A gathering of Montgomery County guys who’ll get it done
Friends in Montgomery County gather each month to hammer out a job.
BLACKSBURG — By late morning Saturday, the new deck was taking shape on the side of Mike Bowers’ garage.
Eight men hammered and sawed, lifted and dug, just as they have once each month for years. Ed Tuchler, who owns Blacksburg-based design/build company Shelter Alternatives, stood back from calculating board lengths.
“The success of the work day is how many tools get used,” he opined.
The other men chuckled. Soon Bowers, who constructs barns for a living, drove around the side of the garage atop a track loader equipped with a 2-foot-diameter auger. In just minutes, it bored holes in the ground where support poles would soon stand. Within a half-hour, Bowers was hefting a chainsaw and lopping off the top of one of the new poles. Turning the saw, he quickly notched the pole to hold a deck support.
“Boys Work Day!” Bowers exclaimed. “Chainsaw quality!”
The work day is a long tradition built by a group of friends, mostly neighbors along Mount Tabor Road east of Blacksburg. Once each month, they gather for a project chosen by each man in a rotation.
On Saturday, the plan was to tear down a weathered set of exterior steps leading to an upstairs tack room above Bowers’ garage and replace them with a ramp and a new deck running the width of the building. The deck would have space for a bench, Bowers told the crew, where his wife could sit and watch their daughter work with horses in a neighboring paddock.
Over the years, houses have been renovated and outbuildings constructed, trails cleared and firewood chopped and drainage ditches dug. Sometimes a charity project is selected, like repairing church roofs or painting or just helping someone who has a project too big to tackle alone.
The twin mottos of Boys Work Day, said group member Curt Laub, a Virginia Tech entomologist, are “You can’t see it from my house,” and “It’s not as nasty as it was.”
In 15 years, Boys Work Day has only skipped a handful of months, said Bowers, Tuchler and Trev Smith, a carpenter and woodworker who is another of the founding members of the group.
Of the many projects, “The ones with blizzards — those are the ones I remember best,” Smith said.
Others laughed. Pausing from tamping down dirt and concrete mix around the support poles that would support the new deck, architect Peter Ozolins noted that one of the most memorable monthly gatherings came when it was Smith’s turn to choose a project. Instead of the usual construction job, he sent the group on a canoe trip down the New River to honor Tuchler’s birthday and some out-of-town guests who were visiting.
Bowers grinned. “The best thing about this is males my age, they don’t usually have friends,” he said.
Others present Saturday included Al Warren, a retired builder and Tuchler’s father-in-law; his son Dan Warren, who has worked in construction and as an engineer; and Dan Britten, whose career has also been in building.
With all the years of building-related experience, the group isn’t afraid to tackle most projects, Bowers said. But, he added, “We’re just guys who help each other out.”
One member of the group, David Mudd, moved out of state some years ago but still occasionally returns to help, Bowers and Ozolins said. Mudd started his own work group in Kentucky, his first home after leaving Blacksburg, they said.
“It’s exportable. People can do it if they want to,” Ozolins said.
Group members said the impetus for starting Boys Work Day came from their wives, who were meeting for a night out.
“We said, ‘We should get to do this, too,’” Smith said.
“But sitting around didn’t work for us,” Tuchler recalled. “We just couldn’t drink enough beer.”
So they launched Boys Work Day. A decade and a half later, the boys’ ages range from 52 to 79 and they have a long list of projects — and possibly a longer list of pranks, jokes and near-miss stories — behind them.
Ozolins recalled when Laub painted his tools with his initials to keep them from going home with other group members so often. Ozolins and others quickly “put ‘CL’ on all our tools, too,” Ozolins said.
Bowers remembered tumbling out of a tree, fortunately falling the other direction from his chainsaw.
There has been only one injury during Boys Work Day, group members said, resulting from someone stepping on a nail.
There is no plan to stop.
Laub pointed across Mount Tabor Road to his own property and a tall barn atop the ridge. It was built years ago through Boys Work Day efforts, he said. Then the derecho winds last summer toppled a large locust tree through a section of its roof. First Bowers showed up with his track loader and removed the tree, Laub said. The next time the work day rotated to Laub’s property, the group quickly replaced the roof.
“The money savings is incredible,” Laub said. “And it seems to build momentum,” spurring him to continue work on other home projects alone after the Boys Work Day is done, he said.
Next month’s Boys Work Day likely will be convened at an old cottage that Smith plans to renovate, group members said.
Bowers said he was ready: “Once you’ve had eight guys come to your place and do work — you’re real primed to go to their place.”