A homage to the last cowboys
Professional framing is a special trade, a unique trade.
The men who toil in it make it so.
All of them are fearless.
There’s glory in the legends of this hard muscle life.
And there’s poetry in each season made of sweat and strife.
Framing is a rough trade and often a cruel one.
Pain is inevitable.
You may recognize the above wording if you’re an NFL Films junkie like me. The booming, driving voice of narrator John Facenda gives football the most heroic and epic feel.
Before I was hired at the Sierra Sun, for two months I spent my eight hours a day in Reno working for my uncle’s business, J. Patrick Nichols Construction Company, as an apprentice framer. Facenda’s words would often dance around in my head as I analyzed the determination and man-hours that went into building a house from the ground up.
I like to think of the framer as an athlete, and, in my opinion, there are striking parallels between life on the gridiron and framing a house.
First, dealing with nagging injuries. In a two-month period, I fell through the floor joists and slammed my chin. It swelled up to the size of a golf ball and I could barely talk. Another day I suffered the “turf toe” of carpentry: Hitting my finger with a hammer. It’s still black and blue.
Another day my uncle had put his finger in the wrong place, and his partner swung the hammer and hit two of his fingers, breaking one of them in the process. He was so quiet about it I didn’t even know it happened – kind of a “Ken Norton breaking teammate Bryant Young’s leg while diving for a tackle on Monday Night Football” injury, I suppose.
My other co-worker shot his hand with a nail gun and only took a five minute break. On my first day at the Sierra Sun, another former co-worker got his finger caught in a hanger and a giant beam crushed two of his fingers, sending him to the hospital. He only missed two days of work. That was all in a two-month period!
Trust me, framers “play” through pain.
My brother, also a framer for about seven years, could tell you a few good stories as well.
Second, there is the weather, especially in this region. Wind, rain or snow has not stopped many eager construction crews from completing the task at hand. There are no domes and no soft grass surfaces in construction to pad your fall. It’s all outside and it’s all hard.
I recently spoke with Jim Morrison, who owns a construction company in Tahoe (his crew was working in the snow in Squaw Valley). He brought to my attention a third parallel to sports.
“Teamwork,” he said. “We work together, and we definitely have the attitude that we need to get it done. We work really hard and have a lot of fun. It’s definitely an athletic, sporty environment.”
Lastly, the thrill of victory. Nothing feels better than defeating your enemy, in the case the house, and moving on to another opponent.
My uncle likes to refer to framers as “The Last Cowboys.”
This comparison is also accurate. The sound of work boots scooting across a bare wood floor conjures up scenes of old Western movies; the sound of a worn-out cowboy walking into the salon ready to drink his blues away. The nail gun likens the handgun drawn from the gunslinger’s pouch to defeat his enemy and ride away into the sunset. Oftentimes, framers drive into the sunset after a hard day’s work.
Whatever the analogy, framing a house is difficult work, and the men who engage in it face the same hardships that any athlete does, only they’re tougher. Here’s my proof:
One of my former co-workers, the man who shot his hand with a nail gun, told me a chilling tale of a man who slipped on an icy roof while working in Spokane, Wash. To save himself from falling, he nailed his own hand to the roof as he slid – only the nails ripped through the palm of his hand. Finally, just before he sailed over the edge, he nailed his foreman to the roof. The other crew members had just enough time to pull him to safety. Now that’s just gritty and gutty. Where’s Scotty Skiles now?
Tell me if any NFL player could give such an account of sacrifice. I don’t think so.
All told, in two short months I developed a deep respect for the trade and the hard work and enduring attitude that defines the business.
Not only are they warriors, but framers are the most underrated athletes to my knowledge; a legion of men (although there is the rare exception of a woman joining these battlegrounds) facing the elements, day in, day out, to construct the framework of our homes and buildings that provide comfortable sanctuaries to escape the blistering heat and the bitter cold.
This column is dedicated to you, Framers of the World. For without you, guys like me could not sit inside and stare at a computer all day, comfortably.
Matt Brown is sports and outdoors reporter for the Sierra Sun.
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.