Why you son of a ... concrete contractor

In our recent company newsletter, we talked about the trials and tribulations of a high-end countertop pour at our studio. Like a finely tuned sports team going into battle to win the big game, we had strategized with the pump company, the ready mix producer and the helpers, stressing that this pour had to go absolutely as planned.

Roughly 30 seconds into the big game (or in our case, the big pour) the pump blew up. We had the equivalent of about five wheelbarrow loads of concrete inconveniently resting inside our heavily reinforced $3,000 form. Now what? We literally had to wheelbarrow the remaining concrete into our showroom and scoop the concrete into the forms using 3-gal. buckets. I'm pleased to say the pour was a huge success.

After a few of our customers/friends read that story in our newsletter, it jolted some on-the-job mishap memories of their own, both of which involved their concrete contractor fathers. Although I could fill a book of all my own fond and not-so-fond memories as a young man growing up with an extremely motivated concrete contractor father, I thought it would be fun to share a few recent stories that I was honored to be on the receiving end of for a change.

As told by Domenic Mattei:

As I read your most recent newsletter, I couldn't help but chuckle over the headaches that you went through with your pump company while installing the concrete reception desk. Please don't think that I was laughing at an unfortunate situation. I am merely sympathizing with your heartache as I was also brought up in the concrete business.

My father's concrete company owned and operated three concrete pumps.

While these pumps may have been the latest and greatest in 1967, this was not the case the last time the pumps saw any action in 2005. The boom's reach was a max of 60 ft. without any articulation or a capacity to help the end user (always me!!!!) with moving the hose. These trucks literally had to be put together by hand with wrenches and nuts and bolts.

I had many sleepless nights before a big pour dreaming about the day of HELL ahead of me. It was my job to run the business end of the hose without any helpers. I think to this day it has contributed to the cartilage deterioration in both of my shoulders (I'm only 37).

Well, I just thought I would share some of my horror stories from my childhood. I'm glad the countertop was a success. I just would like to have been present when the choice words started to fly. When my father's pumps acted up and jammed, believe me, my cooler head didn't always prevail.

In the future, I would like to offer my services to you any time you find yourself short handed or need someone to help with one of your projects. I would consider it an honor to work with you.

Domenic Mattei

Custom DesignCrete, Inc.

Cresent, Penn.

As told by Dominick Cardone:

My dad was a ready-mix concrete driver for 25 years and was also a concrete flatwork installer. He taught us to place concrete at the age of 6. Although some of my dad's methods were slightly unorthodox, we got the jobs done.

At the ripe age of 13 or so, my 12 year old brother Pete and I helped dad pour a project in the Bronx, N.Y. The hectic part of this pour was that my dad was to bring the concrete to the site, the three of us were to place it and he was to run the truck back to the yard (about a mile away) while we were to wait for finishing.

Upon placement of concrete, our dad left with the truck and we waited and waited and waited. The concrete was setting and to top it off, some serious black clouds were moving in - like two barely teenagers needed the additional stress. My brother Pete and I, who would quarrel over every little thing as most brothers do, were now in a state of panic. We needed to conclude this situation in the most responsible way. We needed to work together in harmony, contrary to our normal methods of working together. Pete grabbed an edger, I grabbed some wood floats and kneeboards, and like two seasoned finishers, we went at it. Pete followed up with a broom finish like a surgeon, probably the most precise he had ever done in his life. I applied our final center cuts and we got it done.

The two of us now had another issue to deal with - those black clouds that were moving over us were here, and it was beginning to drizzle. Dad still had not gotten back and we had no money in our pockets. We asked the owner to loan us some money to get some visqueen and told him our dad would reimburse him when he got back. There was a hardware store around the corner that we jetted to and bought a roll of visqueen. We then jetted back to the site and made up a huge tent using surrounding trees, fences and bull float handles.

When it was all said and done, Pete went back around the corner to the bodega that we both had our eyes on and got us some refreshments. We sat on the owner's front stoop under an awning while the drizzle turned into showers and were drinking our Coco Rico's (soft drink) and eating Slim Jim's when Dad pulled in, white as a ghost and in a state of panic. It turned out his truck broke down on the way back to the yard, which delayed him.

He looked at us with a fiery, lost look and said, "What are you guys doing sitting there?" while he contemplated the rip out. We directed him to the pour area and he returned glassy eyed and pleased. Pete and I still bring up that day, especially when we have a disagreement ? or two. That was our day of entering manhood. Thanks, Dad, we love ya!"

Dominick Cardone

The Concrete Impressionist

Brooklyn, N.Y.

As earlier mentioned, I could tell countless stories as the son of a concrete contractor, as my father frequently reminded me that being an 1/8 in. off on the formwork was not good enough and that it had to be perfect. One of my favorite stories of my dad did not involve me. Dad was the concrete legend in his senior living subdivision, which afforded him the luxury of working only when he felt like it. His neighbor had asked him for a quote on a backyard patio and sidewalk. Dad mentioned he was pretty busy but he would try and get to it when he could. The next morning around 6:00 a.m. (of course, Dad routinely awoke around 4:00 a.m. every morning), the neighbors were awakened by what they thought was a burglar. When the police arrived, they found my dad setting up the forms getting ready for his 11:00 a.m. pour.

When the project was completed in its entirety, the neighbor asked what the price was and Dad simply smiled and said, "Don't worry about it." This is one of the countless great memories I have of my dad.

We've been looking at generations past in the concrete stories in this article, but I want to take a moment to look ahead at future generations. At a recent large class in which my 11-year-old son Robby helped, a friend made an observation of which I was completely oblivious. "Look at your son up on that ladder carving the vertical stamp mix," he said. And then it dawned on me that Robby is a 4th generation Harris finisher. Pretty cool!

In talking with Dominick and Domenic, I would have to agree, thanks to our fathers, we can uphold tradition, excellence and a heck of a lot of pride. Where would we be without mentors like them?

Hats off to you, Dads!

Bob Harris is the founder and president of the Decorative Concrete Institute, Temple, Ga., which provides hands-on training in architectural concrete. He has personally placed or supervised the placement of more than 3 million sq. ft. of decorative concrete and is the author of a best-selling series of decorative concrete books. For more information, call (877) DCI-8080 or visit www.decorativeconcreteinstitute.com.