Helping and Fixing
Thursday, September 3, 2015
Ken is my neighbour, here at the lake, and we like to take care of one another. Well, truth be told, he takes care of me more than I take care of him. He has a key to my place, and has often put things away if I have accidentally left something out when departing for the season; he has launched my boat in the spring when he knows I’m on my way; and this year he gave me access to his wireless satellite Internet, after my “dial-up” connection became inoperable.
For my part, I mostly try to keep his boat afloat.
Ken is not at his cabin very much these days. His wife is confined to a wheelchair, so it’s impossible for her to get here, given that there is no road, and if she could get across the lake in a boat, she’d have to go up many stairs, because the place is built into the side of a hill.
But Ken would love to get her to their cabin once again, if it can possibly be managed. He bought a pontoon boat, and adjusted the docks on both sides of the lake to allow the wheelchair to roll on and off that flat-topped ferry-like vessel. And he designed an elevator system, which is being made to order for him. It is a steel frame, with an electric winch at the top. The winch pulls a cage up and down inside the frame. By this means, wife and wheelchair can be lifted two storeys off the ground, to the main level of the cabin.
“Two storeys?” Externally, the cabin looks like a two-storey house, but in reality the bottom storey is merely a room-sized box on which the front portion of the actual cabin rests. The place is built into a steeply-sloped hill, so the back of the cabin rests on the hill, but the front, far above the ground, rests on the small room below. Guests might sleep in that downstairs room, but the family mostly occupies the spacious top portion, which is reached by climbing a lot of stairs.
Ken’s elevator is intended to lift his wife right from the dock to the upper living area.
This morning, I thought I heard activity over at Ken’s place. Wanting to talk to him about something, I walked through the woods, coffee in hand, to see if he was there.
He was there, alright, along with Bill (another lake denizen and friend), and Patrick – the local handyman. And there, lying on the ground, stretched out from cabin to the middle of Ken’s dock, was the steel framework of the elevator. Patrick is a certified welder, and he had just finished welding four long legs to the frame. When I arrived, I found everyone looking at what he had made, trying to figure out how best to get this very long spindly thing into the upright position. Though it looks light and almost fragile, Patrick estimates that it weighs at least four hundred pounds.
After a lot of discussion, in which I became thoroughly involved, it was decided that the winch, whose eventual purpose would be to raise and lower the passenger cage, might be adapted to the process of lifting the frame. The end of the winch’s cable was therefore attached by a strap to the top of the building. Once the winch was switched on, it might just be able to pull itself and the elevator frame upright.
We also decided that when the winch began to pull the top of the frame off the dock, two people needed to get underneath the thing, holding eight-foot wooden posts against it, so that if the frame were to drop back, or stop moving, it could rest on the ends of the posts.
Although Ken is in his sixties and Bill in his seventies, I’m older than both of them, and receive a lot of kidding about my age. The two of them opted to be the ones holding up the support posts, and they gave me – the more elderly (and less manly?) teammate – the buttons that control the winch itself. Two more people, Patrick and Marc (Bill’s neighbour), were to stand on the ends of the frame’s legs and firmly hold them down, so that when the winch started, it wouldn’t slide the whole structure towards the house, but rather lift the top, while the legs were pushed into the rocky ground.
Start the winch. The strap above straightens and becomes taught, then the steel framework begins to rise slowly off the ground. Will it twist? Will it pitch sideways and fall into the water?. Will it land on Ken or Bill and break a toe or a hand or an arm?
Stop the switch, check everything. Start it again. Now the top is eight feet off the ground and the safety posts can be positioned under it.
As the heavy structure goes higher and higher, the whole process becomes quite frightening; the chances of disaster are high.
But we succeed. Eventually the thing is standing on its four legs, and we all heave a great sigh of relief.
But though it may be vertical, it is not on the base that has been prepared for it. In fact, the four legs of the thing now have to be lifted more than a foot off the ground, then carefully placed on the ends of four steel supports, then welded to them. How on earth was that to be done? Four men can’t just lift a four hundred pound structure that towers overhead.
One wag suggested that the winch could lift it up. But since the winch is attached to the top of the structure, it would be attempting to pull itself into the air! That would be nothing short of levitation – basically impossible.
In the end, I take the credit for a successful solution.
Ken’s cottage, with the elevator complete and in place
Ken has a lot of short pieces of wood lying around. I suggested that we lift one leg, then shove a piece of wood under it; lift another leg and put wood under that; and so forth. We should continue, one leg and a couple of inches at a time, stacking the pieces of wood under each, incrementally, until the whole thing is raised to the desired height.
The picture on the right shows the completed structure, with the passenger cage in place. What you can’t see is that the legs nearest the cottage are bolted to it at strategic points. The thing is quite firm and rigid.
And it has been tested with heavy objects on it, and with people, and it works well.
On the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, Ken’s whole family plans to get wife and mother across the lake and up the elevator, and they will have a family feast in the cabin, just as they did when they were growing up.
Meanwhile I’m glad that I was able to help – even if it was only by pushing buttons and having good ideas.
Thursday, Septemer 10, 2015
There was a construction project to be done this summer at my own cabin. Nothing near as big and complex as an elevator, but just as necessary if we are to safely get in and out of the place.
Having no road, we must go everywere by boat, and for that purpose we have a small but sturdy dock. The thing tilts slightly because of some long-ago movement of underwater rocks, but it is firm, and steady and strong. However, the shore where it sits is rocky and treacherous, and we have to walk across a “gangplank” to get from the dock to a level place on land.
I built such a gangplank when we took possession of the property in 2001. But, although the dock is still as sturdy as ever, my gangplank has deteriorated over time, and its top surface slowly became rotten.
When we arrived at the lake July 2, I could see that it was at the end of its useful life, and I put replacing it high on my “to-do” list. But then my kidney stone and a bunch of other stuff intervened....
We continued to use the rotting gangplank – there was no other choice – and then...
One day, just before we were to depart for California, I was driving back to the lake after doing a brief errand. So much had been happening in the week leading up to this that I was more than tired, and feared – even in such a short (ten kilometre) drive – that I was at risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
But I made it to the lake, and crossed over to our cabin, looking forward to some peace and quiet.
But Heather had started packing for California, and in doing so, found that we had more dirty clothes than clean. So, as soon as I pulled up to the dock, she came down to announce that she was going to take the car, and go into Hawkesbury to do laundry.
“That way you can have the afternoon to yourself!” she added. Which I thought was wonderfully considerate. Except that I was almost too tired to take her across the lake to the car. Nonetheless, I loaded her bags of laundry into the boat, and while my back was turned I heard her say, “I’m going to wash the pants I’m wearing, too – so I’ll run up and change...”
And, “Tony! I hit my head!”
I turned and saw her, face down on the ground, between the gangplank and the giant rock that sits beside it. Not moving. The gangplank had given way under her, and when she pulled on the rope handrail to steady herself, it broke, and she fell, hitting her head on the boulder.
I clambered out of the boat and went to her, and found that she could talk and move. She didn’t appear to be losing consciousness. I helped her sit up – a mess of twigs and mud – and saw a red bruise on her forehead just above the hairline.
After a while she pronounced herself alright, and decided to go and do the laundry anyway, regardless of her tumble. I had momentary visions of her blacking out on the highway and dying in a heap of twisted metal, but I was so completely bone weary myself that I couldn’t bring myself to offer to drive her into town. To my shame, I just took her across to the car and off she went.
But I could not leave the handrail lying broken on the ground. I spent the next hour repairing it. It is now firm and sturdy. And I put the rubber mats on the gangplank, to prevent anyone else from slipping.
I should have put those mats on as soon as we arrived on July 2 this year, but thinking that I was going to entirely rebuild the gangplank any day, I left them off. And then I had a kidney stone, and trips to hospital, and Hudson, and Montreal, and Lac de l’Achigan – all coupled with generally bad weather – and the gangplank never got repaired, and the mats never got put on, until Heather nearly killed herself.
Heather came back from the laundromat unscathed, and crossed from dock to land on a temporarily stabilized gangplank, holding on to a firmly fixed handrail. And here it is almost a month later, and she is still with us, showing no lasting ill effects.
But most importantly, today, finally, I built a completely new gangplank. It is strong, and stable, and has three rubber mats for added traction, and no one is likely to fall when using it.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Our time at the lake is at an end. At 3:00 PM this afternoon, we locked the cottage door, climbed into the boat, and went across to the landing where we park our car. A few moments later we drove away, beginning the long trek back to Winnipeg.
A person who knows about lakeside cottages may note that I did not add, to the list of things we did as we departed, the words “... pulled the boat out of the water.” This is because my friends, Bill and Ken, offered to do that for me! Sometime in the next couple of days, they will take my boat back across to my place, and using my ramp and winch, haul it out, flip it over, and put the oars, motor and battery away. This is such a great help! When I built that ramp years ago, I designed it to be operated by one person, working alone, but it really is better with two, especially as I get older, and for a bunch of reasons Heather is not suitable to be the second person. So, I am very grateful to my two friends, and wish I could be as helpful to them as they are to me!
So it is farewell to our lovely remote retreat for another year. It has been an amazing summer of both pain and joy. Now we must once more resume what might be called our “normal” life, in Winnipeg.
Let me close this narrative with a picture that I took last night, as Heather and I returned across the lake to the cabin, after loading our car for the journey:
End of 2015 Cottage segment; Return to Entry/Exit page