Oak Tree School > 5. Many Hands

“I was just delighted. I’d never seen anything like [it] before. All these people gathering together. These giant meals would arrive and be set up over on tables under the oak trees. People (were) working away – such skilled people, just coming out of the woods and building this building. I was very impressed with the community spirit. It wasn’t something you ran into in the city very often.”

–Nancy Lorenz, teacher and volunteer


The community concrete pours were tremendous bonding experiences for the crew and volunteers. With the foundations cured, the framing commenced – using lumber milled at the local mills – and the project gained momentum. The contractors found ways to involve all the various people who wanted to participate. Lunchtime was often an opportunity to share stories. Longtime residents of the San Juan Ridge like Jimmy Coughlan told tales about the old days. The project was helping to integrate the different generations and neighborhoods of the community.

Holly Tornheim: There was a core crew – of course, Jeff and Bruce – and Bob Erickson, Jonathan Keehn, myself, some other people who worked there longer than a lot of other people – Amos Tuckahoe, Vince Barta, Todd Huebsch. And then there were other people who came on for various periods of time – Gloria Hawkes, Earl [Dawson]. And then there were people who came for certain projects – like Jon Klingelhofer for the major framing and the trusses. He was just so good at all of that. Neil Pinholster worked with Jonathan [Keehn] on the log cabins [along with others].

Bruce Boyd: [Holly and I] lived in this little 10 [foot] by 10 [foot], lath and plastic bed platform, basically. And we lived there through the winter, with a little tiny stove inside. It was freezing. Jeff lived in the job shack. We built a loft and he slept up there. And we had an outdoor shower. So we slowly, in the winter, started moving into the Lodge.

Bob Erickson: Jeff was really wonderful in that project. Bruce and Jeff. Bruce was a really great foreman, and those guys really had to do some creative thinking to make things pull together.

Steve Winkel: [They] were the ones who were trying to figure out, okay we’ve got all these people, what do we do with them?

Jon Klingelhofer: Jeff and Bruce were really, really on top of it. They kept everything really organized, all the nails were in one place and when you needed nails you just went over there and there was just the whole rib of nails. I think they were really careful about that because they had to be. I don’t remember there being any safety issues – nobody around me got hurt. We put scaffolding up when we needed to and didn’t really have any issues with safety as far as anybody falling or tweaking their back.

Steve Winkel: I was sort of somewhere between labor and management in the sense that as an inspector I’m looking at what people are doing and seeing if they’re doing it properly. … The job I had was quality assurance. And the quality of the work whether it was the concrete work, or the rebar in the log cabins, or anything that was done either by the construction crew or by the volunteers all [had to pass] muster though the Department of Education or Division of the State Architect…. And we stayed completely inside the lines there were standards to be met and the school met all of those standards.

Bob Erickson: There was a lot on the line – a lot of money, people’s lives, you know… It was hard to work for two fifty an hour… [Some of us] went to Lonesome Lake to take a shower, after work. You’re working just really hard, all the time, you don’t have any time and you’re trying to do all the other things you’re supposed to do too, like eat.

A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF FUN

Jon Klingelhofer: I did all the framing on the Lodge, the central buildings and the classrooms, and a replica of the North Columbia Schoolhouse in the front. And my crew on that was me, Chuck Dockham, and Amos Tuckahoe. A motley crew to say the least!

Jon Klinglehofer: Amos Tuckahoe, I mean, you know, he was probably from – where was he from? –Arkansas or someplace. He was a gangly, banjo-playing hillbilly.

Bruce Boyd: Amos Tuckahoe was not his real name. But bless him! You know, he wasn’t skilled at anything except keeping people’s spirits up. And [when the project was over], it was like, “You can’t go Amos!”

Jon Klingelhofer: I guess the most difficult part was there were a lot of people who were eager, but didn’t really have a lot of experience. So they had to be guided through their task.

Doc Dachtler: Yeah, there were people that came and volunteered. There were [some] people who knew enough to do the work. And [some] people just wanted to help, you know? People wanted to do it, and we didn’t discriminate – you know, women and kids were welcome too!

Bruce Boyd: And then it flowed. There were some days where people would show up and we’d put them to work, basically – anyone who wanted to come.

Nancy Lorenz: I was just delighted. I’d never seen anything like that before. All these people gathering together, and these giant meals that would arrive and be set up over on the tables under the oak trees. People [were] just working away – such skilled people, just sort of coming out of the woods and building this building. I was just very impressed with the community spirit. It wasn’t something you ran into in the city very often.

Jonathan Keehn: It was a wonderful experience. Especially on those big work days, to have big crews showing up. It was pretty fun.

Hank Meals: For me, it makes me smile just to think of the people who were working there. Because, they were all relatively good workers [and] all people with great senses of humor.

Bruce Boyd: It was a tremendous amount of fun! And there were some wonderful characters.

A VERY SOCIAL ATMOSPHERE

Shelley Spalding: I remember at some point when Bruce and Jeff were building the school, they also instituted something like longer Friday afternoon lunches… [It was part of the] idea that we want to integrate the whole community here.

Bruce Boyd: It was pot-luck and Holly [organized]. Shady Creek Construction Company set out lunches for the work days, and people, who didn’t want to work on construction, volunteered to fix the lunches. We had a kitchen there – an outdoor kitchen that we’d set up. And we would make lunches and people would bring salads, people would bring stuff from their gardens, and then we would make chicken or something to go along with it.

Jon Klingelhofer: Volunteers brought lunch to the job site everyday…. And it was usually pretty darn nice. I mean it was kind of like a feast almost.

Bruce Boyd: During the construction project, we had a number of “safety meetings.” Once a week we would have a safety meeting. And a lot of times we would invite someone up to give us a talk about some history or natural history, various people.

Bob Erickson: And at least once a week there was a gathering and storytelling, Jimmy Coughlan telling stories of the old days on the Ridge. And we brought in neighbors to tell their stories, or just talk. It was a very social atmosphere. It was very exciting, but you were so exhausted most of the time.

Shelley Spalding: I remember Jimmy Coughlan coming up there and Father McGeary, and we may have had Idabel Covert come up there… Gene Stuart would talk about being a planer mill foreman, and what that involved in the sawmill. Or Jack Clark – [who] lived down in the Valley for such a long time – talking about, you know, the weather. Or the Whittleseys’, who were both school teachers [would talk about] their life out on the Ridge.

Gary Snyder: Yeah, we all did that. I gave a series of talks on Native American, Californian culture for a while – at noon. I went down there at lunch, had lunch with everybody and talked a little bit about that.

Jeff Gold: There was Bill Treloar. He was one of the main machine operators for the project and Bill loved to tell stories. Very independent guy from up towards Camptonville, just past the middle fork [of the Yuba River]. He appreciated coming around and talking.

Shelley Spalding: It was that integrating and honoring that was so special in that whole building process. And I do think… that it was a community project. And people did feel a sense of ownership.

OLD TECHNIQUES

Jeff Gold: We also had a major community day lifting the trusses into position in the Lodge. They were heavy timber. They were built somewhat in the air, but then they had to be lifted and positioned into place. And instead of using the new technology of cranes that could pick them up with one operator, we used a series of block and tackles, so there were twenty-five people involved in getting those trusses into position.

Gary Snyder: Some of those ideas we brought over and [continued to use] when we built the Zendo. Dividing it into different projects, and different crews, each with their own foreman. And [the crew] practically all lived together. And that building is also another result of the mindset that made [the school] possible. [The Zendo] was the last building that was built here that had all of that information encapsulated in it.

Jeff Gold: Bert Hybart also was in his sixties at the time and he did a lot of the backhoe work. He and his wife were really lovely people that appreciated the sense that we can get together and do something like this – not use new and fancy techniques, but ones that are really time-tested and old and are using our hands more.

Holly Tornheim: That’s the joy of building something together. And sometimes what you build is not a physical thing, and sometimes in the process of building a physical thing there’s also an emotional thing that is built. And those workdays, I think, were very much like that. I think the people who came really worked hard, and they enjoyed themselves too.

TOLERANCES

Jon Klingelhofer: Steve Winkel [was the on-site inspector]. One of the things I learned is never put the inspector on the transit, because when you’re looking at something through a transit, a sixteenth of an inch looks like four inches. So we’re shooting in [level] all these foundations, and we’re one guy short, you know? So we’re having him on the eye piece, and he was like, “That’s gotta go down like a thirty-second [of an inch],” and I’m like, “Come on, man! A thirty-second? Gimme a break!” You know? So at one point we’re setting it, we’re doing this block and we’re shooting it in, and he’s on the transit. And Chuck [Dockham]’s mixing the mortar for me, I’m laying the block, and Amos Tuckahoe was – god knows what he was doing! And so [Steve’s] shooting in this corner, and it was totally good, but he thought it was a little low or a little high. So he was saying I had to pull a block and raise it up like a thirty-second of an inch, you know? And at this point Chuck looks over at me, I look at him, and Chuck has the hose of the trigger nozzle mixing the mud, and he just takes the hose and blasts the inspector!… I think he lightened up after that!

BOTTS’ DOTS

Bruce Boyd: I went down to Sacramento to the transportation supply and got all these Botts’ Dots – these little round, domed, white traffic [control] things – and the glue.

Jonathan Keehn: Botts’ Dots used to be called that ‘cause the guy who originally invented the glue that was strong enough to hold ‘em in place, his [last] name was Bott.

Bruce Boyd: So we decided that we ought to have a humpback flute player, a turtle from Turtle Island, and Native American symbols. And we just one evening glued them all down. They were there for about a week before Public Works came and scraped them all off. I shouldn’t admit to that I guess!

Hank Meals: That’s alright! The statute of limitations is long gone.