Friday, November 11, 2011
They built the ramp in the QuickFill parking lot — twenty feet long, eight feet wide, four feet high — using lumber and plywood purloined from a nearby home improvement center. They built it sturdy; Johnny realized that it would be too heavy to carry long before they completed it, so they mounted hydraulic jacks in the framework and built around them. Most of the adults helped with at least part of the project, but Johnny and Cleve were there nearly constantly, even sleeping in the QuickFill one night when darkness snuck up on them.
When the last nail was driven on a sunny, windy, chilly early afternoon, Johnny, Cleve, Cody, Tina, Kelly, and Tim were there. Johnny ducked under the ramp, raised the three jacks, and they rolled it sideways across the parking lot. The ramp wobbled, but rolled without scraping the pavement. Johnny dropped the jacks and said, “I guess we need to test it. The trucks gotta weigh what, three or four thousand pounds? How are we gonna get that much weight on it?”
“The six of us together might weigh a thousand pounds,” Cody said. “Let’s all climb on and see what happens.” He scrambled up the ramp, slid a little, and crouched. “Careful, it’s a bit slick,” he said. “You think the trucks will lose traction on this thing?”
Tim stepped onto the ramp, and pushed with his boots. “I’ve got pretty good traction,” he said. “But I’m wearing hiking boots instead of tennis shoes… you know, when this thing gets rained on, it will be slick.”
“Could we tack something on it?” Kelly asked. “I don’t know, maybe cut up some old tires and lay the treads on it?”
“Hey,” Cleve said. “You know how they’d put those grates down where they did construction? I bet if we got some sturdy wire mesh, we could just nail it in the tracks and there wouldn’t be a problem.”
“How about those rain gutter covers?” Tina said. “Were there any left after you guys put them on the townhouse gutters?”
“Three or four boxes,” Johnny said. They’re in one of the storage rooms in the clubhouse.”
“I’ll get ’em,” Tim said. “I’ll have ’em back here faster than anyone else can.” That was true; everyone was getting used to biking everywhere but only Palmer and Janet could keep up with Tim when pulling a load (Stefan as well, before his accident). Nobody objected, and Tim rode away.
Charles picked up the new radio, pilfered from a ham radio store down Buford Highway. “Tim’s on the way,” he said. “He’s coming to get the gutter guards.”
“Okay,” Sara’s voice came through over a low hiss. “They’re in the clubhouse basement, right?”
“Yeah. QuickFill out.”
“I’ll double-check. Laurel out.”
“What do you think is gonna happen when a truck goes up the ramp, Johnny?” Cleve asked.
Johnny laughed. “You’ve been workin’ with me on this all this time, and now you finally get around to asking me that? Everyone else who helped asked, and I’ll tell you what I told them: I don’t know. I’m hoping it’ll flip over. I guess we’ll find out.”
“Hey,” Tina said, “is Big Ben coming or what?”
“He’s still sick,” Johnny said. “Rita and Sondra have him in the infirmary.” Rita had set up her infirmary in what was once the clubhouse offices; several rooms were well-lit by day and she saw her patients there. An early-season flu bug was working its way through Laurel; Ben was one of eight or ten people who had caught it, but so far was the only one requiring more from Rita than advice. One of the houses in the development yielded up a hospital bed; Ben was likely lying on it now. Johnny was taking a “leave of absence” from helping Rita for the ramp project, leaving Sondra and the kids to help out and learn what they could.
“Doesn’t mean someone else can’t do the camera work,” Cody said.
“I don’t think it matters,” Johnny shrugged. “Let’s just see what happens. Ben writes down everything anyway, we can just tell him what happens.”
Tim returned with the gutter guards, hammers, and tacks; they flattened the mesh pieces and tacked them onto the ramp. Cody walked up again. “That worked. Let’s climb this thing.”
Everyone climbed the ramp, trying to even out the weight between the tracks. “Feels pretty solid,” Cleve said, “but we still don’t add up to a truck.”
“Let’s all jump,” Johnny said. “One… two… three!” They all jumped, coming down nearly at once. Tina stumbled, and Kelly steadied her mother.
“Solid as pavement,” Cody said. “Well, we can either roll it out there and see what happens, or we can get twenty more peeps out here to stand on this thing with us.”
“I’m game to try it myself,” Johnny said. “Anyone object?” Nobody spoke up. “A’right — let’s roll it out there.”
They soon hit a snag: the seven of them were not enough to push the ramp up the incline. Cody cursed and spun around, putting his back to the supports and pushing with his legs, reminding Tina of how he’d pushed the truck out of her garage. She turned and pushed backwards with him.
“It’s not working!” Tim yelled. “We have to let it roll back!”
“Easy!” Johnny panted. “I don’t want anyone getting run over!” They let gravity push them back to level pavement; Johnny ducked underneath and dropped the jacks. “Everyone okay? Good. We’ll need to get some more people to help get this thing up the hill.”
“How?” asked Kelly. “There’s barely enough room for us to push!”
“Get some ropes,” Cody said. “We can have people up the hill pull while we push. That might do it.”