Five Reasons To Have A Reserve Water Tank ~ Part 1

We’ve been thinking about building a reserve water tank, and here are some reasons why:

Reason 1. A few weeks ago, a neighbor set a small fire of yard debris, then left for his house in the city. (I know, I know, I will refrain from comment…) A few hours later, Cynthia looked out our kitchen window and yelled, “FIRE!” I knew that that house didn’t have any water as a new well was being drilled. So I ran to the neighbor of the property on fire and roused the sleeping caretaker.

He and I stretched a hose to the neighboring property and fought the fire for more than an hour. We didn’t have enough water pressure so it was slow going. While the other man used the hose, I used a now-destroyed plastic leaf rake to move the fire away from the unburned pine needles. Had we not acted, lots of pine and palm trees would have burned, plus all our properties were in danger. The whole time, I wished we had more water. Here’s a photo:

Neighbor's fire 01 - Copy

Reason 2. Sometimes, the power goes off. And with no power to the water pump, there is no water at our house. Not a real problem, unless the power is off for more than a few hours. Or if there is a fire! Of course we could get a 220-volt generator to power the pump, but that is another thing that needs maintenance and fuel and fussing with.

Reason 3. This was a tough dry season. We never ran out of water, but I suppose it could happen.

Reason 4. Sometimes we want to use two hoses at a time. But our pump is rated for seven-gallons-per-minute. Exceed this and the pump protection system shuts the pump down for a half-hour to allow it to cool off. By having a reserve tank, we can use two-or-three hoses or sprinklers at once.

Reason 5. Building stuff is FUN!

So armed with these reasons and a couple thousand dollars, we went to work. Armando and I scouted a location where the tank would be high in the air to deliver good pressure, and would be mostly out of sight. We settled on the area where we were going to build the hydroponic greenhouse (before we decided to sell). There was already a good foundation and a few rows of blocks. We went up from there.

Day one, Alex, who had worked for us before, joined Armando. We cleaned the area and started laying blocks:


At the end of day one, we were up this high:


Day two showed this much progress:


We inserted a couple ventilation blocks because some day this area could be an employee’s casita.

It is common practice here to lay blocks, but don’t connect them at the corners. Reinforced concrete columns are poured here. At the end of day 3 we had the rest of the blocks up and corners formed and poured:


Where’s Fred?

Day four was a long day. We stripped the corner forms and made forms for a beam that went around all four sides of the structure. We formed a welded rebar armature that fit in the form work and made a good strong base for the tank. Here I am welding the rebar armature:


All four corners are connected so the beams won’t be able to pull apart under pressure of the heavy tank above.

We put the armature in the form work:


There will be more blocks above this beam, so before we poured the beam, we cut and welded a LOT of rebar in place to support the blocks above from the massive pressure of the water:


That’s a lot of rebar!

Next, we poured the concrete beam. It was still early in the day, so we cut a lot more rebar and welded it in place to make reinforcement for the floor of the water tank:


While I was welding the rebar, the guys went into the jungle and cut 15 strong saplings that we would use to hold the floor form work in place. After we made the form work for the floor, we tied the rebar together with wire:




At this point it was almost quitting time for the day, but the guys said they wanted to pour the floor, too, so that we would be ready to lay blocks tomorrow. I told them that I would pay extra if they wanted to keep going. The guys mixed the concrete, and we set up a relay to get the concrete to the roof. This was tough going for the old guy in the middle!




The next day I stayed in the hammock while the guys laid more block. The blocks took two- or three-more days.


Next, we formed another beam that went around the top of the entire tank, the rebar all connected as in the other beam. We also welded in place more rebar that we will bend at a 90-degree angle to make reinforcement for the concrete roof and will tie the roof to the walls:


We were anxious to get the roof poured, but first to make our work much easier, we had to apply the plastering to the inside of the tank. Here is some of the first plaster:


Armando applies the mortar while Alex paints a bonding agent on the smooth concrete beam and corners.

At the end of today, day ten of the project, we have all four walls plastered. In this photo, Armando finishes tooling an angled strip of mortar at the floor line to prevent water from leaking through the wall/floor joint:P1030704-001

We’ll continue next week when the guys return Monday or Tuesday. Left yet to do is to form and pour the roof and then plaster the walls outside of the tank.

In other news, when Cynthia was a teenager, she was in the Masonic order Job’s Daughters, and was crowned DeMolay Sweetheart. The Masonic youth organizations are planning a reunion for later this year. For the event, Cyn is making ten crowns for the former Sweethearts (they passed the crown on to the next Sweetheart so they never got to keep their crowns). This is a surprise gift from Cynthia for the Sweethearts who are attending the reunion. One of the Sweethearts has passed away so in accordance with tradition, Cyn has made a white crown in her honor for the memorial.

This has been a lot of work, but the results are handmade pieces of art that will be a reminder of memories from years ago. Here are some photos:


Two 12″ x 12″ pieces of glass, a clear piece and an amber-colored iridescent piece, cut into 3/8″ squares, were glued together then fused together. Then each of those rounded pre-fired pieces were glue tacked onto a plain piece of glass, then fired in the kiln to fuse the pieces together.




After she fused the crowns but before she curved them in another firing in the kiln, I drilled holes at each end for attaching wires that can be bobby-pinned to each woman’s hair:


I drilled the holes with a diamond bit in a pan of water to keep the bit cool.


My grandfather’s 65-year-old drill press is still going strong, but after the nerve-wracking stress of drilling a couple dozen holes, I was a bit dazed and confused…

Here are a couple of the crowns after Cyn curved the glass and applied some crystal beads.



And remember the climbing vine at the front of the carport? Well finally, finally after a year, the plant is lush and in full bloom:

P1030685-001 P1030681-001

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Teflon Wife, Undercarriage Plumbing, And Some Tile

Cynthia is one hip chick.

At the end of last month (September), she and I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, for her to have hip replacement surgery. She had a lot of pain, and the need for surgery really became evident on our vacation to Medellin because she was unable to walk nearly as much as she would have liked.

A friend of ours had the surgery and recommended her surgeon in Savannah. The surgeon uses a newer approach to hip replacement, that is to make a relatively-small, four-inch incision at the front of the hip instead of a large incision at the back of the hip. A specially-designed operating table is used, where the legs can be independently lowered and pivoted to expose the, um, bone. Recovery is much, much quicker (weeks as opposed to months) and is less painful because there is much less damage to muscles and tissue.

But there were some complications. With this approach, most patients are in the hospital for a night or two, but Cyn was in the hospital for a week. Because Cynthia takes a blood thinner to keep her artificial heart valve from clogging, she needed four units of blood after the surgery as the bleeding wouldn’t stop. And keeping her blood pressure up in the range that supports life was a challenge for the medical team and quite stressful for me.

But all in all, the surgery was a success and her hip now moves like glass on Teflon, and we are back home in Panama after three-weeks away. This morning, twenty-five-days post surgery, Cyn made breakfast in our kitchen without the use of a walker or a cane. She still has a plenty of pain from where they worked on the bone, but it is lessening, and she is more- and more-frequently forgetting to use the cane.

Savannah is a lovely city, with the Spanish Moss hanging from the old oak trees. We stayed amidst antiques in a private home via, much better than fending for ourselves in a hotel.

Here is Cynthia eight-days post-op, sitting in the back yard:


Cyn had to climb four steps to get in or out of the house. Challenging, but she did it!

The trees are really, really big and old in Savannah. This one is in the front yard where we stayed:


While we were in Savannah, we took advantage of the opportunity to eat some really good food. Wiley’s Championship BBQ (voted fourth-best BBQ in the U.S.A.) was a treat, as was Joe’s Homemade, who’s motto is, “It’s that good, we promise.” Joe’s is Trip Advisor’s number one restaurant in Savannah. We filled in the remaining tummy spaces with meals from Saigon Bistro (best Vietnamese in Savannah) and Whole Foods. At Whole Foods, it was wonderful to have access to apple- or cherry-wood smoked, real, chemical-free bacon. Funny, after eating this nice bacon, one morning in the hospital I took a bite of the bacon on Cynthia’s breakfast tray. I couldn’t spit it out fast enough! It tasted rancid and chemical-laden. What a difference!

At first, Cyn needed a lot of help and I was her go-to guy. But gradually she is becoming more self-sufficient. Now she can shower, get in and out of bed by herself, and get dressed. In Savannah, she had four acupuncture treatments that helped greatly reduce the massive swelling and black-and-blue from all the fluids they had to give her to raise her blood pressure.

And as a bonus, for the first time in eleven years, Cynthia and one of her nieces got to see each other; her niece and her husband traveled from North Carolina for the reunion. Here is a photo for the family to see:


Cyn is a little more than one-week post op in this photo. Still swollen but standing on her own.

So not much has been accomplished on the house in the last month.

Hanibal returned for three days this week to install more tile. We now have the guest bathroom floor tiled:


I marked and cut the stack of tiles, preparing them for Hanibal to mortar into place along the wall of the container.

Plus two-thirds of the master bathroom floor:


And with the perimeter tiles cut and installed:


There is an easy way to mark a tile for cutting so that it accurately fits against the wall. First, place a tile on top of the last full tile, like this:


Next, place another full tile against the wall and mark the tile that you want to cut. Leave a little space between the top tile and the mark to allow for a grout line. Like this:


Next, cut the along the line and drop the tile into place. It will fit perfectly even if the wall or tiles are out of square.

One day while I was waiting for Hanibal to return, I installed baseboards in the kitchen and the under-stair half-bath. I cut some of the kitchen floor tiles down the middle, cut the pieces to length, and using urethane caulk, glued them to the walls and cabinets. Armando grouted between the floor and baseboards, and I ran a bead of the appropriate color caulk along the top of the baseboards (in the case of the next photo, gray caulk):


I guess I get points for accurate estimating. With the kitchen floor and baseboards all done, I have four tiles remaining.

And with the bathroom baseboards in place, I no longer had any excuse not to install the toilet in this bathroom.

So I spent several hours in the crawlspace and installed PVC pipe from the toilet to the septic tank. While I was at it, I also plumbed the drain for the bathroom sink. After not much work in the past month, wow was I sore all over the next couple of days:


The larger tubing is the toilet drain. The smaller tubing is the air vent that will have to run up the outside of the container. 

By the way, in the States I had a business where I applied physics to solve air, heat, and moisture problems in houses. I spent many, many days, weeks, and months in crawlspaces, so working under this house is no problem. Except I’m older now. I guess it helps keep me fit, but it sure is a challenge for Sr. Arthritis. And oh my, the shoulder and abdominal muscles scream bloody murder for the next few days!

With all the drain and water supply pipes now in place, I just need to find an hour or two to install the toilet and hook up the sink. Lynn in Ohio and Christine in Oregon stay tuned!

In the yard, we returned to lush ground cover by the front steps. And the bamboo screen at the kitchen window has greened up nicely:


That’s all for now, thanks for stopping by.

Just Armando This Week ~ Some Blocks, Some Repello

Sunday Cynthia returned, sick as a dog with a nasty head cold, from a trip to the States. Yes I kissed her when she exited from customs and immigration. And yes, by Tuesday I had it too.

All week I was able to show up in the morning, open the doors for Armando, then totter back home to the hammock. So this week was all about Armando. He was able to build a block wall on the west side of the big floor and apply repello (stucco) to both sides. Here are a couple photos:



Eventually there will be steps down to a terrace area, although the steps won’t be quite so grand or involved as the front steps.

When he completed the wall, he moved to the front steps and began applying repello to the sides of the steps. You can also see that last week I started placing the sheet metal roofing sheets on the big floor. Still a lot more to do, but that will have to wait until my energy has returned:


Armando still has a couple blocks to place in the hole, then he can finish this wall.


The hole in this wall will have a wire mesh door. We’ll keep a propane gas tank or two in this space.

That’s all the progress for this week. I’ll be back at it soon, although Cynthia tells me that some people in the States have been under the effect of this bug for six weeks. We’ll see.

Just a note: The company that hosts this site, DreamHost, recently suffered a catastrophic crash of the server that holds my, and probably many thousands of other sites. This site was down for a while and page loading has slowed significantly while they restore perhaps millions of files. It is getting better. I want to give the company credit; they are keeping me updated with information and have restored every page of my blog. S**t happens, but I think that DreamHost handled it as well as anyone could expect. I like the company.

That’s all for now. Back to my hammock. Thanks for stopping by.



Front Steps ~ Part 2

In the previous post we had completed two of the front steps and were preparing for the third. Moving downward in our construction process, here is the third step finished:


You can see that we have a row of blocks for the fourth step ready and waiting.

Moving downward again, the next photo is of the fourth step. At this point the job is getting tedious, but we are urged onward by how good it is looking.


So far the steps have been two-feet front-to-back, but the fifth step is now down at driveway level where you can comfortably step onto this step from the driveway. The two-feet seemed narrow and confining so I decided to make the step three-feet front-to-back:


To the left of the bottom step you can see an area delineated by concrete blocks. We’ll pour a slab there, but we need to find some fill dirt to level the area first.

Here is the staircase viewed from the landing at the second bedroom door:


After all the construction, the area was a mess. Armando and I spent the morning moving all the junk. We moved a hundred concrete blocks to the other side of the house. We spent an hour pulling weeds that had taken over the driveway. We also spread a small pile of gravel in the driveway and received another eight (of twelve) yards of sand and gravel that we will use to make concrete for the big floor; the sand and gravel from the river wouldn’t normally be available, but we were visited by a big rainstorm from the Caribbean so the rivers brought new material downstream. In the foreground you can see the hangers I fashioned from rebar to support the ends of the beams; there are more substantial support columns just a few feet away.

Here’s a picture of the steps from the front gate:


After lunch, Armando moved to the other side of the big floor to continue digging a trench for the west wall. We’ll pour a footing and lay two or three rows of concrete blocks to support this end of the floor. By the way, our neighbor finally cut the big tree trunk into pieces. I gave the wood to Armando because his family cooks with a wood fire. During the rainy season, his wife hangs the laundry to dry by the stove in the kitchen, and he frequently comes to work smelling like a campfire:


I’ll trim the beam that is too long and weld it onto the beam that is too short. These beams are 40-feet long.

While Armando dug, I fired up the welder and spent two hours welding cariolas to the last beam and installing a couple more carriolas. The floor is nearly ready for the zinc panels that will support the concrete floor!


After the zinc panels are on the floor, the next task is to make the big roof. Now THAT will be exciting! We won’t pour the concrete floor until the roof is up for cover from rain. It will also give us shade from the hot sun.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Progress On Big Floor And Front Steps

Lately we have been working on framing the big floor (front entry, living room, dining room) and on building the broad staircase leading to the front door.

While Armando is occupied digging footing trenches for the steps and laying block, I have been welding the floor joists that will support the concrete floor. Here is a photo with some of the joists in place:


These joists are 24-feet long and fit perfectly between containers 2 and 3. The joists sit on three beams that are supported by the columns that we poured earlier. We still have to raise the third beam into place, but we are waiting for our neighbor to cut and remove the tree at the west end of the floor; the tree is blocking the space where the beam needs to be and he has the best chainsaw in the neighborhood!

The front steps will have the same long-and-low design as the steps from the carport up to my shop. While I am welding, Armando has the more difficult job of digging footings, pouring concrete, and laying blocks. During the dry season, much of the clay-based soil turns rock hard and has to be attacked with a pickaxe. I try to plan his day so that he does the most strenuous work in the morning before the 80 to 85-degree afternoon sun bakes us into the soil.

Each one of the steps has its own concrete footing and row of concrete blocks, so these steps are an ambitious several-week project. Here is the main wall that will support the east end of the big floor and another slightly shorter wall that will support the top step:


While Armando set the blocks, I drilled holes to receive pieces of rebar which will support sheet metal, which in turn will support the concrete steps. Here are the rebar supports in place:


I used a bunch of scrap metal to make the support for the concrete:


The next photo shows the top step all poured and the next one down ready to be poured. I am using 2″x6″ metal cariolas for the front-of-step form. I cut the cariolas on an angle and welded them together where the two cariolas intersect so that each step will have the same slant at the front of the step:


Here are two steps all poured; only three more to go! Preparing a step and pouring it takes the two of us an entire day:


The next photo will give you a feel for what the front entrance steps will look like:


I knew that this stairway would eat a lot of concrete, rebar, blocks and labor. But I also knew that the entry sets the stage for the house. I just couldn’t bring myself to build a one-day, contractor-grade, four-foot-wide puny set of stairs. It just wouldn’t have been right.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.


Floor Tiles Chosen, Block Wall Built, The Trash Report, House Named, & Neighbor’s House For Sale

Floor Tiles Chosen ~ I needed to start thinking about building the doors for inside the house, but the questions were, “How much space do I leave under the doors for the floor tiles? How thick will the tiles be?” So one day Cynthia and I ventured into the big city to Elmec to choose the floor tiles.

In keeping with our Natural-Industrial-Bling decorating style, we chose a tile that looks like marble but is a much more durable porcelain tile. The tile is priced at about $25 per square meter and is made in Indonesia. It has a lot of shades of gray, some veining that looks like tree branches and leaves (Natural), and some subtle warm tone browns (leaning toward the reds). The tile has a fairly high gloss finish (Bling) and will add a luxury feel to balance the Industrial nature of the house. Here is a photo of many tiles adjoining without a grout line:


Block Wall Built ~ It seems that we have had a lot of down time in the past two weeks, but it is all a blur and I can’t remember why. But we are delighted anyway because we really have something to show. The concrete block wall at the front edge of the big floor between containers 2 and 3 is pretty much done. In my last post, Armando had the footing dug and it looked like this:

P1010642Since then we poured the substantial footing, laid the blocks, and poured a strengthening beam at the top of the blocks. Here’s the first row of blocks:


Notice the area with the two planks; we had to pass over the septic tank so we poured a beam to span the tank.

Now it looks like this from the carport:


You can also see that we have seven concrete support columns poured and rebar placed in the columns. These columns will support the living room/dining room floor.

And like this looking from containers 1&2:


The Trash Report ~ No tale to tell. I keep thinking that little scraps of wood are ready to go to the burn pile, but as you can see in the above photo, small pieces are still useful for bracing forms and making stakes. One piece was practically unusable, but Armando split it with a machete and used it as a paint stirring stick. Much of the scraps that we are using are from the original purchase of 1″x3″ pine that we used to lay out the columns to set the containers on. At some point they will all turn to dust.

We’ve had a few empty paint cans that I now store rivets in, and like the wood scraps, the metal scraps get used here and there too. I think the only thing we have really had to trash is all the cement bags. We save them and make a fire on those days that the mosquitoes are the worst. The smoke makes us quit early so the mosquitoes don’t bother us (insert smiley face here).

We still have a pile of Styrofoam left over from the interior walls, but Cynthia has a secret project for them. Sorry, no details yet.

The Name Game ~ Panama has very few street name signs and doesn’t have street addresses. It is a small country and everyone seems to know where everyone lives. We give directions by saying for example, turn at the lime green house that was hot pink last year and screaming yellow the year before. (People seem to paint their houses every year around Christmas. Cheapest paint wins.)

In lieu of street names and numbers, many people name their house. It just makes sense to say, “There is a party at Villa Such and Such tomorrow night.” So for several years, Cynthia and I have been attempting to name the new house. We call our current rental house, “The Pit.” It seems fitting.

For the new house, we came up with all sorts of lukewarm names that didn’t fit. But today we were standing in the same spot that I took the above photo from. I pointed out how nice I think the angles of the new wall go with the angle on the flying buttress carport columns. I said to Cynthia, “I like how the house moves.” She replied, “The house isn’t moving, it is dancing.”

So there you have it. Our house is now named La Casa Bailando (bye-lan-do) — The Dancing House.

Neighbor’s House For Sale ~ Directly across the street from our new house and one lot over, sits a modest Panamanian house on two lots (we have one lot). An elderly Panamanian woman owns it. Her husband is deceased and her children live in the States. She called me the other day to see if we know of anyone who would like to purchase it. She said that she has a current appraisal of $139K.

The house had a new roof put on about five years ago. We know that there is a problem with the well and the septic system most likely needs work. Both could be done for significantly under $10K.

We have never seen the inside of the house so can’t comment, but it is most likely quite plain, probably a two bedroom/one bath interior. It is probably plumbed for cold water only. An on demand water heater could be installed and still have money left over from that $10K.

So if you have any interest, I would be happy to connect you with the owner (she speaks English and Spanish). But be forewarned; if you play loud music and bother Cynthia, I’ll sneak over and pull your electric meter.

Here are some photos:


Here is the back of the house from the far end of the extra lot. Look off to the left and you can see one of our containers. There are six mango trees on the property (June is mango month).


There is a small patio on the south side of the house. The tower was for a CB antenna, back before there was cell phone service in the area.


There is a generous car port on the west side of the house.

Extra Special Bonus ~ The Banana Report ~ Bigger yet… Way back we fertilized the banana plants. I think it made a big difference because our neighbor’s plant has a mere fraction of the number of bananas that we have. And ours are getting FAT!


And finally, with the rivers delivering less and less sand and gravel due to the dry season, we hurried to order more. No more car in the carport for a while!


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.


Easy Stairs And A Splendid Walkway

On and off for about two months when it rained (did I mention that it rained?) and outside work was not fun, Armando and I have worked under the carport roof. We built a walkway in front of the containers and my shop; this walkway will eventually extend around, at the same level, to the front door. We also built a ramp and a few long steps up to my shop.

Now finally, it is all done. I’ve posted a few of the following photos earlier, but here is the project presented all in one post:

I like easy steps. Easy to walk up or down, that is. Most steps are six-and-a-half to eight inches high, but for this application I wanted the steps long and low. I divided the overall elevation gain by four-and-a-half inches and came up with an even four steps. Here we are digging a foundation for each step, pouring concrete, and then laying a row of blocks to hold the fill dirt in place:

Here is the walkway formed and the three steps roughed in place:

We put rebar and remesh in place:

And finally poured all the walkway concrete in one fell swoop:

Here is the slab all poured:

Next we poured a ramp. You never know, plus the ramp will be helpful when it comes time to move the welder or the wheelbarrow when we pour the concrete floors in the house (soon, I promise!):

The first step is also complete in this photo.

Then, one at a time starting at the top, we formed and poured each step. Here is the top step all poured and troweled:

Lastly we cleared all the construction debris away from the area and brought in some crushed gravel to keep us from walking in mud. We left room for future concrete mixing. Here are four photos of the finished project:

You can see the passageway to Cyn’s studio, and sharp eyes will see that I have most of the outside bathroom completed.

Even though it is just a carport, the space feels tranquil and gracious. We will spend a lot of time sitting here as we transition this once jungle lot to our new home.

In other news, Cynthia is all relocated into her new studio. Here she is making a glass bead at her torch:

Hot glass. C.O.N.C.E.N.T.R.A.T.I.O.N. Do not disturb!

Other projects are in the pipe, but that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Finally, A Concrete Sidewalk And Steps

For a couple months now, Armando and I have been working on a sidewalk and steps in the carport area. We work outside on other projects when the sun shines, then when it rains I pull Armando in to work under the big roof.

The carport is thirty-two feet deep, so there is plenty of room for a sidewalk and some steps in front of my shop. Here we have the area mostly formed for concrete:

Each row of blocks for the steps has its own concrete foundation.

We also built a block wall and made a suspended walkway in front of containers 3, 4, and the twelve-foot space between them:

Just like Cynthia’s workbench, we used metal roofing panels as formwork for the suspended walkway. Then we cut wire mesh for to reinforce the concrete. This slab will be a good four-inches thick:

At the bottom of the photo you can see that I have rebar sticking out from the forms. Eventually the sidewalk will continue around to the front door, and this rebar will keep the separate pours connected.

Here’s the project all formed and ready for concrete. We decided to save the steps for later; this was going to be quite enough concrete for one day, thank you very much.

With rain pouring down outside most of the day, Armando and our man-for-a-day Rigoberto mixed three big batches of concrete under the protection of the carport roof. In total we used sixteen bags ($160) of cement.They delivered the concrete to the forms by the shovelful or five-gallon bucket full. At first, Armando said it couldn’t be done in a day and I agreed. I told him that if he could and would, I would double their pay for the day:

The guys mixed, then Rigoberto poured, Armando distributed and struck the concrete level, and I followed with the wooden float and later with the steel trowel:

Armando usually works until 2:30 or so, but he and Rigoberto ended up working until almost 5:00. They were dog tired. I finished troweling about 7:00. It was dark by then. I had a light but apparently it wasn’t bright enough; there is one small area that I am less than delighted with, but we hope someday to tile all the floors:

During a big, blowing downpour I took it upon myself to get a ladder and hang the blue tarp to protect the concrete. Such fun!

All in all, with just one small blemish area, I am happy as a clam to have all this concrete done. Next week Armando and I will work on the steps.

In related news; As weather permitted, Armando has completed the block work for the hydroponic greenhouse. Next we need to pour a concrete beam at the top of the blocks and also pour slabs for the steps to the door:

Armando worked the shovel and I worked the laser level to even out the dirt inside the greenhouse. We’ll let the rain settle the dirt before pouring a concrete floor. Yes, everything is square if not necessarily level — it is just the darn camera angle.

Bonus photo department: My brother, a diamond setter by trade, will relate to these next photos. Back in the ’60s I made dozens and dozens of wooden chucks for him to clamp ring settings while he set the stones. In an unpacked-until-recently box I found the original pattern that I worked from. Jabo is now gnawing on it; being a tropical dog, he has never tasted maple wood. I think he liked it:

I always count my fingers after playing with Jabo. He’s a tough customer; I wouldn’t want to run into him in a dark alley:

That’s all for now. More, well, sometime in the future.

Odds ‘N Ends

I know, I know. A lot of you read my blog to see how we are working with the shipping containers, and there hasn’t been a lot of that lately. There will be, but not just yet.

Cynthia and I were remarking last week that other than the inside of my shop, nothing else is completely done. At two years into this project, and although we have accomplished a tremendous amount given our small crew, six-hour work days, long rainy seasons, and time out for health issues, everything has raw edges. We decided to focus for a few weeks on getting a few items DONE.

Columns: We thought it would be nice to drive up to the project and see the front entrance columns  done, so I started there. About a year ago, we built these two columns for the front gate:

May, 2011. Note how much has been done since then.

The columns still needed a concrete roof cap like the one on the electric service wall, so I set about making some forms. Here is one ready to be installed on a column:

It was somewhat strange working with wood again. I almost tried to weld it! For the nice tight corner joints I used my Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. You clamp your board in the jig, then insert the special drill bit into the appropriate hole in the jig and drill away:

Then you use special screws to screw the corners together:

Here are the forms in place and the concrete poured:

To prevent rainwater from flowing over the edges of the roof and staining the edges with dirt and mold, I pitched the concrete down toward the center line of the roof (to create an interior gutter) and toward the drain pipe.

Here is one of the roof-itos after I stripped the forms:

Of course, the columns are still too stark, so we went down the mountain and picked out a porcelain tile, to be delivered next week. We chose porcelain because the color goes all the way through the tile; regular ceramic tile has a thin layer of color that would be sure to chip when Armando cuts the grass and the weed whacker throws a stone at the tile. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but here is a peak anyway:

This tile will go on the two front gate columns, the electric service wall, and the two buttress columns at the carport.

Driveway: With the rainy season upon  us, the driveway has been muddy nearly every day. We had a big pile of crushed gravel, so Armando and I spread it on much of the driveway. I rolled it with the Honda Steamroller. Quite a difference from the first photo in this post:

Carport Wall: The carport columns and roof are in place, but we wanted a short wall in line with the columns. Because the carport roof is done, Armando was able to work even when it rained:

When the wall block work was done, Armando and I built a form and poured concrete for a shelf on top of the wall:

Here’s the wall and shelf with one side of the forms removed. It was raining cats and dogs all day so I couldn’t get to the outside forms:

Next week Armando will repello (stucco) the wall inside and out (weather permitting).

Plant Pots: I’ve had this little wall in my head for some time. I thought that the shelf would be a great place for plants that don’t need a lot of sun. One of us said, “How about bamboo?” Pots of a nice thin, leafy bamboo would look great on the shelf. It would create a natural curtain for the carport and create some mystery when viewed from the side road. That brings us to pots. We could spend a bunch of money on nice pots, so I said, “I could build them.” In the next photo I put some plastic on the floor of one of the containers and nailed forms to the floor. Armando and I will pour plant pot parts (say that three times fast) next week, then let them sit for a few weeks to cure. I plan to screw the concrete pieces together with plastic anchors and stainless steel screws unless any of you have a better idea:

I'll reinforce the concrete with 1/4" rebar. I'd like to mix in some strengthening fiber, but I haven't seen any in Panama.

Paint: Now that the shop is done and the repello has cured, its exterior walls can be painted, as can the container wall under the carport roof. This will do a lot to unify disparate parts of the project. Cynthia and I have had a Dickens of a time deciding on a color for the exterior of the house. Most Panamanian houses are white or cream or yellow or shocking pink or shocking green or, you get the point, and we would like something different. Any shade of gray was blah and reminded me of my military Navy days so that was out. A light yellow would be pleasant but it is overdone in our neighborhood. So after choosing the porcelain tile (but before we bought it), we went to a paint store to look at colors. Surprise of surprises, we chose a gray teal I guess you could call it. We think the house painted this color will blend nicely with the surrounding greenery. But as always with paint, we could hate it. So we bought a test quart and will withhold our decision until we see what it looks like on the exterior walls. 

Even though I am aching to get back to the windows in the containers, it felt good to work toward completing a few projects. I think seeing more pieces and parts finished will keep us jazzed and moving forward. Even Cynthia looks happier:

That’s all for now.


I Was Rattled ~ Septic Redo

About two weeks ago Armando was working on defining the left side of the driveway. He was digging a trench, pouring a foundation, and laying a row of blocks just as he had done on the right side of the driveway. While he was mixing concrete, we had a power outage. No power/no water pump. No water pump/no water.

Armando is nothing if not resourceful. The drainage ditches have run dry so there was no water there. And the little underground stream that in the rainy season fills the concrete cistern in the side of the mountain was dry too. But he remembered that there was water in the yet-unused septic tank; we filled it to keep it from popping out of the ground.

He removed the lid, leaned over, and dipped a five-gallon bucket into the tank. Startled by something, he pulled his hand out quickly. “There is something in there!” he exclaimed in Spanish. Of course, I immediately thought it might be Jimmy Hoffa or some similarly distasteful discovery. Then trying to lighten my first thought my mind went to, “What is it Lassie? Did Timmy fall down the well?”

Turns out, it wasn’t an object in the tank, but only the tank itself. Even though we had back filled with topsoil and not the expansive clay, the tank still gave way to the pressures of the soil and the high water table. The tank was crushed and split.

I was distressed. I didn’t want to dig up the whole mess and start over again. I was really rattled. How rattled? When Cynthia does the laundry, she dissolves some OxyClean powder in warm water then adds it to the washing machine. Yesterday she left the solution on top of the machine and it played quite a tune as it rattled during the spin cycle. I was this rattled:

I don’t know why, but that video made me smile.

After some discussion, we decided to remove the plastic tank and build the local tried and true concrete block septic tank. One benefit of all of this is that we can make a much larger tank and not have to pump the tank for a long time. Tank pumping is expensive, $300 to $500 seems the average here.

Wanting to beat the rainy season, the next day we started the redo. The tank was filled with water that would have to be removed. Also, we knew that we would be working on the project for two weeks or so, and every morning we would have to bail or pump hundreds of gallons of water from the pit. I decided to bite the bullet and buy a pump. I should have done it back when we were fabricating the columns to set the containers on.

I made a quick trip to town and bought a portable, gasoline engine powered water pump. Chinese, $236. I also bought some PVC pipe fittings and a couple lengths of pipe. Back at the job, the pump worked like a charm and emptied the tank in just a couple of minutes.

Whenever a new tool is brought to the job, the guys have a great time. Here, neighbor Ricardo stopped by to check out the excitement. We were all pumped.

After pumping, we started digging. While the guys dug, I made a tripod for a hoist, like for back yard car engine pulling in the old days. Even when we had the tank empty and dug free, the hoist just pulled the tubes into the ground and the tank stayed put. Eventually we dragged the tank out with a tow strap hooked to the Honda.

The other side was crushed, too. We're going to cut the tank at the first rib to make a swimming pool for Armando's young son.

Then the guys set about digging a larger pit for the new concrete block tank. They decided to work barefooted because the clay stuck to the rubber boots and it was just too arduous to work. I told them they should be paying me for the foot beauty treatment, and I offered to let Armando bring his wife to enjoy the spa too. For some reason he thought she would decline my generous offer:

As they dug, the men kept a rock nearby so they could bang the shovel on it. The clay soil stuck to each shovelful like glue. Finally, after four days of digging, we got to the point where we could set rebar and pour the floor:

Next came the walls. I noticed that Armando’s block work was much better than on the shop. I mentioned it to him, “Good block work, Armando,” and he said it had to be stronger because he didn’t want his work to collapse!

Here’s the repello in progress, inside and out. Outside, they worked their way up with the repello a few rows at a time as the blocks were laid.

And finally the roof. We installed a few 2×3 steel carriolas as joists and placed scrap pieces of roofing metal over the joists.

Here’s the finished roof. After the concrete cures a bit, I’ll remove the Styrofoam block, place some plastic over the hole, and pour the access hole cover for future pumping and inspection.

Now the only things left to do is to remove the forms, make a hatch cover, back fill around the tank with sand, move a lot of the dirt to low spots in the driveway near my shop, and spread the rest of the dirt over the tank to make grade.

After finishing the roof on the tank, we quit for the day. I had been wanting to investigate lock options for several of the doors in the new house, so I Googled my search. After watching a YouTube video on electric door strikes, a screen came up with other videos to watch. I was tired and wanted to sit a while longer so I clicked one. It turned out to be the Ukraine version of the TV show X Factor. It was so entertaining that I watched several of the performers and killed an hour. Cynthia pulled up a chair, too. Here is our favorite act:

That’s all for now.