Construction Gorillas Live

September 3rd, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Trotting by a construction site in Hyde Park this morning, my flashback machine triggered. The catalyst was a worker on the top area of what used to be the tuxedo rental store on River Street. He and his sledge hammer took me back to summer days of college years.

tux2I didn’t have a camera, but I can offer an earlier still of the defunct business with its amusing BUILT TO SUIT sign. The deliciously tacky sign is gone. The worker who caught my interest was on a platform about where the E used to be.

I suppose the privileged who never had callouses on their hands from full-time or summer jobs didn’t even notice the ape on high. I write ape because that was the memory.

Two summers in Pittsburgh, I worked on carpentry crews from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. building rows of townhouses. I was the sledge hammer guy.

Our houses had fronts three stories high. We’d put in the basement joists and put the sidewalls in place from cinder block basement level up. Then we’d frame the front in one piece and do the old barn-raising routine with the whole crew, grunting the three story piece upright.

Then it was crew chief Ron on top and me at the floor to tack and tap it in place. That’s how I earned my nickname on the crew, Milly.

Ron rode the 30-plus foot frame armed only with his 12-ounce rip hammer and an apron of 16-penny nails. Below, I had the 16-pound sledge, my 16-ounce rip and an apron of cut nails. On each side, a couple of the older guys were trusted with long levels.

Ron picked me out early for this job before I even knew of it. I had the chest, shoulders and muscles for the sledge he said. When he announced I’d be doing that during the summer, he dubbed me Magilla Gorilla or Milly as was his naming style.

sledgeI simply had to pound the two-unit wide, three-level high wall into plumb, and quickly bend to pound the cut nails through the studs and well into the concrete floor underneath. It was always a fun half hour of sport. Ron had no fear of the high and wobbly. His brothers on the crew road BSA bikes to work, but he rode walls and joists well above the boulders on one side and plunges into the raw houses below on the other.

I confess it was a cheap thrill to play John Henry, swinging sledge and moving the massive wall left or right, back or forward. It would hit its blue chalk marks and satisfy the level holders after some big and then more subtle strikes. Up high Ron would pound in his spikes and I would do the same with my cut nails. Then like bees spitting out comb, the crew would tap up and down to secure the front to the interior walls.

Several older carpenters also had specialized tasks later in the project. Typically, they used four or six-ounce claw hammers to attach the floor and other molding. They were as skilled and impressive as the plastering crews on stilts. Both sets did their work without flaw or visible sign. Magic!

On the other hand, for those summers, I enjoyed the gorilla work. Using my body grossly and to good effect was satisfying in a way the fastidious efforts can’t be.

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One Response

  1. Marion Etheredge says:

    What a wonderful story. Gorilla work, harrumph.
    I can faintly imagine the days work filled with tapping,
    the huge sledge hammer’s vibrating thud. Geez. How
    musical was that?

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