The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Despair, Enter Left of Stage

This last week was an awful week.

After a close examination of things, my wife and I came to the conclusion that we'd nearly maxed out our budget on this project. We have enough money to have all the siding put on and (maybe) have both of the fireplaces built. That still leaves us without central heat & air and without anything to close in the crawlspace.

When I say "maxed out our budget," I don't mean that as in our original budget. We passed that by months and tens-of-thousands-of-dollars ago. What I mean is that if we put more money into the house we'll have spent more than the old whore is worth according to the bank's As-If appraisal. Personally, we thought that the bank's appraiser low-balled the appraisal, but, if that is the gospel according to them, that is what you have to work with.

So, we spent most of the week wallowing in despair and mashing our heads against the wall trying to figure out how we are going to make this all work. We think that we have a plan for now, so now all have to do is see if we can make it all work out.

If you'd like to support us in this idiot effort of ours, there are a few options for you. The simplest thing would be clicking on any of the ads at the bottom of the page. For every so many hundred clicks we get a penny (or something like that) from Adsense. Or, you can buy any of the items that we have for sale on eBay. Currently, we are working our way through our storage room and all the crap we have hidden away in our parents' attics. So far we've sold shoes, toys, games, comic books, Boy Scout badges, and other items. Or, you can donate to this project by clicking on the "Donate" button on the left side bar. If that violates your strongly ingrained sense of the Protestant Work Ethic, go to to buy my art or to commission a painting from me. I will paint for money (or barter).

And, if nothing else, wish us some good luck, or a speedy, painless death. I'm not sure which we need most.

I know, you're probably wondering what in the hell this is a photo of - it's Benji Bat. He kept us company for a day as we worked on the hall bath, his hideout for the day. I thought he'd take off for sure when I started up the rip saw, but the little guy didn't pay us any attention. He must not of liked our company too much. I haven't seen him since. Posted by Hello

This little scrap of paper was in one of the kitchen cabinets I believe. I'm not sure on the date for this. Posted by Hello

The reverse of the postcard. Posted by Hello

This postcard of Florence, Italy, is one of the few items that came with the Devil Queen. It was tacked to the wall in the front parlor. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ten Home Equity Tips

1. Don’t Buy a MFH, single or double. Manufactured homes are a lot like new cars, they both loose value as they roll off the lot. Manufactured homes are great for people who don’t want to maintain any home equity, people who have a difficult time getting loans for regular homes, or people who are looking to live out the rest of their lives in a low-maintenance home. But if you want to have equity in your home five, ten, even twenty years later, don’t get a MFH. Even after adding decks and landscaping and additions, even if it doesn’t look like a mobile home anymore, you’ll be lucky to break even. The reason? Banks don’t like them. The resale value is difficult to maintain, and sometimes houses disappear during foreclosure.
2. Dollar for dollar, kitchens and baths earn the most equity. You’ll get back in equity everything you put into a bathroom or kitchen. So, go ahead and add that extra sink in the master bath or put in a dishwasher.
3. Go with wood or tile, not carpet. Carpet is out; you’ll get more money for those old wood floors someone covered up with plush carpet over 35 years ago. Not only are wood and tile floors cleaner than carpet, they are a sign of good quality construction.
4. Don’t build a superior house in an average neighborhood. Most homes are average construction. Homes are getting bigger and bigger, over 2,200 square feet on the average, according to This Old House, but the quality is not getting better. Be careful not to over build. If all the houses in your area are around $43,000, your house may be worth about that no matter if you make a lot of improvements. Or it may get the appraised value equity, but you may not be able to sell it for the appraised value. So, don’t over build for the neighborhood. Appraisers use a cost approach to come up with the home’s value. The better the quality of construction, the more the value per square foot, the more value in the cost approach, which in turn increases your home’s value. To tell Good construction, real estate appraisers look for Pella, Martin, or Anderson windows (wood are best), oak cabinets, built-ins, crown molding, vaulted and raised ceilings with recessed lighting, extra bathroom fixtures, marble countertops and flooring, arched windows and doorways, hardwood floors, floor baseboards, narrow tongue and groove wainscoting, solid wood doors, etc., all in one house.
5. Central Forced Heat and Air is an easy way to increase the value of your home. Banks look for it, potential buyers look for it, and appraisers look for a good quality one to increase the value of your house.
6. Don’t put in the first swimming pool. It costs about $20,000 to put in a new in-ground swimming pool, but it’s only worth about $2,500 in an appraisal. This is especially true if nobody else in your neighborhood has a swimming pool, because then it is called “atypical.” Plus, it may not help resell you home, because some people do not want a pool. (small child’s hazard or maintenance issues)
7. Add a garage or a carport to increase the value of your home. But don’t take away living space to create a carport or garage, because living space is actually more valuable. Instead, add a carport or garage. Personally, I think garages added to the back of the house are more attractive than those added to the front.
8. Location, Location, Location. A good piece of land may end up making more money than building or remodeling a home, and it takes a lot less effort to maintain. As my mother says: “They aren’t making any more land.”
9. A workshop with electricity can add to the value of your property. As long as it matches your home in style and quality of construction, the addition of a workshop or storage shed can add to you equity. A poorly constructed shed can be a minus, meaning the appraiser will note that your house would be worth more if you’d tear down the building.
10. Fix your home how you’d like to live in it, not for the resale. It typically takes three to six months to sell a home, but that is not a guarantee. So, paint the inside of your house the way you’d like and fix it up the right way. Don’t rig anything, you’ll be the one who’ll have to fix it later.

Monday, April 25, 2005

A brutal weekend at the Queen. Forked over $300 to Lowe's for screws, light fixtures, and what not. Laid the plywood underlayment for the tile shower and worked on enlarging the hall bathroom's dwarf-door into something tall and stately. I'm within spitting distance of getting it done now.

I'm not naturally athletic (quite the opposite), but spending a weekend doing manual labor didn't use to bother me. When I tell people about the Queen they are always telling me how good it is that I'm doing this while I'm young. The last time someone told me this I said, "I guess so, but I don't think that I will be once its through with me." Now, the morning after my knees are killing me. God help me if live long enough to be old.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The view of the road in to our house. From this perspective, the Queen is about 150 feet directly behind you. There isn't much out there and that is the way we like it. Posted by Hello

An incomplete view of the hall bath with its new wall after its pressure washing. Next step laying the plywood sub-flooring for the tile shower and floor. Posted by Hello

It is finally Friday and another weekend of work on the Queen looms. Some small progress was made during the week. My wife and Charlie got the corner tub installed. This means we can finish insulating that bathroom's exterior walls and start closing-in things. We have a huge stack of salvaged, three-fourths-inch-thick, lapped wallboards that we've going to use for the bathroom. We are going to take a pressure washer to it all before we get to installing it though. There is about 70 years of dust & funk on them, no need to bring that into the house if you don't have to. Once it is dry and we get going, it ought to be relatively easy work. To be honest, I'm really looking forward to it. This will be the first room in the house moving towards completion. After three years, I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

We've made some incremental progress over the last few days. In spite of having the wrong drain kit for the hot-tub/bathtub and a bout of some stomach virus working its way through my family, you can tell that things are getting done.

Our newest contractor, the flying one, made an appearance late last week and has begun working on our siding and exterior trim. I pressure washed out the hall bathroom and installed (most) of the last double hung windows. We also worked on some plumbing, vent pipes, traps, and rough-ins.

The hot-tub/bath would be installed except the folks at Lowe's in Russellville sold us the wrong drain kit. It wouldn't have been too annoying except that we asked them over and over if we had the right parts. "Sure, that is the right one," was what they told us. On the up side, we needed more insulation anyhow, so returning it wasn't an entirely wasted trip.

If you compare this photo to some of the previous ones, you'll notice the siding has climbed half way up the gable. Posted by Hello

A rare photo of an elusive working contractor, an endangered species, in its natural habitat. Posted by Hello

Pondering the pipe that was too short. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Dumbass Factor

Late at night when I'm too brain-dead to do much else I watch reruns of That 70's Show. In a recent episode, Red Forman and his son Eric are talking about some recent misfortune that's befallen Eric (forgive me if I don't get this verbatim):

Eric: "Bad things are always happening to me. All I have is bad luck."

Red: "Eric, bad things don't happen to you because you have bad luck. Bad things happen to you because you're a dumbass."

The same is true in construction and life as a whole. I don't know of anyone that has ever won The Darwin Awards because they were unlucky, they win because they are dumbasses.

For instance, there is the matter of the two windows in our master bathroom addition. My wife and I are the worst kind of sadomasochists, so we decided to install old, salvaged double-hung windows to match the house's original windows. The thing to remember about double-hung windows of this type is that you have to allow for a gap (about 3 inches per side) between the window frame and the studs. The window's weights hang in this gap and move up and down as you open and close the window.

We had the good sense to realize that framing up the additions to the Queen was beyond us. We finally found a good contractor (Tony Anderson) and all he needed from us was the measurements for the window openings so he could make them the proper size, and I screwed the pooch. The measurements that I passed on to him were for the windows sans the weights. So, a month or so later when I got around to installing the windows - surprise!
I now have had the distinct pleasure of reframing both window openings (a special kind of hell with 12 foot high studs). I'm not sure how long it has taken me to do this but it has been a substantial amount of time, not to mention the huge, stinking mound-of-grief my wife has (rightfully) piled on me. I can only imagine how much further along we'd be if I'd done this right in the first place. Remember, measure twice and cut once, measure once and kiss your ass good-bye, dumbass.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Top 10 Contracting Tips For the Do-It-Yourself-er

1. Never Hire Family. Paying family to work on your house, even if they are carpenters or professional contractors, is a lose lose situation. It will be more difficult to confront your family member for shoddy workmanship or to demand time frames. On the other side, your family member will feel that your work is not priority and that you are lenient, causing him or her to work more slowly and possibly charge hourly. I once hired a family member whom I thought would give me a good deal on labor. In exchange, I agreed to allow him to charge an hourly rate. I ended up paying him over half of what the bank loaned us (over a four-month period) and none of the projects were close to being finished. I finally fired them and hired a man who could work a project rate.
2. Never Pay an Hourly Rate. Always get estimates by the job. Anyone who is unwilling to give you a rate by the job is out to screw you over. So unless you can show up at 6 or 7 a.m. everyday and work alongside the crew until they go home, you need a rate per job. Per rate jobs are also easier to compare than hourly rates. Plus they are much less flexible, which is a benefit for anyone on a budget.
3. Keep Tabs on All Materials. Don’t let your workers “just get what you need.” Make sure you know what you need and price the material at a couple of building supply stores. If a worker picks anything up for you, get a receipt. Also, most workers will add such things as nails into their job quote. And make sure to count and to check all delivered materials. I once hired a man who worked on multiple houses at once. Not only did he always buy at the most expensive place in town, he charged me for materials he took and used on other people’s houses. If I hadn’t counted all the supplies used while he was working for me, I would have had to pay about $1,000 in materials that would never reach my house.
4. Build Up Your Contacts by Asking Local Building Retailers for References or Hit The Road. When I first started, I asked all the supply stores (Lowes, RideOut Lumber, Lumberlands, National Home Center, etc.) who they recommended for different projects. I built up names, calling the ones whose names came up the most first. If they couldn’t take a project, I asked them if they knew someone who could. I also kept all the names and numbers I ever got in a little black book and put notes beside them. (i.e. bad, or mason *) If you get nowhere fast with that tactic, go for a joyride through a developing subdivision or rejuvenating historic area. My favorite workers were found after I saw them working on a Queen Ann Victorian home in Clarksville, Ark. I stopped the car and went inside, inspected the work and asked for their names and numbers. Workers will often recommend people they’ve worked with who are proficient in other building avenues. I have a bulldozer man who recommended an excellent foundation and concrete man he had worked with previously. (Bill’s Backhoe Service and Avrom Clow, both of Atkins, Ark.) Together, they built me a very fine foundation with rebar to which my house was moved.
5. Be Pleasant, But Persistent. My rule is the three times rule. Call potential workers three times, but after the third time, if they don’t call back then they don’t want the work. If they say they’ll show up, but don’t, then they don’t want the work. If you’ve already hired them and they only work one day per month for three months, fire them. (This doesn’t count weather or acts of God.)
6. The More You Save in Materials, the Longer You Can Afford Your Workers. If you are on a budget, and I’m on a tight one, you’ll realize quickly that the more you can save the more projects you can pay someone else to do. The easiest place to save is in materials. Read the newspapers for building supplies and auctions and yard sales. I bought a bunch of my electric wire from a retiring electrician. Ebay always has used and new materials for sale, everything from doors with transoms to Kohl facets. Flea markets and salvage yards also have period supplies at a lower price than some reproductions. And, if you’re up to the work, there is always tearing down houses for supplies. Wood flooring, bead board, lights, cast-iron sinks, are just some of the items we got in exchange for sweat and blood. Plus, some salvage yards will exchange items you can’t use for ones you can. We exchanged our cast iron inserts for windows that matched the originals on our house.
7. Research, Research, Research. Always know how something is done in principle; it’s the only way to know whether the worker you are about to hire really knows what he is doing or if he is just trying to take advantage. Read books on each project. This way you can be sure the project will be done correctly, and you won’t have to pay five years down the road to have the entire thing redone. It is also good to look at portfolios and call references if you can get them.
8. ShowUp and Inspect the Work Once a Day. The workers don’t have to be present, but it is important to stay abreast of the work. This way you can be sure you’re getting your moneys worth. And it will be easier to catch mistakes.
9. Price at Least Two, Preferably Three People Per Job. Although you don’t always want the lowest bid, you definitely want to know what everyone else is charging. A guy from the newspaper gave me an estimate of $9,000 for building my fireplace, but the mason recommended by another carpenter and who was working on several other houses in our subdivision, gave me an estimate of $2,500. Who do you think I hired? A lot of carpenters will give women higher prices than men, so it’s best to know who is trying to screw you. The first roofer I asked for an estimate for removing our hipped roof on our Victorian quoted $25,000, but I had already talked to another carpenter who could do it for $3,200. It’s also easier to haggle prices if you’ve already had a couple of bids. One roofer gave me a low estimate for putting a tin roof on a ranch house, so I haggled the next estimate down a hundred lower. This was great for me because I had worked with both men and knew they were both good.
10. Don’t Ask Workers to “While You’re At It…” Separate projects get separate quotes. If the carpenter finishes, then is the time to ask him or her to approach another. Otherwise the price will go up uncontrollably because you will have given up your power, allowing the worker to just add a fee or to charge an hour rate for the additional projects.

- Posted by Miss Scarlet

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Weekend Warriors at Work

We had beautiful weather this last weekend, sunny, blue skies, and the temperature was in the 70's. Like most people blessed with such wonderful weekend weather, we decided to do some plumbing. As most people familiar with construction work know, you seldom get to work on the project you intend in spite of your best intentions. Something always comes up once you get started and it always has to be done first.

We set out with the intention of working on our hall bathroom. When we got the Devil Queen this bathroom had a nice crypt like ambiance working for it (see photo above). It was an after-thought of a room made by partitioning off part of the front parlor. They also tore out the fireplace and lowered the ceiling from 12 to 8 feet. When I say they tore out the fireplace, I mean that literally. The chimney was left sitting on the new, lower ceiling. There was a real chance that you could be killed by a stack of bricks every time you used the toilet; only a couple of 2x4's separated you from a cause of death too embarrassing to include in your obituary.

The lowered ceiling wasn't enough to make the bathroom truly oppressive and claustrophobic. They thoughtfully clad the room in dark wood-paneling (stylish 1960-70's vintage) and Formica wainscoting and countertop for the sink. To complete the feeling of immanent entombment (since, chances were the chimney was going to fall on you) they decided against using a standard size door in favor of one pulled off the neighborhood kids' tree house. Unless you are related to my wife, you had to duck to enter.

We gutted this room months ago. We decide that we'd put in a tile shower instead of leaving the cast-iron tub they had somehow managed to wedge into this room. This bathroom backs up to the master bedroom's closet which was also an after-thought. When they'd installed this wall, they installed it over the door's trim. This bothered us and since the wall was sub-par in many ways we decided to demolish it as well.

Fortunately, the one thing I'm really good at when it comes to construction work is demolition. Charlie, my wife's grandfather, and I took the wall and other miscellaneous junk out in under 15 minutes. It was a great feeling of illusionary progress. I might also mention that Charlie is an amazing resource when it come to construction work. Not only does he know about carpentry & plumbing, he has also worked on lots of old houses, and he is willing to help for free.

Building a new wall took a lot longer. The biggest reason for this is that we spent about two hours searching through our salvaged wood pile looking for straight 2x4's and pulling all the nails out of them. At this point in the project, we have almost no money left so new 2x4's are not an option.

By the end of the day, we had a new wall. We could have begun laying the tile floor and shower subflooring, but my wife wants to pressure wash the room first. Lots of people throw fits over the idea of using a pressure washer indoors. I can, however, say from experience that it works and has had no ill effects on the house. So far the only room we've pressure washed is the kitchen. I should mention that the kitchen (as is most of the house) is made entirely of wood: wood floors, bead-board ceiling, and tongue & grove wall boards. There is no insulation in the walls or ceiling and you can look through the floor in places. As long as you mop up afterwards and don't leave any standing water, it works out fine. No warped boards or mold. In fact, the kitchen smells much better since we washed it; it got rid of that old house funk. I think most people image us pressuring washing the inside of a modern house with all of the carpet, drywall, osb chip-board, and what not. That would be disastrous.

Men at Work. Posted by Hello

The Hall Bath after the first round of demolition in March 2005. Posted by Hello

The Hall Bathroom as we found it in 2002. Posted by Hello

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Devil Queen - April 3, 2005 Posted by Hello

The New and Improved Back Porch

Below are three photos of our new back porch and one before photo of it. We salvaged as much of the original back porch as we could, but the stellar enclosure job made it a nearly impossible task. The enclosure made the porch both claustrophobic and a moisture trap. The first is a sin against good taste and the second a sin against sound carpentry. Most of the porch was rotten by the time we got to it. At some later date once the house is fully enclosed and livable, we plan to install new gingerbread trim and screen it in. The wood for the bead-board ceiling was salvage from a house we demolished in Atkins last summer - another story in itself.
This porch gets the most positive feedback when we give tours of the house. The year round creek (which is impossible to see in these pictures) is about 50 feet behind the porch.

New porch's bead-board ceiling, the "ship's prow" view. Posted by Hello

New porch, facing the creek April 3, 2005. Posted by Hello

New back porch, April 3, 2005. Posted by Hello

Old back porch, late 2002. Posted by Hello

Friday, April 01, 2005

This is some of the gable gingerbread trim. It's in pretty good shape considering that it has been exposed to the elements for 113 years. This photo dates to late 2002. Posted by Hello

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