More Front Fence

We are very anxious to get back to the actual task of housebuilding, but the need to secure the property to keep dog Jabo in and other things out has had us focusing on the front fence. And, despite the week-long signs some weeks ago of the start of the rainy season, the weather has been splendid indeed.

So far, the fence is erected and the two corner columns for the driveway gate are pretty much done. We still need to make hats for the columns, but that can come later. Also much later will be the application of ceramic tile on the two columns as well as on the electric service wall at the corner of the lot.

Now we need to work on the gate itself. In my last post I talked about the cat o’ nine tail design based on a wooden bowl that I made. But will the gate split and be hinged on the columns or will it slide on a track? We decided on a sliding front gate because it would allow the columns to be less structurally robust, and secondly because, well, we wanted a sliding gate. A vital part of a sliding gate is the track for the gate to slide on. There are two types of track; one is at ground level, and the other is overhead, like typical bedroom closet door tracks. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

The ground level track is a clean looking application in that there is no overhead apparatus. However, it has to be mighty strong so that cars and trucks driving over it don’t bend the metal angle iron. I have noticed any number of ground level tracks bent and downtrodden from weighty vehicles. The overhead track eliminates the bending issue, but it has to have a structure strong enough to support the gate 24/7. It can be incorporated into a design element or not, and there is a fair share of ugly overhead tracks around Panama.

I set up a welding shop in container #3 and spent two days building the ground level track. The driveway is just under 20-feet wide. Nineteen-feet three-inches to be exact. But to be able to slide the gate, the track must be twice that, or just under forty feet. The container is just a tad longer than the track, so I could make it entirely inside the container and lock the doors at night.

I didn’t want a lot of the track showing, so the only visible part of the track is a piece of 1.5″ x 1.5″ angle iron. (The wheels for this type of track have a V groove in them and they ride on the V of the angle iron.) Not very robust angle iron you say, Bob? I agree. But under that piece of angle iron I welded a  piece of five-eights-inch rebar. Then I cut forty, twelve-inch pieces of the same rebar and welded one every six inches at a right angle from the already attached rebar. At the bottom of that, I welded another twenty-foot piece of rebar. This in effect made up a ladder that would be embedded in concrete. Don’t panic, photos follow. For the other twenty-feet of track, I welded several rebar legs that would be set in concrete piers.

By the way, when you weld on one side of a piece of metal, that metal tends to warp, or more accurately, bow. So before I began welding, I turned the angle iron upside down and using short boards and screws, I fixed it in place on the container floor. Now when I welded, the metal couldn’t bow. The entire assembly ended up dead straight. The first time I witnessed this bowing phenomenon was when I was watching a local “welder” make a steel door with a sheet of steel on one side of the door. When he was done, he couldn’t hang the door on the hinges because the door had bowed maybe an inch out of straight. We resolved this by supporting the door at each end, putting 2x4s on top of the door, then I drove over it with the Honda pickup. It bent it back into a perfectly straight door. Lucky I guess. I have also seen a video online where the fabricator heated the other side of the welded steel with a torch and the piece came back into alignment.

As I was fabricating the track assembly, I had Armando preparing a ditch across the driveway. This was nasty work and took more than a day because of all the big rocks that we placed as a bed for the driveway. I made sure to give Armando lots of “buen trabajo”s as he worked along. Because of the rocks, the ditch automaticly ended up about eighteen-inches wide and two-feet deep.

In the mean time, the trees on our property that Armando identified as “luna” trees have turned a beautiful mustard yellow color and the bees at the flower crown of the trees are very audibly buzzing all day long. Also, with mangos beginning to ripen, the flock of wild parrots are back in our area. This year looks like a good one for mangos. Last year’s dry season was actually quite wet and nearly every mango had a bonus worm inside. I don’t think that I put a single mango in the freezer all last season. The mangos down the mountain are already ready, and card table-sized stands are popping up all along the roadside. I got one basketful and they were delicious. Jabo loves to gnaw on the mango pits. Can’t wait for ours.

Speaking of the roadside, there is a roadside blight of billboards nearly the entire length of the hour-and-a-half drive on the Pan American Highway to and from Panama City. They seemed to have popped up during the last presidential election, and they never went away. Now they are papered with signs for all the resorts and upscale communities that are being built all over Panama, as well as clothing, cars, cell phone carriers, you name it. Hundreds of them. Some have twisted and blown over in the wind, and others sit staring blankly back at the passersby, one corner unabashedly adorned with the word, “Disponible” (dis-pon-e-blay) meaning available, and a phone number. Well, returning home from our most recent trip to the city, nearly every single one of these billboard monsters was papered with an official government sign that said, “Valla Ilegal,” meaning “Illegal Fence.” It looks like these signs will be coming down in the not too distant future. “Ugliness is so grim,” Lady Bird Johnson once said before she started her Beautification of America campaign. I wonder what economic influence was behind this effort in Panama?

And the front gate? I have started construction of that in container #3. No photos yet as it is still my secret project. Soon though, as I have maybe two days more fabrication before Cynthia takes up brush and paint. She has been chomping at the bit to do her share on this house project, and she is ready to start painting. I figure two coats of red-oxide and two coats of the final paint color. What color? Stay tuned. By the way, to say “one more coat (of paint) in Spanish, you would say, “Un mano mas,” mano being the word for “hand,” so it would be said as, “One more hand.”

Here are some photos, without the gate:

Armando applies repello to the driveway gateposts.

Armando digs the ditch for the gate track.

The track assembly is set in place and leveled, ready for concrete.

We poured concrete -- twelve wheelbarrows -- into the ditch along with most of the rocks that Armando had removed. We stopped about three inches below the angle iron.

Then we used some scrap 1"x3" boards to make a form and poured the rest of the concrete up to the bottom of the angle iron. I smoothed the concrete edges with the edger. Later we removed the forms and spread some crushed rock at the driveway entrance.

Here's an overview of the front fence. The Luna tree is in full bloom.

Bonus photo: Walking back from taking the previous photo, I noticed that the small Maracuja (Passion Fruit) tree at the corner was bearing ripe fruit. What a tasty treat, sweet with a slight tartness. And all those little seeds to pick out from your teeth! I took this photo against the vintage '50s or '60s floor tiles in our rental. I'm told that they were made locally. They seem to be in every house in the area that hasn't been remodeled. Yellows, pinks, greens, blues. A different color in each room. Very retro!

The gate is next. Soon.

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4 thoughts on “More Front Fence

  1. Work work work. so good to see the progress. thanks for the photos as I am less interested in how you weld as what it looks like. Love to you both. L

    • Thanks, Lynn. Yes, I do feel as though there is progress. Not bad for one man, Armando, and an old guy, me. There are only a few websites about shipping container houses that give specific details about how these things might go together, for example how they framed for a window. So, with words I want to present how I am doing it. People who want to build one themselves can judge for themselves what I did, then either do the same, alter it, or do something entirely different. The photos are for you! Fred

  2. Electrify your gate with a sears garage door opener, it runs on the screw bar. Some put wheels on the gate, I can get pictures. Bob

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