The hidden years in Canada 2, high structures

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Friday 06 March 08:25

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High structures

The glass wool made your skin itch like mad and you tried not need not to be one of the boys unloading or loading the insulation wagon. The fibers that fluttered from the bales were stubborn and attached themselves firmly to your clothing. The alternative was really heavy, which consisted of moving drywall plates about and that is what our main work would be throughout the day and six days a week. In Canada, a building up is 'thrown' up, it's a steel construction and the skeleton is the supporting structure. If the construction is two stories high, the first floor is poured. That in itself is a trick and a half.

A wooden floor is put up, manually, no other way to do it, under the load-bearing structure, which consists of plywood boards. That floor rests on roof supports, roof jacks, which literally means roof jacks, like a car jack but then to keep the floor to be in place. They are steel tubes that are adjustable in height. In the middle of the building a space is kept open where later, after finishing the building the elevator cars will operate in. In that square space a tower crane is placed  which is  hydraulically jacked up per floor and growing in height per floor. That crane has a long arm with a counterweight at the end, the ballast. Which usually consists of concrete slabs. The crane towers over the work and is therefore called tower crane. To keep an overview on the construction site, the crane will generally be two floors above the skeleton. With the landfill on the wooden floor boards, which are supported by the roofjacks, the crane,  empties batch after batch of concrete from a funnel-shaped bucket  with a slide at the bottom.

It is a coming and going of concrete trucks, waiting with rotating drums on site, for when the emptied funnel drops, to quickly fill it up again, pouring it from the rotating cement mixer. We are talking about concrete trucks with a load of 12 cubic meters of liquid concrete. The work once it is started, cannot be stopped. The floor must be laid in one go. After two days, the floor has dried out and the floor parts under the concrete layer which has the steel constructions embedded in them are now removed. So first, the Jacks go, placed per meter and designed to withstand the enormous weight of the newly poured floor. After that, you simply hope that you won’t get the boards on your head and you loosen with a crowbar, or beat  with a hammer the parts away from the now 30 centimeters thick floor.

The bolt team now, bolts with giant nuts and bolts, the next floor structure up. The second floor has become the backbone of the third floor to be. This is the best-paid work in high-rise buildings, because it is not without danger. Walking on the steel beams, you pull the beams that come swinging in with the crane into place and your colleagues  push the giant bolts through the links. If the wind on the higher floors make the crane swivel , you want to make sure that you are not knocked of your ‘walkingbeam’ by the beam that you're unloading. You’l be pulled off, away, from the walking beam into ‘the big step’, the depth.  Your walking tread, the beam, is 15 inches wide and will later, in due course of time with a new pour, be embedded in the concrete layer.

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Up to three stories high, you should be concerned about falling off, or being blown away by the wind After that it makes no difference, and everyone knows it. A fall of three high you could survive, although then you probably would be disabled for life, but a fall of 10 high or 18 high is final. It makes working at heights more comfortable, you develop an indifferent security. You go down and you won’t live to tell about it. It is not often in publicized, but quite a few people actually do die in high building construction, the work is easy, you have to push a large bolt through a big hole and your colleagues quickly turn a large nut on the other side. Reality is that you constantly are looking for  balance and stand on a structure, the face of another steel beam, which is quite sensitive to wind and rocks gently back and forth. Every building has a high contingency and sways gently. Therefore lighthouses that compared to high-rise, are peanuts, were always placed on cowhides. It's the kind of job that you never think about, but it has to be done, and if it's a part of your life then you'll understand the differences in the world.

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‘It takes a lot of Indians to run the show,’ said Louis the Lip. After a few weeks I knew what he meant, it had not just been a racist remark. Most high rise teams consisted of Indians. it was relatively simple, albeit dangerous work and most Indians from around Calgary suffered from a genetic defect which made them see no depth. They saw all things as flat and therefore did not  suffer from vertigo. It is not for nothing that therefore all tribes in North America throw buildings up. ‘Yeah guys,’ said Louis the Lip. ‘It takes many indians to run a show.’ Before 1920, the building were brick constructions throughout North America, the skeleton construction gave the opportunity to quickly build very high and after a few years would right up to now define the style.

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A mistake is easily made, and they’d go sailing down, so you needed indeed many Indians. In their reservation they were the heroes who brought a lot of money  home, they were the sky walkers and did not really dwell on the dangers. Young Indian boys looked up at the big men and just thought about the money and what they could buy with it. It bought them respect in a world that was owned by the whites. Many fell to their deaths and their widows received a pension from which a few families could live. Others were wounded and reached for the bottle, it was a hard life, without mercy.

‘You,’ continued Louis the Lip, ‘are my Indians and we'll see who's left at the end of the day. Remember that I decide everything about our part of the work, you better keep me as a friend, you know, up there it's just you and me. ‘  I heard the psychopath in him. In a very different way than my father had always done, he threatened us, just openly. He was a primate and everyone who knew him five minutes, realized that. ‘There is always definitely one that comes back down safely, and that's me,’ laughed the lip 'and not just with poor fluttering wing movements and shrieking. Think of that boys, don't fuck me about. ‘

What would Don have said here, I thought? Probably he would have said that the lip was uncertain and therefore acting up. But he would not hear this, nor experience it. I was standing there with the mates of the core group and I was pretty sure it was not all show. Louis would let you crash down if you became a threat to his position. I chuckled a little ahead of me when I thought of Don and that attracted the attention of the lip and I felt his eyes focus on me, he inspected me from head to toe. ‘Hey you big fucker,’ he told me. ‘Are you laughing at me, you wanna come first with me up high. Then we'll see who's coming down.’ 'We’ll come back down,' I said, 'no doubt about it, lip. We’ll come down safely.’  ‘Oh, and what makes you think so,’ Louis asked dangerously kind as he picked up a steel pipe and tapped it in his hand. ‘Because I can learn a lot from you,’ and I said, ‘yes, you're the boss man.'

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‘Hey,’  Louis said, and a silly grin pulled over his face, ‘which asshole has not heard or understood, the man? I'm the Boss, yeah man like I am the boss.’ Thursday night in the Queens I determine who stays here to work and the rest can go to hell. So if you've pocketed your dough, you can better look me up and buy me a beer there and have a beer with me and then we'll think, think deeply about who continues to work and you know it, hey, no work no dough. No dough, no booze and no women, then you’ll be just a bunch of wankers.’  I could not even begin to explain to Don the simple worldviews of a primate who ruled our lives. ‘Until Thursday night, then,’ concluded Lip. ‘Lip’ I said  ‘me and Rico,’ who would be Richard again after work, ‘are coming man, sounds like fun.’ Louis saw at least two free beers and said. ' You have good opportunities, I figure.’  ‘Hey,’ he shouted past me to a boy who froze in his shoes, 'are you a poufter, a dirty wanker, were you born dead? What are you standing there for candy ass? Should I come speak to you?’ The boy looked at him wide-eyed. ‘Get lost,’ said Louis," punch your card out and don’t show your festering gob around here anymore.

In the car, on the way home, Richard told me. ‘It is that we need the money otherwise I’ d pack in’. ‘That is how It works,’ I said, "we are caught by the fact that we cannot miss it.’ ‘I'm going back to school after Christmas,’ Richard said," and then I never want anything more to do with building.’

San Daniel March 2015

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