The Joys of Bureaucracy (A pole barn in seven acts)



Building a Metal Melting Furnace


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Okay. So we have two miniature donkeys and a miniature horse, and they need a little shelter. The one we put together when they moved in with us last winter, using bales of straw pinned to the ground with chunks of re-bar and a tarp lashed over the top was crumbling fast. We talked it over and decided that our best bet was to build a lean-to attached to the side of our existing metal barn (which is used to store equipment and vehicles, not ponies) using the same pole-barn construction methods and materials. We could share the common wall, thus saving some time and material, and electricity would be near at hand. How hard could it be?

Act I: Leaping Before Looking

I bought a book of pole-barn plans, found a nice lean-to design, and scaled it slightly to meet our needs. I drew up plans using CAD software, showing all the various parts and how it related to the existing barn. Menards was having a big sale on steel barn panels that ended soon, so I went ahead and ordered around $2,500 worth of steel and lumber. I took the plans in to get a building permit. We're in the country, but the long arm of the city government reaches 3 miles outside the city. We _used_ to be outside that limit, but a bunch of boneheads developed a lot of land between us and town, and got it annexed into the city limits, thus dragging us inside the 3-mile limit. (Grrr.) I'd already completed an attached two-car garage in the last year using the same approach - it's probably even easier if it's not attached to the house, right? Wrong. Since it's built in soil and doesn't use standard materials, they can't just look at the plan and decide if it's adequate or not. I said, "It's just a barn. If it falls over, we'll build it stronger," but they were having none of that. I was told I'd have to get the plans stamped by a certified engineer.

Act II: If You Have to Ask, You Can't Afford It

I thought, "Hey - I'll call an engineer, send him my plans, pay him a couple hundred dollars and we're gold." After calling half a dozen engineers and being told, "Nobody in their right mind would touch that with a ten-foot pole," (verbatim, in at least one case) because they would first have to subject it to 27 different kinds of stress analysis and design limits, and wind-tunnel testing of a scale model (okay, I made up the last part) they'd have to charge me $10,000 or some ridiculous amount.

Act III: Salvation?

One of the engineers I had left a message for called me back several days later, and said he'd like to see the plans I'd drawn up, along with photos of the surrounding area, and a map. I e-mailed all that to him, and a couple of days later he contacted me to tell me he'd do the work for me. I asked how much it would cost, and he did a kind of verbal wink and smile, and said, "Oh - we'll figure that out later." If this was a movie, you would hear ominous music playing softly in the background. Foolishly, I thought, "Oh - he's one of those nice guys who will cut me a deal because I'm doing it myself."

Act IV: Survey Says... No

It won't fit. I had a surveyor come out and mark our lot lines to the tune of about $350, just so I would be sure not to build the new barn addition too close to the boundary. I was thinking about the 10-foot "utility easement". On the maps they supplied, they showed a 50-foot exclusion zone along that side of the property, which made the planned new barn completely illegal. APPARENTLY if you live on a CORNER LOT, then you have TWO "required" front yards - one on each street. And front yard setback distance is... 50 feet from the lot line! Then there's your "side" yard (setback of 15 feet) and your "back" yard (setback 50 feet too (!) unless the entire structure will fit _within_ the 50 foot setback, and then you can build it up to 2 feet from the back lot line (or something)). How they decided which was our _side_ and which was the _back_ yard when our lot is an irregular five-sided figure, I have no idea...

Act V: Reconciliation

After much gnashing of hair and pulling of teeth (or something like that) we said, "Okay - fine. We'll build the DAMNED barn in the BACK YARD all by itself, inside what is apparently the 35 foot square area on our three acres that we're actually ALLOWED to build on."

[Enter the ENGINEER, singing, "No! No no no no no NOOOOooo! Wait! You CAN'T! It MUST BE REDESIIIIIGNED!"]

BILL: "Um - okay. So what will _that_ cost...?"

Engineer: "We'll figure that out lalalalalaLAAAAATEERRRR..."

[ENGINEER does a merry little dance step and exits stage left.]

Act VI: The Waiting

[BILL is seen pacing back and forth muttering under his breath. The hands on a clock hanging on the wall SPIN MADLY. Pages FLUTTER from the CALENDAR, gradually forming a thick mat on the floor.]

Act VII: The Denouement (That there's French for lettin' the cat outta the bag.)

ENGINEER enters with a FLOURISH of TRUMPETS, singing: "It's done! It's Done, it's DONE, IT's DOOOOONNNNNE!"

[ The ENGINEER produces a SCROLL, which he UNROLLS. It rolls across the floor and off the end of the stage and into the ORCHESTRA PIT. It is seen to be COVERED with ARCANE SYMBOLS and DIAGRAMS.]

[BILL turns toward the AUDIENCE with a HORRIFIED LOOK on his face.]

BILL: "But... but... it's just a little pony shed! How can this BE!?!"

[ENGINEER waves his hands MADLY while chanting a LITANY of ARCANE FORMULAE. Phrases such as SNOW LOAD, WIND LIFT, DOWN FORCE, SHEER STRENGTH and so on are heard.]

BILL: "Okay - fine. If this is what it takes to get my pony shed built..." [Glances PLEADINGLY at the AUDIENCE] "Okay... I'll stop by and pick up the plans. What will it cost?"

[THUNDER rumbles...]

[BILL collapses to his KNEES.]

BILL: "No! That's not POSSIBLE! How can it be? That's more than I paid for the MATERIAL!"




So... I paid the darned engineer his $2,500.84 and got my building permit (which cost another $56 or so.) We rented a skid-loader with a blade, a power head, and some augers, and are now in the process of boring the required 15 (!) holes, four feet deep and ranging in diameter from 12" to 24". Concrete pads will be poured in the bottom of each hole, and poles will be placed on some of them and wind braces on others.

One of the future occupants inspecting the building site...

AJ really got into this job. Or maybe had a flashback to the war; I'm not sure which.

A mysterious structure we found in the pasture recently. We think ancient people used it to forecast the future. Strangely, the end of the world was predicted to happen during the Bush administration. I guess there's still time...

We've got some of the poles cut to length and notched for two of the three double beams.

A little more progress! We've got all three double-beams up, and are almost finished with the girts (the horizontal members around the outside, to which the siding will be attached.)

We've got the siding up on all three sides. The purlins are all up, and about half the roof sheathing is done. We just need to put on the front half of the roof, the sheathing on the front columns and the "forehead", a little more trim, and the gutter and downspout at the back.

Alright! The front is sheathed, and all the trim and gutters and downspouts are in place! We used some spare lumber to fence off the left half for storage of baled hay, and the old chest freezer makes a great place to store grain, treats, halters, etc. away from the weather and the rodents.

We also put the corral back up so we can pen them up in the barn. According to AJ, otherwise if there's a storm, they'll sometimes just walk with their backs to the wind until they hit a fence and then stop and stand there instead of coming back to the barn. Dorks.

And here are two of the happy residents of the barn, Lightning and Thunder. Saturn doesn't like to have his picture taken, and Wind and Rain (did I mention we were given two more miniature donkeys while we were finishing the barn?) were off grazing somewhere. Thus concludes the saga of the pole barn...

(No animals or engineers were harmed in the making of this production.)