Half Man could have helped here

Half Man

[A four-minute read]

One of the most difficult jobs I ever attempted as a farmer was to re-hang a 4′ x 9′ barn door. You’d think this could be simple, but no.

Hanging doors is a touchy business for us amateurs, even when the thing is ‘pre-hung’ in its own frame. This one was not. It was a homemade door I hastily crafted (if that is the right word) to fit an odd, trapezoidal opening of non-standard size.

It wanted a ‘custom’ job, which was beyond my capability at the time.

Just as I was not a craftsman, the aforementioned ‘barn’ wasn’t really a barn. You know, a happy red barn like you see in country landscapes. This odd structure (variously called ‘the garage,’ ‘the barn,’ ‘the shop’ and ‘the lean-to’) was built onto the side of the house, with a roof pitch that made it ten feet high on the house side, but less than six feet high on the other.

The builder didn’t bother to frame a rectangular opening for door, much less install a door. Well, that’s country living – things often remain unlocked, or door-less, as the case may be.

But a door was a priority for me, because the space would soon house lambing pens, and store grain and hay, and be used as a wood shop. None of this was feasible with a gaping hole open to the wet and windy Oregon winter. But, because there was so much to do before my first winter on the farm, it was a hurry-up job.

Every farm has a long list of necessary projects. Farmers who can’t prioritize, fail. Sometimes, ‘making do’ is the best available option when there are 10 priorities and only time for six.

(If you ever wondered why farmers collect baling twine, ends of rope, odd boards, extra cinder blocks, assortments of miscellaneous nails, used feed sacks, seemingly useless metal, abandoned bathtubs or tools that need repair – well, anything that could conceivably be useful someday likely will be.

The odd boards get knocked into a feeder, cinder blocks are useful propping up a trailer axle during a tire change. Miscellaneous nails – any building project. Used feed sacks are great one-time liners for wet areas. An abandoned bathtub waters livestock. The list goes on.)

Back to the matter at hand. I knew the job would inevitably need to be re-done, and hoped it could wait until spring, but no.

A late winter storm finally blew the door akimbo. This was the fault of another undone project: sealing cracks on the other end of the barn, cracks that allowed 80 mile per hour winds too much free rein.

(It goes without saying that the crack-stuffing project being left undone was the fault of this farmer. This farmer could possibly complain it was all the result of the Law of Unintended Consequences, but no.)

Regardless, because the rain was now blowing in and it was mid-November, it was time to act. So I undertook to remove, fortify and re-hang my 4′ x 9′ barn door.

Did I mention it was originally built in two parts, as a Dutch door? This multiplied the number of steps, and the amount of jigging and fitting and blocking and shimming and other internal recriminations.

It put me in mind of my dad’s axiom that there are many farm jobs that require a “Half Man.”

When I was growing up on the farm, I was often his Half Man.

Half Man holds ends of boards, serves as a ground guide, cinches rope, stands on things that need to be held down, leans on things that need to be held up, serves as the rough carpenter’s scrub nurse, draws water, runs errands, attaches and detaches items from the tractor drawbar, keeps first aid handy, and learns new vocabulary when Dad struggles against a mechanical challenge.

That day, I really needed Half Man, and didn’t have him.

So, all by my lonesome, I took down the two half doors and removed the hinges. Half Man would have held the upper door while I removed the hinges. In his absence, I had to take out all but two screws, one in each hinge, to keep the door barely attached. Then – one handed, I had to unscrew one at a time, while holding the upper door as it was balanced atop the lower door. Thankfully, there was no wind that day. The bottom hinge removal was next — an easier job.

When the door became wind-damaged, the door frame was split and needed repair, so that was done next. The hinges needed to be moved inboard of the damaged area a half-inch. That meant dropping a plumb line and drilling starter holes. Half Man could have done that while I moved on to brace the doors.

The door sections should have been built with crisscrossed 2×2 to keep them from warping, but no.

No time to do it then, but high time to do it now. Half Man could have made it easy to install the supports. The screws needed to go through from the outside surface, through the door and into the braces. Without Half Man to hold the door, I had to do it backwards.

After gluing the braces against the inside of the door, I flipped the door over and marked screw holes, measuring carefully along a chalk line. After drilling more starter holes, I changed the drill bit to a screw head bit, and installed the screws.

Half Man still didn’t arrive in time for re-hanging the lower half of the door. I had to use wood scrap shim (see saved items list above) to ensure the door had the necessary clearance off the slab. A cinder block (see saved items list above) and some scrap lumber (see saved items list above) kept the door panel from falling over. Endless adjustments for level. Install hinges – lower door hung!

That was the easy part. The upper door panel presented a huge challenge. Its bottom surface was almost chest high, and the top higher than I could reach. Half Man was still not walking up the driveway to assist, so he was not present to hold the upper panel during hinge installation.

So instead it was time for that farmer’s friend known as “The Work-Around”. It’s what farmers do when they have the wrong tool, the wrong supplies, inadquate resources, a lack of skill, or in my case, several at once.

I stacked the top door panel on the bottom door panel. This was actually easier than it sounds, because the top panel has a 1×2 running the length of the bottom surface, hanging down in front. This overlaps when the top door is shut, locking it against the lower panel. With the bottom door shut and braced, I hefted the top panel into place.

Next, I would tack the top panel to the lintel and the bottom panel for stability while installing the hinges, but no.

I was now ready to fire Half Man out of spite if he ever showed up.

The person who had sided the building (not me!) had been sloppy cutting the siding, so some of it overlapped the opening. This wasn’t a problem when the door was originally installed, but was a complete block to the door swinging freely because the hinges had been moved. Unfortunately, the amateur now attempting the retro-fit (yes – me!) did not notice this before beginning the reinstallation. So, the upper door came back down.

(See vocabulary-building exercise referenced above).

After an interesting and ergonomically unsatisfying session with a claw hammer, a prybar and a Sawzall, the siding was hacked back, and I was able to proceed with door installation.

I hoisted the upper panel once again, held it steady again with one hand while quickly tacking it again to the bottom panel with a pair of odd screws (see saved items list above). A long 2×8 board (see saved items list above) kept it from falling outward while I again tacked the top of the panel to the lintel.

So far, so good. The lower half is now installed, closed and latched. The upper half is sitting tight on the lower door, nailed to the building and braced, so it can’t go anywhere.

The hinges were quickly installed, the tacking screws removed and the job was done.

There was one serendipitous side-benefit to working alone. One of the upper hinges was slightly off vertical, which made the door self-closing. An improvement! Well, – I was told to always leave things better than how I found them.

Elapsed time: 5 hours. Projected elapsed time with Half Man on duty: 2 hours 30 minutes.

All of which goes to give proof to Alan’s First Law of Farming: “Everything Takes Twice As Long As Expected.”

It’s corollary? “Half A Man Makes It Twice As Fast.”

1 thought on “Half Man

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