THE HOUSE THAT AL BUILT
(Based On A True Story)
By Rick Manzone
(Pallets, Pastures and Privies)
Sometime while we had been gone to get the pallets, the local lumber company had delivered my father’s order of plywood, two by fours, two by eights, two by twelves and various boxes of nails. After having placed the pallets on the most level piece of land to the south of the leveled off area, we nailed them together and nailed down several sheets of plywood making a floor of sorts large enough for the Army tent we had brought. We then set up the tent guaranteeing we would have a safe, secure and dry place to sleep that night. We admired our work for only a few moments when my father said he wanted to get some electricity before dark. We gathered up all the extension cords we had brought up and started connecting them together as we headed toward the neighbor’s barn. Once there, we plugged into an outlet inside of the barn. The barn was empty with the exception of some tossed about dusty hay and other “farm type” implements.
Back at “The Patch” we set up a make shift table, got out our green Coleman camp stove, filled the fuel tank, pumped it up to the adequate pressure and lit it. Most of our food supply was canned dinners such as beef stew, beans, Spaghettios, Spam and the like. Tonight’s entrée would be beef stew with a side of crackers. After we polished off dinner and since it was getting dark, I climbed into the tent with our sleeping bags, pillows and a trouble light. While I set up the inside of the tent for the two of us my dad buttoned up our gear making sure everything of value was crammed into the soon to be locked cab of the pick up truck. I climbed, still fully clothed, into my sleeping bag. I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. My father sat outside by the make shift table on a pile of boards he had brought up from the lumber that had been delivered earlier. I should mention that the lumber had been dropped off to an area just this side of the Sluice pipe and therefore had to be carried up to the leveled off area using the truck. As he sat on the pile of boards smoking a cigarette, he yelled to me that first thing in the morning we would head into town to get a permit and plans for an outhouse. I was familiar with this type of out building as I had used them many times as a scout and when our family would spend weekends with another family that was friends of ours at their land in Java Center…they had a very rustic old farmhouse with a two-seater outhouse some 50 feet from the back door. I never did come to terms with the fact that it had two seats.
Cells phones for the public were not commonplace yet. We had no alarm clock, no phone, no radio or other electronic awakening devices. I awoke that first day of our “summer at Camp Werenotinkansasanymore” by our neighbors to the north’s rather boisterous rooster. Bright sunshine poured through the tent flap. As we stumbled out of the tent my father declared, “Six bells, let’s get crackin!” I feel I should share with you a little about my father’s use of the approved language of the land. Dad had many regularly utilized phrases that to this day I have never heard anyone else say. When asked where we were going, he almost always retorted “Up Mike’s down Jake’s where we get our pancakes”. If asked what time it was, his response was, “Two hairs past a freckle”. My favorite was when he wanted you to know he was growing tired of your rambling, he would query, “What are your lips flappin’ like a duck’s ass in a windstorm about?”
After a quick breakfast of camp stove toast with peanut butter and the rest of the soda pop we had brought with us, we climbed into the pickup and headed toward the town of Olean which was about 10 miles to the south. Our first stop was the City Hall where we got a permit and the official authorized plans for constructing a proper privy. When we were back in the truck, dad lit one up and studied the plans. He said we had enough wood. We would borrow some of the wood meant for the house and use it for the outhouse until it was needed for the house. However, he learned after reading the plans that we would need some sheet metal to make a proper “shield” under the seat thereby protecting the occupants from any “splash back”.
After procuring the sheet metal and whatever other hinges, etc, and a small window that he thought would work well to provide some light inside the structure, we stopped at a used appliance store. Dad bought a small round-topped avocado colored refrigerator with a small freezer on top. This would be set up in the leveled off area on a pallet of it’s own and plugged into a multiple outlet power box my father had previously put together that was powered by the outlet in the neighbors barn. I mention that my father “put together” the power box because he never bought anything he considered “make-able” by him. We now had electricity, light, refrigeration, shelter, and an outhouse. Next up was a source of clean and safe water. The neighbor told my dad there was a pipe jutting from the hillside about three quarters of a mile down the road about 20 feet into the woods. While in town we had picked up two plastic five gallon gas cans. My father and I carried the gas cans down the road to where the pipe was supposed to be. Ice-cold water was pouring from the pipe in a steady stream. My father cupped his hands under the pipe to catch some of the water and after having sipped from his hands he declared the water to be “Better than G.I. Gin”. We filled up the gas cans and carried them back to the tent. We now had everything we would need to start building the house. Everything that is, except blueprints. Dad had a “concept” in his head, and I imagine a visual representation of the finished product. What we did not have was an actual map to follow from point A to point Z.
First, we needed to construct the outhouse. Perhaps dad thought of this as a “warm up project”. We marked off the corners for the outhouse, got the shovels and started digging. The whole was approximately 4 feet by 4 feet by 5 or 6 feet deep. We dug it by hand using only shovels and a pickaxe. I was mostly a gopher during the construction phase as my father followed the government approved plans. I have to admit, the finished structure was quite impressive. Our first thought however when we finished was that neither of us ever considered that maybe we should have bought a toilet seat. Oh well, we would be taking another trip in to town in a few days...we could get one then.
We prepared and ate some dinner and sat around a campfire for a while as dad shared some of his thoughts for the house with me. Weeventually retired to the olive drab canvas and plywood mattress for the night.