The Devil Queen

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

My Photo
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!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Breaking the Bottleneck

This month started off with a lot of progress being made on the Devil Queen. It was very gratifying, but work has now slowed to a crawl. The first thing that lodged in the proverbial bottleneck is the mural I've been moaning about for the last month. Between the heat and my inability to accurately determine how long a project will take, it has dragged on week after week. I honestly thought that I would be done by the 17th of this month, but it's still not done. This is particularly frustrating since I've been devoting a majority of my free (i.e. not at my desk job) time working on it instead of the Queen.

Since I've been painting, my wife has been trying to carry on alone at the Queen. She's made a lot of progress, but it isn't as much as we are use to making. The kitchen is holding up most of the progress on the Queen. We need to finish painting the kitchen so we can install the wood floors. Once the kitchen floor is in, we can rent a drum sander to sand the kitchen, back hall, laundry room, pantry, master bedroom, and master bath room. With freshly sanded and finished floors, we can then start installing our toilets, tubs and other plumbing fixtures. And, the list goes on.

I've tried moaning about it, but it doesn’t help any. This mess calls for heroic action. I'm going to use up all my remaining vacation time at work to take next Monday and Tuesday off. That'll give me four days to break this damn bottleneck of unfinished projects. The weather seems inclined to cooperate with my plans. The temperatures be 10 degrees cooler than the last week or two, so I can work through the entire day. No more of this wussy waiting out the hot afternoons. My dad has volunteered to work on the Queen for 5-6 hours Saturday. We're going to concentrate on finishing some interior carpentry projects (wallboards, missing ceiling boards, and some missing & rotten floor boards). One of my wife's friends may come by to help paint for a few hours (we're still waiting to hear from her). After my Dad heads for home around noon, I'm going help paint & caulk the kitchen too. I plan to work on it until it's finished. When we get the bugger painted, I'd like to lay the wood floor. Monday, I plan to paint on the mural until it is finished. No ifs, ands, or buts. Finished.

Tuesday, if I'm behind schedule, I'll finish up whatever is left. Otherwise, I'll move onto a new project and maybe kick my feet up and rest (if I deserve it).

If four days of heroic effort isn't enough to get this mess cleared up, then we are screwed.

As a good omen (I hope), our truck is working again. How did we manage to get it fixed so soon? We didn't. It turns out that the cables weren't the main culprit. It was the starter.

Last night my wife says, "Dad got the truck to run."

"How? Did he put in new cables?"

"Nope. It was the starter."

"The starter," I asked. "How did he get it to start?"

"Beat on it with a hammer."

"Huh, imagine that. I wish I'd thought of that."

Anyhow, I'm itching for the weekend to get here. I'm ready to work.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Villa Marre

Today was one of those grim days where you realize that there are more people that want your money than you have to give them. Went down to the bank to deposit a pittance into my account and decided to cruise around the Quapaw Quarter to check out the old houses.

The first two pictures are the Villa Marre which was built in 1881 by an Italian immigrant named Angelo Marre.

The third picture is of a house sitting catty-corner to the Villa Marre. I wish I could have gotten a better picture, but I only had one shot at it.

The heat was awful and my car has developed a tendency to overheat in its old age. Figured that I shouldn't press my luck. If the promised cold front rolls through later this week, I may make another trip.

Monday, July 25, 2005

What's In Your Backyard?

Mr. N, the neighbor that spent two hours of his Saturday night trying to resurrect our truck, told us an interesting story on the way to our house. He immediately peaked our interest when he prefaced it with the comment, "No one I've told this to has ever believed me, you probably won't either."

"I am sure we will," my wife said.

"Well, a few years back I was out working on my hog farm. I had a bunch of new born hogs and I was cutting their tails off, " Mr. N said.

I don't know anything about farming or hogs, and I glanced over at my wife. She seemed totally unfazed. I can only assume that this is normal.

Mr. N. continued, "I was working in my barn under a window looking out over my field. I happened to look up and saw a black panther cutting across it."

"Aw, I believe you," my wife said. "My momma lives on 100 acres down off of Crow Mountain. One night a panther cat came through, you could hear her screaming like a woman. It makes all the hair stand up on the back of your neck. All of the dogs were scared to death, they just huddled up on the porch and didn't make a sound."

"Have you seen any bears," Mr. N asked.

"No, why?"

"A fellow I know down the road from y'all killed one not too long ago."

"That is awful," my wife said. "Why did he kill it?"

"It was after a hog he was fattening up. He heard a racket outside one night, and went out to see what it was. There was a black bear leaning over the fence swiping at his hog. When the bear saw him, it ran off. The fellow asked his wife to bring him his gun. She brought it to him, and he went down to check on his hog. The black bear came back and he had to shoot it."

"That's odd. Black bears usually eat fruit, berries, and stuff."

"Well, this one wanted some bacon I guess," Mr. N replied.

The funny thing about the black panthers is that they officially do not exist in Arkansas. You can ask any of the rangers at the state or federal parks in Arkansas. Supposedly, they went extinct years ago. However, I have heard many credible stories about them. Makes you wonder what else is out in the woods here.

One of my wife's uncles lives about five miles away from the Devil Queen. He recently bought a few acres of property next to his home. It was pretty overgrown with underbrush and it had an old, abandoned barn on it. When he started clearing the brush he discovered a lynx had made the barn into its den.

We've seen foxes and lots of coyotes in the area too. The coyotes are a problem if you have outdoor cats or dogs, they like to eat them. Fortunately that isn't a concern for us.

Aside from all the marauding carnivores, our area is home to several poisonous snakes: cottonmouths, copperheads, and the occasional rattlesnake. All of these have been seen near and around the Queen. Fortunately, the only snake we've seen at the Queen to date is one black, 5 foot long Rat Snake or King Snake (same thing?). It looks scary but we leave it alone. Aside from eating the mice that keep trying to move into the attic, it also eats poisonous snakes. It briefly took up residence in the master bedroom until a worker and it scared each other half to death.

We've found a few enormous Black Widow Spiders too (one in the kitchen wall, the rest outside).

So far we've been lucky (knock on wood). No maulings, no bites, and no bear wrestling. Occasionally, a few deer will cut through our yard, and that worries me the most. Not the deer, but the drunken deer hunters that fill the woods every fall. I heard that 250,000 people go deer hunting in Arkansas every year. All I need is a stray bullet to take the top of my head off while I'm caulking the kitchen. With my luck it wouldn't even kill me. I'd probably spend the rest of my Quasimodo life chained in the attic gnawing on the rafters.

It could always be worse though. One of my wife's other uncles emailed us this picture:

It was found a few miles from his old house in Texas. How would you like to find something like that in your yard? Sorry, dumb question. In case you are wondering, it was 13 feet 1 inch long.

The Old Neighborhood

This little house is in the Devil Queen's Old Neighborhood. It is two blocks over from the Queen's original house site. Aside from the fact the roof is falling in over the front door, this house isn't too bad off. I'd guess that it was built in the 1930's or 1940's. It looks like whoever owns the place is using it for storage (my wife isn't shy, she peeped in all the windows). It's full of boxes of junk. I'd say that in 15 years (or less) that it'll either be demolished or converted into a "quiet" commercial property. Some of the other houses here have found second lives as offices for lawyers, real estate appraisers, and what not. I wish the poor little bastard the best of luck.

What Do You Prime Your Wood Siding With? - Another Call for Help

I picked up a copy of this month's Old House Journal last week. It has a very interesting article about maintaining a good exterior paint job on an old house. They recommend using an alkyd resin primer for priming the bare wood before painting. We'd always heard you should use a linseed oil/mineral spirit (70%/30%) mix to prime/condition the wood. This Old House Journal doesn't recommend this because "it seems to feed insects and fungi that eat wood."

Does anyone know anything about this?

What do you use?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Dazed and Confused

Smack Down, Devil Queen Style

There is no polite way I can think to say it. My wife and I were the proud recipients of a first-class shit kicking this weekend. Saturday was such a bad work day at the Queen that we took Sunday off.

The day started auspiciously enough. I got up at 6AM and went to work on the never-ending mural. I finished a lot of it in three hours, and I was offered a job on a new mural in downtown Russellville. This is particularly exciting since they are willing to pay for my services. In true house-whore fashion, I immediately began calculating how much stuff I could by for the Queen with the money.

I quit painting for the day and made it home by 9:30AM. The heat was already getting brutal. My wife and I decided to run some errands while we waited for the hottest part of the day to pass. This included a trip to Lowe's where we picked up some painting supplies and a light to hang over the kitchen sink (presuming we will get to install the sink). We weren't planning on getting the light, but it was on sale for $11.00, so it was hard to say no.

We headed up to the Queen after dinner. We set up everything, put on our painting gear, and got to work. I tried out our new paint sprayer for the first time while my wife caulked. It went well enough for the first ten minutes of so.

First, the tub of caulk my wife was using exploded. An inch long crack opened up in the side of the tube. It started curling off huge gobs of white caulk which my wife scooped up by hand and tried apply to the wall with a putty knife (waste not, want not).

A few minutes later the paint sprayer quit working. The motor hummed but the primer quit flowing. I'd take finger off the trigger, check all the lines, and try again. A brief, thick jet of primer would splatter against the wall and then it'd quit again.

Sensing that I was getting frustrated, my wife offered to switch jobs (she'd gotten the caulk explosion under control), and I gratefully agreed to the swap. My wife spent fifteen or twenty minutes fiddling with it, taking it apart, and cleaning parts of it. Nothing helped.

With a wild look in her eyes, she set the sprayer down even thought she really wanted to throw it across the room. Then she started to cry. "This kitchen will NEVER be finished," she moaned. After trying to settle her down, I took the sprayer completely apart and took it out to our lone water spigot for thorough washing. I found our problem when I flushed the feed/return lines out. It was the primer equivalent of a blood clot. A huge, thick gob of semi-congealed primer had lodged itself in the middle of the feed-line.

My wife had used the sprayer to prime most of the room without incident. The difference was that we switched primers. We'd used Kiltz for the first part of the kitchen. We were going to buy some more, but someone recommended Zelner's (or Zeller's) Bull's-eye primer. This stuff it noticeably thicker than Kiltz and is supposed to have better covering ability (in our opinion it does). Even thought I'd watered it down some, apparently it wasn't enough.

In the mean time, my wife had resorted to priming the ceiling with a good ol' paint brush. We decided that we didn’t want to screw around with the sprayer anymore that night, so she carried on with the brush and I went back to caulking.

On the upside, I'm really good at caulking. I had a lot of experience on our last house, and it is paying off now. I don't mean to be a braggart, but the section of the room I caulked looks damn good. Maybe I've found my calling in life.

We got an hour of work in after the paint sprayer debacle before the heat and humidity became unbearable. Even without the sun, the temperature was still in the mid to upper 80's. The humidity was high and there was no breeze. The fumes from the Bull's-Eye were pretty stout too. Unfortunately, the window fan didn’t help us much. We were irritable, exhausted, and about ready to call it a night.

"Well, let me finish this last tube of caulk and we'll go," I said.

"Okay. I'm going to start cleaning up."

My wife gathered up all the painting gear and left to wash it off. I went back to caulking. I laid down a bead of caulk about a foot long and that was it. The tube was empty.

When I told my wife, she jokingly said that it must be an omen. It was time to call it quits.

By light of our cheap-ass flashlight (all of our Maglite flashlights have disappeared), we made our way back to the truck and piled in. Everything seemed to be in order until I turned the key. There was a clicking noise, but the engine wouldn't turn over. It seemed that the battery was dead.

We were pissed-off and baffled. We hadn't left the lights on, the interior lights were off so the doors weren't ajar, and the clock, dash-lights, and interior lights all worked. We'd been using it for weeks without any problem. It was a little after nine o'clock then. We dragged ourselves out of the truck and walked up to our neighbors' house. No one was home. We went around the corner and walked down to the first house outside of our neighborhood. All the lights were on which was a good sign. We knocked on the door and then again, but nobody answered. Out behind the house, there is a single-wide mobile home. It's lights were on and we could hear the TV.

As we walked across the yard to the mobile home, my wife said, "I bet it'll be like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I hope that I don't get put on the meat-hook."

"If it is, I hope that I go quickly. It would free us from a certain amount of anxiety at any rate."

We knocked on the door and a moment later it opened. A nice looking middle aged woman with short hair answered the door. No meat-hooks for the stranded home renovators so far. We explained problem and she told us that she'd get her husband. The mobile home belonged to her mother, and she and her husband lived in the house in front. It turns out that he hadn't heard us knock because he was taking a bath. Instead of letting us use their phone, he drove us back down to our truck tried to jump the truck for us. Jumping the truck didn't work.

My wife and I were both at a loss. If it wouldn't jump, what else could be wrong? I hate to admit it, but I don't know anything about cars. My wife taught me to change a tire. I can check the oil and pump gas. That is it. On the John Wayne Scale of Manliness, in the Automotive Subcategory I get a one out of ten.

Fortunately, our neighbor knows a good bit about cars, so he tried a few other things. First he tried cleaning the corrosion off the battery. Then he tried "the screw driver trick" of shorting two terminals on the starter celluniod (spelling?). Neither worked. As a test, we took the battery out our truck and put it in his. His truck stated right up. So, it wasn't our battery. All other possibilities having been eliminated, our problem is that the truck's battery cables are too old and corroded to carry enough current to start the truck. We stripped the cables back and they are green-gray with corrosion. There is no shiny red copper to be seen.

It was 11 PM by the time he came to this conclusion. There was nothing else to do. My wife asked if she could use his phone to give her mom a call.

"Aw, I can give ya a ride home."

"Are you sure, its about fifteen minutes away. It's awfully late."

"It's no problem at all."

So, he gave us a ride home.

"Thank God we didn't keep working. If we’d waited any later, we'd have probably ended up walking home. I just wouldn’t feel right waking someone up at midnight," my wife said.

"Yeah. So, how much to you think it would cost to get our phone line installed?"

"I don't know."

"Might be useful. We might check it out," I said.

We didn't get to bed until sometime after midnight. I got up at 7AM Sunday to work on the mural. I didn't get much done. By 11AM the heat index was over 100 degrees. I was done for the day. Period.

Sometimes, when you're getting nowhere, it is just better to sit back, rest, and gather up some energy for the next time around. As it is, I'm tired, sore all over, and I've aggravated the knee I blew out working in the attic last year. I can only imagine how bad I would be feeling if I'd kept at it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Voodoo Contracting

Despite my admonishments to leave it alone, my wife has apparently resorted to voodoo to bend contractors to her will. I have no other explanation for our recent bit of good luck.

It recently came to our attention that the Queen's bay window was never properly shingled. It appears that our roofer forgot about it. It wasn't a big or difficult job, so I don't think he was avoiding it. Fortunately, there were two or three layers of tar paper offering some protection. So, how did we miss it? Unless you wander into the thick jungle of our front yard and climb a tree, it is nearly impossible to see the bay window's roof from the ground. We should have used a ladder to check it when the roof was put on, but what can I say? We were young and stupid, now we know better (?). From what we can tell, the tar paper protected it pretty well, so no major damage was done. Lucky for us, we've had a lot harder lessons.

Monday night my wife called a roofer referred to us by Jeff at Rideout Lumber (Jeff has been an invaluable resource, he knows everyone). The contractor agreed to take the job at 9PM. At 10AM Tuesday he called to let us know it was finished.

I'm still in shock. We've never had this kind of turnaround on a job before. Admittedly, it was a small job, but they actually came, did what they were supposed to, and finished it (yes, we did check this time). Only black magic can account for that kind of job performance.

Need some root-work done on your contractors? Ask nice and I'll put in a good word for you with the Mrs.

And, thank you to everyone for their input regarding HVAC systems. It has been very useful.

A Call For Help

Have any of you Do-It-Yourself folks installed a HVAC system?

Is it something that anyone could do or is it something best left to the professionals? Personally, I don't know anything about heating-cooling systems, and I'd rather pay someone else to do it. My wife would rather save the money if she could.

In our situation, we would have to install everything - duct work, vents, unit, etc. The 40 year old system was torn out when we moved the house, so we are starting from scratch. All we have is the old vent holes cut through the floor.

Any feedback would be appreciated.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Buried Treasure

My mother-in-law is a compulsive hoarder. She comes by it honestly, it runs in the family. One of her many treasures is a sack of old door knobs, locks, and other door hardware that she's acquired at a lifetime worth of garage sales and flea markets, which she has donated to the Queen. The lock & knobs above are the best find in the lot. My wife has been cleaning them WD-40 and steel wool. They appear to be solid brass and they are sporting a tulip pattern which matches a lot of the Queen's original decorum. Funny things work out that way.

In Ground Pool

Here are some photos of our new, in-ground pool. Or, the number one reason why installing a gutter is now #1 on our list of things to do. This photo was taken after a long, afternoon thunderstorm. Nice, isn't it? Are you jealous? Not everyone gets to jump off their front porch and into their pool.

A Primed Kitchen

The kitchen is dragging on but showing signs of life. I've included a before photo as a point of comparison.

The Fairy Godfather of Old Home Repairs

Things keep appearing up at the Devil Queen. Roles of wire, outlets, electrical conduit, and other items. I've finally found the source of it all. We have a Fairy Godfather. I saw him at work for the first time last night.

My family and I were over at my in-laws for dinner and in he came with a brand-new paint sprayer. Our eyes bugged out.

"Look what I've got, it's for you."

"For us?" my wife ask.

"Yeah. Late Happy Birthday (he already got us something quite nice for our birthdays)! And, maybe a little of Christmas too!"

That night as we got ready for bed my wife said, "I can't believe that he got that for us. I'm starting to feel like a real mooch. I feel guilty."

"Yeah, we'll have to get him something if we get some money," I said.

In Irish fairy tales, they are always leaving out gifts for the fairy folk. I don't think that a dish of milk or cream by the front door will cut it though. Our Fairy Godfather has other, more mature tastes. I like his wife, so women are out of the question. I'm thinking a nice boxes of cigars when I get some money. You gotta keep the fairy folk happy.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Old Wood (Yet Another Reason Why Old Houses Kick Ass)

One thing you can't help noticing in an old house is the wood. It isn't something most people give much consideration. Wood is wood, right? Actually, no. Like everything else, there is a high and low end. The species of tree, the tree's age, and its harvesting method all contribute to the quality of wood produced.

To the best of our knowledge, the Devil Queen is made entirely of pine. We are not sure if its yellow pine, white pine, or loblolly pine (I guess just calling it Southern Pine would cover it). Pine is still widely used for construction, it is what the additions of the Queen are framed with. It is a very soft wood that is easily worked (and damaged), and it bears no resemblance to the 115 year old pine original to the Queen. The Queen's timbers range from hard to rock solid. Nails would rather bend than be driven into this stuff (dipping nails or screws in liquid detergent like Dawn helps). Some of this wood is so hard I've had to pre-drill nail holes. One board snapped off three drill bits in a row.

Where does wood like this come from?

According to my wife's grandfather, most building timbers were harvested locally until around 1940-1950. The Devil Queen was built in 1890, so it seems safe to say that she's made from local timber (within 60 miles or so of Russellville would be my guess).

The local NPR station recently ran a story about the pre-colonial forests of Arkansas. When De Soto came to the state, approximately 97% of its acreage was virgin forest. The figure of 30 million acres sticks in my mind, but I'm not certain. Oak, hickory, and pine were the dominate tree species in the Ozarks. My wife says she has seen old photos of the trees from the late 1800's. The trunks were over six feet in diameter, dwarfing the men standing next to them. Many of the building timbers made from these trees are huge. The Queen's original roof framing had true 2x4's (meaning they actually measure 2 inches by 4 inches unlike modern 2x4's which are smaller) over twenty-five feet long.

From the 1880's to around 1930, the whole of Arkansas was strip-cut for timber. By the 1920's, the vast majority of trees were gone. Most of the timber not used for local construction was exported to build railroads and the giant industrial cities of the north. The land was so barren by the 1930's that the lumber companies deemed it worthless. They couldn't sell it since no one wanted barren land, so they quit paying taxes on it. The government seized it, but they weren't sure what to do with it either. Someone had the idea of turning the barren hills into National Forests (which they still are to this day). It is sad that the Queen is a by-product of the systematic rape of the environment, but it’s all the more reason to save these old homes (lest the trees have died in vain), right?

My mother-in-law is and endless source of curious, random information. She also has a love of old houses too, so we have a lot to talk about. She once told me that when she was growing up, the old-timers harvested trees at specific times of the year in a particular way. She couldn't remember what the particulars were though. She believed that this was part of why old timber is so good. Her house is built with timbers salvaged from her grandparents' barn and old homestead house. When the house was built, she had some termite control folks out to treat the house. They told her that the "old barn wood" was so solid that if termites hadn't eaten it yet they probably never would.

Though I found this interesting, I didn't think much of it until I read the following in Vitruvius' The Ten Books of Architecture (I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in architecture with the warning that the prose is very dry):

"Timber should be felled between early Autumn and the times when Favonius [Roman god of the west wind, harbinger of spring, the same as the Greek god Zephyrus] begins to blow. . . In felling a tree we should cut into the trunk of it to the very heart, and then leave it standing so that the sap may drain out drop by drop throughout the whole of it. In this way the useless liquid which is within will run out through the sapwood instead of having to die in a mass of decay, thus spoiling the quality of the timber. Then and not till then, the tree being drained dry and the sap no longer dripping, let it be felled and it will be in the highest state of usefulness."

I did a little research, and there are still some folks that harvest in a similar way. I've heard that in Sweden they girdle (or ring) the tree as mentioned above and let the tree stand dead for two years before harvesting it.

As great as these archaic harvesting methods may have been, they only partly account for why this timber is so durable. Most of the pine raised in the South is now loblolly pine. It is raised because it is an extremely fast growing tree which allows harvesting every 15 years. The tightness of the growth rings in wood directly correlates to how strong the wood is. In some old growth timber there are 40-50 growth rings per inch! I haven't actually counted, but I think that you'd be hard pressed to find that many rings in a single board now a days (slight exaggeration?). The Ozark and Ouachita Mountains soil and climate encouraged slow growth making the timber from these regions very desirable.

There are two woods that I would be willing to trade my old pine for (maybe), old growth redwood or cypress. I'm still awed that there are entire houses built of this stuff.

Apparently, more people are taking notice of how good old wood is. There are folks fishing sunken, old-growth logs of out of the Great Lakes, drying it, and milling into lumber. I've even heard that there is a guy pulling similar wood out of the Arkansas River and doing the same thing with it. Reclaimed wood is the new, big thing in home construction. With the exception of the framing of the Queen's additions, the entire interior of them is being constructed and finished with salvaged wood. There is no substitute for this stuff.

High as a Kite

Since it rained on and off for most of the weekend, I spent most of it working on the kitchen with my wife and not painting on the mural. The heat and high humidity augmented by our halogen lamp turned our kitchen into a sweaty, paint-fume filled sauna. It was great! Really, it wasn't too bad. We managed to prime (two coats) three of the four walls and half the ceiling before we ran out of primer and energy. I figured two gallons would prime the whole kitchen. I was wrong. I didn't account for the alcoholic like thirst of 100 year old wood. The first coat went on with a dry rasping sound. It sounded more like fine grade sandpaper than a brush.
I think one (?) more gallon of primer will finish the kitchen off, then we get to the fun stuff - painting with color! As it is, folks seems impressed with how good those old wallboards are looking with fresh coat of paint. Surprised even. It's very gratifying.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Painting at Last

I've been hoping that we'd get to this point for weeks, but we are going to start painting our kitchen. Tonight, I'm going to work on the mural until it's too dark to see. Then I'll head up to the Devil Queen and help my wife paint the kitchen. I can't wait.

I'm not sure how the rest of the weekend will go. Saturday will be split between painting the Queen, painting the mural, and maybe laying the kitchen floor. Sunday will probably be more of the same. I figure if I'm persistent enough I'll actually finish a few major projects for a change.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dr. Frankenstein's Paint Stripper

I finally got to play mad scientist the other weekend, unfortunately it was a disappointing experience.

I'd ordered an UV space heater off of ebay weeks ago, but I hadn't gotten around to messing with it.

About two weeks ago, I finally opened the box, plugged it in, and turned it on. Nothing happened. No heat, no light, nothing. Just a red display light. Great, $30.00 well spent.

Before I started to despair, I asked our in-family electrical guru to take a look at it. In an hour or so he pulled it apart and fixed it. Somehow the tip-over kill switch had gotten jammed in the Off position. Per my request, he by-passed the switch so it'll run in any position. Now it works!

Last weekend I tried the heater out. The good news is that it worked, the bad news is it was very slow going. The actual stripping part was easy, but it took forever for the paint to heat up. My guess is that one of the main reasons that folks are converting these heaters is to place the quartz rods closer together and to position them closer to the painted surface. Looks like I'll have to rework the thing to really get any use out of it. Bummer.

On the positive side, at least I can work on the paint stripper in the air conditioned comfort of my own home.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Mural

For those of you interested, here is the photo the Atkins Chronicle ran of the mural in today's paper (unfortunately, I'm in front of it so it's a little hard to see).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Another Reason Why Old Houses Kick Ass

In short, they are not new, half-assed McMansions.

Check out this article to remind yourself why pulling up all that cat-piss soaked shag carpet to refinish your hardwood floors is worth it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Weekend Survivor

Well, we survived the weekend.

I spent about 12 hours working on the mural. It's moving along, but, lamentably, it's still not finished. I think that I have 12-16 more hours of work to bring it to completion.

We didn't get to lay the kitchen floor, but there was a good bit of progress made. The new electrical pole (of code compliant height) is in the ground and set in concrete. We still have to mount the boxes and reconnect the wires, but the worst of it is over (I hope). For the first time in nearly two years, the kitchen now has all of its ceiling boards. That was a real pain in the ass.

For any of you out there that may have to reinstall tongue and groove ceiling boards, I would like to recommend wood screws or finishing screws over nails. The first few board I put in I used nails. I thought that they would have a smaller, less visible profile than screws. With a little bit of putty or caulk, the nail head would vanish. Unfortunately, even 3 inch finish nails didn't always have sufficient holding power. I've had to reinforce several boards with screws. If you use a counter sink bit or finish screws, the heads are nearly invisible even without the putty. Having 12 foot ceilings helps too.

We've washed down all of the walls and the ceiling to remove any loose bits of paint, dust, et cetera, so we'll have smooth paint job in the kitchen.

The master bedroom has been one of our dumping areas for building materials. Sunday, we hauled everything out. The master bedroom is one of our "easy" rooms. In theory all it needs is to have the wallpaper pulled, the dry wall patched and prepped, and then paint. It also needs to have the floor sanded and refinished. Or, that was what we thought.

After I finished hauling everything out, my wife and I we looking the room over. The closet door, which was in perfect working order when we moved the house, will no longer close. The top left corner of the door catches on the jamb. Perplexed, I backed up and looked the door over. It was then I noticed that the left side of the door jamb is lower than the right. The middle of that wall has sunk approximately 1 inch since we moved the house.

Fortunately, the room is still solid (if you jump up and down, the floor doesn't give). None of the beams have cracked or warped. What has happened is the pier under the middle of the wall has settled with a lean to one side.

All new construction settles. However, in our case, normal settling has been exacerbated by what has been unanticipated drainage problems. Mainly, when we have a hard rain, the topography of the lot channels runoff towards the front of the Queen. When it is really bad, it runs in torrents under the house. I've only seen it do this once in two years, but that is once too many.

Another problem that we didn't anticipate was the front porch. Once it was installed, all the rainwater from the whole front of the house (the front face of the main hip of the roof and the side of two gables) are channeled onto the porch roof. The water then runs off the porch roof and begins to pool.

To fully fix this problem, we'll have to have some serious bulldozer and backhoe work done. I'm thinking French drains, raised flowerbeds, and one or two retaining walls. We also need to have the crawl space enclosed. We were waiting until we'd finished all the plumbing and installing the central heat and air. We also need about $7,000.00 that we don't have.

We're also going to need a gutter on the front porch. The Queen never had gutters. A decorative piece of crown molding ran all the way around her just under the shingles. We're planning to go back to this, but the porch will have to be the exception. Since its on the front of the Queen, it'll have to look good. It'll be one of the first things that everyone will see. We're thinking copper. Anyone have any recommendations?

For the time being, we're doing some first aid.

First we are going to have to jack the wall up. Then we'll have to right the pier. I'll probably add a second pier to help hold the weight.

If we can get the money together for the dozer work, we'll start on the French drains and retaining walls. We may (God, I hate writing this) have to put a nasty little piece of vinyl gutter on the porch until we can get some copper ones. I guess its better than jacking floors.

I swear, finish one project and you just find three or four more begging for your attention.

About the Mural

The mural I referred to in the last post is in downtown Atkins, Arkansas. I use the term "downtown" loosely. Atkins has a population of about 2,700, so there isn't too much there.

The mural is 17' x 21' and painted on the side of an antique shop. I agreed to paint the mural for the owner of the shop. In exchange for the mural, he agreed to do all of the tile work in the Devil Queen.

The mural has taken a lot longer to finish than I ever anticipated. I started it in October last year. When it got too cold to paint in late November, I had to quit until spring this year. My work on it has been sporadic; I have trouble prioritizing. Should I work on the Queen or the mural? Technically, working on the mural is working on the house in a round-about way, but I have trouble of convincing myself. I hate not working on the Queen.

On the other hand, there are some perks. In terms of physical exertion, it's a lot easier to paint a mural than reframing a wall or digging ditches. While I was working on the mural Monday, a reporter from the Atkins Chronicle came over an interviewed me. I believe that I may end up in this week's paper. A little ego stroking is always nice.

The mural is a test run for some projects that we've been planning for the Queen. We're considering a mural in the main hallway, a faux wood inlay medallion on the dinning room floor (patterned on a tulip-print wallpaper pattern original to the Queen), and hand painting a tulip pattern "wallpaper" in the living room (also based on one original to the house). There may also be some faux finish marble and gold leaf work too.

In any case, those projects are years off. We need water and electricity first.

If I can ever remember to bring a camera and use it, I'll post a picture of the mural.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Running on Empty

I'm extremely tired and feeling a little sick, so I'm having trouble concentrating. I'll try to keep this short and coherent.

First, I hope that I survive the weekend.

The wild-man that I am, I'm spending my Friday night painting on the damn mural. Saturday I'll back at the mural bright and early. I plan to work on it until it's time to raise the new electrical pole and cement in its base. Afterward, I'll take a shower, change clothes, and drive off to Fayetteville (2 1/2 hours one way) with my wife to have dinner with one of her high school friends. Sunday we're going up to the Queen to lay the kitchen floor, then we'll go to a birthday party in the evening. Sometime during the weekend, my father will be dropping off a table saw and a new step-ladder (much needed, the one we have now is nearly as old as the Queen and a menace). Also, my wife is planning to paint the kitchen.

I guess we'll see how it goes.

Do You Love Me?

You know who your real friends are when you take on a serious home improvement project. Barring those folks in your life that are too old, too sick, or too far away, the people that love you are the ones the volunteer to help for free.

My in-laws have been incredibly generous, more than I could have ever hoped or asked for. My in-laws were over for dinner last night (before I went to work on the never-ending mural), and my father-in-law informed me that he'd already removed the non-code complying electrical pole. I'm not sure, but I think that he was going up there again today to install the new pole (quite a feat, its 18 feet long, and it needs to be buried 4 feet deep). I really can't believe that I deserve this kind of help. I'm so grateful that I worry I'll never be able to make it up to him.

To him and all our other volunteers (you know who you are), we owe you many thanks. If we survive this project, we make it up to y'all. One thing I know for sure, once we get moved in and mostly finished we're having a hell of a party.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Chac the God of Rain

The Devil Queen is nothing if not a jealous mistress. I guess she thinks that we've been neglecting her recently. We've been without rain for weeks here. I decide to throw my mural painting into high-gear and rain comes rolling in. She must have the ear of Chac the Rain God. Since 4 PM on the 5th of July, it has been raining non-stop. I'm hoping that it'll clear off before 6 PM tonight, but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Hats Off to the Lone Star State

More than a few people are upset with the Supreme Court's ruling on eminent domain (Kelo v. New London). U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) has filed "aggressive property rights protection legislation" in response to the Court's ruling. Similar bills (H.R. 3083 and H.R. 3087) have also been filed by U.S Representative Gingrey (R-Georgia) and U.S. Representative Rehberg (R-Montana).

I encourage all of you to write your U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators requesting that they support this or similar legislation. Your historic home's future may depend on it.

You might write your state representatives as well. I know that state representatives in Texas and Oklahoma are proposing amendments to their state constitutions to restrict the use of eminent domain too.

If you are interested in more news on this, check out this blog: Eminent Domain Watch (I've added this link to the sidebar).

Happiness In Slavery

My wife gave me a call at work today to see what I had planned for this evening.

"Well, I'll probably be working on the mural again tonight."

"Likely story. You probably have another woman on the side," she said.

"Are you kidding? You keep me so busy that I couldn't handle another woman. Hell, at the end of the day, all I want to do is go to sleep."

She laughed. "You need a life, seriously. I mean, I wouldn't even want your life at this point."

Later in the day I checked my email. My sister forwarded a copy of her itinerary for the next week or so. She is in Italy now and Paris at the end of the week. A friend of hers from college is dating an Italian. His family has a vineyard and they invited my sister and her boyfriend to stay with them for a while. My sister is probably having a great time visiting over some homemade grappa in the Italian country side as I write this.

So, what is the cost of a house? I've been wondering a lot about that lately.

So far the Devil Queen has cost a lot of time and money. But, to say that it is only time and money is an over simplification, it's too sterile. For my wife and I, it means a dramatic change in our quality of life and our lifestyle.

While my sister and my coworkers are enjoying their summer vacations, I'm using all my time off to hang wallboards, strip paint, haul lumber, and lay floors. The quality of our groceries has taken a dive. Fresh salads, fancy cheeses, fresh baked bread, and nice cuts of meat have been replaced by pinto beans and anything with ground beef. Instead of buying books (our greatest weakness besides the Queen) to read on lazy weekend afternoons, we've sold about third of our library to help fund our never-ending project. Day in and out we are tired, sore, irritable, and worrying about money.

On the really bad days, I wish we'd never started this project. Sometimes I hope my misery will be ended by divine intervention - a tornado lobs the whole damn thing into the town below. But, by the time the weekend roles around, I'm looking forward to heading up to the Queen. It doesn't matter if it's ditch digging, demolition, or laying floors. I can't wait to start.

It seems sick that we still love that evil, old whore of a house on the hill.

"I have found you can find happiness is slavery"

Monday, July 04, 2005

Slow Burn

We didn't do much with the Queen this weekend. My wife pulled some tacks and nails from the ceiling before she went to wedding Saturday. Sunday we gave a tour of the Queen for cousins visiting from out of town. One the one hand, I love showing the house off, but, on the other, it is depressing when all the progress of the last year can be encompassed in a ten minute tour.

Saturday and Sunday I worked on a mural. I got a good bit finished, but it still isn't done. It did give me a chance to work on my farmer's tan (more of a burn by the second day). The folks that I'm doing it for seem pleased with it, so that is good.

This coming week should be very busy. My wife is going to finish all the staple/nail pulling and begin priming and painting the kitchen. After work every night this week, I'm going to paint on the mural until the bugger is finished.

We're hoping to finish our electrical pole and lay the kitchen floor this up coming weekend. If it all goes as planned, we may be sanding floors and installing kitchen cabinets before too long.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Dumbass Factor Part 2 - Getting the Shaft

As I have mentioned in a previous post, a major factor in any home renovation project is the Dumbass Factor. It turns out that my careful planning wasn't a careful as I thought; the Dumbass Factor has struck again.

In this case, the problem is our main electrical pole. Our pole (i.e. the "Typical Self-Contained Installation" meter, main switch, et cetera all mounted on one 6x6 pole) is perfect in every regard except one. Our pole is too short. I won't go into all the embarrassing details of my delusional thinking. In short, I got it wrong.

Despite the fact that it is at its root my fault, I still can't help being pissed off with Entergy (our one and only power utility). Sometime over the last 5-10 years they completely overhauled their specs and services. The rules as I knew them have changed considerably. They have more stringent requirements for hooking up to the main power line, but they won't give you a damn bit of help to meet them.

When my mother-in-law built her home in the late 1980's, Entergy came out and installed the pole, the meter box, buried the cable to the house, et cetera. In 2003, when we start dealing with them to get our energy hooked-up, this had all changed.

The only work that they will now perform is they will drop a line down from the electrical main and hook it up to your meter. They will not dig trenches, lay conduit, install poles, or anything else. I can't help but be a little pissed when they tell me that I have to install a 6"x6" 18 foot long pole, and they have all the equipment and refuse to do any of it. I'm wondering what it is that I am paying for with the hook-up fees.

Anyhow, I'll quit bitching and just grab my ankles.

Any guess what I'll be doing next weekend?

Weekend Game Plan

I'm pretty sure that nothing much will get done on the Devil Queen this weekend.

Apparently this year is the year of the wedding. My wife is going to another cousin's wedding this weekend. Mercifully, I don't have to go. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that I'll get to work on the Queen. I'll be spending most (all?) of Saturday finishing a mural in Atkins.

We traded the mural for some tile work. The mural should have been finished a couple of months ago, but I've been putting it off in favor of working on the Queen. Our tile guy is getting a little peeved with our lack of progress. I hate to admit it, but he's in the right on this one. To be honest, I prefer working on the Queen. I'll have to bite the bullet and just finish the damn thing.

Sunday and Monday my wife and I will go into hiding to celebrate our anniversary. The Queen, in all her decrepit splendor, will have to wait.

I've been doing some research on passive cooling and air flow in older homes (hopefully to be posted soon). The old timers here in the South favored facing their homes to the southern exposure for cooling/heating purposes. Without knowing this, we did this when we had the Queen moved to her new site.

I say "we" but it was my wife that oversaw this portion of the project. I asked her why she sited the house as she did, and she said, "I had a dream about it one night, so that is how I did it. It was close to the creek and seemed to catch the breeze. It seemed right."

And, it was.

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