The surveyor actually did show up, but he had to work on measuring neighboring lots so that everything will be copacetic. So now we wait one more time for him to return with the corner markers for our lot. But given the delay of the surveyor and the rain, we still have accomplished quite a bit, and the fabrication work we have done will make the project go much faster when the time comes.

Here in Panama, it is common to have the electric meter and main disconnect installed in a small section of concrete wall out at the front property line. The standard method is to pour a small foundation, then lay up concrete blocks, weaving in electric panels and conduit as appropriate. After the wall is completed, it is stuccoed. Some people cover their walls with river rock or flat, slate-like rock. We are not yet sure what ours will look like completed.

But Armando and I got a jump on our wall. There is a product here called M2. M2 is 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of Styrofoam that are covered with metal mesh. The front-side and back-side meshes are connected with wires that go through the Styrofoam. I had some kicking around, so we fabricated the electric wall from it. Now all we have to do is make the foundation, set the wall on the foundation, and apply the stucco to cover the M2 panels.

When the surveyor is finished, the next task for us is to erect a chainlink fence around the back and two side boundaries. In the BigBoxStores in the States, there are all manner of chainlink fence fittings that make the process fast and easy, such as clamps that hold the chainlink to the posts, fittings that hold a top rail to the posts, and gate hinge/latch hardware. But here, these fittings do not exist. The procedure is to buy 20-foot lengths of  one-and-a-half inch metal tubing and cut it into appropriate lengths for fenceposts,  Then you either weld everything together for a really nice job, or use bailing wire for a really crappy job. After much deliberation (maybe two seconds worth), we went with option one, a really nice job.

So I drove down the mountain to a more affordable hardware store and bought 20, 20-foot pipes. I have a roof rack on the Honda Ridgeline, and before we left the States I bought a T-bar thingy that fits in the trailer hitch and supports the back end of the rooftop load up in the air equal to the height of the roof rack. This T-bar never fails to draw a crowd of onlooking Panamanian workmen, and I can see the light bulbs going on in their heads. Then we have a brief conversation about what a good idea it is. I will not be surprised if one day I go to the hardware store and see that another person has fashioned one with some two-inch square tubing and their welder. Everyone who can afford one has a welder. It is the Panamanian duct tape.

The way chainlink fences are built here is new to me. The posts/tubes are set in concrete as they would be anywhere in the world. Then a shallow ditch about six-inches deep is dug between the posts, and two courses of four-inch concrete blocks are set in the ditch between posts and mortared together. Then the fence is hung on the posts, the bottom of the fence sitting just above the concrete blocks. Then, repello (a stucco-like finish made of sand and cement) is spread over the blocks and up and over the bottom few inches of the chainlink fencing. This arrangement makes a barrier and reduces the likelihood that snakes and other critters will come onto your property. It also gets the chainlink about a foot up in the air and out of the water where it would rust away quite quickly. Again, the Panamanians have this figured out and I am not about to mess with success. I do, however have one small variation in mind. We have on hand some six-inch thick Styrofoam panels that we have no immediate use for, so I am going to cut it into strips 16-inches wide, wrap a wire mesh around it, and substitute this for the two courses of concrete blocks. This will save about 800 blocks and a bunch of cash.

We cut the tubing that I brought home into appropriate lengths for the fenceposts. There were four-foot lengths of scrap pipe left over so we welded these together to produce more posts. Then we set about fabricating and welding on various homemade fittings to connect the fence together, then painted the welds with red-oxide primer. We also welded a short piece of rebar onto the bottom of the posts so as to be stronger in the concrete. This took several days, and now we have a pile of pipe prepared and can pounce on the project when the surveyor returns.

We have also ordered 50 yards of sand and gravel from a man who lives next to a river. He can deliver about four to eight yards a day, so we thought we would get it delivered while we wait. I hate to wait for sand and gravel on the days of mixing concrete. After the fence is up, we will start the initial 16 footings/columns to support the shipping containers.

(Warning: Technical Talk) The footings and columns have been engineered as follows: Dig 16 holes one meter square by one meter deep. Pour about a foot of concrete in the bottom of each hole, embedding a mesh of 5/8-inch rebar consisting of six bars pointing east-west and six bars pointing north-south. These bars are all wired together with bailing wire. The armatures for the columns (made of four, 5/8-inch rebars) are set into the concrete footing at this time, too. The next day, the twelve-inch-square columns can be formed up and poured. There will be four pieces of rebar sticking up out of the top of each concrete column. We will cut these off, leaving each about a quarter-inch above the concrete. We will then put four holes in a piece of 12-inch by 12-inch by 1/4-inch steel plate, each hole corresponding to one of the pieces of rebar. The plate will then be welded to the rebar. When the containers are delivered and placed on the columns, the containers will be welded to the pieces of steel plate. This makes a solid steel connection from the containers all the way down to the bottom of the footings. After the forms are removed, we will fill the holes with dirt, leaving the columns sticking up out of the ground about two-feet. (End of Technical Talk)

(I Lied) To prepare for the footings/columns, I ordered a bunch of rebar, and Armando and I cut it into appropriate lengths with a nine-inch angle grinder with a cutoff blade. We wired together the sixteen foundation rebar mesh pieces, then bent the rebar for the columns into L shapes. We cut lengths of 3/8-inch rebar and bent them into squares. For each column, we wired four L shapes to the squares, one square every foot, four squares per column.

So, once we dig the holes for the foundations, we will be ready with the metal rebar assemblies. The job site will be so much more calm and orderly without having to simultaneously organize men for numerous projects. It is best, here in Panama, for the quality control boss (me) to be on the job full time and as narrowly focused as possible on the tasks at hand. Hard working these men are, but frivolous things such as square and level are not all that important to them if the QC guy isn’t looking. Fabricating these footings and columns took Armando and me three days total.

In case you are wondering, the sum total of individual pieces of rebar cut for the footings and columns comes to a whopping 704 pieces. One hundred twenty-eight of these had to be bent. Additionally, we used 832 pieces of tie wire, each one cut (while Cynthia and I watched TV) twenty-inches long, folded in half, then folded in half again. So total pieces of metal for the 16 foundations, including tie wires: 1,536.

Here are a few photos:

I hold the rebars while Armando places a tie wire.

We let our neighbor bring his two horses to our side yard to graze.

The assemblies are starting to stack up.

Here, laying on its side, is our electric wall. It will have a flat roof (right).

Our electric wall will be L shaped, and will form one corner of our fence. Here is the backside. Broken axe and sledgehammer handles not included.

That’s all for now.

4 thoughts on “1,536

  1. Wow. love watching the stacks of preparations grow. nice to know you will, at some point in the future after considerable more work, be in a house of your own making. best to both Cynthia and Fred.

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