In plain sight
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a team that built an award-winning private golf clubhouse and spa in Scottsdale, Ariz. A seasoned crew of old pros made up the construction team: Robert, the project manager; Ralph, the production superintendent; and me, the quality-control superintendent.
Don, the architect, had a vision of an old-world resort that would look as though it had been transplanted from the Mediterranean region of France to the Arizona desert. To give the design a soul, Don had personally imported many artifacts, including fountains, fireplaces, doors, hand-hewn timbers, roof tiles, and even a cobblestone street.
In many instances, the real value of the reclaimed materials was the provenance that came with them, and Don always had a good story to justify their enormous costs. This was true for the walnut flooring that he had specified for one of the spa treatment rooms. The planks had been sawn from the roof timbers of an old barn from a poetic-sounding location.
After a few days of unexpected prep work to tame these warped and worm-eaten boards, our flooring guy marched into the job-site office one morning and announced that the walnut had been stolen.
Because the material had been furnished to us by the developers, Robert had the unenviable task of informing them that not only had the unforeseen prep costs spiraled into the stratosphere, but also that they now had to acquire replacement wood for the spa floor. After numerous apologies, we suggested that some off-the-shelf lumber be purchased for the floor due to an impending deadline. Besides, the interior designer was going to put a rug over the floor anyway. The developers agreed.
During the final week of construction (commonly known as “the mad dash to the finish”), the team met to divide up the remaining tasks of the project. Everything had been cleaned up, the punch lists were in progress, and the landscaping installed, but a few piles of materials remained in the service yard.
Ralph mentioned that he was going to call the concrete guys to pick up the stack of formboards that we had been tripping over for a number of weeks.
As I nodded in agreement, I took a close look at the stack of lumber and realized that only the top layer was formboards. “This is the walnut that was stolen,” I exclaimed as Robert and Ralph looked at me in disbelief.
We then realized that the walnut had never been stolen. It must have been in someone’s way, and they simply picked it up with a forklift, moved it from just outside the service yard to the inside (a distance of less than 20 ft.), then piled the formboards on top. All three of us had walked past this stack of wood countless times during our frequent rounds.
After we had a good laugh at ourselves, the gravity of the situation began to sink in. The replacement material had been installed, and Don would be livid if he had to purchase back the walnut for the same price he paid for it. The project was complete. All we had to do was keep a straight face for another week.
All eyes turned toward me. Everyone knew how much I love to salvage any hardwood scraps that I can find to feed my voracious woodworking habit. Being a team player, I agreed to remove the evidence and store it, but I made it clear that I wasn’t stealing the stuff. Ralph and Robert were quick to agree to the plan.
After the clubhouse was finished, I soon found myself knee deep in other assignments. Weeks turned into months while the walnut was living in my storage room and patiently waiting for the final chapter in its rich and colorful story.
I started to worry that negative karma would soon set in, so I mailed a copy of this story and a check to Mark, one of the founders of the development company. He returned the check, enclosed a letter granting me ownership of the walnut, and encouraged me to use it with his best wishes.
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers