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Raising walls and hammering thumbs

Exhaustion and exhilaration on the Milwaukee AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon 2012 build site.
By Stephanie Ham

On Sunday, we met our roommates for the next week, ate dinner (which had amazing mashed potatoes), and broke into building groups. We are spending the week building six homes, alongside community members building an additional four homes.

With only the basement and main floor installed, our goal was to construct each two-story home, including framing all walls and roofs, and installing windows, doors, siding and the front porch. Daunting but exciting nonetheless!

Here is how it began:

Monday 6:30 a.m.: Wake up to rooster crows — coming from my roommate’s phone alarm.

7 a.m.: Slam down eggs, potatoes and bacon. Every day is better with bacon!

7:30 a.m.: Shuttle into school buses and head out.

8 a.m.: Arrive at the main site, five concrete slabs next to each other.

8:02 a.m.: Realize there are community crews already framing their houses, those cheaters.

8:30 a.m.: Hustle off to our site a few blocks away.

8:45 a.m.: My 20-member crew for home number 497 breaks off into wall groups — interior and exterior.

8:50 a.m.: Discover that the only hammers left are tiny finishing hammers. Framing with finishing hammers is like running a marathon in flip-flops. It’s all good, we’re AmeriCorps — “getting things done!”

9 a.m.: The first Build-a-Thon blisters begin to form on my hammering hand.

9:12 a.m.: The first “ouch” rings out on-site, followed not long after by a word I cannot mention here.

9:30 a.m.: Front and back exterior walls are framed, then plywood sheeting and weatherization house-wrap is added.

10:30 a.m.: Half of the interior walls are completed and our first two exterior walls are ready to be raised!

10:35 a.m.: Home number 497 crew is ready to help raise the first wall and others have their cameras ready.

10:36 a.m.: Fresh strawberries are delivered for a morning snack, while the walls are temporarily forgotten.

10:42 am: Crew reassembled. The first wall goes up and doesn’t flop forward or fall apart. It’s pulled flush to a fading chalk-line, nailed in place and we move on.

11:30 a.m.: It’s lunchtime! We are “ready to do damage to a sandwich” after a busy morning of cutting wood and hammering thumbs.

12:30 p.m.: Finish off the last two exterior walls. We raise the third wall and bring in all the interior walls before raising the final exterior wall.

12:45 p.m.: Check that our walls have perfect 90-degree angles, then start installing all the interior walls.

1:30 p.m.: Thanks to the ingenuity of the interior wall crew, all the frames are numbered and we fly through the interior installation.

2:10 p.m.: The late afternoon sun zaps my energy and I sit in the shade eating homemade cookies from a local church.

2:12 p.m.: I am spotted and pulled back into the house. I try to gather my strength to avoid hammering my thumb again.

3 p.m.: All the first floor walls are up and square. I ask, “What’s next?”

3:01 p.m.: Wrong question. I now am assigned to fetching the huge I-beams for the second floor.

3:45 p.m.: Both I-beams are installed and we quickly clean up before heading to meet the 4 p.m. buses.

4 p.m.: The buses are actually scheduled to come at 4:30, but the five slabs from this morning are now five first floors!

5 p.m.: Arrive back at our lodgings, sink into bed and wonder how painful it will be to walk down to dinner.

10 p.m.: Passed out and ready to do it all over again!