minutes I felt much better so I went off to lunch and then was able to continue working.

After lunch I was able to do a bit more work but the wind continued to be strong. In addition, I think I was a bit gun-shy from the fall so after a couple of hours I packed it in and came home. I had partially completed about five of the 13 triangles.

Thu, Dec 20
We arrived late and left early but I was still able to complete all but about 3 of the second row triangles. Actually it is pretty [missing word] to work very long hours at this time because it is necessary to nail in all kinds of awkward positions which is very exhausting. After a couple of hours my shoulders and arms ache tremendously.

Sat, Dec 22
Today was a pretty good day. I managed to finish the second row and started to place the pieces for the third row. The first encouraging thing was the fact that it looked like I would be able to reach and work on the third row from the ladders. So I still will not have to worry about building some kind of scaffolding. When I had installed as many pieces as my body would allow I took some time out to nail together the T-blocking for all of the third row.

Thu, Dec 27
It was kind of windy when I got there today and I didn't want to risk getting up on the ladder. So I spent some time trying to secure the base plates. When I had readjusted the base plates of course it pulled many of them away from the holes I had originally drilled for them. I hoped to be able to find a way to drill new holes. The first corner I tried was one which could handle lag screws if I could manage to drill a pilot hole for them. Using a hand brace and bit I was able with some labor to do so. Ditto for the second corner. It was a bit awkward and took some time but it worked. The next holes entailed drilling from underneath to try and match the hole in the floor with the hole in the base plate. After a little trial and error that also was successful. One difficulty there was the fact that the bolts were a little on the short side to go through the base plate, the strut and the floor and still have enough left to secure the nut. I did manage to get a few threads worth of leeway which I hope will suffice.

That process took up the whole morning. By the time I had finished a few corners the wind had abated. So I had a little lunch and took to the ladders. I was able to complete some more on the triangles.

Fri, Dec 28
By the time I finished today I had put in T-blocking for all the red triangles, all the yellow T-blocking was completed except for one end, the studs for all the red triangles were half finished. I had hopes that the next day I would be able to complete all the interior stud work. That meant about 70 pieces to install on the following day. I had never put in that many but I still had hopes.

Sat, Dec 29
Peter said he would be coming with me. That was good. It meant that I would probably be able to finish the work I wanted.

We went to work on the green T-blocks. They were at the highest point of the structure and were the biggest pieces I had left so I wanted to be sure and get to them while I had some help. They were very difficult to get in. The structure tends to lean in on itself so the higher you get the more compressed the structure is. So those green T-blocks were tight as the devil. It took two of us most of the morning to get them in. Once that was finished the other work went very smoothly. But there just wasn't enough time left to finish that part of the job.

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