the yurpee story

So much for posting about the yurpee raising as it happened! Too much happened at once to document it at the same time. I’ll try to catch up.

Around Independence Day I said goodbye to Reevis – for good, I think (in both senses). Peter had already helped me move the yurpee down to Roosevelt and set it up there in Jimmy the upholsterer’s yard – Jimmy was going to sew the canvas roof for me. Having seen Jimmy’s machine, however – which was not much bigger than my grandmother’s old Singer – I had decided to sew it myself. So I did (sew I did!) – fifteen yards’ worth of medium-weight canvas – based on elaborate calculations on graph paper, actual measurements of the yurpee when it was set up in Jimmy’s yard, and, finally, laying the fabric out on the floor of the farmhouse porch – with a nail hammered part way into the floor so that I could use a string to draw the radius. I bent a lot of pins and poked a lot of fingertips!

This little tyke showed up to observe the process. I'm told that's a good omen!

This little tyke showed up to observe the process. I’m told that’s a good omen!

The sewing was finished – as far as could be done – after midnight, the night before I left Reevis. I say “as far as could be done” because the canvas came up two yards short. Peter donated some from his stash – for which I was grateful, because with the monsoon season coming, time seemed of the essence, to get the yurpee up and covered.

I left Reevis July 3 with all the belongings that would fit in my truck, the unfinished roof folded in an enormous package on the passenger seat, and – no sewing machine. One of those old black Singers, it was too heavy for me to wrangle, and, with its cabinet, it would have taken too much space in the truck. I was so eager to hit the road, I felt like I would have sewn the last seams by hand if I’d had to – but I’d remembered a friend’s offer to stay in her house in Prescott … and that my mother had left her sewing machine in storage in Payson!

Driving driving driving – Reevis to Payson storage with the load of belongings, back to Roosevelt to pick up four panels of the yurpee before they got rained on, to Somewhere, unload them and wrap in tarps, next day back to Roosevelt for the last four panels, to Somewhere, wrap those in tarps, then to Payson to pick up the canvas and sewing machines, to Prescott for four days to finish sewing the roof on my friend’s supper table (and some precious R&R).

This brings us to around July 15, my last post.

yurpee panels in place

Panels and tower in place, the first two panels loosely bolted together.

The yurpee had been assembled twice before, first at Reevis so that I could be sure all the pieces fit together, second at Jimmy’s. But I’d never put it together myself – Peter and Jared had helped – a lot. Those panels are heavy – probably close to 70 pounds – and the king post (the “hub” of the roof) has to be held in place somehow, at the exact center, until enough rafters are attached to hold it up. Peter had set up the temporary scaffolding both times we’d done it, and of course he’d made it look easy, but I knew I couldn’t manage it the same way he did. I thought a lot about how to make this happen single-handedly, during all that driving time, and came to three principles: Go slow, Scaffold, and Don’t get hurt!

Day 1, I built a tower to hold the king post, of the exact height to hold the king post in the place where it belonged. The tower had an octagonal top measured to the correct size so that the rafters could rest on the sides of the top and also against the sides of the king post. I also painted the rafters, as that would be hard to do later.

Rafters in place

Rafters in place

Day 2, I unwrapped the panels and set them in place, lying on the ground in a circle. Then raised them one by one and loosely bolted them together. Once they were all up, I went around adjusting the panels’ alignment – a compass helped to get them all angled correctly. This took all day. Toward evening, I set the king post on top of the tower and set the rafters in place, but didn’t attach them yet. I slept in the yurpee that night, under the stars and the big eight-rayed star of the rafters.

Day 3, I drove in to Show Low to buy a new drill, because the little Harbor Freight job that Peter’d given me gave out. The new one is a 12V DeWalt that fits my hand nicely.

attaching rafters to king post

Attaching the rafters to the king post with my new DeWalt drill

Day 4, with my nifty new drill I pre-drilled both the rafter tops and the king post, and attached them. The tower worked perfectly! Then I used rafter hangers (Peter’s good idea) to attach the rafters to the wall panels, at the corners. This was the hardest part – pushing the end of the rafter in snug to where it belonged and holding it there, holding the hanger in place, holding the nail, and hammering it in – I needed both hands and both legs to get all this happening at the same time!

king post supported by rafters

With four rafters attached, the king post lifted off the scaffold a fraction of an inch. Peter Bigfoot made the king post for me out of sycamore wood. You can see his name and the date etched into the wood.

Once I got four rafters nailed down, the king post lifted off the tower just an eighth of an inch. Like a miracle, to see that king post floating in the air! The only “oops” in this whole process was that I couldn’t get the tower out from under the rafters! Had to pull it apart to extract it. This was when I got bonked on the head – it only happened once!

Day 5: Would the canvas fit? Could I manhandle it over the top of the peak? Could I get it on and attached before the wind came up and blew it (and maybe me…) into New Mexico? Would I be able to reach the top in order to paint it (for UV and rain protection)? All yeses! The day was ideal – still, overcast, cool. The canvas fit, with a bit of ease (better than too snug). By rolling up the sides of the canvas and setting my stepstool up on pieces of 4×4, I could reach the peak with my paintbrush.

Door made of pallet wood and recycled glass and hardware

Door made of pallet wood and recycled glass and hardware

By midafternoon I’d got the roof half painted and four of the eaves installed (every other one); I’d also put screens and casing on the three windows. The wind had risen, so I’d tacked down four “sides” of the canvas to the four eaves, using cleats/battens – but used only three or four nails per, and left the heads a half inch out so I could remove the battens in order to paint the cloth underneath. (Mistake!)

At this point, I felt I’d earned a break. I closed the paint can, cleaned my brush, and relished the vision of lying down under my roof for the first time!

Then I looked to the south. And saw an enormous storm front, iron gray clouds, sheets of rain, lightning, the works – just a few miles distant.

But it’s moving to the west, I said to myself. It won’t come here.

Of course, it did. Mere minutes later I was dodging big cold raindrops, racing to get all the tools and materials under cover, my gear tied down, and some quick ditching done around the yurpee in case it really poured. Which it did, and blew like the devil. Finally I dove into the yurpee and lay down, feeling I’d done all I could do. The loose sides of the canvas were flapping in the wind, making a holy racket, and the wind was blasting up under the roof and making it billow out like a lung. I could imagine it tearing to pieces.

The king post scaffold is now my al fresco shower!

The king post scaffold is now my al fresco shower!

The rain was slapping into the canvas, but it wasn’t leaking. I was pretty happy about the whole situation, actually. I gazed peacefully out the screen window at the dark clouds all around, the rain pounding into the sand, the canvas ripping around the nails – !

Back out into the storm to pound down those nails, put in more, and assess and grieve the damage. Every nail on the west and north sides ripped the canvas, as much as three or four inches. I’ll have to mend those rips in place with needle and thread.

As it stands now, the roof is painted, two of three glass windows (from the ReStore) installed, and I’ve made a door out of 2x3s and pallet wood, with a big glass window. There’s lots yet to do – painting the interior and exterior; covering the corners in some way to keep out wind and sand; painting the roof with a second, colored coat; installing a pallet wood floor. It also needs what you might call soffits inside, from the top of the wall panels out to the plane of the roof, to block the wind. Finally, I have stakes that Peter fabricated, which will be pounded into the ground through pre-drilled holes in the base plates of each panel – against Wizard of Oz scenarios.

yurpee almost finishedThe yurpee is rainproof, provides adequate protection from the sun, and serves for a comfortable place to sleep (as long as it’s not too windy!). It will be good shelter while I’m working on the land in the fall and spring, although probably too cold in winter and too hot in summer (as far as this thin-skinned girl is concerned!).


7 thoughts on “the yurpee story

  1. The yurpee looks fab and cosy. Congrats! Like I say around here, it’s brains over brawn. I’m often working out strategies to do things around here which are impossible with only 2 hands.

    • Thank you, Linda and herongrace! Yes, best to use the brain and not the back. Seems like there’s always a way. There’s a book called Working Alone that’s supposed to be fantastic for ways to do things single-handedly – haven’t checked into it yet, but it’s on my list before I start the main house.

  2. Sounds like a very handy book. Thanks. Kudos to you, I always love seeing women who build. I recently finished 12 months of drilling metal grills all over my tin shack which I have had sprayed with a cement render and painted with a pale blend in green. It looks fab, and I am very grateful to be able to pack away the drill for a little while at least.. Washing and staining new decks now, and then onto digging out and building a room under the house. Will get help with the building. You would never know now it’s a tin shack underneath. Cheers!

  3. Way to go, Trish. It looks beautiful. I can identify with holding/pushing the support, the nail, the hammer, etc. I built a greenhouse and had the same challenge. And not getting injured is a high priority. I admire you. Thanks for the story and the pictures.

  4. I’m impressed! You are such an inspiration! Please keep adding to your blog. Even if it’s just pictures. It feeds my soul and dreams 🙂

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