How does anyone make some real money at contracting? I just read a job report of a four-year restoration project that occurred in Rome, Italy. It was a project that seemed to be a failure before it even began. In fact, the contractor tried to excuse himself from the bidding.

Knowing that the owner was a potential repeat customer, the contractor couldn't refuse the work. The poor contractor just had to persevere through the numerous problems that seemed to plague the work every step of the way.

First, there was the problem of timing and financing. Despite the grandeur that the project offered, the owner was on a limited budget. To make matters even worse, the owner became involved in several concurrent major endeavors that often took financing away from the Rome job. Despite the lack of payouts, the owner demanded a fast-track endeavor.

Before work could even begin, there was a dispute on scaffold placement. The general contractor suggested drilling out anchor supports in the building's interior wall. This action would have left obvious scars on the final appearance. The contractor didn't want his work scarred for life, so he developed an anchoring system that placed supports over the windows that didn't damage the finished product.

During the winter following the completion of the project's initial phase, water damage and mold occurred. The building's architect performed an inspection and discovered that some of the structural cracks thought to have been repaired had reemerged. There was a brief hiatus as he ordered the placement of additional supports to try and prevent further structural creep. The water penetration seemingly brought acute efflorescence. But even after the water-related problem was solved, salt crystal continued to develop in certain sections of the wall. The continuing problem proved to be hard to diagnose.

A local material expert eventually discovered the cause. The contractor, who was new to the area, had tried to use a standard mix design that had worked well for him on previous projects in his home area. Unfortunately, the mortar mix included lime and sand whose combination had a history of causing efflorescence. Following the material expert's ad-vice, the contractor revised his mix design to include a locally mined pozzelon, which solved the problem.

As the work continued into its third year, a labor dispute developed. The crew that had signed up for the initial phase wanted to go home, citing unfair pay and poor work conditions. The contractor eventually had to hire less experienced workers who gained their expertise from working on the scaffold under the contractor's tutelage.

Fortunately, the project ultimately turned out to be a huge success. In fact, it's become one of the most studied projects of its kind.

I thought of this project when we prepared our feature honoring those contractors who are involved in some of our nation's largest jobs. I'm certain they continue to experience similar problems. Yet, through perseverance, these contractors succeed and position masonry to be one of the most important and respected materials in the construction field.

Many of our top contractors started off bricking homes. So it's fitting that we use this issue to unveil our new Residential Masonry section. Reader research indicated that residential mason contractors represent the largest number of firms in the industry. Their issues vary significantly from those of the larger commercial firms.

MASONRY CONSTRUCTION plans to develop important stories to assist their efforts. We're fortunate to have the help of the Residential Masonry Contractors Association in this endeavor to improve the entire industry.

By the way, if you want to learn more about the masonry restoration project to which I referenced, read Chapters 4 and 5 of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, written by Ross King. The contractor with all the problems was the great artist, who was hired to repair and create the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508-1512.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.