The Ever Changing Drywall Business
Adapting to the times is a key part of staying in the business.
Over the past three decades I have met all sorts of Drywall Dogs. The first 20 or so years I was on the business end of a Bazooka and the last 15 have been on the sales side. Based on my experience, I have decided that most guys fit into two categories: the early adopters (New Skool) and the die-hard traditionalists (Old School). I have waxed poetic about this subject numerous times over the past years in these pages, and I recently reconnected with a guy I have known for almost 25 years who really is the epitome of a New Skool Drywall Dog.
When I first reconnected with Joe Klaumenzer, it was at a car show in my hometown. As some of you know, I helped my son Christopher restore a '73 Dodge Dart Swinger. Last year, we took it to the Duryea Days car show and ended up in the same section as Joe. He has a 1956 Desoto, four-door Firedome with a 330 Hemi under the hood that is his pride and joy. He actually has a remote ordering stand and a tray from Big Pixie, a local '50s carhop drive-in that he sets up for added nostalgia. We ended up sitting next to each other and spent a few hours talking about the "old days" and yes, it's hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I am one of the old guys now!
During the course of the conversation, I learned that he turns 75 this year, and when he hits that mark, it will be his 50th year as a Drywall Dog. First off, let me say, he looks nowhere near that ageÑand as a cancer survivor, it is even more amazing. It's a fact that this 50-something reporter has way more gray hair than he does and I'm willing to bet that if I strapped the tools back on, he would be able to own me. Much to my surprise, he didn't go the traditional route, either.
Changing With The Times
Even though the date on his driver's license reflects that he should be in the Old School category, that's not the case. As we sat and talked, he said that one of the reasons he has been able to stay in the game for so many years is that he always uses the best products and is always willing to try new things. This point was driven home months later, when I got a text from him asking about a new tool he had seen advertised. The tool in question is the PortaMill (and yes, personal disclaimer, it's sold by the company that pays me). As an early adopter, he had already been sold on the idea of hiding butt joints through the use of backers but was eager to see if this tool would really perform as advertised, while still being able to end butt joints on the studs. I made arrangements to meet him on the job and he ran the tool through the paces.
As you can see by the pictures, we were both impressed by the perfect bevel and the slight recess that is created by this tool. Once this recess is taped, it can be finished completely flat using an 8-inch knife. He reported back that the finished butt took about one-third of the mud it usually takes and that it was completely flat.
The Past 50 Years
In his mind, the jury is still out on how this can be done on-site in a production environment by subcontractors and if they will take the time to make sure the paper flap is carefully embedded into the Hangtite adhesive so that no blisters will appear after the tape is applied. He suggested that the most obvious solution would be to have his board yard pre-manufacture "butt-ready" board for him. He stated, with any new technology, if it works, they will find a way. If not, he will find a way to do it himself, perhaps starting the next chapter of his drywall career manufacturing "butt-ready" board for any and all takers.
As we sat over coffee later that day, the idea struck me on how much has changed over the past 50 years in drywall and I was in the cat-bird seat, across from a man who lived through all of these changes. The first thing I asked was how he got into drywall originally, and what made him stay. As it turns out, he was working in a factory making around $3 per hour, when a friend asked if he wanted to help hang some board. At this time, rockers were paid $.90 per sheet and as he watched two guys hang 10 sheets in one hour, he did the mental math and quickly realized, if he started rocking, he could be rich. The next week, as he struggled to get 80 sheets hung, he realized that it would take some time to be able to get that raise. But he stuck it out, and within a few months was able to do a house a dayÑback when houses averaged 80 to 100 sheets with six sticks of bead. When asked the size of the average house he currently does, those numbers rose to between 280 to 310 sheets and two boxes of No-Coat.
Some of the other game changers we discussed that day:
- Board kickers: A big improvement over using a pry bar.
- Long board and 54-inch board: We spent nearly 20 minutes discussing belly bands, and which was better, hanging them bevel up or bevel down.
- Screws: What an improvement they are over the old blue ring-shank nails that we all had to use back-in-the-day, and how it was impossible to drive them without ripping the face-paper.
- Bucket mud: We both started when all you could get was bag mud that you had to mix in a trash can, and if you made the can too full the night before, it would blow the lid off during the night as it expanded. The discussion then turned to box mud and the advantages these boxes offered (once empty) as the answer to personal hygiene on-the-job, in those magical moments when nature called.
- Glue in a tube: Not the old black glue that came in a bucket you had to pump out.
- Halogen lights: When Joe started rocking he actually used a kerosene lantern.
- Taping tools: Enough said!
- X-Crack: If used correctly. Joe has actually been thinking of learning Spanish to help in these efforts.
- Pre-bent metal: Used specifically for the elimination of inside corner cracking caused by truss-uplift.
- No-Coat: As per Joe, the only way to straighten out a squirrelly off-angle.
- Lightweight Drywall: Everyone's favorite!
Loving What You Do
As our cups ran low and the conversation started winding down, Joe looked across the table and stated matter-of-factly, "I wouldn't have wanted to do anything else. Drywall has been and still is my life. Through the good times and the bad, it's who I am."
I then asked what he's planning on doing once he reaches 75 and he replied, "I plan on doing this until they carry me off the job in a white sheet."
I asked one final question before I left: "Is there one thing that you would like to share if you had the chance?" His answer surprised me, "Tell everyone to get a colonoscopy, it may save their life, it saved mine!"
Remember: Age is just a number; don't let it define your attitude.