The Metropolitan and Rural Home, September 1892.

Hot off the presses!  Get the latest issue of The Metropolitan And Rural Home, September 1892.  Single issue 10 cents, subscription $1.00 per yer.  This month get the latest installment of Faint Heart Won Fair Lady, Chapter IV.  Will Peggy, the ward of Major Seftridge, have to silently endure the anguish of unrequited love for Aubyn St. Maur? Will Lila dash her hopes and steal his heart? On a  more sober note, read the latest news on Horticulture, Agriculture, Stock, Poultry and the Veterinary Sciences.

Cure for the demon drink.

The latest Stock news tells us the United States has 16,019,591 ‘Milch’ Cows, with a value of  $350,000,000.  Mr. P.C. Reynolds asks “how much would the value of the progeny of the stock be increased if no other than pure blooded males, from a long line of high-blooded ancestors, were to be used in the future?”  If Mr. Reynolds could see into the future 120 years, he would learn that the number of dairy cows decreased by almost half, to just over 9,000,000 head.

Combine asbestos with tobacco – what could be wrong with that?!?

However, the milk production of these cows increased six fold.  Thus, with little more than half the herd, the U.S. now produces three times more milk.  Mr. Reynolds would have be pleased to see that genetics played a part, accounting for 36% of this gain in production.  The remainder of the the gain is attributed to a combination of nutrition and management.

The ‘horibles’ – positively dangerous!

This month’s issue also addresses So Called Journalism, decrying “[T]he prominence given to “horribles” in the literature of today,” being “a feature that most sober-minded men and women would gladly see removed.”  “The feeling of rest and renewed strength, coupled with that sense of general good-will to all with which most people rise in the morning, often receives a rude shock when the daily paper gives startling prominence to details of aggravated cruelty to man or beast, to accidents with unusually painful accompaniments, or to murders and suicides which are blood-curdling in the painful minuteness of their committal.  To men such particulars are more or less brutalizing; to women they are, or should be, revolting, and at times, are positively dangerous… .”  (emphasis added 2012).

The latest in scientific cures.

We are sure that no further sampling of this latest issue of The Metropolitan and Rural Home is required to ensure that you walk, nay, run, to your nearest purveyor of the finest literary periodicals.  In closing, we would further ask that you patronize the services of our many wonderful advertisers, selling only the best devices and cures, developed with the latest advances of science.

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Treasures?

When faced with an unpleasant task I usually put my head down and charge forward.  For better or worse progress is made.  It was with this mentality that we started the major demo at the house.  While tearing out ceilings, it was only after Marci heard breaking glass and saw a bottle amidst the rubble on the floor that we actually took a moment to look at what we were doing.  The bottle turned out to be quite old, lettered in raised glass with the name of our town, kind of.  ‘Stroudsbury.’  What an exciting find, and not just because it was a good excuse to stop working.  As we picked through the rubble we found some more old bottles with various names and symbols.  Unfortunately we also found some broken glass and pottery.  We then started looking in between the ceiling and attic floor, as well as at the end of the rafters (in the tight space where they meet the ceiling joists and exterior walls) to see if there was anything there.

Clearly from a different time.

We found several old shoes.  Three, actually.  I laughed at the thought of someone not being able to find that other shoe 100 years ago, and we haven’t found it either!  As you can see in the photos, the shoes and hats are immediately evocative of long ago fashions.  Although these styles have not come back into vogue yet (at least not in Pennsylvania), we’ll see.  Marci may be ahead of the game with ‘new’ fashionable footwear!  Also found were various hats of straw, leather and cloth.

The start of a collection.

Although it is immediately apparent that all these items are quite old, it is hard to know how old.  Eighty years perhaps?  With some research I’m sure one could get a general idea of their age.  We also found some old newspapers in the ceiling as well.  One was called ‘The Metropolitan And Rural Home.’  I guess they were trying to appeal to a wide audience.  It is an old Agricultural Paper.

The Metropolitan and Rural Home, September 1892.

Although the content was rather dry, I was amazed to see a publication date of September 1892!  Either the people who lived in this house bought and saved an antique paper, or this is further confirmation that the house is older than I was lead to believe!  We also found a religious pamphlet, dated a much more recent 1906.  Time is certainly relative because we then found some ‘collectible’ drag racing cards, dating to 1993.  Although almost 20 years old, they hardly warranted a second glance compared to the 120 year old paper.

1993 collectible drag racing cards.

Unfortunately, other than the glass bottles, all of this stuff was so old and worn it was worth little more than the novelty.  However, it did put a human face on this old house.  Many generations have obviously lived here.  It was interesting to think that at one point someone pulled on these boots when new and perhaps felt proud, and quite stylish.  Happy memories must have been made in this house.  While thinking these thoughts I also realized that whatever triumphs, tragedies, insecurities or jealousies these various families and people had over the years, they were now as worthless as these old shoes.  We read quotes to this effect all the time, but holding these shoes in my hands made me realize how true they are.  We must enjoy our lives while we are living, because soon enough we’ll be no more than old shoes forgotten between the ceiling and attic floor .

We continued the demolition, but with some care.  As we found anything of interest we put it on the downstairs mantle.  This old house kept revealing its age, in the way it was built, and in the people’s possessions it held.  I look forward to a trip to our local historical society to do some research.  In the mean-time, I will continue to enjoy becoming a part of the history of this old house.

I started this blog 8 months ago to chronicle a ‘basement up’ renovation of an old house. This was certainly going to be the biggest renovation that I had ever done, and probably (definitely!) the biggest I will ever do.  Personally, I wanted to keep a written record of it, to help memorialize the project, to have something in writing to look at years from now, well, years from when I’m done, which will be even more years from now.  Little did I know that ‘going public’ was going to be so much fun.  I decided to make the ‘written record’ a blog so that not only could I share it with those few who may be interested, but to also create some motivation for me to keep working on the project.  Sometimes I can procrastinate (I can hear my friends laughing now), and I thought by ‘going public’ I would have to keep working at a steady pace, even if just for material for the blog.  It would keep me writing too, which is something I enjoy, but also don’t do as much as I’d like.  Often I do not write, or stop writing, because it takes so much thought: what to say, how to say it, what to refrain from saying, and having to really think through my thoughts and emotions.  So I could kill two birds with one stone, creating incentive and motivation to work on the house, and write, simply by creating a public blog.  Even if the only people who read it are those I took the liberty to sign up, I would have the illusion of public expectation!

Being a person who is used to hanging out with his friends in person, starting a ‘blog’ seemed bizarre to me, much like the ‘facebooks’ and other social media.  Other than email, I was not only unfamiliar with ‘social media,’ but had no idea how to even get started.  Fortunately my girlfriend Marci is way more hip than me (technologically and otherwise!), and was kind enough to set up this WordPress account and get me rolling.  As you can see, I have rather taken to talking all about myself, and presuming others are just as fascinated in me as I am!

The author with his #1 fan.

What I did not expect is how much I am now interested in the blog itself.  This blog allows me to check certain stats, such as how many people view the posts, and what country they are from.   Frankly, I thought that the only person who may be kind enough to follow my blog, if I kept sending her the link, would be my Mom!  I never even considered that people from other countries may read about my little project.   So you can imagine my surprise when I saw that someone from Iraq viewed renovationtravels!  I am thrilled that to date I have had views from 15 countries!   My delight in international viewers is attributable to my mother and father, who were born in England and Spain, respectively.  Further, they bought an old house in England in 1969, which required a major renovation.  I was very fortunate to enjoy the experiences of travel and home renovation from a young age.    

With regard to my blog stats, unfortunately I do not get any additional information, such as what city in the country they/you are from.

All the countries that have viewed renovationtravels.

I would really like to know more about you and where you are viewing from – the name and size of your city/town, what project if any you’re working on such that you find yourself here, and the type of house and neighborhood you are living in  [My project house is in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, a town of about 6,000 people, but there are 180,000 people in the County, and it’s 90 miles to New York City.  It’s an old wood sided farmhouse (c. 1860?), re-sided with asphalt shingles and then ‘masonry’ shingles, with walls inexplicably filled with stone.  The house is in a residential area, within walking distance to grocery stores and schools.  It is a ‘basement up’ renovation and I have a blog at WordPress].  

I would really enjoy (and appreciate) if you left a Reply/Comment below, as would, I’m sure, the many fans of renovationtravels (my Mom).

With legions of fans waiting for the next installment, I must  persevere, I must work on the house, and I must write, no matter what it takes. Writing these posts has increased my appreciation of the process,  forcing me to take the time to think through not only the work itself, but the emotions and thoughts behind the work.  It is for this reason that I find myself sitting in front of the computer on a regular basis, enjoying the reward of writing, and enjoying recounting the fun of the renovation project.  I like the idea of sharing this, and would love to share in the experience of your thoughts and projects as well. Thank you for reading!

Scary! Oddly less so in the dark.

Rarely is one happy when there is no electricity.  However, I must confess that for one project I was glad there was no light.  I had to remove all the old wiring and plumbing from the basement.  Part of this job entailed reaching into the bays above the foundation, a foundation of old stone that is a couple of feet thick. Obviously, with my arachnid fueled phobia, there were any manner of creatures (read spiders!) lurking in these dark recesses. 

Ready for creepy crawlies.

I donned gloves (rubber gloves under cotton work gloves), tyvek suit, face mask, goggles and other gear, and clumped down the stairs into the dark basement.  I worked for several hours, constantly urging myself to think happy thoughts as I cut wires, pulled various staples and hangers, and did what I had to do.  Only after that was done did I fire up the propane lantern for light to prepare an area for the new electrical service panel.  I scrubbed down the wall, painted it, and installed a board on which to mount the panel. Scary, especially without light!That day in the basement I was like an Indiana Jones movie, all the fear without any of the good looks or derring-do.  I was happy when that was over!

I also didn’t miss the lack of electricity during the major demo, other than the lack of music.  When one is wearing a huge mask, a hood, goggles, and all the other clobber, fiddling with headphones, or tripping over a large radio, may have been just another distraction.  Music or light would not have helped us breathe any easier, or sweat any less.

Clearing the way.

Ready power at the outlet is so ubiquitous that one rarely has to do without, or even contemplate life without it.  I guess when the power goes out and one is reaching for a candle or the flashlight, it is only then that we realize how much we depend on it, and take it for granted. However, I am now happy to announce there is electricity.  Without inconsiderable effort and some hiccoughs, there is now music, and light, and power tools!  Okay, I may only have two outlets, but for me it is a big step forward.  

Perhaps the rigmarole of actually acquiring electricity makes me appreciate it more.  Call the power company to shut off and disconnect old service.  Prune tree to allow for running new wires.  Get permit from Borough and give power company permit number. Install new panel and meter. Beg, plead, and cajole the Borough Zoning Officer to inspect, and more importantly, approve, the new electrical panel. Then beg, plead and cajole the power company to come hook up power to new equipment.

Let there be light - and all manner of powered devices.

Phew!  Turning on the radio  never sounded so good.

New electric meter on left, ancient one on right.

The tip of the 'four stories of stone' iceberg.

This is not a contemporary cookie cutter house, built with kiln dried pine and vinyl siding.  The weight of things in this house can be measured in tons.  Tons that I am slowly shifting, tearing out, and moving, in incremental amounts.  The massive chimney inside the house is no exception.  It extends from the basement, up into the first floor where there is a fireplace, then through the second floor bedroom (taking up the equivalent space of a large closet), and into the attic.  However, it doesn’t go through the roof.  At some point, a new roof was put on.  Perhaps because the fireplace was so old and would be too expensive to repair, the top was removed and roofed over.  It is a shame that the chimney is not functional because the fireplace in the dining room certainly adds character. 

Scary view of chimney in basement. No amount of mortar and paint will clean this thing up!

In the basement, the design of the chimney is quite strange (at least to my inexperienced and untrained eye).  As you can see, it is not simply a column of stone down to the floor.  It looks as though there may have been a wood stove in the basement at one point, with a hole for a stove-pipe.  There are various beams and boards in the stonework.  Some boards are supporting the hearth above in the dining room.  There are also beams running through the stonework.  Some of these boards are rotten, and they are all very old.  This is one area of the house that will be disconcerting to a prospective buyer, no matter how much renovation occurs above.

The dining room fireplace, encased in a massive stone chimney.

The rather absurd thought of removing the entire chimney was first suggested by Chuck Silfee, the builder and excavator who dug out the foundation around the rotten walls of the addition.  Since he builds and remodels houses, he wanted to see what I had gotten myself into.  It was during this initial tour of the house that he saw the chimney, and said matter-of-factly that I should remove it.  What Chuck says shouldn’t be taken lightly (no matter how absurd it may sound at first).

Massive 18 sq. ft. chimney, with doors leaning on it, taking up closet and window space in the bedroom.

He owns and operates heavy equipment, such as excavators, bulldozers, and trucks of the size that boys at heart turn to watch drive past.  He tears down and hauls away houses like this over the course of a long weekend.  He also readily restores and builds houses, using every bit of brute strength, finesse, and craftsmanship that this house will require.  He is not a big man, but still conveys the strength and determination of the equipment he uses.

Tearing out the chimney, though, seemed like a crazy idea, even coming from Chuck.  I realize that he works on a bigger scale than me, and has ready labor, but the idea still struck me as absurd.  For me, working on a much smaller scale, the idea was unfathomable.  Not to mention that I already have too much work on my hands.  The rear of the house is collapsing because of rotten sills and studs, for goodness sake!  The labor involved would be crazy, and where to put the stone? I don’t know why I even contemplate it.  As absurd and unfathomable as the idea may be, however, it has taken hold in my imagination.  I sometimes think that bashing my head against this huge chimney would benefit me much more than thinking of removing it.  None-the-less, as I work on other things, my thoughts return to removal.

If one does think about it, removal would enhance the basement (which is scary and cannot be remodeled like the rest of the house), the first floor dining room would become bigger and more functional, and the second floor bedroom would gain considerable wall space, allowing for a big closet and a window.  Also, it would provide needed attic space and room for the job of putting in new bedroom ceiling joists (which is another absurd task that I will get to).  This process of ruminating on whether to remove the chimney, and accentuating the positive, is also how I think I talked/thought myself into buying the house in the first place.  

How many projects are started due to an off-hand comment or joking challenge to one's manhood?

I  jokingly taunted some friends that instead of going for a run they should do real work – hauling stone down several flights of stairs and out into the yard.  A combination of friendship, bravado, and insanity prompted them to accept the challenge.  A brutal, and dust choking, three hours later, we managed to remove, by hauling buckets-full and throwing from the window, the attic portion of the chimney.   Wow!   I did not expect such a significant accomplishment.  What started as a joke turned into some actual progress.  This absurd project may be feasible after all.  However, as motivating as the great start is, it is just that – a great start.  The chimney gets progressively taller and wider on the two floors below, which is going to generate even more stone, and dust, and pain.  I will also have to figure out what to do with all of this stone.  Frankly, all we have done is use gravity to help us transfer the stone in the attic to the yard below.  Tonight I put an advert in Craigslist for ‘Free Stone.’   Craigslist hasn’t failed me yet.  Let’s see how long this takes!

Chimney now just below attic floor (and bedroom below visible through gap). Does progress make it sane?

Fearless help for a fearful job, seated where the chimney used to be.

Removing the kitchen floor with a chainsaw, crowbar and sledgehammer. More debris too!

Tearing out the kitchen floor seemed like a good idea.  A couple of joists needed to be replaced, and it seemed to make sense that while I was at it, I might as well do the job right.  My first real decision – replace only two joists, or tear out and replace all the joists and the floor as well.  Removing only the offending joists (cutting away the hundreds of nails from the floors above), and  somehow fitting new joists into position, and securing them sufficiently to be structurally sound, seemed like it could almost be more work.  

Old joists. Good call to remove them all.

Also, the remaining joists would look awful compared to the new joists.  Tearing out the floor and all the joists would probably be not too much more work, and the finished job would be so much nicer.  The more new, the better.

Several chainsaw blades, and a long day with a four-foot crowbar and sledgehammer later, the floor was out.  Once the dust had settled and I could take a good look at things, I was horrified to see a lot of rot.  Oh no.  Upon further poking and inspection it was apparent that the sill plate and bottoms of the studs were completely rotten!  Disaster!  I couldn’t believe it.  I knew the house needed work, but I did not expect any structural damage.  I specifically hired a home inspector to make sure there was no structural damage and that the roof was basically sound.

Extreme rot. Sill and stud bottoms completely gone.

I would never have bought this house if the inspection had revealed structural damage.  As you know, I agonized over the price, and the budget, to complete the job.  I can’t afford this.  Also, this project is supposed to be fun.  A feasible job for a weekend warrior do-it-yourselfer.  I do not have the expertise, equipment, or resources to tackle structural issues, let alone the mental fortitude.  A setback of this magnitude required some regrouping.

That evening I settled in for a few beers and a run through the five stages of grief.  Denial (this can’t be happening, it’s not possible that the home inspector missed this rot and damage), and a beer.  Anger (that $#@^%*! home inspector!  Only a %^@# idiot (and me) could have missed it), and another beer.  Bargaining (I’ll never drink again if this somehow miraculously goes away), and, incongruously, another beer.  Depression (oh bother, it’s hopeless, I quit), and a couple more beers.  Finally, I reached acceptance, and intoxication.  It is what it is.  Yes, it’s bad, and certainly a setback, but I’ll figure it out.  I will simply add ‘Repair rotten/collapsing rear of house’ to the ‘To Do’ list, and muddle onward.

Chuck Silfee excavating exterior foundation of kitchen.

I went back to the house and started clearing away the rotten wood to see what I was actually dealing with.  Further poking around also made it apparent that the dirt on the outside of the foundation was higher than the foundation wall!  I have never seen that as accepted practice in any home renovation book.  I called a contractor I know (who has a backhoe), so that we could dig the dirt away .  This was getting worse by the day!  As you can see, the entire perimeter of the exterior walls of the kitchen are completely rotted.

A foot or more below grade, where it should have been.

Completely rotten.

The sill plate and wall studs have rotted away.  The only thing holding up the rear of the house is the siding!  And the side of the house is somehow resting on … frankly, I’m not sure how or what it is resting on, or for that matter, why it is still standing.

I took yet another unplanned trip to the lumber yard.  What materials does one need to build columns from the basement floor to the kitchen ceiling?  I bought nine 16 foot 2 x 4’s, which I lagged together to make three long (thin) columns.

Emergency measures.

Prior experience - jacking up and rebuilding the rotten bottom of my garage wall.

Although they look like toothpicks, hopefully they will keep this place standing while I plan the process of the next step.  Coincidentally, and quite fortunately, last summer I found a similar problem in my garage.  (I say fortunately because at least I know that this setback is, although a huge PIA, hopefully manageable).  I jacked up the wall of my garage, cleared out all the debris, installed a new sill plate and studs, and lowered the garage back down.  It seemed to work pretty well.  However, that was a garage, not a two-story addition to a house, but I have to start somewhere.

Some people seem surprised when I tell them that the house is not finished and rented.  Even without this major problem, I guess some people have no idea how much I have actually bitten off that I can’t chew.  I just laugh and comment that these things take time.  Otherwise, if I had to actually explain it, I would probably break down crying on their lapels!  It really isn’t that bad.  Yes, it is a huge nightmare, and will cost me a lot more than I anticipated, but so it goes.  One silver lining is that I have great grist for the blog!

Leaving the necessities, for now.

Could you remove 6 tons of material from your home?  Well, as you know, the initial demolition of King Street was a mad frenzy of ripping and tearing over the course of 10 days.  We managed to fill a 30 yard dumpster with just over 6 tons of debris! (see prior post – “Let the demolition begin.”).  Initially, it was pretty easy to decide what to tear out – collapsing ceilings, paneling of assorted hideous colors, cracked plaster walls, old flooring, warped cabinets, and all the windows.

However, as the obvious stuff was demolished and shoveled into buckets, or directly out the window, I had to start thinking.  On the one hand, some restraint was necessary.  Most everything that is torn out  will have to be replaced, requiring additional labor and money.  On the other hand, there

Kitchen (mid demo)

was a huge dumpster available, the labor of my nephew, and the more old that is torn out would make room for more new.  With a house this dilapidated, the more new, the better.  So I erred on tearing out more than less, filling the dumpster, and worrying about the rebuild later.  As such, out went the cast iron tub and tile enclosure, goodbye kitchen cabinets and counters, etc.  If in doubt, it was torn out.

Kitchen (mid demo plus)

Tearing out the lathe and plaster walls was another concern.  Not only is it unpleasant work, but tearing out all the walls would require an awful lot of sheetrock and spackle to replace, and spackling isn’t really in my skill set.  One idea was to tear out all the exterior walls.  This would allow for ease of electrical wiring, and much needed insulation.  Oddly, there were no outlets on the exterior walls, and obviously lots were going to be needed.  However, once we got the ceilings out and started on the walls, we came upon an interesting discovery.  A hammer blow to the wall resulted in an unyeilding dull thud.  This was not lathe and crumbly plaster.

Plaster walls filled with brick - electrical wiring will be a challenge (made artsy with old black paneling glue)

Amazingly, inside the exterior walls of this timber frame house, where one would usually find insulation (or a void needing it), they are instead filled with brick and stone!  No wonder there are no electrical outlets!  Further examination revealed that the house is ‘post and beam’ construction, like an old, very old, barn.  This house is older than I thought.

Post and beam construction, with stone for insulation.

On the first floor the walls are filled with stone, and on the second floor, brick.  Amazing.  And why?  A rudimentary insulation?  To stop arrows from Indian raids penetrating?  So much for electrical wiring and insulation!  This will require some thought.  The walls obviously stay.

When the dust cleared, a partially gutted house, in all its (gory) glory, appeared.  Oddly, after such great demolition work, the renovation project became more daunting!  This house, after weeks of hard work, is probably worth LESS than when I bought it.  Even more troubling, I now see there is even more demolition needed.  The dumpster may be full and gone, but it certainly doesn’t mean the tearing out is over.

Scary bedroom. Good enough?

Tearing out walls, floors, cabinets, counters and fixtures has exposed more things that should probably be torn out.   What is going to be difficult for me is that I want to do things right, and I don’t want to rashly leave behind something that may be ‘good enough’ or ‘okay for now.’  The time to clear out the old is now, which means digging deeper.  However, this new round of demolition will have to proceed more slowly since it involves more structural aspects of the building.

Kitchen (when and where to stop the demo?)

The new wave of demo started with the kitchen floor.  I was told by the home inspector that a couple of the floor joists seemed to have prior insect damage.  Here is an example of me not doing a quick fix, and instead doing it thoroughly while I am there.   As opposed to replacing a couple of joists (which would leave the rest looking even older), I decided I should remove and replace the floor and all the joists.  The rationale is that a prospective buyer will appreciate all new.  After all, it is simply a matter of more labor, and a bit more lumber, right?  Famous last words.