Thursday, October 8, 2015

Echo's of Jeff Spicoli

Someone else's rebar.
“Relax, all right? My old man's a TV repairman, he's got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it!”
               -Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

I felt too much like Jeff Spicoli as we shipped off our duffels of tools purchased in Kathmandu. Though we certainly know more about building a sherpa home than Jeff did about fixing a crashed TransAm, the voids of critical information leave us no better off. We know lumber has arrived at the job site, but we don’t have an inventory of the pieces. We know 30 sacks of concrete now sit where Mingma’s home once stood, but we don’t know if they are 30, 50, or 80 pound sacks. What we do know with certainty is that there is no rebar, insulation or J-bolts, and winter is coming. 

The missing rebar is a big deal because without it we can’t stabilize the rock gabions that form most of the first level. We have considered hiring a helicopter to fly a load of rebar into Phortse, but the current petrol shortage, owing to a tiff between India and Nepal, has grounded all such flights. We have one last shot at finding rebar this morning in Namche. Dawa, our guide, knows of a warehouse here where some hardware is sold. That said, everyone is rebuilding right now and supplies of most materials are nada. So we have a plan B to build the entire home in stick frame fashion, omitting the rock gabions, but allowing for the subsequent addition of stone aesthetics. A proper sherpa home must display some stone element on its exterior and we remain committed to respecting the cultural norms. 
But this would mean pouring a concrete foundation instead of a gabion foundation and, once again, rebar is needed to do this properly. So……

The insulation can be brought in from Kathmandu and installed after the fact by Mingma, so that’s not an immediate concern. But the absence of J bolts is a biggy. J bolts are used to secure a home to its foundation. The curved part of the J is sunk down into the concrete as it is poured (preferably hooking around a long lateral piece of rebar). The straight part of the J is left sticking straight up. The wooden bottom plate is then drilled to match the placement of the J bolts and is bolted down be way of their threaded shafts. We spent our last day in Kathmandu searching for a solution. Several well-meaning shop owners suggested hacks that were easily disproven by the heaped up wreckage of a nearby building that had used them. We left for the Khumbu empty handed. 

Though many homes survived the earthquakes of last April, we saw no shortage of sad tales as our Away Team trekked up the Khumbu valley. Some homes still lay in  dusty mounds of stone and broken timbers. Others had been cleared away and rebuilding was well in process. In both cases we observed the troubling practice of laying wooden bottom plates down upon dry-stacked stones with no means, sans gravity, for securing one to the other. In a sense, earth quakes change gravity for a brief moment. But anything not strapped down is unlikely to land where it started, and so collapse is almost a certainty. Our chief carpenter, Jess Shaffer, had the foresight to purchase most of the metal brackets and saddles we will need before leaving home. These will add truly substantial structural integrity to Mingma’s home. But if we don’t tie it down to its foundation we cannot expect to fare much better than Jeff Spicoli when the owner of that TransAm caught with him.

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