Sliding Home: The Front Gate Ready To Roll

The front gate is rolling on its track. I am extremely happy with it as it looks just as I had envisioned it. Although there are more than 300 weld points, the whole gate has the minimalist feel that I wanted. A few people have seen it so far and easily identified the design as cat tails.

This was a fun project even if the welding, grinding, sanding, and painting was quite tedious. I spent a lot of time stepping back, looking at the progress and planning my next move. Actually, I had to plan three or four moves in advance, as in a game of chess, so that I didn’t end up with overlaps, gaps, or clutter that didn’t make sense in the design.

Although I was replicating a wild grass, I wanted order to the design, so I worked from the center out to both sides, fabricating two of every stalk. The left and right sides from center are mirror images.

Assembly: The frame of the gate is made of 2″ x 2″ x 1/16″ square tubing. The two square tubes at the bottom formed a beam once the stalks were all welded in place; the gate doesn’t sag at all. I drilled 1/2″ holes in the beam for the stalks to pass through.  The stalks of the plants are 1/2″ round stock. The seed pods at the ends of the stalks are made from black pipe; half-inch pipe fit well over the round stock but wasn’t fat enough for a seed pod, so I cut lengths of 3/4″ pipe, too. I pounded the smaller pipe into the larger pipe then welded the pipe assembly to the stalks. After I cleaned up all the weld points with the grinder, I applied body filler (Bondo) to most of the joints and the tops and bottoms of the seed pods. Then I sanded the body filler smooth. I topped everything off with two coats of red oxide primer followed by one coat of dark gray. This color may or may not change in the future; we’ll have to see what color the containers end up being painted.

Armando and I were working on the job, and I rounded up two other local workers to help us move the gate from container 3 to its place on the angle iron track. Although the design is very “airy,” this is one heavy gate. I think a gate opener is in order; I can slide the gate but Cynthia pushed on it as hard as she could but it was as if it was welded to the ground.

Here are some photos. Remember, click a photo to make it larger, click the back button to return.

Fabrication underway.

Here is the gate all welded and welds ground out, ready for body filler. I think the design is graceful and has a hint of art nouveau.

Looking out, you don’t feel like you are in a garrison. There is a hint of a family crest in the center of the gate.

Dog tired but happy. The curved stalks are strategically placed so as to strengthen the vertical stalks.

I welded this bracket from metal 2x4s. The wheels guide the gate as it opens and closes. Remember, there will be a concrete hat on top of the columns.

Next, I think I will take some pictures of a small model that I built showing the new and improved one-story design of the house. I’ll post them so you can see the new plan.

That’s all for now.

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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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The Front Fence

Fences in Panama are very important. They indicate that, “This is my property. I am marking it and I am protecting it. I respect my stuff, and so should you.” Like the locks on trashcans in campgrounds and parks, fences keep a good bear from going bad.

We already erected fencing at the two sides and the back of the lot, but the front was postponed until the containers were placed and the well was completed. Now that the big vehicles are gone and those tasks are done and the rainy season is on its way, it seems like a good time to finish the fence. Also, our dog likes to go to work with Dad some days, and without the fence or constant attention, he is “gone fishing” in the blink of an eye. He didn’t grow up on a rope, so when he is tied up it is only a matter of a few seconds before he is in a mess of rope spaghetti.

So I have Armando working on the front fence. We have dug the foundation, placed the posts in concrete, and are working on the bottom row of concrete blocks. Hernan joined us for a day or two, and I got him going on the columns at either side of the driveway. They will mimic the electric service entrance wall at the corner of the lot.

When I’m not keeping a quality control eye on the fence progress (which needs to be done frequently), I am working on getting power to the well pump. This involves bringing power to the house, first by stringing the main utility wire from the service entrance wall, across the three tall fence posts on the east boundary, then turning toward the house. I installed a conduit through the roof on container #3 and mounted a breaker panel on the wall below the conduit. Next I need to put a sub-panel in container #2 and run the utility wire to that panel. From there, it is a short run with some #12 wire to the pump controls that I have mounted in container #1. Soon, we will have water flowing from the well. All this new wiring means not having to coil up several hundred feet of extension cord every day as we will now have power in the containers.

Today, Sunday, I have been working with graph paper most of the day, designing the front gate. Previously, I mentioned the design principles of C.R.A.P. and Repeating a grid from the windows to the front gate. But the more I drew front gate to scale, the more it looked, well, Boring. Or maybe like a Scottish tartan plaid. There’s nothing wrong about plaid, it just didn’t go with the program. It made the whole project look too hard, as in sharp edged, and there was just too dang much of it. And since there is no B in C.R.A.P., I had to do something.

How about C, the Contrast part of C.R.A.P.? So I worked trying to bring in a softer element, curves. Some years ago, as Neighbor Bob will remember, I was working on a gate for a swimming pool area. It was going to have stalks of flowers on it. Today as I drew, it dawned on me that I had seen this before. Years ago, my mother had a small lead crystal glass bowl that had pussy willows or cat-o’-nine-tails on it. The bowl is long gone from the family; maybe it was dropped and broken, who knows. But the memory stayed with me, and in 1999 I made from that memory a small maple wood bowl on my lathe and carved cat-o’-nine-tails on it with small chisels.

I showed my grid drawings to Cynthia, told her of my grid problem, and I made that face showing blaauuggk, I hate it. The Design Acceptance Committee agreed with my assessment. But wait. I got my wooden bowl from the display case and said, “What if I made this same design but big?” And we could no doubt carry this theme elsewhere, perhaps to a security bar somewhere.

So it appears that we have a design for the front gate. The design softens the hard corners of everything else (Contrast), but the top ends of the shoots can have a sharpened point, good for security.

Here are a couple photos:

The front fence underway.

My bowl is less than an eighth of an inch thick.

Looking at the bowl, I can see that the bottom of the gate can be more dense, and the top more open and airy.

See you later.

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