Paint Your Wagon

We took a stab at pouring the foundation for the fence, starting with the electrical service wall. We finished the electric wall foundation and got about half way around the fence line when we got hammered with a few days of heavy rain. Seems that a tropical storm/hurricane passed by Honduras and we got the rain on the outskirts. Here are Armando and Abdiel mixing concrete for the foundations:

The vast majority of concrete in the interior of Panama is mixed on the ground.

The electric service wall is rooted to the ground. Later, we will pour a raised floor around the unit.

Everything looks crooked in the above photo, but it is just the angle of the camera. I straightened it in editing software, but the changes won’t transfer into WordPress.

During the rain, Armando and I spent two days in the shop welding and grinding a bunch of steel. We made a four-wheeled wagon to make it easier to move materials and equipment from our rental house and around the lot. Again, thanks to Bob H. for teaching me to weld back in Seattle. We also made an eight-foot square tent frame, but we still need to make it more stable by adding some angle braces. We’ll use the tent when I weld the fence together and when we dig and form the footings and columns for the house. Here is the wagon. It isn’t red, but it might be sometime in the future!

Good and strong, this wagon on steroids is already the talk of the neighborhood. Can you make one for me? Um, No.

The wheels are stock wheelbarrow wheels that can be found at any hardware store in Panama.

Armando and I noticed that the storm had passed, so we decided to put the first coat of stucco (repello, in Spanish, pronounced ra-PAY-o) on the electric service wall. Here are some progress photos:

Armando has one wall just about done.

Just about done with the first rough coat, Armando throws golf ball sized wads of repello at the underside of the roof. This was a messy process and we both were covered head to toe amidst a lot of laughing. We tried to trowel the mortar on, but it wasn't working. Mud ball bombs were the only thing that worked.

Tomorrow we will put on the second coat of repello. I think we have decided to apply ceramic tile to the electric wall, and tie that tile into the decor of the house. It will give a modern look. The tile will wait until we choose the tile for the house.

OK, it’s tomorrow. Armando and I got the four wall sides repello’d before it rained. Here’s the fruit of today’s work:

The inside two surfaces are done.

We took extra care to get the walls straight and plumb so that it will be easy to apply the ceramic tiles later. The sticks are holding a board against the wall. The board is a straight edge to apply the repello against.

Tomorrow we will tackle the roof and the two wall stub ends. I’m really happy with the results so far. I’ll post a completed photo in my next blog entry.

Oh, in case you didn’t recognize the reference to the 1969 movie Paint Your Wagon, it is one of Cynthia’s all time favorites. Adapted from the 1951 stage musical by Lerner and Lowe, Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin play two unlikely prospector partners that share the same wife in a California gold rush mining town. The high point of the movie, according to Cynthia, is when Eastwood and Marvin sing I Was Born Under a Wandering Star. When I heard them sing, I wanted to say, “Who stepped on the cat’s tail?”

That’s all for now.

10 thoughts on “Paint Your Wagon

  1. Fred and Cynthia,
    Wow just found your website! I have been checking into moving to panama and container homes for a year now and never came across you? I really like the interior of Panama I love Santa Fe/ Santiago area area as well as Volcan/ San Andres. We live in a rural area in SC nearest town 12 miles. I would love to hear more about your location and trials and tribulations on your move
    E-mail me anytime
    God Bless you for taking time and posting this info
    Sher K in South Carolina

    • Hi Sher,
      Thanks for visiting. Stay tuned for more info. about the container house. It is an adventure. Our move three years ago seems like the distant past now, as there is always some experience that has to be paid attention to, right now. We wouldn’t change our decision, and we can’t see ourselves “going back home.” The mountains seem like home now, and our new pace of life is very enjoyable. If you haven’t already, you may want to join some of the Yahoo Groups dealing with Panama. There is a wealth of information to be had.

      I think that the experiences of moving here and of living here are all unique. Some people hate it and return to the States or wherever, and others assimilate as much as possible into the foreign culture and love it.

      I think living in Panama is much more like living in the Thomas Jefferson time of heightened personal responsibility. If you fit into the community, people will be there to help you and you will help them. This is necessary because there are few social and emergency services. If you don’t fit in, you are very much on your own , and some people want it that way.

      Life for us is very different from living in a housing development somewhere in the States where you push a button, drive into your garage, push a button to close the door, and never know your neighbors.

      Ha, the only place that happens here in Panama is in what is called a Push Button hotel where you can anonymously check in, stay an hour, and then leave, totally unseen by other guests or the desk staff.

      • Fred,
        I just read your message. Must be similar to living in rural SC. Buy the way love the wagon looks similar to the trailer Hubby built me for the lawn tractor to haul fire wood with! Pushing the wheel barrow was just so heavy and I did complain about it LOL!
        Probably make a trip to Panama early next year in the meantime I am all over doing research. We had done lots of homework on Costa Rica But that changed just don’t think we quite fit. I did enjoy Guatemala but crime is very prevalent, not just petty crime but violent crimes. Certainly not safe to be out after dark for any reason in Panama city. Smaller towns were almost as bad! The small villages were the only place I felt safe. But I certainly loved the culture.

  2. Hello Fred and Cynthia, I too can’t believe I’m just now coming across your site. We moved to Panama just about 6 months ago. We are living in Pedasi on the Azuero Peninsula, Pacific side. We just bought land….or we got the check for the down payment yesterday. We are VERY interested in the shipping container idea. We wanted to start small….2, 40 foot containers to be used as storage for us someone needing storage (there’s no where to store things in this area). then our thought was to build up a second floor as a small apartment and to capture better views. Any way, that’s our little story in a nut shell. I’m wonder if you could share where you are going to buy the containers, cost, how you are having them shipped to you. We plan to put in pretty hefty footings for the containers to be placed on and leaving enough room to crawl under. What are you plans for this. I’d sure love to here more. We are Wayne and Christine….2 dogs too, Fischer and Melvin.

    • Hi Wayne & Christine,

      Thanks for your comment and welcome to Panama! We are going to purchase our containers through a friend of a Panamanian neighbor who works in the shipping business. But I suspect you could go directly to Maersk at the port of Colon. First he wanted $4,000 each, but our budget is $2,500 each, delivered. We negotiated back and forth a few times, each time I told him, “Sorry, but I only have $2,500 for each. Delivered. And so it was. The containers will probably come from the larger port in Colon. We will still have to pay for some sort of crane or large forklift to place the containers on the columns. Contractors at the port can transport the containers.

      We will re-start the project in a few weeks, and after the fence is completed we will start on the footings. Yes. Pretty hefty footings is a good idea although there is a desire to skimp here to save money. After all, most of the column is unseen underground so how important can it be??? But earthquakes are not unknown here, and several tremors have awakened us in the middle of the night, even though they were centered in David out west.

      I’ll be blogging about the columns in more detail as I build them, but basically the plan is to dig holes one meter by one meter by one meter deep at each of the four corners of the containers. Pour about a foot of concrete in the bottom of the holes and embed 5/8″ rebar mats in this slab. Also embed the 5/8″ rebar armature assemblies for the columns. Then come back and form and pour the columns about a foot square. Then fill in the remaining holes. There will be 4 pieces of rebar sticking up out of the columns. I plan to cut these to protrude about 3/8″ above the columns. The next step is to cut pieces of 1/4″ x 12″ x 12″ steel plate and cut four 3/4″ holes corresponding to the rebar. Then place the steel plate on top of the column and weld the plate to the protruding rebars. Grind the tops of the rebars flat. Then, when the containers are placed, they can be welded to the steel plate and you have a siesmic connection through the entire assembly to a meter below ground. We will have about 20 columns total plus a few smaller ones here and there. We plan to have the containers at least 18″ off the ground. In the building codes in the States, 18″ is the minimum clearance of a crawlspace. Some years back I made my living in crawlspaces, so I might go to 24”! I’ll be extra nervous going under the house here; we just encountered a Fer de Lance snake here on our patio. Yikes, these are the most toxic here, and they are aggressive. Locally, they are called X, or pronounced in Spanish as ekees.

      You didn’t mention, but do either of you have enough construction experience to be on site at all times and oversee the quality control of the layout of the column positions and heights? If I didn’t, I could foresee 20 columns, each its own special random height and the grid alignment of the columns maybe “almost close enough.” I could foresee days of trying to make it all right and working well while the crane operator sat idly by reading his copy of Dia a Dia. Panamanian men are on the whole very hard workers for a very minimal pay and I admire their ability to put a satellite dish on the roof of a house with a short length of bailing wire. But we have noticed that attention to details such as plumb and level and visual balance are lacking in the society. The Panamanian culture is rich in music and dance, but there seems to be less emphasis on the visual arts. As an example, look at the small walls that hold the electric meters at the fronts of most houses. How many of the meters are plumb and level and are centered in the wall? Perhaps it is I who is over anal and mere utility is good enough. I don’t know.

      So stay tuned and thanks for visiting my blog.

      • Excellent reply and thank you so much. We hadn’t thought of the steel plate idea and I like it. We have tossed the idea around of a full cement foundation for our crawl space with of course our footings placed where they need to be. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a foundation but more of a pad. Our hope is that we’d have a better view of just what is crawling around under there on the cement versus in the grass. Cost will certainly be a factor here though as grass is free.

        Thankfully Wayne has been in the construction business for the last 20+ years. Anal, well that’s certainly one word to describe him. So yes, we will be on site throughout the entire process and most likely doing a lot of the work ourselves. We quickly picked up on the fact that we never see a level at a building site. The little work we’ve done on our rental has certainly opened our eyes as well. I actually had to sew my curtains crooked so they would look straight on the wall. Yeah, we are right there with you on the lack of visual arts…. If it works, then it must be ok and it doesn’t need to be pretty to work 🙂

        I look forward to keeping up with your post and will also share with you what we come across. We are still trying to do the cost analysis, building a block structure vs. containers. Containers certainly give you quicker satisfaction. Also, with us thinking of a second floor, it seems the container will have a good amount of the support we need already in place.

        Thank you again and stay clear of the Fer de Lance. UGH, I haven’t heard of that one yet!

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