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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pine trees and car barns


For a few months long ago I worked for a construction company. I just checked them on the internet; Forest City Enterprises is a multi-billion real estate management and development company in Cleveland. Well, I’ll be. I was in the development part, I suppose, back when our own weaving business was finding its way. I worked for them one spring, through an accounting temp agency. This was in the days before we could qualify for a line of credit to get us through the spring and into the selling season. Another story.

I was hired to shepherd a division through being shut down, its assets sold. This division did some specialized construction, and had one final apartment complex going up in Silver Springs, Maryland.  I poked my nose into everything to understand what I had been hired to do.

There was a plant where slabs of concrete were poured. These slabs became the floors and walls of the multi story apartment complex going up in Maryland. Before my time I believe they also made all sorts of walls with designs and scenes in relief in the concrete. In color. Colored gravel picking out the design. But, I was there to close down the construction project and get the assets sold.

Nothing but concrete slabs came off the line and went onto flatbed trucks into downtown Akron. Some slabs had preformed holes in them that later became bathroom or kitchen waste lines. Some had preformed doors and windows. The slabs arrived at the old car barns in Akron in strict sequence and were off loaded to flatbed railroad cars in the barns that had been the roundtable for Akron’s trolley cars.

As the car made its way through the barn first the floor was placed, then exterior walls. People began working inside, building interior walls and closets. An entire kitchen went in, complete with appliances. The kitchen sink was placed, as well as the bathroom sink and overhead light fixtures. Some rooms were bedrooms, dining rooms. Only the toilet made the trip to Maryland secured in a closet to prevent breakage. At the end of the line each room was wrapped securely and sent on its way. In Maryland they were lifted by crane to the next floor under construction.

Back here I went through the books of record and located the capital equipment and inventory. A plant manager went through and tagged everything according to the depreciation schedules and purchase records. Bills for the construction in process came in, and I authorized them for payment. We took the final inventory on a blistering hot day and I still recall the taste of sweat and dirt as I knelt in the yard counting rebar.

Finally the apartment complex was finished, the assets sold, it was all over but the final accounting. I worked through paying the bills and closing the books. Then, I opened an envelope with the expense account from the construction manager. It included a staggering restaurant bill and an invoice for a pine tree.


There was no one left to ask, so I called Cleveland. Yes, when a project is finished it is customary to set up a pine tree on the roof and take everyone out to dinner. There should have been a construction in process purchase order for that, I was told, and sure enough, there was. The line item was topping out. The link is to Wikipedia's explanation of the custom.


23 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    Ah yes, the old topping out ceremony - I saw this first in Sydney. Any excuse for a party. Nice insider peek you gave us here! YAM xx

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  2. I think this is an old custom. It used to be done in quite a humble way in Germany when I was a kid, I mean just the guys who built a house would tie something on top of it and have a drink to celebrate. I forgot what they tied on, but it was probably a small fir tree or something. Strange how these customs continue. I wonder what it means.

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    Replies
    1. On one side it is the thanks to the builder, on the other the plea for God's blessing. You can still see the crowns or trees on the timber roofs in Germany.

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    2. Thank you for this explanation Brigitta!

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  3. My first husband was a brick mason and when a project was finished it was customary to place a pine tree at the top of the building. As for the accompanying celebration... I don't think those guys needed an excuse.. nor did they wait until the project was done to party.

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  4. Celebration when a big project is finished is very common (I've enjoyed a few). I had never heard of "topping out" and the pine tree custom. I assume the pine tree is later removed from the roof. Of course, the green roof is an interesting trend to help the environment.

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  5. I've not heard of this custom...hmmmm I need to build something.
    Jane x

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  6. What a nice way to finish off a job.

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  7. It still, sometimes, happens here too. Dinner or drinks happen often.

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  8. The building industry is a bit unusual they do know how to have a good time, we have a few friends in it and they have lots of end of week parties.
    Merle...............

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  9. First I heard of this, Joanne.

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  10. I can't believe that I am 55 years old and have never once heard this.

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  11. Looks like you had your plate full with this company. I am sure you are thrilled now that the end is nearing.

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  12. This was interesting to read about the work involved in the building and shipping, but how interesting with the final custom! I had never heard of that. I bet they do enjoy their celebrating!

    betty

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  13. wow I learn something every day but never had an inkling about topping out.

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  14. Thank you for the link to the explanation. Appeasing the tree-dwelling spirits released during construction - indeed! Now I have learned my One New Thing for today :)

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  15. Interesting custom and one I've never heard of before. Do they still do this today?

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  16. I've seen the trees on the tops of buildings, and knew of the custom, but hadn't realized how formalized it could be. I guess I had thought the workers, in a fit of exuberance, hunted down some random tree and parked it on their finished product!

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  17. Dear Joanne,
    we have the same ritual in Germany, the Richtfest: when the roof timbering is ready, the carpenters plant a decorated crown or tree upon it and drink a Schnaps, then one glass is thrown down (look at your bill!) after the speech, and it is a good omen when it bursts. Then follows the Richtschmaus - a sort of banquet.

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  18. I didn't know about the taking everyone to dinner but I have often seen pine trees atop buildings whose structure or skeleton had been completed.

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  19. Never heard of the custom, but I've led a sheltered life. I did though used to put my initials in betadine at the end of a successful procedure, usually on the patient's tummy.

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  20. I have seen pine trees mounted on top of derricks on construction sites but never knew why there were there. Thanks for the info!

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  21. I know it's schoolboy humour
    But when I read
    " For a few months long ago I worked for a construction company."
    I all I envisaged was you in a hard hat

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