Our Intern Goes to Boot Camp

by Jonny the intern

Given the opportunity, I went down to a job sight in AZ to work as an erector on a project of five buildings. I left Colorado early on a Saturday morning, hoping to make the 12-hour drive as eventless as possible. Unfortunately I hit an ice storm in New Mexico that slowed me down, and made it hard to even imagine a place where it was always summer. Phoenix however, did not disappoint. In all I got a couple weeks of hard work and good weather.


I arrived about half way through the whole process. They had already put up one building, and were finishing the sheeting on the second full building. We started working just as the sun began to light the job sight enough to see what we were doing, and I was immediately impressed by how smoothly everything went. We used scissor lifts to get the insulation to the top of the building, dropped it down, screwed on the panels and moved on to the next sheet. The sheeting of the whole building didn’t even take a full day, so those of us who weren’t doing trim began to shake out the next building.

The buildings had been delivered some months before and had sat on the sight in neat little stacks until we got to them. The rest of that day and most of the next was spent sorting through the red iron, looking for tags, and pulling the pieces over to the slab where they would be put up. This building was designed to be a maintenance shop for caterpillar tractors, so it was big, and was designed for a crane. This meant we were only able to actually assemble one section of the end wall on the ground before we started standing up the red iron. Pre Engineered Crane Building

I was amazed at how quickly and smoothly the actual standing of the ridged frames went. We would hang them from the forklift, pull them up, and set them down on the anchor bolts. It was nice to see such a large change after spending the better part of a day just laying out the parts so they would be more accessible when we needed them. The rafters went up largely the same way. We would bolt them all together on the ground, lift them up, and then bolt them into the columns that we had already set. The largest problem we had throughout this whole process was a factory mistake where a flange that had been welded onto the uprights had been put too close to the bolt holes by about 1/4 of an inch. It took a little time, but in the end it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a torch and a tape measure. Then we were back at the lifting, bolting, and general assembly of the building.

Bootcamp 2

Throughout this entire process when there weren’t enough scissor lifts or forklifts to go around, those of us who hadn’t claimed one soon enough would be sent to finish up a parapet wall that had gone on the first building they had erected before I arrived. The parapet was fairly standard, except for the downspouts that had been put on the gutters. The downspouts themselves were PVC (provided by the GC), but there were also some overflow drains that I had never seen before. When I asked the GC about them, he said that he liked the PVC downspouts he had designed more because they were carrying the water from the inside of the parapet walls, down inside the sheeting of the building so you couldn’t see them from the outside. While the parapet wall was being finished, progress continued on the crane building.

The girts we put up with some scissor lifts, and everything seemed to be going smoothly again. None of the girts had slots for the rods, which I found out is how they are supposed to be delivered. They bolted to the ridged frames just fine, but when it came time to put in the rods we realized there was simply no place for them to go where the crane stubs where. The builder called Rapidset and they looked up the plans (all the manufacturing shop drawings for each piece are assessable from their desktop computers) while they where on the phone and it worked out that there was easily a way for them to be installed above the crane stub. It was interesting to see how such a big problem could be solved so simply, effectively, and quickly. We ran around on the lifts for a little while, but were soon sliding the bracing up into position.

Of the whole process my favorite part was putting together the roof. For the most part we had connected the large rafters on the ground, but once they were in the air they still needed to be tensioned, and the purlins had to be attached and tightened down. In all the roof probably took a little more than a day of work, but it was exhilarating to be so high (30’ eve height). Crawling around on the I beams to reach the purlins and bolt them into place was easily the most fun I had on my whole trip.

After that things started to wind down for me and my adventure in Arizona. I spent my last day high on the scissor lifts attaching banding to the purlins so the insulation would have something so sit on. Even though that was high in the air it wasn’t really an enjoyable task on account of the hot shavings that would spin off of the screws to find their way down the neck of my shirt. I ended that day with my customary sun burn (the weather was wonderful the whole trip. I got a piece of summer in the middle of February) as well as a few other burns on my neck and in the crook of my elbow.

The crew of the builder I was working with was a little sad to see me go I think, but I had gone down to observe firsthand the full process of erecting a building, and I had seen it all. Truth to tell, I was impressed with how well they all worked together. The crew I worked with was more of a unit that most I’ve seen- they were more than the sum of their parts, and as individuals they were all good men. It would be a tough thing to put together a more effective, or harder working crew. The weather on my drive home was pleasant, but when I arrived home in Colorado it was a little unnerving to see cars driving around with frost on their windows and snow on the ground. The climate shock was astounding, but returning home was as pleasant as it always is.