What Moses saw, a sad little hose, and what’s your story…

I drove up to the jobsite and got a whiff of smoke. Definitely not the neighbor's BBQ. Besides, it was early afternoon on a weekday.

A BIG waft of smoke suddenly came round the side of the house and I kicked into high gear and headed in that direction fast.

For the first time in my life, I got to see what Moses saw – a big freaken burning BUSH – plus a couple of freaked out painters, dancing in front of the fire, madly waving a sad little garden hose that had obviously been borrowed from the neighbours yard – in a real big hurry.

I grabbed a shovel and started putting dirt on the bush faster than a roadrunner on steroids. Ten minutes later, the fire was out. Score: Painters 1. Bush 0. Too bad it wasn’t politics.

Turned out the paint contractor had a hired new guy that had come to the brilliant conclusion that a big bush close to the house was a good place to store his solvent soaked rags. Guess he was wrong. Maybe his mother just dropped him one too many times.

Got me thinking though: what if the bush had been a few feet closer to the house? What if no one had been there when the bush went up? What if the neighbour didn’t have a sad little hose? 

Lots of what ifs… all of which could have made the whole thing WAY WAY more expensive (not to mention embarrassing).

We all know things can go sideways fast in contracting. And in my years this wasn’t my only things-gone-sideways story. I had seen quite a few first hand and knew of way more. Do you have a story? Sure you do. Everyone in contracting does.

Tell us your story. Just take a couple of minutes to write out your story, anywhere from a few lines to a few pages, it’s your call. Grammar and spelling don’t matter – just as long as it can be read.

Then e-mail your “Things-that-went-sideways” story to: support@builditsystems.com or if you’d rather write by hand, fax it to: 1 604-648-8428.

Here’s to good work, good workers, and fewer things going sideways,

Craig Harte (BuildIT's Big Cheese)

PS: If there are some good stories - funny, gruesome, plain old stupid, embarrassing, whatever, we’ll share them - so no real names (but send pics if you’ve got them!). Come-on, it’ll take 2 minutes and we’ll all get to share in a few moments from the “other side” of contracting.

The nastiest thing I have seen - big old Gus

It was a normal day on the front lines of construction.

Materials didn’t show up. Neither did a crew.

Another crew was a half day late because they had been finishing up the last 2 minutes work at another job site.

There was a drawn out voice message from customer - something about a bunch of extra work they thought should be included because … well the reason seemed to make sense to them.

Nothing too unusual … then things changed fast … something happened which will forever be scorched into my memory.

I would pay anything to have the vision, er, I mean the trauma erased from my brain.

What I saw was, quite possibly, the nastiest thing I have ever seen … 

Right in front of me was a huge big sheet of drywall, the biggest of the big, being held to the ceiling but bending down at either end - to the point of breaking – being held up in the center by a chubby dude facing the other direction.

Now, I knew from the chubby outline that this wasn’t just any guy, it was none other than Gus, a wall boarder of European decent.

Gus would brag that he could make wall board fit, anywhere, anytime, pretty much every time, and if the wall board broke he would buy a round of drinks for everyone who saw it happen.

I had never heard of him buying anyone drinks because the truth was, he was real good at what he did.

But this time things had gone horribly sideways - Gus and his proud European ego were taking a spectacular pounding.

It seems his belt had recently decided it was tired of holding up his pants - after all, he did have pretty big pants.

It also seems that his pants were not the only thing that had fallen down at the same time - gravity had taken it all off - if you know what I mean.

Now, the thing is, the mystical forces that hold belts together could have quit anytime, but they decided the best time to let go was right when Gus was holding this big daddy sheet of wall board - way above his head.

But Gus, being the proud stubborn guy that he was, had decided many years before that he was never going to be buying anyone drinks … ever.

So there he stood … in a deadlock with the wallboard.

At the same time a few of his co-workers, being the understanding guys that they were, had decided to make a noise and let everyone on site know it was time for Gus to start buying drinks – and if that meant offering him a little friendly encouragement to drop the wall board, well that was ok.

My timing had been flawless; I had innocently walked in right in time to get a front row seat as handfuls of drywall mud were being pelted at a very-exposed-glowing-white-back-end – belonging to Gus.

Now trust me on this one, it was not a pretty sight.

Then boom. Maybe it was the wallboard, maybe it was Gus, but things snapped.

The air was filled with dust and the foulest language you can ever imagine. And as fast as he could, Gus bent right over to pull up his pants.

The problem is, fate had given me a front row seat, only few feet behind him – truly the wrong place at the wrong time. I witnessed the whole thing - in what seemed to be slow motion.

There was Gus fumbling and stumbling, and I got to see it all.

To this day no amount of therapy can undo the horror of what I was exposed to. I still have nightmares. They may never go away.

In the end (no pun intended), Gus finally cooled down and even managed to see some humour in his brief encounter with being on stage.

But when it comes to buying drinks, forget it, Gus won’t budge, he’s not buying drinks for anyone.

Score: Wallboard: 0. My trauma: -1 Nobody won this one.

Yet, every cloud has a silver lining - I can always be grateful that Gus wasn’t facing my direction when I walked in.

The power of coffee, a weird sucking sound, and making Homer proud

I pulled up to the jobsite with a tray full of coffees and an unhealthy number of doughnuts.

Over the years I found that the occasional but regular supply of coffee and doughnuts seemed to make jobs go smoother - gave everyone time to take a break, have a chat, and catch a few things before they happened.

Besides, showing up with the “goods” got a little extra mileage – it helped me look like a good guy – and trust me, I need all the help I can get.

Loud as a camp cook about to ring the dinner bell I shouted “coffee and doughnuts.”

A few guys materialized out of thin air. Freaken magic. How did they do that? Some days it was hard enough just finding them on site … or getting them to show up at all. Ah, the almighty power of free coffee and doughnuts.

Suddenly I heard a dull thud behind me and turned around to see what it was.

A few feet away, a roofer had just jumped off a ladder and was staring at me with the look of a stunned monkey.

His lips were moving slowly - yet no sound came out of his mouth – but no doubt about it, he was lip-swearing - in slow motion.

He leaned forward slightly, looked down at his right foot, and ever so slowly looked back up at me.

There it was, a big freaken nail poking right out the top of his foot. Yup, right through his foot and then some. Ouch, that’s gotta hurt.

Now I’m not the smartest guy on the planet but I do know that if you are going to jump off any thing, it’s a good idea to make sure the ground below is clear. Survival 101.

Without a word he lifted his free foot and stood on the 2x4 holding the offending nail, shifted his weight, and then raised his spiked foot. I heard a weird sucking sound as the nail backed out of the foot. Eeesh, the sound gave me the creeps … and ouch, that’s gotta hurt even more.

He mumbled something, sounded like “no big deal” and “not the first time this has happened” – from his comments even I could see he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

I told him I’d drive him to doctor. He pretended not to hear, seeming more interested in the coffee and doughnuts – the scene would have made Homer Simpson proud.

I offered to drive him to the doctor again but this time he said he didn’t want anyone to take him – he would drive himself - right after coffee. I swear that brew has mystical powers over some.

I reported the mishap to the roofing company – turned out they had subcontracted out the job – and that subcontractor had subcontracted it to him.

Nobody told me, I never thought to ask. Man-o-man, it can be confusing trying to figure out who’s working for who.

Turned out the roofer hadn’t gone to a doctor. He was a bit freaked out. The way it worked in our part of the world was that a doctor would report it as a work injury - and he would have a hard time denying he wasn’t working since he looked and smelled like he was on the job.

That would have started alarm bells ringing at the workers compensation insurance office. Since he didn’t have workers compensation insurance, the company that hired him would get hit with the claim. And that wouldn’t make him too popular. 

Problem is, if his injury got infected, it could get pretty serious. And he couldn’t afford to stop working. So there he was, hobbling around like grandma on her walker, only a lot nastier looking.

Score: Coffee and doughnuts: 1  2x4’s with nails: 1  His foot: 0

How could this have been handled better? Who knows? Maybe you can tell me.

Ahh, the joys of contracting.