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  This is one of several Fun Pix resulting from my experiences with Habitat For Humanity.
  KANSAS CITY (MO)    HEARTLAND (KS)                  NEW   Construction How-To articles


Making Do

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This is a photograph I took in March of 2000.  It shows the top story of the front of a house at 2901 The Paseo in Kansas City.


I did not use any digital tricks to make it look this way.  This really is how the house was built to begin with, by a special Habitat crew, and it hasn't been changed since.

According to the story I've been told, the left attic vent wouldn't fit at the same height as the other two, so after much discussion the decision was made to install it as you see it here.

Also according to the story (Hi, Bill D.), the person who made that decision was James Earl Carter, Jr., the 39th president of the United States.

Update of November 2008: Now I have to tell you about a decision not to make do, to get it right.  A woman and her three children, with the help of many of her many friends, were moving into a Habitat house one cold Saturday morning.  The refrigerator arrived amongst all this bustle, and four of us construction guys, one of whom was a paid supervisor (Hi, Duane), decided to help move it in.  Oops.

It was a big fridge, and it took all we had to get it up the narrow stairs and around two cramped corners.  At one corner we had to remove all the packaging such as cardboard and styrofoam.  At the second corner, trying to get through the door, we had to remove the four casters.  Oops.

At one point when we'd gotten it through the front door but most of us were trapped on the outside, the one volunteer who was on the inside balanced the entire unit on his back and carried it a few feet around yet another corner into the living room, which really impressed the cute girls there, including me.  However, a few hours later he confessed he had "done something" to his back.  Oops.

The four of us move the refrigerator, toward which we now feel personal animus, over the carpet and the tile without doing any damage, and we confidently slide it up to the cabinet under which it will spend a good portion of its life, proud of a job well done under difficult circumstances and under the eye of, as I say, cute girls.  We tip it up and re-install the four casters and push it.  It is too tall by a quarter inch and simply will not fit.  Oops.

We struggle for several minutes noodling out solutions to this fatal problem.  Duane gets the plans from his truck, does some measuring, and confirms the cabinet is installed at the correct height for her refrigerator.  It's a mystery.

Can the casters be adjusted?  Did we install them wrong?  Can we sand off a quarter inch of wood from the bottom of the cabinet?  Can we somehow lower the floor?  At one point I suggest "we let some air out of the tires," which a few onlookers, including an electrician who's installing the alarm, think is mildly funny.  We finally figure out to persuade the four casters to move up the required quarter inch by bending the brackets they're attached to.  Then I casually point out to the homeowner that the door of the fridge swings the wrong way.  Oops.

She hadn't considered the problem, so I demonstrate that since the fridge is to the right of the rest of the kitchen and the hinges, one for the freezer door and one for regular door, are on the left, she will have to walk all the way past the doors to open them and again to get back, and I further point out that she will not be able to use a nearby counter that's out of reach to set things on as she loads and unloads the fridge.  She finally understands what I'm getting at and agrees that it's a problem.  Then I point out that this refrigerator is designed so that the hinges can be moved so the doors open the other way.  This was the big oops.

Duane, who has a soft heart, decides that, although normally this would be a problem the homeowner would need to solve, we will go ahead and switch the hinges for this deserving family.  Did I mention also that it was really cold outside?  Well, did I mention that some of the many people who wandered in and out during this move-in morning brought all sorts of food that they laid out everywhere and insisted we partake of?  Did I mention that the place was virtually infested with cute girls?

Well, anyway, the three of us volunteers and Duane get started on what turned out to be a comical collection of problems.  Here's how it's supposed to work.  You separate the door from its hinge, remove a cap on the other side of the door, insert the hinge there, and put the cap where the hinge came from and re-install the door.  Then you move the handle from one side to the other.  Then you do that again for the freezer door.  One experienced refrigerator delivery guy can do it in maybe fifteen minutes.

Not us.  To begin with, the hinge won't let loose of the fridge frame no matter what we try.  Turning, pulling, jerking and plain old banging don't work.  We run through the long list of tools we can lay our hands on, and we try quite a few.  One of the electricians is working just a few feet away, and he gets involved, making suggestions that we eagerly try.  Finally, for a reason no one can figure out, the hinge decides to pop loose.  This is half an hour into the process, or a total of two man-hours.  I say to the homeowner, "I know this is taking a long time, but we'll get it."

The cap that you're supposed to pry off won't pry.  No matter what tool we use to try to get under it and lift, it just won't lift.  We try maybe six tools and they are all equally useless.  I point out the problem to the electrician and ask him what tool he would use.  He grabs a pair of linesman's pliers from his tool belt and takes a whack at it, and the cap finally disgorges itself.  We're 45 minutes into this door-switching project by now, and the cap, while free for the moment, is permanently boogered up from all the abuse it took.

I say to the homeowner something like, "We're doing the best we can.  It'll be worth it in the long run."

I won't bore you further with the details of the remainder of the project except to say that that fridge fought back hard every step of the way.  At one point the other electrician, whose work was in the basement, came upstairs to help and offer tools.  Phone calls were made to get advice.  Not a minute went by that one of us didn't have some suggestion or other for solving some problem or other.  Many wrong methods were tried, many of them several times.  It became more a test of patience than ingenuity.

At around the ninety-minute mark the beast finally succumbs to our relentless and extremely varied attacks.  We've marred the cap, we've forcefully altered the caster brackets, and we've invested more than six man-hours in this project, but at least we're done.  We've tested everything, and it all fits and it all works.

Our feeling of satisfaction is marred because it took so long, but it's over.  We present version 2.0 of the refrigerator to the homeowner, and she tries it out, and she appears pleased.  She is imagining how much time and inconvenience our efforts will save her over the years, isn't she?

Duane and the three of us volunteers plus the two electricians and several other people in the house are all awaiting her verbal reaction.  She says to Duane, "This will be much better.  Will you be able to come out Tuesday to switch the doors back?"

I can see Duane mentally shaking his head.  He is as confused as I am.  But, professional that he is, he merely asks, "What do you mean 'switch them back'?"

"This fridge is a loaner till mine gets delivered.  Can you come back on Tuesday and switch it back?"


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