Book Offers the Spirit, Diginity of Home-Building Work

Getting in touch with your inner home builder can be difficult these days.
By Patrick O'Toole | January 1, 2000
Getting in touch with your inner home builder can be difficult these days. Things are generally moving much too fast to appreciate the benefits of all the work that is being done. Or maybe it has been a while since you spent a full week or even a full day on the job site.

But for most home-building professionals, the basic dignity of transforming raw land with hammers, nails and wood into a home is part of their DNA and is an enormous source of pride. Thankfully, a home builder with a gift for writing has come along to capture the essential nature of the profession. The lure of working outside and ultimately providing a quality home are brought to the fore in Toil, a book forthcoming from Chelsea Green Publishing Co. this June.

Author Jody Procter, a framer with a degree from Harvard, takes the reader through the nine-month process of building a 3000 square foot home in Oregon in the mid 1990s. And though the basics remain the same, some things - - like paying $10 an hour for an experienced framer - - recall pre-boom days. Importantly, the focus is on the people and the work they do - - from the 19-year-old rookie framer who is a former high school football star to the 67-year old bulldozer operator with a suspect prostate.

Procter is not unlike many eventual builders of the baby-boom generation who moved West dur-ing the 60s and stayed there. After working as an artist and stage producer in the 70s, he began as a home builder in Los Angeles in 1980, and spent most of the following decade working in the field. Later he received a master’s degree in creative writing and went back to work as a framer for $10 an hour in 1994 at the age of 51. That is where the story of Toil begins in its daily journal format.

Sadly, Procter will not see his work published. He died in 1998, but with Toil he has left a legacy that paints a compelling picture of the people who build homes each day despite cold winter rain, summer heat, and the human bodies that harden and sometimes break down in the process. In the book, Procter also sheds light on relationships between the owner, a general contractor and subs.

While helping to build the new home of a personal friend who had an unintentional irritating effect on many workers at the job site, Procter recalls the time he was leveling a window and the friend reminded him that it needed a shim. Restraining his irritation, Procter climbs down his ladder. Hugs the friend, and says: "Ray, I just don’t see how we would have ever built this house without your help."

Very few books have ever put the activity and the people behind home building in quite the same realistic and positive light that Toil does. And at roughly 200 pages it is a quick and worthwhile read for anyone who has ever felt the natural pull of building homes.