24 January 2012

Tico Ingenuity

It is absolutely fascinating watching our Ticos build the big casa. One of the construction company’s owners put their philosophy best: “In the campo, if you have no dogs to hunt, you use cats.”

Don’t have a construction laser to shoot the grades?

Use a 100-ft long piece of clear tubing, filled with water. Dump out a little water so that each end of the tube has about a foot of empty space. Once the water level on one end of the tube is “set” to grade, up or down, the water level at the other end of the tubing, around the corner, over the hump, out of sight and down the ditch will indicate the same set-point.

Don’t have a transit to shoot the corners, make the building square and keep each course of concrete block level and true? These guys just use sticks, a ball of string and simple geometry. Our inspection engineer came by a day after these guys did their string layout and checked everything. He pronounced the house dead nuts true and square.

No earthmoving machinery to level the lot and dig the foundation footer trenches? Six guys with shovels and determination can do the same tricks in a few days. What the heck ... we’ve got nothing but time and they don’t cost much. Besides, they bring their own fuel (lunch) and never break down or blow a hydraulic hose. Where does the dirt go? Not into expensive dump trucks for haulaway. The army of diggers filled wheelbarrows and they piled it near the rancho, building board ramps so that they could push and pile dirt higher and higher.

Did the architect specify a plethora of complex and differing steel reinforcement bends and intertwining for the concrete steel reinforcement? And you don’t have the computer-controlled bending machinery? No problem, build a levered out of an old ball bearing and some angle iron; drill pin holes into the work bench; mark out the lengths of rebar for each bend, then have at it. Watching these guys bend iron makes me wonder if the automated machines could keep up, given their long setup times.

No concrete redi-mix plant or cement mixer trucks? So, bring your little ½ yard, tilting drum mixer, with an army of wheelbarrows and wheelbarrow pushing workers and have at it. It’s fresher concrete this way anyhow!

Today, though, I saw the ultimate Tico Engineering job (so far.) They’ve been welding 4” and 3” square tubular steel together for the main roof joists and trusses ... in half sections. What were they doing? How the heck were they going to get those things from the ground, up 13 feet on top of the walls and standing, without a crane? How indeed.

They build the trusses in halves because experience has told them that the entire crew, working together can only push, pull, cajole and curse half of one truss up top, BY HAND(!).


First, you rassle a 1/2 ton truss piece, by hand, from around back, then "clean 'n jerk" the small end up onto the 2-meter wall.

Muscle the big side up until the wall is taking about half the load and then tilt the truss up and slide it to the guys up top.

Push and shove until the center of mass balances the whole mess up on the house wall.

Then stand the truss up so they have the narrow contact point to slide against.


How the heck are they going to take two halves, wobbling around in the wind and weld them together so that they make one STRAIGHT and square truss?

Well, remember the string tricks and laying out the house so that it’s square? So, these guys know that the house and its walls are square ... all the way to the top. So you lay a half truss on its side, up on top of the walls, and true it to them. The other half gets laid down across the house on the opposite walls and trued up to them.

Then the welder climbs up a rickety homemade wooden ladder and welds the two halves together. Duh.

Tip the whole mess up and, voila.

These guys are a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

1 comment:

  1. These are the guys I want to build my house!