An online diary about the restoration of my 1921 Colonial Revival style house in Chester, South Carolina.

Monday, June 30, 2003


The weekend passed quietly. So quietly, I need a list of all that happened to make sure we got some work done.

Friday evening:
1) Finished sanding the first primer coat on the sash trim for the (eventually) upstairs study. I had, more or less, slapped the latex primer on the wood earlier in the week. The difficult hand sanding to smooth out the paint blobs and embedded sanding dust was my contrition for the sin of haste. Mea Culpe.

2) Although not the electrician John, the power company guy, had originally recommended to me, Don, another recommended electrician, came by to look at my wiring situation and to get a plan/budget. After an hour or so of flashlighting all the attic access and closets, Don decided he needed some time to review his notes before giving me a cost for re-wiring the upstairs. By count, there are 7 outlets, 5 switches and 4 lightfixtures. All but 4 outlets are knob and tube wiring with no ground. To my surprise, the real mystery that stumped Don wasn't the knob and tube; it was how and where the 4 grounded outlets were connected back to the breaker box.

My dealings with tradesmen hired to work on 118 Henry Street always have a comical side, particularly when my restoration paradigm reveals itself in the work scope for them. In Don's case, he asked me several times at multiple opportunities if I was sure that I didn't want to add an electrical outlet to the upstairs bathroom. By the fourth or fifth time, I was smiling my "Nope, thanks". For over eighty years, the bathroom has had only 1 ceiling mounted light and no outlets. Despite of, and definitely embracing, these limitations, we used it as our primary bathroom for over a year until we moved the bedroom downstairs. DeShawn, Carole and I are all looking forward to the day when we can use the Lake Erie sized, clawfoot bathtub again. PS: there's no heating or air conditioning duct in there either.

3) Began the weekend properly by applying the second coat of primer to the sash trim. By the word "applying", I mean: thoughtful, smooth, consistent brushing on of paint. The humility from sanding the first coat inspired me with craftsmenship and creativity. Painting the trim while holding it vertically and then setting it upright against the wall to dry, made for much better coating with no globs or fingerprints. Of course, painting the sticks with the second coat this way took no more time than lathering on the first coat.

4) DeShawn and I went to Columbia to spend the remainder of the weekend with Carole and visiting his mommy, my daughter, Elizabeth. By the time we had been there 2 hours, I had hung 3 window blinds for Carole. She also asked me about trimming an enormous red-tip (an evergreen shrub) that was blocking the streetlight. But, I hadn't brought any of my tools.

5) Carole's wild rose cuttings did great, developing several strands of white root hairs while mine withered and died in days. I attribute her success to the consummate skill with which she totally ignored them for 3 weeks, not even adding water. Conversely, surely it was my worrying over them that killed my cuttings deader than firewood. Feeling sorry for me, she let me plant 2 of the cuttings, a pink and a white, in a pot and bring them home.

6) After returning to Chester, DeShawn and I piddled about the (eventually) upstairs study, supposedly planning the new week's work. I decide that the next step is to nail the trim in place before painting the finish coats of latex.

7) Don called back and indicated he could re-wire just the upstairs without taking on the entire network of knob and tube wiring in the house. Yippee!!

8) The rose cuttings weathered their first day at 118 Henry Street with flying colors and no leaves lost to drying out. The new pot sets next to the other rose bush from Carole's. The one she diligently ignored for 2 years and that is now developing new leaves at the rate of 2-4 a day. Go figure.

9) Before running out of finishing nails, we got sash trim put on 2 of the windows upstairs. The decision to wait on painting the trim final color turns out to be a very good one. Not only will I have a chance to fill in the nail holes, but also will be able to caulk the cracks where the trim meets the window frame and conceal the dents made by sloppy hammering technique. I'm a much better finish carpenter in my fantasies than in my realities.

There's a lot of experience in these 4 windows that will come to bear in the remaining window restorations I have to do. For reasons I've explained in another entry, I won't use a "professional" paint stripper for any of the paint removal. Application of a borate wood preservative will proceed any repairs. All the glass and trim removed from a window will be kept together as a unit for re-assembly. All existing screw and nail holes will be filled during the epoxy repair phase of each restoration. The final assembly of a window will proceed from the outermost stop inward, with each "layer" of sashes, stops, and trim being fully caulked and sealed before the next, innermost "layer" is assembled.

10) The grass needs mowed again.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Less Progress, More Process

Finally got the first coat of primer on the window sash trim tonight. I was sickly on Monday after we got home from work and school. DeShawn was sickly on Tuesday after we got home from work and school. Consequently, it wasn't until last night that I was able to finish up all the repairs to the trim. Wood, like human skin, tends to dry out over time. Roughly a 1/4th of the pieces had split from the constant exposure to the heat of sun in summer and the dry, arid air of winter.

All of this sash trim was "professionally" stripped of paint by a Charlotte refinisher using chemical strippers based on Peel-A-Way stripper technology. Many people, both professional and seasoned amateurs, have very good things to say about Peel-A-Way. Indeed, there are specific projects where it's process and application are uniquely adept. My experience, with run-of-the-mill "get the old paint off the old wood" stripping has not been so positive.

One of the holy grails of old house rejuvenation is finding the "perfect" way to remove paint. Skulking the restoration/remodeling forums on the internet reveals the passion and depth that homeowners manifest as they pursue the ultimate solution for the problem of removing layers upon layers of potentially toxic paint. Complex discussions of paint type, numbers of layers, ease of use, toxicity, and end result go on and on. Ultimately, everyone has their favorite, with no "perfect" chemical or technique applying to all situations. Yet the passionate discussions continue.

Note: the opinions about to be expressed about the art and science of stripping paint are simple observations based on my limited experience at 118 Henry Street. In no way, do I warrant any generalizations of these methods to your house, lifestyle, asthetics, knowledge, experience or morals.

My opinions on the subject are a bit wishy-washy. After 2 years of almost constant paint removal of some kind or another, on some kind of wood or another, my definitive paint removal solution can be summed as "It Depends".

The fastest way I've found to remove paint from flat surfaces is a heat gun, scraper and respirator. The best technique I've developed for using a heat gun and scraper is to bubble the paint using the heat gun, let the paint cool back to being brittle, then scrape with a high quality carbide scraper. Using this technique, I can strip 4 layers of paint from all the flat surfaces on a normal size door in less than 2 hours. The down side is the extreme toxicity of the paint fumes. Thus, the respirator and very good ventilation. Wood that has an especially low moisture content (not uncommon in an old house), may require care to avoid scalding or burning the surface.

For curved or molded surfaces such as custom trim or window mullions, a chemical based stipper, steel wool or pad and gloves works best for me. The key here is letting the stripper does its chemical thing and sit long enough to have the proper effect. This kind of stripping is not production oriented like the use of a heat gun, but is gentler on rounded surfaces. Again, the downside is a degree of toxicity. Neutralizing the surface after stripping is also a factor.

Although Peel-A-Way is very non-toxic and easy to apply, my unhappiness results from the unpleasant changes it makes to the wood itself. The extremely low Ph (alkalinity) of the chemical darkens most wood significantly. And, while on the wood or being removed, the combination of very low Ph and moisture cause the wood to soften and the grain to raise. This causes many small gouges and splinters even when removing the chemical paste with plastic tools. My sash trim is yellow pine with a relatively large grain and has a profile with a rounded edge. Where the grain intersects the profile at a low oblique angle, the softening and moisture of Peel-A-Way caused the grain to separate and large chunks of the profile to be lost as the paint was scrapped by the refinisher.

I also tried to use Peel-A-Way on a window sash with much the same results. There was a distinct disadvantage in time of removal and wood change on the flat surfaces when compared to using a heat gun and scraper. On the milled side of the mullions, Peel-A-Way softened the wood to the point of deterioration after just a few hours, resulting in all the paint being removed but the wood being "hairy" with raised grain.

The heat gun and scraper are definitely going to remain in my bag of tricks. I'm still looking for the "perfect" chemical stipper though. The next heir apparent is RemoveAll. When I start the destruction of the upstairs bathroom, I will get a gallon, use it and publish my surprise or disappointment.

Midweek reading on the progres-o-meter is on the "+" part of the dial but no where near pegged, for sure.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Three Forward, Two Back

The balance sheet for progress is above the line for the weekend but, as is typical and normal, there were the usual debits.

On the positive, to-the-credit side, the remaining 2 windows of the (eventually) upstairs study are now installed. After finishing the sash painting this week, I had bought the window stop trim used to separate and hold the sashes in place on Wednesday. Thursday evening, we primed the sticks of trim and, Friday evening, put the first coat of finish paint on them. DeShawn didn't actually wield a paintbrush, instead, he hammered on a piece of oak with my little finishing hammer, providing much needed moral support.

A marathon session of 3 hours on Saturday and, another, more normal, 1 hour session today saw the glass panes cleaned, the sash paint touched up, and ultimately, the windows assembled in place. If pressed, I will tell a questioner that "process" is more important than "result" in my most of my lifely endeavors. However, there was a great amount of relief/pride/pleasure in pulling down the plastic sheeting and seeing the late afternoon/early evening sunlight shooting thru those windows today. The visual contrast between the restored windows and the original windows never ceases to please me.

Earlier this afternoon, while Carole and DeShawn napped, I sanded the sash trim for the 4 windows in the (eventually) study. Most of this trim has been off the windows for more than a year, some for almost the entire time we've occupied 118 Henry Street. This week, circumstances willing, I'll repair the split places, prime, and finish paint the sticks of sash trim. There's a weight and presence to the sash trim not found in a stick of trim bought at the local home materials outlet store. I attribute most of the effect to the 80+ years of history that saturates each piece. Originally, I had intended to replace the sash trim and discard the old pieces. In retrospect, so much the better that the profile and dimensions are no longer current, and 8+ months of searching for the same size was unsuccessful.

In the midst of Saturday morning, the electrical power went out completely. For several weeks, we've had flickering lights, and, the occasional computer reboot from uneven power supply, but never anything like this. For almost ten minutes, the whole house was quiet with the departure of the low hum of the modern, electrically driven lifestyle. Shortly after I called the power company, the lights returned but flickering badly.

Duke Power Company has 5 service men that work Chester County. John has been at my house 3 times in the last 18 months. Firstly, when one of the mammoth oaks in the Vines' front yard succumbed to gravity and broke the line linking our houses to the transformer on the street pole. Secondly, after the neutral wire to my house, weakened from the fallen oak incident, severed. That night, John had to climb the service pole next to the driveway in the dark to repair the wire. Thirdly, today.

Numerous measurements and testing revealed nothing evident in the power supply lines or meter. Since the flickering lights and loss of power affected the whole house, John surmised that the problem had to be between the meter and the breaker box. Though specifically outside his responsibilities, we opened up the breaker box to see if there was anything obvious. He quickly identified that one of the hot wires coming from the meter box was loose in the breaker box. There was clear evidence of overheating caused by the wires not being tightly held by the set screw. In a matter of minutes, he had re-taped the insulation on the wire and reset the end in the panel. After he replaced the meter, we tested and things seemed ok.

I'm very, very happy to report that it appears to have completely cured my flickering lights problem with no issues since he was here Saturday. He also had some recommendations for local electricians to help with my re-wiring projects. All in all, John posted a healthy profit to the credit site of the progress ledger.

On the debit side, the charges were overall smaller but greater in number. For example, sub-project "prepare the stove for appraisal" was hampered by failure of the sub-sub-project "get the 35mm camera working again." With the large number of photographs I've been taking lately, it seemed a good idea to stop buying disposable cameras, and, at least, try to re-animate my 30 year old camera. Three sets of batteries in one week later, no joy. Optically in great shape, the absence of a functioning light meter hampers efficient picture taking with the old beast.

Carole has planned a 3 day, mountain camping itinerary for our vacation this year that includes dropping the stove off at the restorer's shop in Clayton, GA. We're planning to holiday in the last part of July and I'd hope to have photos to the appaiser in time for the results to be back before then. Ah, well. We'll continue to push this ball down the field with a new, disposable camera.

My wild rose cuttings from a couple of weeks ago are officially dead. Not only did they not root, they expired. Carole gave me a rose bush she had bought 2 years ago, that has lived in a plastic pot, on its side in her yard for 2 summers. Stringy, with only a dozen or so small leaves, it's doing well in my backyard. Still in the same plastic pot, though now, upright, there are triple the number of leaves on its long slender canes.

Kudzu has returned to the swale. In less than 3 days time, a dozen vines have appeared in the brushline between our property and the Vines. I need to talk to Tracy and Kent about clearing out all the brush and small trees behind their old shed that's immediately over the fence from the swale. There are several, much larger, kudzu vines growing in and among the other vegetation there. Undoubtedly, the upshoots I'm seeing on the property line are being spread from the larger ones on their property. I pulled up all that I could reach but many more are well inside their lot.

We'll see what the remainder of the summer will bring.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Little Earthquakes

We reached a milestone with the last 2 window restorations in the (eventually) upstairs study. As of last evening...drum roll...all the paint has been applied to the 4 remaining sashes. An hour or so of cleaning up the panes, 30 minutes of paint touchup, and tacking the brass weatherstripping to the sashes, then the final window assembly can proceed. During one of the lulls in the sash repairs, I re-hung the sash weights, cleaned up the rope pulleys, and refinished the frames using the 118 Henry Street paint system. About 2 months ago, the upper part of the frames got new brass weatherstipping. All in all, its been about 10 months since I destructed those 2 windows and put up the plastic to repel the elements.

The 118 Henry Street paint system consists of sanding to bare wood, then 2 coats of acrylic primer and 2 coats of semi-gloss finish. The preceeding layers of paint are allowed to thoroughly cure before a subsequent layer is applied. Although a time consuming process, layering the paint in this way manifests a couple of my ideas about the work I'm doing here. Foremost, the intent is to create restoration with the maximum survivability. Another 80 years of life for this house is paramount. Any restoration or repairs that I do MUST be measured against this difficult, and, sometimes, troubling standard.

Take, for illustration, the wood floors. All the rooms in the house, except the upstairs bathroom and the 1970ish addition, have 4" heart pine, tongue-in-groove boards for the flooring. The quality of the wood would be graded "select" or "premium" by modern standards for its lack of knots and imperfections, $8-$10 per square foot, unfinished and uninstalled. The not-so-good news is that several of the rooms have had the floors "refinished" at some distant point in the past. Judging by their extreme predilection for carpeting, my guess for that time frame is just before Julius and Thetis Hucks became residents.

Like a lot of previous work, there were things done that didn't match the current criteria for longevity and quality. The "refinished" floors were sanded with a drum sander, normally used for oak or hardwood floors, and the toe molding on the base boards was not removed when the floor was sanded. By my reckoning, up to a quarter of the boards' original thickness have been removed in some places. With the shellac peeling and the discolorations from carpet padding, almost all the floors will need remediation.

Decisions about how work will be done so that the result has the greatest possible future life are complicated by the standard for restoration. When I began work on 118 Henry Street, I specifically denied that the work was "restoration". Restoration was a harsh, inviolate standard, requiring exacting research and no modern materials or techniques of workmanship. To my childlike mind, restoration meant all work must be done in uncompromising replication of the original construction. In fact, what I've discovered is that some of the original materials and construction techniques violate my work standard for future longievity and, have actually contributed to the aging of the house. The way the sill beams are set on the foundation, for example.

So with any work I do, the paradigm has become "What are the compromises made with modern materials and workmanship that insure the greatest longievity with the least impact to the historical value of the original materials and workmanship." To quote Ray Davies: "Gotta stand and face it, life is sooo complicated." Luckily for me, many other humble and brave individuals have faced this tightrope of compromises in the restoration, repair, and remodeling of their homes. And have published their odysseys on the internet.

With regard to the floors, no more damage to the existing boards can be tolerated and polyurethane is an unacceptable finish for a restoration. Equal amounts of obsessive thoughts, diligent research and spotty experimentation helped me formulate the correct compromise. After using a large orbital sander and an abrasive pad, NOT sandpaper, to remove the old, delaminating shellac, I will use a small sander to level the edge around the perimeter of the room created by the original refinishers not removing the toe molding when they sanded. Then, the floors will be refinished with marine varnish. The varnish will have to be built up in 2 or 3 coats to get the depth of protection needed. Finally, after the 1 or 2 months it takes to build the finish, I will replace the toe molding to conceal the difference in color between the sanded edge and the open part of the floor.

If I paint the kitchen floor, there will only be 5 rooms and the hallway that will need this treatment.

DeShawn, 118 Henry Street and I passed another milestone yesterday. Sometime after 3:30am, I found myself awake and not much in the mood to sleep. Despite the hour, outdoors seemed like the place to be, so I went outside and sat among my plants, summering on the side porch. In the illumation of the streetlight, with its strong shadows, details in the porch flooring that would be much harder to see in the flat bright light of daytime sun, became obvious. Freshly painted 2 summers ago before I moved in, there were, now, paint flakes raising up. In places, the boards themselves were swollen and curled on the ends from all the moisture this spring. Without a mental pause, I began to formulate the "refinish the side porch" project. After calculating the critical path for exposing the entire floor which included removing the porch railing, removing the columns and propping up the porch roof with 2x4's, it hit me. This was not a restoration project, this was a maintenance project.

Truly, this must now be home.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

The Sins of the Fathers

DeShawn and I spent most of the weekend at Carole's house in Columbia. With only a few days left of spring and the official beginning of summer fast approaching, these last 2 days have been hot and muggy.

Before leaving on Saturday morning, I barely managed to make the milestone of having one of the pair of sashes completely painted. The final coat of semi-gloss "sawgrass" tan on the interior facing side of the sashes was totally dry and cured when we returned home to 118 Henry Street today. The heat in the upstairs of the house bakes the paint to a hard, shiny finish. It was a close call this afternoon not to put the last coat of paint on the other pair of sashes. But, in the final decision, mowing the lawn won my attention. The weather forecast for next week includes more rain and the grass would be unmanagably tall if I waited another week.

The lawn mower was in the first set of tools purchased when I moved to Chester 2 autumns ago. It's a relatively high power push type, moving along at a pace determined solely by the driver, with no self-propulsion. I almost bought the ultimate in yard exercise machinery, an old fashion mower with the spinning curved blades. The prospect of hand sharpening the blades, however, caused me to hesitate. And, a mulching mower is important when 20+ trees with leaves are part of the landscape.

Acreage at 118 Henry Street is about 0.5 with rough rectangular dimensions of 100'x200'. Assuming the mower cuts about a 20" swath, that's about 2 miles of pushing a mower up and down the hills in my yard. It takes about an hour and a half at a good walking pace, so that sounds about right for the distance. With the cardboard box, packing materials and all the pieces on the driveway, Kent Vines had come over to watch me assemble the mower when I brought it home. He asked me if it was self-propelled. When I replied in the negative, he sincerely and graciously offered the use of his riding mower should I ever need it. Poor Kent had no idea at the time about the madman newly nextdoor with the nefarious plan for self abuse.

Carole lives in an old house too. Almost a perfect example of tidewater folk architecture, her little house with wooden clapboards and tin roof is undoubtedly over a hundred years old. One of the oldest houses in the neighborhood, it was originally a farmhouse with no indoor plumbing. It's easy to think of history in terms of the famous people and grand deeds recorded by the victors of human wars. But real history is about how everyday was lived by the normal people of the time. Carole's house on Maple Street is a time machine back to the ordinary, everyday farm family around the turn of the century.

Carole at the Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower Birthplace, Sherman TX


431 S. Maple Street, Carole's old farmhouse

We created two significant piles of yard debris on Maple Street this Saturday. There's a terribly old and huge liveoak tree at the back of Carole's yard that's over 3' in diameter and probably 250+ years old. Unbelievably, within 6' of the big oak, had grown up a magnolia tree. Although 10" in diameter, it wasn't very tall and was heavily leaning in an attempt to get some unfiltered sunlight. Carole said that it had been there for as long as she could remember. It took me about 20 minutes to get it on the ground and about 2 1/2 hours to get it cut up and moved to the side of the road for next week pick up. Pile #1 is approximately 20' long, 6' deep, and 5' high.

In the ensuing clear cut that followed the magnolia tree, we created Pile #2, appromimately 10' square and 6' high. Pile #2 was created from bushes, vines, 2 or 3 dozen small trees and anything other leafy plant standing higher than 3 inches tall that was in my way. The "reclaim Carole's backyard" project had originally started last summer. Even though I did have a mattock, not much happened on the project until I bought a chainsaw. This weekend saw the most of it done. There's still a sizable area behind some wire fence that will get down before winter.

Despite the quantity of yard debris we generated this weekend, Carole and I made time to stop by her, and my adopted, parents today. Jean and Deucey have been married since the dawn of time. She's in her early 70's and he made it to 82 this year. Deucey was mixing up some spray insecticide when we arrived and Jean was at the sink, washing an early season round of cherry tomatoes. After visiting a bit in the kitchen with Mom, I went outside to check on Deucey's garden spray operation. He had just finishing spraying the tomato plants and had stepped on a fire ant mound in the garden. Several ants had bit and stung his sandaled feet. We talked while he cleaned off his right foot and applied alcohol to the stings.

South Carolina is not as bad as Florida but we do have our share of insect species. A large part of every summer is spent fending off the mosquitoes, killing the fleas, avoiding the fire ants, spraying the aphids, and, well, you get the picture. Of course, battling the fire ants was most of what Deucey and I discussed. Shortly, he grabbed a shovel and we determined to find some queen ants. He and I were walking the yard looking for mounds like two kids off school for the summer with nothing better to do. All this at 92 degrees in the noon day sun. After digging up a half dozen or so, we got distracted by some buried bricks and while we dug them up, he giggled about a treasure marker.

Deucey has worked hard for over 70 years, most of it physical work, outdoors, in construction. Although the years have taken their toll, and especially the last 4 or 5 have been hard on his mind and his health, you and I would be blessed and proud to find ourselves at 82 years old with his stamina and energy.

There is an often repeated joke that Satan used to live in Columbia, South Carolina. But he moved to hell to escape the heat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Return to Normalcy?

The stove is side project #7. The other side projects are:
1) A metal and wooden medicine chest for the upstairs bathroom circa 1930. Purchased from an antiques mall in Lexington SC.
2) A metal medicine chest for the downstairs bathroom circa 1935. Found in a pile of material taken from a recently remuddled house.
3) A brass, hanging "pan" light fixture circa 1925 for the downstairs, summer or guest, bedroom. Bought from an architectural salvage shop.
4) An oak table for one of the studies. Found by the side of the road in Charlotte.
5) An small, oak school chair for the side porch. Purchased from a Salvation Army style second hand store in Cayce SC.
6) A door for the under-roof access hole cut by the previous owners in the closet wall of the (eventual) upstairs study.


Side Project #6: Under-roof access panel

The side projects are opportunities for skills education separate from the cirriculum imposed by the actual restoration of 118 Henry Street. I've learned how to clean and polish brass, how to frame and drywall an wall opening, and several other ancillary techniques working on them. I've also learned how to procrastinate on house work by focusing on the side projects when I need a break from the wall/trim/door/window restoration work. So far, the status of side project #6 is complete. The status of side project #5 is abandoned; the chair will be used as-is with no repairs or decoration. The status of the the remaining side projects is "incomplete in various stages."

The stove became a side project when I realized it could not be used in its current state. Although I haven't had the gas sub-system pressure tested, there is one burner valve that is loose and, potentially, could leak. Rather than pay a plumber to tell me it won't pass a pressure test, it makes more sense to pay an appliance restoration specialist to make the whole stove usable. No worries, the "move kitchen wall" sub-project will need to be done first anyway.

Each new project on an old house is like the surprise in a box of Cracker Jacks: you never know what you will ultimately get. It's no wonder that everyone I've met or talked to that has an old house is very laid back. The Type A personality would go NUTS with the circuitous progress and pace of old house restoration.

Some information about the stove:


There are four burners on the bottom and the oven is mounted up top. It's mostly made of black cast iron with some sheet metal. It weighs between 250 and 300 pounds. It's 67" tall, 39" wide counting the two wing-like extensions on the sides, and 36" deep.

It was made by the Olive Stove Works in Rochester PeeAay and it's a "Crystal Olive". From the markings on the castings, it was cast on November 16, 18, and 20 of unknown year. On the main cook surface, cast in the metal is "No. 180". Unknown at this time if this is a serial or model number.

A Google on "Olive Stove Works" reveals:

--The University of Delaware has an Olive Stove Works catalog dated 1912 in their "Food, Dining, and Entertainment" exhibit.
--The Olive Stove Works Foundry is listed in the "Pennsylvania Iron Furnaces and Iron Works Name Index".
--H.C. Fry, born 1840 in Lexington KayWye, was director and stockholder of the company from 1879 thru 1922.

The next step in side project #7, the stove, is to re-assemble and, in detail, photograph it. The photos will be sent to the stove restorers for appraisal and estimate.

Work continues on the windows in the upstairs study. Each evening, we get another coat of paint on a pair of sashes. Each sash has 2 coats of acrylic primer on both sides, 2 coats of white semi-gloss latex on the "outside" side, and 2 coats of light tan, "sawgrass", semi-gloss latex on the "inside" side. Pity the poor owner, who, in another 80 years, has to strip the paint from the windows in the next cycle of restoration.

One last note of interest, DeShawn's birthday is November 19th.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Zion's Hill

My ears are ringing, my body's vibrating and my back hurts. After 17 hours of almost continuous driving, I just got home with the new (old) stove. But this week is now officially over, a new one will begin on the coming sunrise.

Between our shared illness and the rain (Yes, it's still raining every week. Mother Nature seems to be determined to make up our 5 year drought in 5 months this year), DeShawn and I did very little work on 118 Henry Street this week.

A theorem of parenthood is that IF the child has a communicable disease, AND, IF the parent has no developed immunity to the disease OR there is no immunity, THEN the parent will get the disease. Thus, I came to be sick with a cold on Thursday and Friday after the week began with DeShawn having a cold on Monday. By Tuesday evening, he was well enough to help water the container garden and ride his bike a bit. By Wednesday evening, he was back to his normal rambunctious self. By bedtime on Wednesday, though, Poppi's throat was hurting and by Thursday morning, the invariant nature of the Parental Disease Theorem was trivially evident, as the mathematicians would say.

Watering the plants, taking the garbage cans to the curb, and a bit of housecleaning on Friday really don't count as work on the house. Besides these chores, painting 2 window sashes was all we accomplished this week. That is, before the stove pickup today.

The former owners of the stove are Debra and Russ of Uniontown PeeAay. For seven years, they've owned, and operated on, a beautiful Victorian house, 3 stories and well over a hundred years old. Their elder son looks to be 11 or 12 years old. Undoubtedly, all of Debra and Russ's children will spend most, if not all, of their childhoods in this wonderful house.

My having to make the trip to Uniontown solo was bittersweet. Carole and I travel very well together. We seem to genuinely share our shared experiences and she's always my most interesting conversationalist. If she hadn't hurt her back, we would be talking about the herd of deer or the wild turkey beside the highway today. Or, how neat the yellow, brick alley at Debra and Russ's house was. Carole would've really liked the blue and purple colors of their old Victorian house. I'm sure we would talked a long while about the "Noah Life. Erected in 1803." house beside the interstate on the way back from Fancy Gap VeeAay.

On the other hand, driving over 970 miles in approximately 16 hours (7 hours in the rain), average speed of 61 mph, would not have been possible with any extra stops. Without having a co-pilot, the pressure for me to EFFICIENTLY complete this mission was high.

I parked around back of their Victorian house, approaching by way of the yellow, brick alleyway. Debra came out the back door with their younger son on hip. She displayed no hesitation about walking barefoot in the yard. She welcomed me in the door and introduced me to Russ, who was on a step ladder, painting the wall above, what looked like, a new cabinet. The older son was supposed to have a doubleheader baseball game today but it got rained out. Dad was making the most of the opportunity. A sprawling antique rose bush with huge pink blooms guarded the end of the old walkway we used to guide the stove to my truck.

Therein lies more of the bitter than the sweet. I think these folks are closer to my lifestyle than most others I normally come in contact with. And, I couldn't take the time to pause a bit and visit.

On the way home, the best thing on the radio was bluegrass music. Like most of my interests, I'm more than a little particular about the flavors of bluegrass that please my auditory palate. My preferences skew strongly toward traditional bluegrass and, in my humble opinion, most contemporary bluegrass music meets the compositional but fails the lyrical standard for "bluegrass". It was very pleasing to hear Ricky Skaggs meet the lyrical standard while mentioning a mobile phone AND a GPS receiver in his cover song of "A Simple Life". A fiddle instrumental, by an artist I can not recall, struck me by its unmistakable taste of an Irish ballad. The movie "Matewan" came to my mind's eye.

The following song by the Stanley Brothers plays an important part in the restoration and, eventually, the decoration of 118 Henry Street.

There awaits for me a glad tomorrow
Where the gates of pearl swing open wide
And when I have passed this spell of sorrow
I will camp upon the other side

Someday beyond the reach of mortal kin
Someday God only knows just where or when
The wills of mortal life will all stand still
And I shall go dwell on Zion's Hill

Someday the storm clouds will be lifted
Beyond the shadow of the tomb
And with all the bells of Heaven ringing
And the angels singing "Home Sweet Home

Sunday, June 01, 2003

My Sunday Feeling

So much to write about this weekend at 118 Henry Street. The weather was wonderful southern spring with bright, clear skies, temperatures around 80, and breezy winds.

Progress the last few days has been good though not along the straight and narrow path. Of course, I did a bit of work on the upstairs den, cleaning the glass panes in the sashes and spot priming. But mostly, the yard drew my efforts outside. Most of the residents of Henry Street must have felt the same compulsion as I spoke to most of my neighbors at one point or another this weekend. This synchronicity and neighborly contact fuelled many of my mid-to-long term plans for the property as I was able to coordinate with my adjacent neighbors.

On Saturday, after I finished stacking the last pieces of fallen tree #13, Traci and Kent Vines from 114 Henry Street were outside. We talked at some length about the drainage problem between my carport and their carriage house. I had been wanting to plan with them for some time. My vision for re-establishing the original contours in my back yard, erasing the excavation done for a long gone, above ground pool, would increase the amount of water flowing into the back of their carriage house. After a leisurely walk along the property line thru both backyards and a mutual agreement that something needed to be done, we got a plan, albeit preliminary.

Said plan will only require:

-- a water barrier and french drain around their carriage house.
-- re-grading the area between our respective car houses to move the swale approximately mid-way between.
-- completely removing the stump of fallen tree #13 (on my property) so that the area can be re-graded to mitigate the low area at the back of their carriage house.
-- uprooting an area thick with bamboo approximately 20' by 20'.
-- cutting down another large tree on the property line (as yet un-numbered).
-- removing approximately 20' of the boxwood hedge dividing our properties.
-- whew! is that all?

My backyard has plans for entertaining guests in October, after which, I planned to rent a skid loader or Dingo to do the contour restoration. Kent, Traci, and I agreed that this would be a good time to work on the drainage project as well. As I'm thinking about what to write next, I'm looking at my right arm. It's covered in light scratches from the sharp edges of bamboo leaves.

The last thing I did tonight before declaring the weekend done was to start chopping out some of the above mentioned bamboo patch. Having done battle with bamboo before, the thought of swinging a chainsaw about like a giant manical weedeater didn't seem very intelligent. This time I tried the low-tech approach and used a mattock. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, the hardest work you will never do is to remove a tree stump with this hoe on steroids. Surprisingly, the mattock made quick work of the bamboo. One or two thundering chops to the base and each stalk was cut through, allowing me to pull it out of the way.

Clearing the bit of bamboo unfortunately revealed a greater elevation difference between my yard and the back of the carriage house. So much for the preliminary plan, now we can procrastinate until October on this project.

Not 30 minutes after talking to the Vines, I saw Mr. Turner in his backyard sowing grass in the area near our shared swale. His house is on Pickney Street but his lot is over 350' deep. We share a common property corner in the swale.

Mr. and Mrs. Turner both the house on Pickney in 1970. It was built in 1904 by a doctor, Mr. Turner believes. The family that the Turner's purchased from, bought the house in 1910. That's correct, Mr. and Mrs. Turner are the 3rd owners of that grand old house. Seems that the generation of the 2nd family that owned the property all passed away until only an old widow, daughter to the purchaser, passed in 1970. None of the younger generation, the nieces and nephews wanted anything from the old house except cash. Mr. and Mrs. Turner thus acquired all the original furniture, as well as the house, in their purchase.

Saturday, he and I talked mostly about the swale. The dirt excavated from my back yard had mostly been placed on Mr. Turner's property without his permission. In the interest of being a good neighbor, he never complained, but as I talked about moving it back into my yard's contours, what the Hucks' had done clearly bothered him.

Last winter, he had removed quite a bit of the brush from the swale. Using a bow saw, he cut down many more small trees than you would expect for a 74 year old man. Never breaking a sweat or working a terribly long day, by this spring the swale was cleared of all the vines and low bushes. All that remained were a couple of huge, sprawling mulberry trees long overdue for a haircut. As we talked about the swale, I offered to trim up the mulberry trees.

By this morning (Sunday), Carole was feeling housebound. She had hurt her back badly on Friday night and all the events of Saturday really begin with a trip to the emergency room for her and me. The doctor diagnosed a pulled muscle, prescribed some medication and bed rest. Some 24 hours after the bed rest prescription, however, the pain in her back had subsided to the point where the boredom became unbearable. She convinced me to take her for a car ride since the weather was so nice.

So, the third circuitous plan I found myself working on this weekend is the rose garden. Carole and I had built a small, raised garden early in the spring with brick and dirt from another yard project. Although she has visions of vegetables, I'm trying to sneak a rose garden in under her nose. We both are really fond of old fashioned and wild roses. The kind with terrible thorns, long, viny canes, and tons of sweet smelling little roses.

After breakfast we gathered up a plastic jug, a hoe, some scissors and rooting hormone and went in search of wild roses. A couple of weeks back, we had gotten some cuttings from a pink and a white, both found by the side of a quiet country road, sprawled along an embankment in the afternoon sun. Today, we went in search of red. Less than 30 minutes into our search, we came across some thick canes heavy with little, bright red roses. I cut two smaller canes and two larger canes to see which would root better. Carole's back didn't like the car ride as much as her heart did and we returned home after taking the cuttings.

Finally, the last of the projects in the works was the new stove. We made arrangements with the folks who sold it to us for pickup next weekend. Carole and I are driving to Uniontown, PA next Saturday and will bring the stove back in my pickup truck. Today, I took some measurements of where the stove will come to rest, and, of course, it won't fit without a sub-project, moving a small wall.

As I was transporting the bamboo recently hacked to the curb this evening, my neighbor Willy from 119 Henry Street was coming out of his house to go to work. We talked for a bit and he mentioned that he also did some carpentry work. I explained my problem with the stove fit and we agreed for him to take a look in a couple of weeks to see if he could help move the wall.

All in all, not much got done this weekend. But we sure got some things happening.