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  This is one of several Fun Pix resulting from my experiences with Habitat For Humanity.
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Hard Hat

Update of October 2009: No doubt there's another page on the whole Internet devoted to one person's hard hat, and no doubt it's more interesting.  If you learn of such a page, please let me know.

A few years ago on KCMO Habitat sites, the wearing of hard hats became mandatory during certain phases of construction.  After so many years of not having to wear one I grumbled for a month or two, but I do wear one whenever the rules require a hard hat.

I'm almost hoping someone drops a hammer on my head so I can justify having to wear the darned thing (and also to know what that feels like).

I can tell you that the only times anything has come into contact with my hard hat so far have been when I have bumped it into something I would not have bumped it into if I hadn't been wearing it.

On hot days it's even hotter inside a hard hat.  (It's true that a hard hat provides useful portable shade under a glaring sun, but I'm pretty sure that effect can be duplicated with a simple ball cap.)

• Given that it's five or six times heavier than a ball cap, if your hard hat is on tight enough not to fall off when you bend over then it's on tight enough to be uncomfortable.  I mean, it's a big clamp around your head.

Sometimes you can poke your head into places that are too small if you're wearing a hard hat.

And because of the way it's designed, a hard hat will roll off anything you try to lay it on unless it's dead level, and even then a small wind will blow it over.

And it's just one more darned thing to have to carry around and keep track of when you aren't wearing it.

• Worst of all, however attractive your hairdo was before it will be less so after you've worn a hard hat for a while.

All that said, I can see how wearing a hard hat could save me from anything from a nick or a bruise to a concussion to a skull fracture to a life of a brain-damaged living hell on Earth to death.  So I wear my hard hat every time I'm supposed to (but mostly because if I don't I get yelled at).  What I also do every time I'm supposed to -- something novice volunteers rarely do -- is look up to see whether there's anything or anyone above me that I need to worry about.

Experienced carpenters rarely get whomped in the head, but not because of any hard hats.  The reason is that they have learned through early rote repetition and later good habit to avoid being or even walking under a place whence something could fall.  A carpenter will wander from one place to another, perhaps reading the plans or talking on the phone, while at the same time just automatically avoiding walking under anywhere there's danger.  Experienced construction workers perform these danger-avoidance maneuvers without thinking, through learning that gradually turns into habit.

Apparently I'm a slow learner.  One one memorable house, during rough framing I happened to pass under a novice volunteer who was working from a ladder leaned against the only doorway to and from the structure.  Just as I scampered past him he dropped a hammer that landed on my right shoulder.  He apologized profusely, people came running over saying, "Are you OK?," and I was OK.  Just before I re-entered a minute later I said something like, "It's me again," and he responded.  About five minutes later, I needed to leave again and this time I didn't warn him, so he dropped that very selfsame hammer on that very selfsame shoulder.

Theft  That house was also memorable because a few days after we got electricity hooked up to a box on a utility pole in the backyard, one morning before any other volunteers got there, the site supervisor and I discovered that the neighbor to the east had plugged his own extension cord into Habitat's box.  The cord ran through both backyards and into his back door.  The site supervisor, a kinder fellow than I would have been, decided simply to unplug the cord and forget about it.  The next morning, the neighbor's cord was plugged back in to our power.  When I mentioned this brazen behavior to another supervisor, he said he would have disconnected the cord from the house end and we pictured the thief's television set or something falling off a table.  I don't understand how this guy could possibly have thought he was allowed to steal Habitat's money.  Or how he could have thought he wouldn't get caught.

More crime  But it gets worse.  Some weeks later, just after a heavy snow, the site supervisor and I showed up again before the other volunteers.  We were planning to set up for installing the last of the kitchen and bathroom cabinets when we discovered that someone had broken in and stolen all of them.  It was obvious that the thief hadn't taken the time to unscrew the installed ones but rather had just ripped them from the walls, which didn't do the cabinets or the walls any good at all.  It was easy to figure out who the thief was because of the muddy footprints that led from the kitchen and the bathroom down a hall to a broken window, whence those footprints in the snow led directly and only to the back door of that neighbor to the east.  I would have thought these crimes, breaking and entering and theft, would be a slam-dunk for the police to solve, but they never even came to the scene.  All they had to do was show up, maybe take a couple photographs, and arrest the guy, but they never did.

Mischief  It was also while working on this house that I kicked volunteers off a job site, the only time I've ever had to do that.  Some adult volunteers had brought three boys, maybe 15 years old, and I caught them at a different Habitat site nearby climbing the roof, edging down to the eave, and jumping off.  Maybe too much Jackass.  Anyway, they knew I'd seen them, and they sheepishly apologized and said they'd go back to the site where they were supposed to be.  But about an hour later, as I was walking back to that second house, I saw them again doing that same stupid thing, so I corralled them with their parents and told them they had to leave.  Being a mere volunteer myself, I'm not sure I had the authority to do that, but no one questioned me, although I can assure you the parents questioned those boys pretty sternly.

Powder power  It was on this house that I first used a powder-actuated nail gun.  When you build on a concrete slab you have to anchor the bottom plates of those walls to that concrete, and the quickest way is with a specialized nail gun that uses an explosion to shoot nails.  You load a hardened nail into the muzzle of the device, you load a .22 or .25 or .27 caliber blank cartridge into the breech, you hold it in place where you want to drive the nail, and you detonate the cartridge either by pulling a trigger or hitting the top of the device with a hammer.  The force of the explosion drives the nail through 1-1/2 inches of wood and another inch into the concrete.  It's obviously really powerful and violent, and therefore dangerous, and therefore fun to use.  Because it's so startingly loud, you're expected to shout "Fire in the hole" every time just before you shoot.  An even more efficient version of this extraordinary nail gun uses a strip of blank catridges, so you can shoot ten times before having to reload the breech.  As I learned the hard way, if you shoot a few dozen of these in fairly quick succession using only one hand instead of two as you're supposed to, you will wake up the next morning with a wrist that hurts a lot more than it would if you hadn't done that.

More power  It was on this house that I first used a concrete saw, which is also a brutal machine.  The concrete form on the south end of the west wall had pooched out and cured before anyone noticed, so that pooch-out, about 2 square feet and several inches thick, had to be removed.  We tried bashing away with hammers, then sledges, then cold chisels, and we barely dented it.  It was decided that we had to rent a concrete saw.  As with a powder-actuated nail gun, if an injury occurs it is likely to be severe as opposed to mild.  A gasoline engine turns a huge rigid circular blade that can cut through several inches of well-cured concrete, which no other saw can do, except maybe those saws firefighters use to cut cars apart.

Manpower  This house was also memorable because one Saturday I worked with a bunch of volunteers from the KCMO police department and the next Saturday with a bunch of KCMO firefighters, all of whom were interesting to talk to.  If they were representative samples of their respective departments, I can tell you that firefighters are more macho and therefore cooler on job sites.  And so is my hard hat.  I have the cool kind, the macho firefighter's style, if you will.


There are two basic styles of hard hat.  One has a brim only in front, shown at left, and that's the style available to volunteers on Habitat sites.  This is the brim style typically worn by real carpenters, and there's nothing really wrong with it except that it's so much less cool than the cool kind.

The other style -- which is I remind you is indisputably mas macho -- has a brim all around.  Real firefighter helmets like the one shown at right above, have quite a long brim in the back, to keep burning embers from landing on the wearer's neck and back.  Ironworkers -- who are pretty much by definition rougher and tougher and just generally studlier (ha) than mere carpenters -- wear the brim-all-around style because they don't want red-hot rivets landing on them.

Neither carpenters nor other normal people wake up each morning and say to themselves, "I'm going to go to work again today in a place where stuff that's way hotter than fire routinely falls from several or maybe a hundred feet and lands on me."  If you are among that select group, your hard hat is automatically cool.

My hat, as you know, is also the cool, macho style.

It is blue, it has the right kind of brim, and -- as you will not be surprised to learn if you suffered through the Hammer page here -- I have improved it.

As you can see, I have improved my hard hat by adding a handle.  The lovely model preventing gravity from making my hat fall to our driveway graciously allowed me to more or less permanently borrow, not to mention cut pieces off of, one of the tiaras she won for being tiara-worthy, as you can see.




Here's a close-up of the front.  The handle occupies the center, and above that the black "Johnny" on the red background is meant to represent the name tags used by the Habitat affiliate.  They use a black felt-tip marker to write the volunteers' names on red duct tape, to be stuck to their shirts (although one volunteer who showed up a lot in the summer of 2009 had been known to wear hers on her right butt cheek, which in her particular case was a fine idea indeed, especially if you decided you pretty much had to stabilize her ladder for her and watch her every moment to make sure she didn't fall, even though she was an experienced carpenter and knew how to set and climb a ladder better than you did).

Anyway, the name tag on my particular hat is meant to save a step.  If it's a hard-hat day, I don't have to stop in at the office to get labelled.

This view of the right rear quarter of my hard hat shows the same piece of decal "duct tape" as I'm walking away.  It also shows my support, in the most insignificant way possible, of Americorps.  AMERICORPS has done a lot of good for a lot of people, not just the participants but all the beneficiaries of their sacrifice.

Although it's hard to tell, the model under the hat in this shot is an Americorps member named Emily Ulm.  That's her hair at the bottom, and you'll just have to take my word for it that the rest is prettier.






At left I merely offer a reward for the return of my hard hat.

At right, I merely warn that if you steal it and run away and I chase you and you wear it for protection as I'm shooting a gun at your head, you can't sue me for failiure to warn you that it's not bullet-proof.


Although, for some reason, the handle of my hard hat attracts the most attention, I think this decal on it is by far the most clever.  I wish I had invented this six-word sentence on behalf of building Habitat houses, but at least I get credit for perpetuating it.  Get it?

Think Julius Caesar.  Still don't get it?  Try clicking the link HERE.

Still don't get it?  Scroll down.






























I came, I sawed, I conquered.

If you didn't get it, don't feel bad.  Only one person has gotten it without a hint, and that person was the mother of Mandy, who taught Latin.


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