It all started with working in the family roofing business: a career that would demand both an artistic finesse and detailed form of craftsmanship. Rick Ragan, founder of Southern Roofing of Tennessee, takes great pride and care in his craft, one that he does much the same as it was done well over a century before.
“SRCTN still uses handheld tools instead of nail guns and machinery. The company’s main focus is commercial roofing projects, however, we still put a lot of emphasis on historical projects that require a unique craftsmanship,” Rick stated. Such an art form is fading out as development continues to bulldoze historical structures. Modern structures have gotten away from using slate because of cost and time.
One recent and challenging project Rick Ragan finished was complete a roof restoration of the Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Building, which is a small house in the middle of campus constructed in 1875. The project included a diamond pattern on the steeple in a contrasting color. Custom made metal caps and framing were also part of the restoration.
“This project was a little more challenging because of the diamond shape slate. many had to be cut by hand, and then hand nailed to ensure not damaging the individual pieces,” continued Rick.
Indeed, before the new slate was added, the old had to be taken off. Painstakingly, his crew of five had to take the slate off by hand, each piece weighting up to eight pounds each! These guys didn’t just throw the old over the side of the roof!
“One of the challenges to working with historical restorations is that a single roof on a house such as the one pictured can easily weight up to 60,000 pounds!” Rick added,“The sheer weight of each piece of slate makes the restoration dangerous and a little more complicated.”
Other safety concerns include the building structure. The 1875 house pictured is a late-Victorian gothic style house that had a tower with a very steep grade. Proper safety measures are a must. Historical buildings from this period typically had the large scale steep gables, towers, and eaves. Rick Ragan started SRCTN in 1979, mostly out of his love for the challenges and historical buildings. For Rick, these restorations have become an art. He enjoys teaching the craftsmanship to the younger guys especially.
“All of our slate is done by hand—hand nailed—and much of the slate has to be cut by hand, much like it was done a century ago. Once the guys realize this and learn the art, they really get into it because of the craftsmanship involved,” Rick states.
Working on restoration projects also takes some time, as you can imagine. The house from 1875 took a crew of five three months to finish! With the cost of slate materials and custom metals paired with the amount of craftsmanship and time involved to complete each project, one might ask why Rick Ragan continues to work on such tedious projects.
“I think it’s important to restore and preserve these buildings. They remain a huge piece of our history. Not to mention, these roofs last a long time. Most of the houses and buildings we typically work on have a roof that has lasted seventy-five to a hundred years before needing replaced.”
Another project at Vanderbilt University that Rick Ragan and his team recently had the opportunity to restore was replacing the original slate roof on Calhoun Hall. The restoration project was extremely challenging for the crew because the building is four stories high with a steep slope. The emphasis on this particular project was safety. The original slate roof was installed in 1905. Replacing the slate took a total of five months. Pictured to the left is the completed project. Again, each slate was removed by hand, and each new slate was hand nailed into place with a two color blend using unfading green and purple slate.
Rick Ragan served the Tennessee Association of Roofing Contractors as president in 2014 and has been influential to the society in helping to pass the Contractor’s Licensor Law in Tennessee. He remains an active and valued member to TARC. His company, Southern Roofing Company of Tennessee specializes in slate and tiling, wood shakes and custom metal. Southern Roofing has served the Middle Tennessee area for over thirty-five years.
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