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!

Monday, October 31, 2005

15 Seconds of Fame

I stumbled across my name in the Russellville Courier today. I'll have to thank Suzanne for that. For anyone interested (Mom), go here (sorry this link no longer works, try this one). My name is buried in a mind-numbing long list of businesses and names.

Now, someone out there needs to go and buy all my art from Suzanne. It would make both of us very happy.


Last week I had a comment inquiring about building codes in regard to our air return duct. I'm sorry it took so long to respond, but I wasn't sure if I really wanted to (see The Banana Republic of Arkansas for a partial explanation). It is an excellent question, but I didn't want to tempt the Fates. I hate to air my ignorance too openly.

I'm not feeling lucky, but what the hell.

Arkansas does have building codes. I believe they follow national trends in the most general sense (studs on 16 inch centers, etc). In major Arkansas cities (Little Rock, Fayetteville) or even piss poor pseudo-cities (Russellville), there are permit requirements. However, if you live outside the incorporated city limits, you are generally free of any permit obligations. This is particularly true if you are working on your own home. Having said that, we've striven to meet or exceed code at every opportunity.

There are some exceptions to this. We had to meet specific code specifications for our septic system (perk test), our water system hook-up, and our electrical hook-up. Aside from that, the only other permits we needed were to move the Queen. I don't know what permits were required, our house mover handled all of that.

The general trend in Arkansas is moving towards more government oversight and control of the home construction industry. I'm sure that it is only a matter of time before folks like me out in BFE will be buried under a pile of permits.

I hope that answers the question, and that I don't end up with a bevy of building inspectors on my doorstep (Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean that they are not after me).

I hoped to post some haunted house stories about the Aycock House in Morrilton, Arkansas, but I don't have any photos of the house or all the stories collected (my in-laws restored the house & have a ton of information on it). I guess permits and codes are a scary (lame) enough substitution.

Happy Halloween anyhow.

How Bono Found My Water Leak and Other Mysteries of the Universe

The weekend sucked, but it wasn't entirely without merit.

Saturday, Charlie and I plumbed all day. We installed one of the on-demand water heaters, plumbed the hall shower, and began work on the second hot water supply line for the other half of the Queen.

While we were are work, a woman came by to look at the Devil Queen. Her house had just burned down a week or two ago, and she was looking for an old home to remodel. I believe she thought the price was too high or that too much work was need (both?). In any case, I do not imagine I will be hearing from her again.

Charlie and I were pretty sure that we could finish everything off Sunday, but Fate had a different future in mind.

Saturday night my wife took our son to Halloween party. I decided to stay home to take care of chores and to enjoy some quiet time. I had an old U2 song stuck in my head, so I decided to track down my copy of Rattle and Hum. I still haven't found it, but I did discover our hot water heater had a slow leak. I have no idea how long it had been leaking. I went to the closet in my son's room to look for the CD. My wife and I have all sorts of crap stored here. Income tax records, property deeds, art supplies, picture frames, and anything else without a home of its own. As I rooted through the closet, I noticed that carpet felt odd. Strangely, it felt cold. I then noticed that several cardboard boxes were soaking water up from the floor and molding.

Then I freaked out. Where in the hell was the water coming from?

A frenzied search uncovered a hot water heater standing in a pool of its own fluids. At first I thought that the heater tank had rusted through, but a closer inspection reveled
a small plumbing leak.

The idiots that built our house cut every corner that they could. The hot water heater was no exception. They had screwed a cast iron (?) 90 degree elbow on to the hot water heater's threaded nipple (is that the correct term?). They connected a pvc pipe to a pvc threaded coupling and screwed it into the cast iron elbow.

At first, I thought the pipe was cpvc because it was so yellow-brown. The prolonged exposure to heat caused the pvc to deteriorate. It had cracked inside the cast iron elbow and begun to slowly dripped. It puddled on the heater, ran over the edge, pooled on the floor, and seeped into our closet. Judging from the copious amounts of rust and water staining, it had been leaking for a long time.

It was 8:15 PM, it took 20 minutes to get to Lowe's, and they closed at 9 PM. I shut off the water to hot water heater, scribbled a few notes on a scarp of paper, and ran out the door.

In hind sight, I wish I hadn't rushed out so fast. First, Lowe's now stays open until 10 PM on Saturday nights. Second, I assumed that since all the couplings, the cut off valve, etc were 3/4" that the pipes were too. I was wrong. In my haste, I didn't notice the damn reducers fit into every coupling and valve. Of course I was at home at 10:30 PM by the time I discovered my mistake. I was one damn 1/2" to 3/4" reducer away from restoring hot water to my house.

Figures. I've had worse though. The last time we had a plumbing problem, we spent the night at my in-laws because we had no water.

Sunday, we went to Lowe's and bought the damn 3/4" to 1/2" coupling (and some Devil Queen supplies). It took less than 10 minutes to finish my repairing the cold water feed to the water heater. I was tentatively pleased with the result, but I felt like complete shit. As the day had worn on, I developed a horrible headache accompanied with slight nausea. I had to wait two hours for the glue to set, so I took some ibuprofen for my monstrous headache, drank some herbal tea, and took a fitful 45 minute nap. Mercifully, I felt much better for it.

So far, so good. No new puddles and no new leaks.

An Open Letter to the Devil Queen

Dear Devil Queen,

The weather is turning cold, the sky is gray, and our third anniversary is here. While I was overjoyed when I took you on as my mistress, my passion and pleasure for you is fading.

Had I realized that I was entering into a demonic pack for you, I would have driven a harder bargain. Call me egotistical, but I think my everlasting soul is worth more than you alone. I should have gotten more. A fat wad of cash, a wine cellar, my enemies lit on fire for my gratification, and all the pleasures this corrupt, fleshy world offers. But, instead I have only you.

Despite popular belief, I am not into S&M. Splinters, cuts, bruises, and burns do not turn me on. Smashing digits, falling off ladders, and being chased by stinging insects are not gratifying experiences.

You promised you would be discreet when we started this relationship together. You lied. My wife knows about you as do my in-laws and my family. Articles have even appeared in the local paper. People at work know about you. Whatever reputation I had is ruined.

I am not a cruel man. I've tried to be delicate, but you have not responded. Perhaps I have been too subtle? In any case, I must be blunt. This relationship between us can not continue. I mistook you for a mistress, but you are pagan goddess terrible and beautiful. I do not want to be your Adonis. You need a man that will be your supplicant, someone who will give you their full attention and adoration. I have a wife, a son, and a whole life that you never see, yet you demand more of me than all combined.

I can not take it much longer. You have corrupted my morals, spent my meager fortune, and ruined my youth. Though a man, I was baby-faced and full of life when I met you. Now, I am aged before my years. I have been decimated by your insatiable lust and black heart. All the while, I have watched you grow plump and full bodied. Time runs backwards for you. Am I the fruit that once devoured will give you eternal youth?

Have you no pity? If you do, please free me and find another. If you can not or will not, we must come to a new agreement. You must take less and I must receive more.

Do not ignore me, no good will come of it. I eagerly await your response.



Friday, October 28, 2005

Finishing Up a Busy Week

While the Chipboard Beast has monopolized a considerable amount of my time, other things have been going on at the Queen during the last week.

With the exception of a cut off valve for the refrigerator's ice maker, all the cold water lines have been run. The hall bath and master bath have been plumbed for hot water too. The next step in the plumbing master plan is installing our on-demand, electric hot water heaters.

Since none us are familiar with this type of heater, it's taken us a little longer to get these figured out. Really, it hasn't been too hard to wrap our little minds around, but it's taken us forever to get all the parts we need together. Poor planning on our part. After God knows how many trips to Lowe's and Ace Hardware, we finally have soft copper lines, pvc & cpvc to copper adaptors, shut off valves, and etc. I think we may get these puppies installed this weekend. Here's to hoping.

Sometimes I feel like I'm just chasing a mirage of a working bathroom.

Last weekend, my mother volunteered to come up from Little Rock to scrape wallpaper in the master bedroom because she likes it. She admits it's a sick fetish. I have to agree, but who am I to stand between someone and their fetish as long as it doesn't harm any innocents? There was also the extra bonus that she brought homemade sugar cookies for everyone. This is a first as far as volunteer workers go, and I liked it.

As part of our ongoing wallpaper stripping experiment, I made an impulse purchase of a wallpaper steamer at Lowe's. Whether this was a good investment remains to be seen. According to the box, after one application of the steamer, all the wallpaper should come off with one quick scraping. Sounds a little too good to be true. We ran out of time to try it out, so we will be trying it out tomorrow or Sunday. A full report will follow.

I also tackled the small project of installing working locks (some temporary) on the Queen's doors. So far we haven't had any problems with our open doors, but an itch at the back of mind was telling me that it was time to lock her up. I could rationalize it by saying that we're nearly ready to move in some expensive appliances (ranges, dishwashers, etc), but I did it because I had a feeling it was the thing to do.

My wife spoke with our brick mason last night. Since I've locked the house up, he'll need a key to work on the Queen. We thought it would be neighborly to give him one. He said he'll start next week and it should be finished before Thanksgiving. If he could manage it, that would be excellent.

My wife's family used to have Thanksgiving at the old family homestead in Ada Valley. They'd enclose the shell of her great-grandmother's house (nothing grand, a vernacular farm cottage) with plastic sheeting and install a wood stove vented through a window. They'd eat their Thanksgiving dinner indoors, then the adults would visit over coffee while the kids went out to play on the overgrown 60 acres of land. Over the years, the house finally deteriorated and collapsed. Boards and stones were salvaged from the ruins by the family. A few years ago, the aunt that owns the property had the brush and ruins cleared to build a new plantation style home (she's been fighting cancer since then so no progress has been made on the new home).

The Ada Valley Thanksgiving tradition has been abandoned with the house's demise. The last attempt to keep it going was pretty miserable. Thanksgiving was held in an out door pavilion. It was cold, very windy, and icy rain fell off and on the whole day. The next year Thanksgiving was held at my wife's grandmother's. It was nice enough, but it was a cramped fitting all those folks into her house. My wife's family is huge. Attendance was low, but there were still 30-40 people there. That, and the ambiance wasn't the same as the Valley either.

If everything goes well, this year we'll host Thanksgiving at the Devil Queen. Three acres and a creek should keep the kids busy, we have nothing but room at the Queen, and it'll definitely have that rundown house ambiance. A working fireplace, toilet, and a sink would be a bonus.

The Banana Republic of Arkansas

Several weeks back, Charlie and I were working like madmen to get some plumbing finished. I was out on the back porch, our improvised workshop, cutting some pipe when I notice an old, worn pickup truck pull up in our drive. My first thought was, "Who the hell is that?" I certainly wasn't expecting anyone. Focused on the job at hand, I went back inside.

A moment later I heard a faint, "Hello?"

I went out to the front porch and found Mr. Campbell perched in my doorway. Mr. Campbell is little man. He's probably five feet tall, darkly tanned, and a thin fifty-something year old man. The only odd thing about him are his arms, which are disproportionately large and muscular. Mr. Campbell is a stone mason, so it makes sense.

"Hey, I've been trying to call you for two weeks," he said. "I guess I got your number wrong. I thought that I'd just come by and see if I could catch you here. Now, you're interested in stone work, right?"

I'd given up and forgotten about Mr. Campbell weeks ago. He'd given us the best quote on stone work about a year ago. We were hoping he could start work for us now that we were ready for him. When he never called back, we started looking for someone new. Maybe Mr. Campbell appearing was a good omen?

Aside from the chain smoking, Mr. Campbell reminds me of Donkey from Shrek. He's, "the talkin'est damn thing you've ever seen." In addition to rock work, he kept up a constant, mind-numbing torrent of chatter for nearly two hour's. Every time I got him steered towards the door, he'd find something else to mention. I knew I was a goner when Charlie and Mr. Campbell discovered that they had some mutual friends and acquaintances in common.

I did glean a few interesting bits of information though. Some of that found its way into this post. One bit that didn't involves gas-log fireplaces. According to Mr. Campbell, up until a few years ago, most licensed plumbers would do all the pipe work for a gas-log fireplace installation. Normally, it is a very straight forward, fifteen minute job. Now they won't touch them. Why? Because the State of Arkansas now closely regulates this process and only one man in entire state is licensed to do this work. I'm not sure about the particulars of it (something to do with insurance premiums, fees, political connections, etc), but he's got the market cornered for the foreseeable future.

I hate to spread what may be gossip or rumor, but I believe it is true. In my experience, this is business as usual in Arkansas. I know that there is (was?) a member of the state appraisal board that had a de facto monopoly on the appraisal of commercial farms. If you were a licensed appraiser qualified make a commercial farm appraisal and you did a textbook perfect job, you could count on being called before the appraisal board and fined. This was the board's way of informing you that you needed to stay off their turf. Also, I believe that their salaries were paid in part by fines (I have not verified that, but it is common for some boards and commissions to receive their funding from licensing fees and fines).

So, if you did a perfect appraisal, what could they fine you for? I knew one appraiser that was fined for using "that" instead of "which." According to the rules of English grammar, in certain usage, these two words are interchangeable ("It was their boat that sank" or "It was their boat which sank."). According to the Arkansas Appraisal Board, following the rules of the English language is $400 offense. Two or three of these "offenses" and you have quite a hefty fine.

And to think our governor got in trouble a few years ago when he called Arkansas a banana republic on national talk radio. It's funny how royally pissed people get when someone has the audacity to tell the truth.

Nucking Futs

Monday afternoon I was laying under the Devil Queen trying to disconnect the return air duct from the living room floor. Somehow, when they were insulating the duct work, they managed to wrap a portion of the cold water line in the insulation and tape it to the duct work. I'm glad I noticed this before I dropped the duct work out of the floor and broke the pipe.

At some point I became aware that I was talking and laughing to myself.

"Heh. Well look at that, hee hee hee."

The talking didn't bother me. Sometimes I talk to the Queen too. Normal people occasionally talk to themselves.

The laugh bothered me though. It wasn't a, "wow, that's really funny," laugh. It was deranged, more like, "wow, I'm really enjoying clipping off your fingers and feeding them to you." Somehow, that afternoon, I had become the son of Doctor Evil.

Today the return air duct, tomorrow the world.

The H.P. Lovecraft - Devil Queen Connection

Halloween is fast approaching, and I thought I might post a little something to get in the mood for the holiday.

Halloween has been my favorite holiday for a long while. What other holiday glorifies freakishness, the supernatural, wild behavior, criminal mischief, and parties sans distant, awkward 3rd cousins, asshole uncles, or unsavory in-laws? Hmm. Well, Mardi Gras for one.

Sorry, I digress.

After Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft has the distinction of being one of the fathers of the American horror story. Admittedly, Lovecraft is an acquired taste that some never acquire.

I wasn't too impressed with Lovecraft the first time around. Louis, a ninth grader at my junior high, was an avid fan. Loaned copies of Lovecraft's work soon circulated among us bookwormish seventh graders. I wasn't impressed. The stories were full of weird prose and followed a slow pace. In hind sight, I don't think I was mature or knowledgeable enough to really get his books at that time. I moved on to more exciting fare, but something about those stories suck with me. They were insidious. A couple years later I returned to his works, and I was hooked. By the time I graduated from college, I'd bought copies of all his works in print.

So, why should a houseblogger give a damn about H.P. Lovecraft unless they are a horror story aficionado? Lovecraft's stories often focus old decaying families and old decaying homes. What DIY houseblogger couldn't love that? For instance, the story The Rats in the Wall is essentially about a home improvement project gone bad. The story opens with:

"On July 16, 1923, I moved into Exham Priory after the last workman had finished his labors. The restoration had been a stupendous task, for little remained of the deserted pile but a shell-like ruin; yet because it had been the seat of my ancestors, I let no expense deter me."

It almost sounds like Enon Hall. Of course the ending is much different. Once completed, ravenous hordes of flesh eating beasts come boiling up from the pre-historic caverns beneath the home to devour most of the supporting cast of characters. I certainly hope nothing of the like befalls the good folks at Enon Hall.

One of my favorite Lovecraft stories is Dreams in the Witch House. A college student and mathematical genius rooms in an old colonial house in New England. The home's original owner was a witch who used the odd architectural design to open doorways to other dimensions. Once again, the story ends badly for the protagonist; he's eaten alive by the witch's demonic familiar.

I think this story resonates with me because I always seem to live in places that have odd architectural features: weird angles, strange protrusions, windowless rooms, crooked walls, and sloping floors. It seems well within the realm of possibility that the unwholesomeness of my dwellings extends well beyond shoddy craftsmanship; infernal uses are entirely probable.

And for those of you still wondering what in the hell the connection between Lovecraft and the Devil Queen is, it is that they share the same birth year, 1890. I know, kind of tenuous, but it's there none the less.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Julian Electric

I've nearly wiped out all my vacation time at work this week. I had to take two hours off this morning to meet an electrician.

Don't get me wrong, I was glad to go meet him. I've spent weeks trying to find an electrician that would look at the Queen before giving me a quote. The prevailing attitude was, "I hate re-wiring, I hate old homes, I will sodomize you with my hourly rate, and, if you're dumb enough to seriously consider hiring me, maybe I'll come out an take a look at the place."

Yeah, right. Thanks.

Julian Electric passed several important tests. First, they called back with 24 hours of my initial message. Second, they came highly recommend by a couple of guys who have done other work for me. Three, they wanted to see the house before they gave a quote.

I arrived at the Queen 10 minutes early. Thirty minutes later I was wondering if I was going be stood up. The prospect was very disappointing. Then they arrived.

"I used to think I knew Crow Mountain pretty well, but there are so many new subdivisions up here that I don't recognize anything, " Mr. Julian said.

I would have dismissed this as an excuse, but he's the third contractor I've heard this from. There are little 1500 to 2500 square foot French Provincials springing up all over the place like mushrooms on cow pies.

I like Mr. Julian. Unlike some contractors, I think that if he were left alone with my son, I wouldn't have to start a blood-vendetta when I got back. He didn't blow any smoke up ass either. He also likes old houses (a plus) and recommend a Cajun in Hector, Arkansas, that does lots of good trim and cabinet work out of salvaged wood.

After looking at the Queen, he gave me a rough estimate of how long the job would take and a rough dollar amount. It was all within resonable bounds. He's also willing to work it in sections if we run low on money. He's definitely going to connect the heating and air system and all the three-way switches. After that, we'll see how our budget looks.

I'm cautiously optimistic, which worries me. My judgment has been bad before, but hopefully not this time.

As it is, Julian electric will be starting the beginning of next week.

School of Hard Knocks, Lesson Number 679

Lesson Number 679: Just because you've hired something out to a professional in no way removes the responsibility of due-diligence from you. Things will always go better if you know what should or should not be done.

Case and point, the thing in my living room as of Monday this week.

First and foremost, I would like to make clear that I have no malicious intent towards our heating and air guy. He works on new construction and not old houses. Overall, he did a good job (we'll know for sure when the electrician wires the baby up). The box in the living room is my fault. If I had done my resesrch, asked the right questions, and made my wishes crystal clear, the box that should not be would not be.

Functionally, we have a working heating and air system. Aesthetically, it's a damn stinker. Everything that he told me about the return air vent's placement was true. I crawled around under the house with a tape measure. It is impossible to install the return air vent in the location of our choice. Really, it's a no-brainer. Two bodies can not occupy the same space in the quaint little world we live in. There is no other centrally located spot in the Queen to put a return 24" x 24" air vent except where he put it.

Later, I started wondering if a 24" square vent was the only type of vent that would work. I checked online and quickly found there are all sorts of return air registers.

If you decide to install four 10" x 14" return air vents in the hall floor and move a cold water line, you'll find that you have more options. Four 10" x 14" return vents have a total of 560 square inches of space which compares well with the 24" x 24" vent's 576 square inches. Our heat & air guy said he oversized our return air vent a little, so I think going sixteen inches smaller is okay.

As I understand it, a return air vent has to be a certain minimum size to allow adequate air flow back to your unit. If it is too small, the unit has to pull harder, wears the equipment down, costs more, and shortens the unit's lifespan.

So, I figured, what the hell. If their little chipboard box was adequate for the system, why wouldn't one I built?

I took yesterday and most of Monday off. I just couldn't stand knowing that box was in my living room. It bothered me like a stick in my eye.

First, I demolished the chipboard turd in the living room and detached the return duct from the floor of the house. It was a quick, easy, and highly gratifying job.

Then, I spent the rest of the time under the house building my own return air box. My hands look like I spent two days wrestling a cactus. Sheet metal and fiberglass are great. I tried to take some pictures but they didn't turn out. Here is a crude diagram of it.

The box I've built is larger than the one gracing my living room. The main body of the box is approximately 38" wide, 27" tall, and 40" long. There is a second section that is like a glorified duct that is 38" wide and 48 inches long that attaches to the top side of the main box.

The box extends up between the joists to the sub-flooring. I've used cans of spray foam insulation (normally used around door & window rough-ins and where pipes & wires enter the home) to seal the joints, nooks, and what-not to keep air (and bugs) from the crawlspace out of the return. Once the box is completed, I'll probably enclose it in ridged, insulation foam-board for a good measure.

The blue diagonal line across the box's interior is where I'm going to build an internal partition to mount the air filter. I wish I could find a more convenient place for the filter. I don't much relish having to crawl around under the Queen every time the filter needs to be changed, but life is full of trade-offs. I'd rather crawl under the house than look at that damn box.

I hope that I'm as clever as it think I am and this works. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Brief Update with Lamps

In short, I spent most of Monday and all of Tuesday battling the chipboard beast in my living room. I just couldn't sit a work knowing that damn thing was there. I was worried that it would put down roots if I left it long enough.

I still have more to do, but it's looking much better (and we're much happier as well). I have an electrician coming out tomorrow to give a bid for wiring the heat & air system. I might have him give me a bid on a few other projects to get this old whore of a house moving along.

More later.

And, the lamps.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we are selling several items to fund the Devil Queen. I believe Kristin asked for pictures of the lamps (and the dining room table which has since found a new home). Well, here they are. Sorry for the very long delay.

The lamps' bases and "caps"are made of chalk or plaster (or a similar material) with a paint finish. They are stamped with the year of their creation, 1909 (if I remember correctly). They have their original wiring and they work. The shades are made of mica. They are very delicate (the mica is flaking in a couple of places), but they are intact. The lamps stand about 12-14 inches tall.

If anyone is at the interior decorating stage of their home renovation and interested in the lamps, email me at I'm sure we can work something out.

What the F*** Do I Do With This?

(I intended to post this Monday, but I was otherwise occupied for the last couple of days.)

Good news: The heating & air guy came out and installed our entire system.

Bad news: We have this sorry piece of crap in our living room.

What can I say? I'm a fussy little bastard. I think chipboard boxes in the living room look like shit. And, I'm the nice one. My wife is NOT happy. This is an understatement.

We've spent a lot of time talking with our heating & air guy. I almost feel bad for him. According to him, he can't put the return air vent and duct in the front bedroom closet because the sewer line, the plumbing, and the fireplace are in the way. For similar reasons, a floor vent in the living room or the hall are not real options either. This is it.

First, I was in denial. "Sure," I thought to myself, "You can cover this up. Turn it into a nice cabinet or built-in." Now, I'm thinking that there is no way for me to cover-up this monstrous turd.

If man can go to the moon, there has got to be a way for me to get this out of my living room.

(Post Script: There is a way, more to follow)

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Illusion of Control

There is a military aphorism that runs something like, "Even the best laid plan never survives first contact." I've got my weekend pretty well planned out, but I know there isn't a snowball's chance in hell the it'll go the way I think it should.

Saturday I get to watch my son for a few hours in the morning. Then, Charlie and I will head up to the Queen to plumb our little hearts out. My wife works all afternoon. We're supposed to meet up at home at the end of the day. Then we have an exciting number of chores to attend to (cleaning house, grocery shopping, painting and installing new bathroom trim, and who knows what else).

Sunday, my mom has volunteered to come up to scrape wallpaper in the master bedroom. I'm guessing that Charlie and I will still be plumbing, and perhaps the Mrs. will come along for an exciting day of manual labor.

Now, what'll actually happen remains to be seen. On the upside, the weather is supposed to be beautiful.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Perpetual Motion Machine

My wife's mind is a perpetual motion machine. At night, once the baby is in bed, the television is off, and the world is hushed and dark, you can hear a steady hum. It's like the sound of an engine at a constant idle.

My wife can be drop-dead exhausted, but she will lie awake for hours as her mind sifts through hundreds of thoughts and ideas.

Wednesday she had a long day at work and went to bed early. About 40 minutes later, I crawled into bed. I was sure she'd be asleep by then. I put in a lot of effort to tip toe across the bedroom and gently ease into the bed. I got comfortable and stared to doze off.

I was startled when my wife started talking to me.

"Did I tell you that I might have found a house we can salvage stuff from?"

"Hmm? No, you didn't."

"It's behind the library in Russellville. It's the Victorian that someone stuccoed."

"Yeah," I said, "I know that one."

"The library owns it, and they're wanting to tear it down."

"So, do you think they'd let us have the flooring?"

"They might. Do you want me to ask them about it?"

"Sure," I said, "I'd even be willing to pay them $300 for it."

"What kind of floor do you think it has? It's not as old as the Queen."

"I'm guessing it's about as old as the Davis House. Maybe 60 years old?"


"I'd say that the floors are probably pine. Three-in-four chance that they're narrow boards, maybe three inches wide. Maybe a one-in-four chance that they are wider."


A while later I drifted off to sleep. I could still hear the hum of the machine beside me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In Short

In short, nothing much worth mentioning happened over the weekend.

Charlie and I did a lot of plumbing. No, you still can't flush or wash your hands afterward.
We ran out of stuff and spent a lot of time driving all over Pope County trying to buy more.

I was waylaid by a rock-layer that wouldn't shut up for nearly two hours.

Suddenly, it was Sunday night. I was tired, and I was pissed because it was time to go back to the office.

I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to write about the weekend, something informative and witty. Then, I had an epiphany; you can't polish a turd.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Cost of Procrastination

I have some advice for all the housebloggers out there. If you can afford to, buy all the materials you need for the foreseeable future now.

Last summer and fall we got a lot of quotes for several projects on the Devil Queen. Rocking in the crawlspace, installing heating and air, building fireplaces, etc. Unfortunately for us, most of these projects were contingent upon other projects' completion (plumbing and electricity). Things dragged on, and a year later we are finally ready. Unfortunately, we're finding the price of everything has gone way up. Between soaring fuel prices, steel and concrete shortages (high demand from China), and rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Rita & Katrina, the price for everything is climbing at an insane rate. For example, one contractor told me that the price of sheetrock went up 30% in one week.

The cost of our heating and air system has increased about 20%. In addition to increases for materials, there new government regulations have been implemented which also increased costs.

The cost of rock work has doubled or tripled over the last year. In addition to the afore mentioned factors, the government has restricted the harvesting of rock from public lands. A few years ago you could drive off-road on public lands and load up a truck full of rock. Now you have to stay on the roads and carry the rocks, one by one, out of the woods to the truck. Most contractors and rock layers don't have the time to harvest their rocks this way. Instead, they have to buy their rocks and pass the cost on to us. Not that I can prove it, but I also believe that some are padding their labor costs and blaming it on the hurricanes.

I'm really glad that I stocked up on plywood, concrete backer board, and bricks last year. The pile of bricks we bought for the fireplaces last year is worth 40% more than what we paid for it. I wish we'd bought more (or stayed on schedule).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fan Mail

The last couple of weeks I've been preoccupied with our precarious financial situation, and I haven't check my email since the first of the month. Today I was pleasantly surprised to find a goody in my mailbox. It read:

Hey--I'm Brenda, from Brooklyn, and I totally love 'Devil Queen' and just gave you a great plug and link in my month-old quasi-houseblog,

Of course, I'm only getting about 10 hits a day, but think of the honor!
Good luck with your stuff,


At first I was suspicious. Had the comment-spammers found a way into my email? Curious, I checked out the link. Nothing nefarious (further strengthening my wife's argument that I'm paranoid), and I was very please to find that it was a great plug. What can I say? Not only am I paranoid, but I am vain as well.

I recommend that you check it out. The house's back story is as wild as they come. The most recent previous residents/owner were 20 some-odd Chinese immigrants and their landlord, "General Chang."

Truth is stranger than fiction.

As for the weekend, I have a hot date tomorrow morning with Charlie the Plumbing God. I think we're gonna kick the kitchen sink's ass and finish running the last of the waterline to the laundry/back-bathroom. If I'm feeling frisky, I may try setting up one of our on-demand, electric hot water heaters. I'm curious to see how well (or if) the thing works. Aside from that, I'm just expecting more of the usual home-renovation cruelty.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

280 Square Feet on the Cheap?

It looks like we're going to need 280 square feet of wood flooring for the front hall.

The hall floor was shamelessly abused. Before we bought the Queen, the previous owners laid carpet over it, cut a whole in it for the return air duct, and let the roof leak on it for about 20 years. Then we show up and cut the Queen in half down one side of the hall. Since the move, the two halves don’t quite match up. It hard to describe how it's off exactly. The front section of the hall and the front bedroom have been stretched out of shape by about 3/4 of an inch in several directions.

Out of everything inflicted on the floor, the water was the worst. The wall around the front door lost a couple of studs and a lot of wall boards to rot. About 75% of the wainscoting was ruined too. About 18 inches of all the floor boards at that end of the hall rotted away along with two floor joists beneath them.

We'd hoped to repair the original floor, but I don't think that its going to happen. Tony cut the rotten ends off the boards near the door and replaced them with plywood. He has also replaced all of the rotten joists. I haven't crawled all of the way under the house to get a good look at it yet. It appears that the plywood not only serves as subflooring but as a structural support as well. Tony has started his next job, so I've had trouble getting a hold of him. I'm looking for his opinion on it.

I don't think salvaging more floorboards is an option for us at this point. We don't have any time to spare, and I haven't seen any good "donor" homes in our area lately. I'm going put a call in to our guy in Mena to see if he can find us any.

We've been considering our options.

First, we checked to see what we have on hand. It didn't take long. We have some salvaged flooring left over from the kitchen and additions, but it isn't enough and most boards are in pretty bad shape.

Second, we considered tiling the hall. While I think it may look nice, it has several disadvantages. First, it'll build the floor up about an inch or more. This will have me redoing all the thresholds and trimming a couple of doors. The doors are original, and I do not want to tamper with them any more than I have to. It would also cost us about $3.00 (+/-) a square foot. On our current budget, that is just too much.

Wood is probably the way we'll go. Ideally, we'd love to have walnut, cherry, or something of the like. Pine is probably what we'll end up with. Nothing wrong with that, most of the house has pine floors already. If we went to Lowe's it'd cost us about $475.

I checked Lumber Liquidators too. I found pine for $462. This is without shipping. They just opened a store in Memphis, so I could drive down and get it. I figure that would be about $100 dollars for gas. Has anyone used Lumber Liquidators before? Something bothers me about buying flooring sight unseen.

To be honest, no price has been low enough for me. So far, all the flooring we've laid has been salvaged. Aside from lots of time and sweat, it's been free. How do you beat that price?

For now we've put this project on the back burner. Maybe something will come to us if we keep our eyes open.

I'm open to suggestions. Anyone have a better idea?

Grinding: Paint Stripping Bliss?

Grinding off old paint with a wire-brush disk on an angle grinder has been recommended to me by two people in the last couple of days. Has anyone else used this method? How well does the wood hold up? Brian, in the comments section last week, said that it was great for everything except fine detail. If anyone out there has had some personal experience with this method, I'd love to hear about it.

If I go this way, I'm going to have to invest in some more tools and equipment. I can't afford buyers remorse, so I'd like to make an informed decision.

Thanks for the help!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wildlife Refuge

Monday night the Mrs. and I met up at the Queen after work. We were feeling ambitious and decided to insulate the master bathroom. It is fairly easy work. I measure and cut the insulation and she staples it up. As we started work, she noticed a sizeable pile of bird crap on the newly laid wood floor.

"Will that stain?"

"I don’t think so," I replied. "It's funny, the Queen has been sitting up here for years with an open attic, but the birds and critters don't start coming until after we close her up. I can't figure it out."

"It makes sense."


"The house wasn't a shelter until we closed it up."

"That's sad. We’ve spent the last three years working on a house that wasn't fit for wild animals to live in. That just doesn't seem right."

She shrugged and started stapling up the next bat of insulation.

On the upside, at least it's fit for animals now. That is progress. Another couple of months and maybe it'll be fit for people.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Scraping Paint

Above is a close up of the bay window after a few hours of work. The panel on the bottom left is a great after view and the panel on the bottom right is an excellent before view. Even after the wood is scraped down, it still shows some color. The bay window was originally red, and the paint seems to have stained the wood.

From what I can tell, the house was completely scraped down between 1940-1950. There is very little paint left from before the army surplus green and white. As I've been scraping, I've been using a nail set to resink a lot of nails. It's amazing how much a difference this makes. I originally thought that I'd be using a lot of caulk on the bay window, but the trim is tightening up so well that not too much will be needed.

Who ever put this together did a beautiful job. And, they didn't have power tools. I can't imagine getting joints this tight with a hand saw.

The Master Bath's New Face

Here are a couple of photos of the master bath after Daryl was finished with it. It looks a lot better than it did a few weeks ago. Now, if I can just get the rest of the Queen to look this good.

Dragon Lady Kung Fu

I hate to be cryptic, but the particulars of this tale probably don't need to be aired too openly. Some folks enjoy their privacy, and I respect that.

In short, we've gotten some breathing room from our foul-mouthed financier. The financier-stalker's kung fu is weak compared to the Dragon Lady's. The Dragon Lady gave him a much needed attitude adjustment.

Dragon Lady: "Have you seen the house?'

Stalker: "Yes, I fly over it all the time."

Dragon Lady: "You need to fly closer."

Stalker: "I've come over at tree-top level. If I flew any lower, I'd hit the house."

Dragon Lady: "That would be a good start."

Stalker: "Umm, ah. Oh."

He's still circling (photos below from the weekend), but he's backed off for now.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Many Thanks

I would like to thank our anonymous supporter. Thank you so much for your help. It has made a world of difference to us. Our gratitude and thanks hardly seem enough. I hope lots of good karma finds its way to you.

Thank you again.

Rotten Repaired

Here is the finished repair. For some reason, I find doing fancy carpentry work like this very intimidating. The bay window is one of the real show-case features of the Queen and one of the first things people see when they come to the house. If I screw it up, it'd be hard to cover up.

I lucked out on this though. I used a board salvaged from the original front porch for this replacement piece. The board thickness was identical to the rotten one. I was thrilled. A perfect match is a rare find. I took my time measuring, remeasuring, cutting, and trimming until I had a snug fit.


The Queen is nearly sealed up for the winter. One of the last jobs left was replacing a couple rotten boards on the bay window. While most of the Queen's wood siding was protected (?) by a layer of mint green vinyl siding for the last 30-40 years, the bay window has been fully exposed to the elements since it was built in 1890. It looks pretty awful in the picture below, but I consider myself lucky. It could have been much, much worse than this.

The trickiest part was getting the original board out. Both ends were thoroughly rotten which made it hard to get leverage to pry it out. It was also top nailed in three places through the window sash. These nails were cut with a hacksaw blade. Even so, it was hard going. Once the board popped out, I saw why. They had nailed the board in from the inside of house as well. There were four nails driven into the back of board. Talk about over kill.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pissing and Moaning

I have not enjoyed my week. I spent the first half of the week wallowing in self-pity and despair, having arguments with the Mrs., and getting in touch with my inner-nihilist. That hasn't left me much time or interest in posting or anything else. I've spent the rest of the week trying to clean up the mess from the first half of the week. I don't know if I've succeeded, but I feel some better for the effort.

The weekend had its ups and downs. On the upside, my friend Daryl came up Saturday and primed 95% or more of the master bathroom's siding. Charlie came up Sunday and we finished laying the kitchen floor (Wow! It only took three month!) and ran a lot of plumbing (cold water feed). On the down side, Tony's last day was Friday. The job he was waiting on was finally ready to start, so he'd be leaving us. I was pretty disappointed. There was about 14 linear feet of crown molding and trim left unfinished, the front porch need to be trimmed out, and the bay window still needed to be repair. I can do all of this, but it'll take me a lot longer than it would Tony and his crew. Also, Mr. Seals, our brick mason didn't show. And, our electrician didn't show either.

By Sunday night the Mrs. and I were feeling pretty wretched. We had an argument because both of us are upset with the Queen. The main point of contention was basically a disagreement on how bad our situation is, what we should do about it, and what has this whole experience told us about ourselves. Truth and self-examination are never pretty, particularly in the hands of ambitious, driven people who've fallen far short of their own expectations.

Monday was a gloomy day. We've given up on the idea of rocking in the crawlspace for now. We were considering using concrete blocks and laying rock veneer over it later. Our foundation man came out and said that he couldn't do it without jacking the house up, removing the perimeter piers, and then building the wall. He suggested that we get some concrete board, screw it into the piers, and cover the base of it with dirt or other fill. Chances are that's what we'll do as a temporary measure. Not real excited about it, but it's better than nothing.

Tuesday night we discovered it wasn't fairies working on the Queen during the week, it was Tony. His lovely wife called us to let us know. According to her, they weren't quite ready for him at his next job, so Monday and Tuesday he worked on the Queen. According to my wife, he has started working on the main hall. I haven't seen it yet, so I have no idea what he's finished.

Wednesday, my little sister sent me a care package. That brightened my mood some. In addition to the Arborio rice and the French Roast coffee, she also sent me this article. The article is from Natural Home and Garden Magazine, and it is about a woman in Houston, Texas, who moves historic homes. Pretty cool story, sounds like she is a lot better at it than we are.

Thursday has been pretty decent. I'm a bit disappointed though. Most of my mom's family is on their way to San Francisco now for my cousin's wedding. If it wasn't for the Queen, I'd be on my way too. As far as I know, it is the largest family get together (that was not a funeral) in 16 or 17 years.

Tomorrow, I don't think that I'll be going to my day job. Partly it is to work on the Queen and have a date with my wife. We haven't seen much of each other since she started working for the newspaper. It's also because I don't have enough money to drive to work and back home again. Really. You just think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

Since I paid our insurance on the Queen today, I have no money in my checking account, and I don't get paid for a week. I have no idea how I'm going to get to work next week. I guess it's time to check under all the cushions in the living room again.

Daryl at work. He confided that he has an unfortunate compulsion. Once he opens a can of paint, he feels compelled to continue painting until the can is empty. It sucks for him, but I'm loving it.

The Good Old Days

For those of you who haven't heard, some American scientists have raised the 1918 Spanish Flu Virus from the dead. It was pretty clever how they went about doing it, but you have to wonder if it is something that ought to have been left alone.

My wife and I (the freaks that we are) have read a good bit about the 1918 pandemic. What is interesting about this pandemic is that, even though it killed tens of millions (some say hundreds of millions) people world wide, there are very few written accounts of it from that time. The folks that live in our old homes (those built before 1918 of course) weathered this storm, or, perhaps, they didn't. I don't know if any of the Boswells caught the flu, but I know none of them died of it. I'd be curious to know if any of you have come across references to the flu in your house or genealogical research.

Something else odd about this disease, it mostly killed young adults (18-35). Normally, the very young and the very old make up the majority of fatalities in flu out breaks. Not in 1918. It also struck extremely fast. People felt fine in the morning, left for work, and fell ill and died before they arrived at their desk.

For any of you with a morbid curiosity, I'd recommend the following books:

Alfred W. Crosby's America's Forgotten Pandemic : The Influenza of 1918. In telling the story of the flu, he also gives an interesting account of the early days of modern medicine.

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History by John M. Barry.

Flu : The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic by Gina Kolota.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Kathrine Anne Porter is the only definitive account of the pandemic in English. It is an autobiographical account of her own experiences during the pandemic. She survived a bout of the flu.

Robert Graves makes a couple of references to the flu in his autobiography, Good-bye to All That. Graves and his family all contracted the disease. All of them survived except his mother-in-law.

Thomas Wolfe mentions the flu in his novel Look Homeward, Angel. The novel is largely autobiographical and recounts his older brother's death from the flu.

And, if you are looking for something to creep you out for Halloween, read the first 100 some odd pages of Stephen King's book The Stand. The main premise for the book is a government engineered super-flu virus is accidentally released killing 98% of the worlds population. The first 100 pages or so are about the pandemic. The rest is about a mythical struggle good and evil, rebuilding the world, etc. In my opinion, the rest of the book (1200+ pages) isn't worth the effort. Borrow it or buy it used if you're interested.

The North-Northwest Side, Before and After

Below is the before view of the North-Northwest side of the Queen. Notice the lovely vinyl siding, the missing boards (removed since they were heavily rotted), and copious amount of tar paper covering the gaping hole into the attic. Also note the door opening in the rear most section of the Queen.

And, here is the same side after Tony finished. Notice that the door shown in before picture is no longer there. According to Tony, even though this doorway would provide excellent cross ventilation, it was poorly situated. He said that the door we had installed there was already starting to rot. This side of the Queen receives the least sun and catches a lot on rain when the wind starts blowing. The only way to really keep it dry is building a covered porch on this side of the Queen. He also said that it congested the traffic flow in the rear hall (which was true), so he made an executive decision and removed it. I am sure some folks would be upset with this, but I can't muster any indignation. Really, he is right, and it makes a lot of things much simpler. Besides, if we change our mind at a latter date, I know where the rough-in for the door is.


Incase anyone out there thought that I was making it up, here is a photo of our stalker. I took it last Saturday. It's a little hard to see, so I circled it for your convenence. Somehow the camera makes the plane look further away than it really was.

Going Ballistic

As per Greg's comment from last week, I must admit that similar thoughts have crossed my mind. If money and federal laws were no object, there are days when I wish I had one of these babies. I think there is plenty of room for one on three acres.

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