More Dogs on Main Street
May 16, 2008
Man is it hot. And dry. I wish it would rain. Well, not really. It’s a pleasure to celebrate being snow-free for all of five days in a row. The grass is green. The permafrost that had formed on the north side of the house has been reduced to a tiny spot of very dirty snow. Where the snow slid off the garage roof, it’s still stacked up deep enough that the side door is unusable, but every day there is a little less of it. As much as I’m enjoying it, I don’t trust the weather. Summer isn’t here yet. Remember last year, with 70-degree afternoons in April, and then, just to finish things off, there was a snowstorm in June? Nothing would surprise me anymore.
But with the break in the weather, I’ve started a couple of projects around the house. I’ve got a little barn under construction in the backyard. It’s completely ridiculous that I’ve accumulated enough stuff that I need another building to keep it in. Ridiculous or not, it’s happened. I got through last winter with the truck parked in a $150 plastic tarp garage, and a couple of old tractors in the yard covered in tarps. It looked pretty bad and didn’t really work all that well. So the logical solution (other than a big scrap-iron sale) is a barn to store it all in.
The project has been an interesting look at the state of the construction industry, even on the tiny scale of my pole barn. When I called to price roof trusses, the guy on the phone sounded genuinely excited to have had a call. He had them designed and priced out within minutes, and sounded like they could be delivered before lunch if I wanted them. I made a wild guess about when I would be ready for them, giving myself plenty of time to get the framing up. The truss guy called two days later and said they had them ready. So things are apparently a little slow in the roof-truss business these days.
The other thing about this project is that it has forced me to drive the 4×4 truck into town several times to pick up material. I normally drive a diesel Volkswagen that gets 50 mpg. With diesel at $4.50 a gallon, it gets my attention to fill the tank, but it will go a long way between fill-ups. The truck is the other extreme. It’s an old county sheriff’s office pickup, and it’s clear that whoever wrote the specs on it wasn’t paying for the gas out of his own pocket. On a good day, it will grind out about 16 mpg. It costs $85 to fill it.
I’ve got a neighbor who commutes from Woodland to Orem every day for work. Most of the year, he drives a similar pickup. The other day he said it costs him $25 a day in gas to get to work. With the warmer weather, he’s commuting on a motorcycle, and feels like he got a big fat raise.
The most complicated part of the barn project has come from the least expected direction. I need to get two pieces of 16-foot lumber home. They aren’t heavy, just long. There are no alternatives they have to span the door. My truck is 22 feet long, and it seems reasonable that it should be able to carry a couple of 16-foot boards. But I don’t think I can get them on the truck, not even with the back window open and the boards running up on to the dashboard. I’ve tried to figure out how to hang them from the axles, or poke them up over the roof of the cab. Nothing really works. I just refuse to pay the lumber yard $75 to deliver two boards that cost $12 each. The freight is three times the cost of the lumber.
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While the 16-foot boards are the most difficult problem, hauling building materials home has had me thinking about the design of the modern truck. I’ve noticed a few changes from my old one. First, the beds are getting higher. My old Dodge was a 4×4 truck, but the floor of the truck bed was low enough that lifting heavy stuff into it wasn’t a problem. My current truck is now approaching 10 years old, and the bed is high enough that lifting bags of cement into it quickly became a chore. But as I glanced around the parking lot at Home Depot, the biggest, baddest newest trucks were so high off the ground that it almost took a crane dock to put anything in them.
That may explain why nobody ever puts anything in the bed. These are huge vehicles, with four-door cabs. They are probably better than 25 feet long from chrome brush guard to chrome trailer hitch. Everybody was putting their little bags of hardware in the back seats of the cabs. Anything of any real size, the kind of stuff you might buy a truck to carry, was landing on a trailer. After spending $40,000 or more on a truck, the first thing the owner does is run out and buy a trailer so he can actually haul stuff. The basic 4×8 sheet of plywood no longer fits in the bed of the truck with the tailgate closed.
So it lands on a trailer. The trailer is low enough that it’s easy to stack stuff on it, and the trailer can carry a heavy load and long stuff, too. Something about that whole scene just seems wrong. Fuel economy is the least of the design problems with the modern truck.
The long-board problem has me pretty well flummoxed. The best alternative I’ve come up with is to fold the back seat of the Volkswagen down, and run them through the trunk and out the passenger window. That, or borrow a trailer. It’s a more complicated engineering problem than designing the barn itself.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.