Going to the Dogs
Great moments in building history: An unusual setback
As a young and rather rough-looking man just out of high school with an even younger common-law wife to support, I was always on the lookout for extra work. One regular source for work was a carpenter friend who sometimes would hire me as a helper or who would send me small jobs he figured I could handle. One such job was for a timid and conservative old widow who needed a new kennel for her dog.
After convincing the widow that, despite appearances, I was an upstanding person who would bring her no harm, I was shown around to the back of her fine old home, where I beheld a strange tableau.
First, there was a huge homemade carport, big enough for two dump trucks but occupied by one tiny hatchback. Next to this was an enormous wood-framed and wire-fence enclosure with sides at least 8 ft. tall, and an equally enormous plywood doghouse inhabited by one small dog, barely the size of a house cat.
As she noticed my slightly puzzled smile, my client explained that her long-departed husband had been an overbearing man who had preferred both his vehicles and his pets the same way: huge.
I had to admire the small dog’s loyalty. In this part of the world, it can rain for weeks on end without letup, and it was during such a spell that I made my visit. The dog was shivering in the back of the doghouse on bedding wet both from the leaking roof and from the rain blowing in through a door that was many times too large for the dog.
The kennel was awash in mud, and I was sure that the poor little soaking wet dog could have escaped easily because the wire walls leaned drunkenly and because the wire itself was loose in many places.
The widow and I hit it off, and we made plans for an elaborate new kennel.
The next day, I arrived with the trunk of my big, well-used Dodge brimming with new materials and tools, and I backed halfway into the carport, which I planned to use as a dry place to work. With the widow’s immaculate hatchback moved out in anticipation of sawdust, and with the dog moved into the house, I unloaded the materials I planned to use and laid out my tools in the trunk. I donned my poncho and grabbed a hammer to begin the demolition.
Noticing that someone had long ago tacked a couple of 1x4s from the kennel to the carport posts to steady the fencing, I swung my hammer and popped them off. The second one made a loud ping, like the breaking of an overtightened guitar string.
I began to hear the strange sighing, creaking sound of nails pulling out of wet wood. I stepped back, expecting the kennel to fall over. From behind me came a horrible shrieking sound, and I spun around in time to see the carport fall over with a mighty “WHOMPF!” right on top of my car.
The old lady, concerned that I might be cold out in the rain, had just emerged onto the back porch with tea and some cookies, and she was just in time to see the carport’s collapse and have her ears singed by a burst of incredibly graphic cursing.
The kennel remained untouched.
The carport had been built on six peeled logs that had been sunk into the ground like mighty fenceposts and that long since had rotted away to dust below grade. Originally, it was strong enough not to need any lateral braces. Now, the thing had gone over as easily as dominoes.
Amazingly, the open trunk lid of my car had taken all the weight of the large flat roof, and though badly crumpled, the lid had held the massive weight of the waterlogged structure off the roof of the car by half an inch. Had the trunk been closed, the roof of the car would have been crushed flat, exploding all the windows. As it was, the trailer hitch and the back bumper were sunk deep in the dirt, with the back tires stuffed tightly into their wheel wells. The front wheels, meanwhile, hung loosely in the air with the front bumper 2 ft. off the ground. After we had both recovered our wits somewhat, the good widow got on the phone and rounded up 12 neighbors who were able to lift one corner of the carport’s roof an inch or two, just long enough for the Dodge to scoot out from under like a puppy that has had its tail stepped on.
It took me two days to clear away the carport’s wreckage and to recover the buried materials for the kennel.
The good news is that I eventually did build a new kennel for the dog, and I even got a few days’ work helping my carpenter friend build a small garage for the dear lady’s hatchback.
I even was able to find a trunk lid almost the right color at the auto wrecker, and the Dodge lived on.
After the garage was finished, we all shared tea and cookies, and we all had a laugh as the widow told us that the experience had been worthwhile for the look on my face as I watched the old carport sway and then fall over. With a wise smile, she wagged her finger at me and said, “But such language!”
—Evan Carpenter, Sidney, B. C., Canada