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!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The "Girly Hand" and Much Ado About Nothing

I haven't been feeling well today (nothing to do with the gimpy hand), so I hope this post is reasonably coherent. Also, sorry for the utter lack of photos. Our cheap digital camera has evaporated. The Mrs. and I are talking about buying another one soon if it doesn't materialize. I've provided a short version for your convenience and long one for those who like all the torrid details.

The Short Version

I am a retard. My wife thinks I'm a retard. People make fun of me because I'm a retard. We didn't get much work done on the Queen. It rained a lot. We were nearly hit by a couple tornadoes. We went home and went to bed.

The Long Version

Saturday, we didn't work on the Queen. I couldn't work, our babysitter was out, and we were all tired anyhow. It wouldn't have been too bad of a day except that I was grumpy because I'd mashed my hand and my wife was miffed for the same reason.

The worst part of doing something stupid and injuring yourself is that you don't get any sympathy. When my wife was possessed by Satan and burned a mountain of poison oak in California, I swelled up like an over-ripe fruit. I looked gene-therapy-gone-bad, and I got a lot of sympathy. That was nice. Mutilate yourself with a drill and all you hear is stuff like "dumb ass," "I'm going to kill you," "what were you thinking," and laughter in general.

And, since you screwed yourself royally, you have to take all the ridicule. I mean, what is a good come back? "Leave me alone, at least it wasn't the miter saw!" Instead of confessing the whole thing, I should have made up a story about fending off a crazed wildebeest or pulling a family of four out of a burning car. Thinking on my feet has never been my strong suit.

This all should go a long way to explain why I never, ever drink while working on the Queen. I know some folks like cracking open a cold one while they scrape wallpaper or paint the living room, but not me. I know there is an excellent chance that a pint of stout plus scraping wallpaper will end with me being identified by my dental records.

For the first couple of days after the incident, I walked around doing my Napoleon impression, my left hand held close to my stomach or chest to keep it from thumping into things. My wife and mother-in-law started calling it my "girly hand," since I look fruity with it tucked close.

Can you feel the love?

Sunday, we were determined to make some progress. We charged up to the Queen and went to work. Jack decides to come along too (something about wiring in the kitchen). My "girly hand" and I (coked up on ibuprofen) were sent to do some sanding in the master bathroom while my wife took on the claw foot tub. She finished sanding it down without incident and began priming it. Things were looking good when it begins raining. I help her haul a piece of backerboard over the tub and drape a tattered tarp over that.

Frustrated but still determined my wife comes inside to help with the sanding. She quickly decides the belt sander is the Devil. The obvious solution is that I drive down to my in-laws to borrow their palm sander. I'm more than willing to go at this point, the Mrs. is in one of her moods. It's safer to humor her at this point.

As I'm driving across the top of Crow Mountain, I notice the grey clouds have become inky black. As they drop low, trailing wispy tendrils I decide that it looks a lot like a wall cloud. That is never good. By the time I get to Atkins, the police are slowly cruising the streets with their warning siren playing. The wind is really picking up, so I gun it for my in-laws.

When I get there, my mother in-law comes out and says, "Where is everyone else?"

"What do you mean? I just came for your palm sander and some turkey sandwiches."

"The palm sander is on the porch, but come look at this," she says walking me in to the house and over to her computer. She has the National Weather Service online and there is an ugly storm front cutting across the state. It is sitting right on top of Atkins.

We watch the weather for about 15 minutes. A tornado over in Yell County is predicted to hit Atkins at 5:51 PM. It's 5:10 PM. I get back in the car and head up to the Queen to tell everyone it is time to leave. It takes me forever to get there. The weather is getting worse, but what really slows me down is a fire truck. I don't know what they were doing, prepositioning themselves for the storm? Their sirens aren't on and they are crawling along at 35 mph. After an eternity, I manage to pass them.

I get to the Queen and come running in (palm sander in hand). My wife is sitting on the master bath floor. She looks sour. "Where have you been? You've been gone for nearly an hour."

"We need to leave now. There is a tornado on its way here. Where's Jack?"

We lock the Queen up and drive off into the storm. We ride it out at my in-laws and head home after it passes.

But, the worst news was yet to come. I didn't hear about it until I got to work Monday. My favorite liquor store in Blackwell, Arkansas, was destroyed. A tornado hit it dead on doing over a million dollars in damages (I'm guess that was mostly inventory, the building was crap). The crappy liquor store that caters to the frat-boy crowd on the other side of the interstate survived unscathed.

So, that was my great three-day work weekend. I lost my thumb (sort of), my pride (all of it, for good), and my favorite liquor store, and all I have to show for it is a sanded down tub and a half sanded floor.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Bring Out the Gimp

The older I get, the more I believe that I am my own nemesis. Somehow, I am subconsciously hell bent on my own destruction.

Thanksgiving came and went without too much fanfare. Visited with family, gorged on rich, fatty food, and, at the end of the day, fell into bed in a bloated, semi-comatose state.

Friday I went to the Queen to kick some serious home improvement ass. My goal for the remaining three days of holiday weekend were: strip down & refinish the claw-foot tub, sand-stain-seal the master bathroom floor, and enclose more of the crawlspace.

I started with the tub. We'd recently acquired a new, high-pressure nozzle for the pressure washer, and I was eager to try it out. It is a rotating, high-pressure nozzle (click here for a picture) that produces 3500 psi. I figured this would do a great job on the tub. I was right, sort of. The pressure washer completely stripped the paint from one side of the tub in a matter of seconds. The paint on the other side of the tub was very resilient. They must have done a better job of priming and sealing it I guess. After about 15 minutes of blasting away at it, I gave up. A few sections reluctantly surrendered their paint, but I wasn't making any real progress.

My backup plan was a wire-brush grinding wheel attachment for a drill. I got our one corded drill, attached the grinder, and got to work.

The grinder worked well. I was working on the tight spot under the lip of the tub when my laziness and stupidity paid off.

It was fairly cold Friday, and I had bundled up for the pressure washing. Nothing like getting soaked with water on a brisk autumn day, right? I put on a cheap, plastic poncho and a pair of plastic dishwasher gloves worn over a pair of knit gloves to waterproof myself. Yes, I looked like a total dork, but, after a life time of experience, you become inured to these sort of fashion gaffes. For whatever it is worth, my retarded fisherman outwear worked really well. When I moved on to the grinder the poncho and rubber gloves came off. Since it was cold, I absentmindedly (willing negligence?) left my knit gloves on. This was mistake number one.

As I worked the grinder-brush up under the tub lip, it bent back the bristles in such a manner that they snagged the knit glove on my left hand. I think you see where this is going now (had I worn leather work-gloves, the following never would have occurred).

It happened so fast that an accurate description isn't really possible. I think the grinder brush caught the fabric on the back of my hand between my thumb and index finger. This pulled the whole drill over towards the back of my hand bringing my thumb with it. The only thing holding it in check were the four fingers of my left hand. The glove's finger tips had also caught on the bristles pulling the glove most of the way off (not all the way, my fingers were wadded into a ball inside the palm of the glove) and were wrapped around the shaft of the grinder. This brought the drill's movement over my hand to a stop, sort of.

Mistake number two. This drill has convenient feature that allows you to lock the trigger down in the "on" position. Since I'd been grinding for over an hour, I'd gotten tired of constantly squeezing down the trigger, so I locked it down. When my accident happened the motor just kept humming. As soon as I felt the brush grip on my hand, I reflexively released my grip on the handle. Normally, the drill would have stopped at this point if the trigger hadn't been locked down. Since it was, the correct procedure to unlock it is to squeeze the trigger and then release. It took me a couple of desperate grabs to get the damn thing shut off.

At times like this, it's funny how the mind works. As one part of my mind calm works at turning off the drill and untangling my hand, there is someone else that is also me yelling, cussing, and jumping around. Odd.

Once I've freed my hand and thrown the drill, I'm rolling around on the ground with my left hand cradled close to my chest. As I'm doing this, the detached part of my mind is keeping up a constant monologue. Damn idiot, you knew better. Look what you've done to yourself. Moron.

And then I start laughing between moans. I'm picturing what this scene would look like to another person. Here, in the middle of nowhere, is a man wearing a storm-trooper respirator mask, goggles, and sound muffling earmuffs, flopping around like a trout freshly pulled from a stream. In a schadenfreude sort of way, it's hysterical.

Finally, I drag myself to a lawn chair and examine my hand. While I am not a medical professional, I come to the conclusion that I haven't broken any bones. I do decide that I've probably pulled, strained, or bruised ever bit of soft tissue in my left hand. Nice.
Delusional, I sit there for twenty minutes hoping that I'll feel well enough to finish the tub. It doesn't happens.

I'm supposed to meet my wife in Russellville at 3 PM, but I decided to head home first. I manage to put everything away with my right hand, which was quite a chore. Once I get home, I shower and put on some nice clothes.

My wife does a double take when I get out of the car and then looks suspicious.

"You're awfully dressed up. Are we going somewhere special?" she asks.

"Well, I was hoping that if I looked nice you'd stay with me for my dashing good looks even though I'm a moron."

She laughs. "What?"

Then I showed her my hand.

"John! I'm going to kill you."

Since I don't have smarts or money, I must look better than I think because she's still with me.

You’re probably thinking, "Wow, what a total moron!" (Correct) or "What a crappy Friday!" (Also correct), but the weekend gets even worse. Some people are born with Fortune's favor, but I was born with a lightning rod strapped to my ass.

However, the ache in my hand tells me that the rest of the story will have to come later. Sorry y'all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Since You Asked, Rosemary Bread

This recipe is from a Williams-Sonoma Collection Cookbook, Savoring Tuscany I think. I'm working from memory, but I think every thing is correct. I've added some comments and recommendations from my own experience too. Enjoy.

Rosemary Bread (Sorry, I forgot the Italian name for it)



1 cup warm water
1cup flour
1 package of yeast


1 cup of warm water
3 cups of flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon of salt
rosemary (quarter to half a cup or more, don’t be shy)
* olives (approximately 1 cup)
olive oil

* [A note on olives. First, the olives are optional. I've made the bread with and without olives, and it tastes good either way. My wife prefers it with olives. I do too, but only if you can get good olives. By good olives, I mean something fresh or in brine. Greek olives are some of my favorites though Italian and Californian ones are good too. Use green or black or both. They're all good. Don't use the everyday canned ones you'll find a Wal-Mart or the kind stuffed with jalapenos, et cetera. Yuck.]

Making the Starter

Pour one cup of warm (not hot water, it'll kill the yeast) in a bowl. I use a Pyrex or Ziploc bowl with a lid for convenience. Add the yeast to the water and let it sit for 5 minutes. Stir the water-yeast mixture briefly and add the 1 cup of flour. Stir until evenly mixed. Cover and let is sit for at least 1 hour. I stick mine in our oven if it hasn't been used recently so it's cool and dark.

I've let the starter sit for up to three days. At that point the starter becomes a sour-dough starter. If you go this way, make sure the starter hasn't spoiled. If it looks moldy, smell really bad (as opposed to sour, which is a sharp smell), or has turned pink, pitch it and try again.

Making the Dough

Mix the flour, salt, and rosemary in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the starter and 1 cup of warm water. Stir until a sticky ball of dough forms. On a well floored board or surface, kneed the dough for ten minutes (I think it would take 5 minutes if you have a mix-master with a dough hook, but, since I don't have one, I don't know). Add additional flour to the board as needed to prevent sticking. After about ten minutes, the dough ought to be elastic, firm, moist but not wet or sticky (as in like glue). Roll the dough into a ball. Oil the inside of a large mixing bowl with olive oil, just enough to cover the sides and bottom. You don't want the dough to sit in a puddle of oil. I use re-use the bowl I mixed the dough in. Roll the dough around so it has thin coat of oil all over it. Cover the bowl with a towel, plastic wrap, et cetera. Let the dough sit in a warm, draft free place for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The dough should double in size as it rises. Sometimes, I turn my oven on at 200 degrees when I start the dough and turn it off when I've finished kneading it. I then put the covered dough in the oven. The extra warmth helps it rise.

After the dough has risen, uncover it and punch the dough down. Take the dough and cut it into two equal portions.

If your making the bread with olives, do the following:

On a floured surface, take one portion of the dough and press & flatten it into a rectangle. No need for a rolling pin, just use your hands. The rectangle should be about 12" by 8." Cover the dough with half a cup (or more if you wish) of olives. Spread them evenly on the dough. Then, roll the dough up starting at one edge and rolling toward the other (kind of like rolling up a roll of wrapping paper). Tuck the ends in and roughly form into a loaf. Place the loaf seam-side down on a cooking sheet. Repeat to make a second loaf.

If you're making the bread without olives, do the following:

Form each half of the dough into a loaf approximately 12 inches long. Place both loaves on a cooking sheet about 2 inches apart.

[A note on cooking sheets. I use a cookie sheet for my bread. The original recipe calls for you to lightly oil the sheet, but I've found that it works best to lay the bread on without oiling it - otherwise it sticks. Adjust to the particulars of your own cookware.]

Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let them rise for an hour. The loaves should increase in size by about 50-100%. If they are touching some, it's okay. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Uncover the loaves, cut 4 or 5 diagonal slits in their tops with a razor or sharp knife (I've forgotten to do this and it's made no noticeable difference). Bake for 45 minutes or so.

When the bread is finished, it should have a hard, brown crust. Tap on it, and, if it sounds hollow, it is finished. Remove from the oven and transfer the bread to a cooling rack. Give it at least 5-10 minutes and cut off a chunk and try it. This is when it is at its best. It's good dipped in good, extra-virgin olive oil. I'm not sure how long it stays fresh, we usually eat it all in about 3 days. Don't refrigerate. If it needs to be freshened up, microwave for 20-30 seconds or put it in the oven for 5-10 minutes at about 350 degrees.

Making bread is rewarding, but sometimes it's difficult to work it into your schedule. I've accidentally sat myself up until 1 AM because I started the baking process too late in the day. Once you've mixed the dough with the starter, you're committed. If you're looking for a little less work and some near-instant gratification, I'd recommend this recipe from Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini: Gateau au Yaourt (Yogurt Cake). It's excellent. I've made 3 of them in the last week or so. Add 1.5 cups of berries (blueberries, blackberries, et cetera) if you want to change things up.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, November 21, 2005

First Class Turd

As a general rule, I never open my mail on the weekend. Whatever I find in my box on Friday and Saturday gets stuffed into a wad I hide until Monday morning. This Old House, National Geographic, or birthday cards are the exceptions to the rule. I've had more than one weekend ruined by some bad news sent via the US Postal Service. Since most businesses are closed for the weekend, there isn't anything you can do about it until Monday except worry if something is wrong.

Ignorance is bliss.

That being the case, what was a fairly routine Monday has become a rather unpleasant day. We're having a banking problem, and I'm having some trouble figuring out what is going on since their computers crashed. So, I'm anxiously waiting for a phone call, and contemplating this dreaded phrase, "daily compounding interest."

I need a drink.

Dreary, Cold Weekend

The weather in Arkansas went from summer like highs in the 90's to winter highs of the mid 50's over the last week or so. Apparently, fall was optional and omitted this year. Since we're still working on the Queen's exterior, we've really noticed the temperature change.

I can't wait until I get to fire up the pressure washer next week.

Our digital camera is still AWOL, so no pictures of the Queen. It's a shame because there are some visible signs of progress. Our plumbing is 99% finished. We need do a few minor things and we can check the system. Then, the water will be turned on. A working bathroom is nearly inevitable after that. We also have working lights in the our kitchen. The last hole in the exterior siding was enclosed, and I began sealing in the crawlspace.

We are gluttons for punishment (and disappointment), so we're setting January 1st as an arbitrary deadline for moving into the Queen. For this to happen, we need to close in a couple gaping holes in the floor, re-install about 6 ceiling boards (1 in the living room, five in the main hall), have a working kitchen (install cabinets, counter top, sink, and stove), have a working bathroom, wire up the ac/heat unit (should happen this week), replace one pane of glass, and finish two bedrooms. Oh, and the additions will need ceilings. Proper front steps would be nice too.

What can I say? We're crack heads, very ambitious crack heads.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Tongue and Groove Sketch

Kristin, here's the sketch. I hope it's some help. Incase it isn't obvious, the red lines are supposed to be nails.

If you do decide to pull the beadboard out of the attic or elsewhere, take your time. It's a tricky procedure.

Nervous Tics

Restoring an old house is kind of like having a baby for the first time.

You read up on it, you know people who've had kids, you babysat some for extra cash, you've seen movies, and, hell, maybe you even ask your parents about what it was like for them. You think you know what to expect, but the truth of it is you have absolutely no idea what you're getting into. There is no substitute for the actual experience. You hope for the best, but you really have no guarantee how it'll turn out. And, you'll find that your life is changed in ways you never expected.

For instance, buying the Devil Queen has made me a pretty good amateur chef. Not what you'd expect, is it?

It hasn't been a burden for me. Really, I like cooking. My mom's side of the family is peppered with a number of professional chefs, so it's in the blood. I was a passable cook to begin with, however, the Queen has given me great incentive to learn a lot more. In part, my noticeable improvement has been driven by a desire to eat well while on a tight budget. You can only eat chicken so many times before you start looking for new ways to prepare it.

The Queen has also burdened us with an immense amount of stress. My wife handles this in normal ways: irritability, a short temper, and an occasional, old fashioned cry. Not me. The stress has accentuated all of my neurotic tendencies in some unflattering ways. The oddest behavior I've come to exhibit is that I bake when I'm stressed. Some people count cracks in the ceiling or wash their hands compulsively. Not me. I make bread.

I didn't notice it myself, but my wife did. She thinks its funny, so much so that it's a bit embarrassing. My wife was in really bad shape after she had our son. She nearly died twice over a month and a half. In the first week we were home from the hospital, I baked two loafs of bread, a tequila cake, a Key Lime pie, and ton of Russian Tea Cookies. My mother-in-law stayed with us for a while to take care of my wife and son while I was at work, and she thought I was nuts. I couldn't figure out what they were staring at.

If my wife wants to know how tight money is, she watches how much time I spend in the kitchen.

"Is money that tight?"


My wife smiles, "I asked if money is tight."

"Yeah, it is. Why do you ask?"

"You're baking bread. Again."


Sometimes I think that I'm the craziest person without papers I know. Well, maybe I'm in the top ten?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Paper, Plaster, and Wood

I have always had a fascination with plaster work. Not drywall, but true lathe and plaster, and I have no idea why. I think it's a tactile attraction. I like the feel of it, the acoustics, and look of it.

As I spend hour after hour pulling wallpaper tacks out of the Devil Queen's walls, I wonder why wood? Why wallpaper? Why not plaster? Would that be easier? I started a post several months ago trying to answer this question. I did a fair bit of research, but the truth is I still didn't know. Frustrated, I filed it away in the back of my mind and moved on to other things.

Today, it all came together. I'm always intrigued when several seemingly random threads of information weave themselves into a coherent whole. The answer to my question can be summed up in three words: convenience, economy, and availability.

Unless they have money to burn, most people build homes with what is locally available. The Queen was originally made with locally milled pine and locally manufactured clay bricks. Moreover, Van Boswell, the builder of the Queen, was a carpenter and a contractor. As a carpenter, what material do you suppose he felt most comfortable working with? I don't know about you, but I'm guessing wood.

In local terms, the Devil Queen was a very nice, well-to-do middle class home when she was built. However, Russellville, Arkansas, was and is a provincial backwater of the greater United States. What passes as a "fortune" in Russellville isn't enough to buy a hole to shit in, in New York City.

From the homes I've seen in Savannah, Georgia, on Houseblogs, and other places, I've drawn the conclusion that only relatively wealthy people could afford plaster. It takes a highly skilled craftsman to do good plaster work. Yes, I know that it takes a lot of skill to master carpentry, plumbing, et cetera, but I still believe plaster is exceptionally difficult. According to an article in this months This Old House Magazine (December 2005, No. 94):

"Every bit of the work, from making the molds to mixing the plaster, is done entirely by hand in a process that has hardly changed since the days of the Pyramids. Mastering it requires a 6,000 hour apprenticeship - that's 20 times as long as it takes to get a commercial pilot's license."

They don’t list any prices in the article, but I bet they charge a pretty penny for their work. I would if I'd spent that long mastering my trade. No disrespect to the late Van Boswell, but I don't think he had enough money to hire a plasterer to come out to BFE to work on the Queen even if he wanted to.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I still think the Devil Queen is a magnificent house. I've never found a house quite like her anywhere else. Sure she isn't anywhere as fancy as the house below (If you want to see this baby in person, go to Savannah, Georgia), but that is fine with me.

Besides, from what I've seen, installing/repairing/disposing of plaster and lathe walls looks worse than peeling wallpaper and patching & painting drywall. Sure, pulling wallpaper tacks sucks, but it could always be worse.


Is there something wrong with Houseblogs? It hasn't updated the new posts section since mid-morning yesterday. Or, is it just me?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

All in Good Taste?

It's funny how some things hold up over time and others don't.

Lately, my wife and I have been watching movies from our childhood. Sadly, my memories of many of these movies are better than the movies themselves. For instance, Beetlejuice, which I loved as a kid, has not aged well. It didn't suck like Beverly Hills Cop, but it was a painful disappointment. On the other hand, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Better Off Dead are still hilarious.

Tastes change. The old Victorians we covet and treasure were reviled in the 1920's as gaudy, misbegotten abominations. For those of a literary bent, you might read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The clash between the old and new architecture forms the backdrop for the story.

When I'm old and crotchety, will young people say, "Wow, look at that 1970's ranch house. It's in great shape: low ceilings, aluminum single pane windows, and a two car garage. Isn't it wonderful?! It's a shame that folks have let homes like these get so run down. Isn't it sad they pulled out the original green shag carpet to lay Pergo. What were they thinking?"

It's widely held that you can't predict the future, but I'm just not seeing it. But, what do I know? There is no accounting for taste.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dumbass, The Memoir

Dumbass, The Memoir: How I turned talent and boundless potential into an utterly miserable life.

Yet another great holiday gift idea! Preorder now at!

I just read on that Augusten Burroughs is being sued by his family for his memoir Running With Scissors. His family claims he made the whole thing up. Normally, that wouldn't be too big of a deal except he said some extremely unfaltering things about them. It would be disingenuous for me to express an opinion on the suit or his book since I've never read it. Hearing a 30 second excerpt on NPR hardly qualifies as reading a book, does it? Whether he did or not isn't what interests me. What does interest me is that he has made a lot of money because people enjoy reading about other people's suffering (real or imagined).

He might be onto something.

Since we owe enough to have bought a ticket to the international space station, I'm thinking I should take some pro-active steps for debt relief. I'll write a memoir. Now all I need to focus my angst is a garret apartment lit with a single, bare light bulb, a cheap jug of wine, and a box of crayons. Hmm. With a little work, the Devil Queen's attic would be perfect . . .

Iron Maiden

Cast iron bathtubs. Just the name itself is enough to make your back ache.

Four years ago, my wife traded someone for a cast iron, claw foot bathtub. Since that time, it has lurked in our carport. Those of you with an eye for detail and a mathematical bent will have noticed that I said, "four years ago." You will also remember that we've had the Devil Queen for three years. This means we acquired the tub before we bought the Queen.

That's right, we're those kind of people, compulsive hoarders. We didn't even have an idea how or if we'd ever use the damn thing. My wife always wanted one, so there it was.

I took some pictures of the beast, but our camera vanished. I'm hoping that my son didn't find it. He got his grandmother's cell phone once and we didn't find it for 9 months.

We needed to set the tub in place so we could position the brass supply lines. They don't bend any, so it had to be perfect. Jack was kind enough to help move the monster. Instead of lifting it into the truck, we stood it on end so the top lip of the tub rested on the open tailgate. We then picked up the other end, lifted it, and pushed the tub (upside down) into the truck. This way we didn't have to support the tub's entire weight ourselves. It was surprisingly easy.

Getting it into the Queen was much harder since there are no front steps. We didn't drop it on anyone's toes or testicles, so I rate it as a successful undertaking. Once we set up the drain and supply lines we get to haul the tub out of the Queen, refinished the tub, and then haul it back in after we refinish the floor. I can't wait.

I'd never had a good look at the underside of the tub before. Printed on the bottom of the tub was " American Standard Sanitary Co." and "6-17-29." I'm guessing that the string of numbers is the patent date or production date. Anyone know for sure? Maybe it’s a model number? If it's a date, it means the style (if not the tub) is about 25 years older than I thought.

As with all things, there are high and low end tubs. I'm guessing that our tub is an Everyman's claw foot tub. It's about five feet long with a white enamel finish in the tub. The outside of the tub was originally bare metal. Someone painted the metal white (only the sides, not the bottom) along the way. The paint looks awful, it's chipping and flaking off.

We're planning to strip off the paint, prime the tub's exterior (metal primer), and paint it. We're going for a hammered copper look, but we'll see how it turns out. After that we'll seal it to protect it from water and chipping.

I'm nervous about refinishing the tub. It is uncharted territory for me. It's going in the master bathroom, so I'll be looking at it every day if I screw it up. Any tips?

Right Jab, Left Hook

Yesterday, I finally took my car to the shop. I couldn't take it anymore. My car's tires were bald, misshapen, and out of alignment. The vibration was enough to liquefy internal organs. Since I've sold most of mine over the last few years, I can't really spare the ones I have left.

Four tires and an alignment later, the car rides much smoother, but it knocked a crap load of money out of our checking account.

This morning I nearly stroked out when I opened our credit card bill. And, it didn't include the range we charged to it last weekend. Ouch.

If my wife hadn't gotten a job a couple months ago, we'd have been down for the count. As it is, I'm wondering if I'll need a second job pretty soon.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Research and Planning, A Do-It-Yourselfer's Best Friends

I thought it might be nice to take a break from the torrid melodrama of our renovation project and talk about some basic home improvement issues.

First and foremost, you can never do too much research and planning.

For example, we have finally finished plumbing the Queen except for one thing, our claw foot tub. We bought a nice brass drain and supply lines for the tub ages ago. As with any other fixture, you generally want a shut-off valve between the supply line and the tub. You can buy nice looking supply lines with built in shut-off valves, but they cost a little more than those that do not. Strapped for cash, we opted for a set without shut-off valves. Based on the little that we knew, we reasoned that we could install our own shut-off valves at a fraction of the price.

It turns out this is true, which is good. On the downside, if I don't put in some extra work, it's going to look like crap. In hindsight, I wish I'd paid an extra $50.00 for the built-in shut-off valves. If I'd done my research, I wouldn't have this problem.

Since I didn't spend enough time studying this out, I now have three options.

1. Buy supply lines with built-in shut-off valves. Since we can't return the ones we already bought and we don't have any money, this isn't a real option.

2. Run PVC/CPVC through the floor, glue on some threaded couplings, screw on our shut-off valves, and connect our supply lines. This means that we'll have some classy white pipe sticking out of the floor. The diameter of the PVC/CPVC pipes precludes us from covering them with the nice, brass collars we have.

3. Learn the fine art of soldering copper piping. Or, rather, re-learn. It's been over ten years since I was taught how to do this and I haven't done it since. With the aid of a good book, I hope to pick this up with a quickness. The copper is the right size to fit through the brass collar and there will be no white pipe (and very little if any copper pipe) visible.

I'm going for option three. It should be interesting.

So, before you do anything, do your research and plan it out. It'll save you some serious grief.

Hate Mongering and Six Degrees of Separation or Hell is Other People

You know you're doing something right if people both love you and hate you. There is nothing worse than indifference. If nothing you do matters enough to evoke an emotional response, why bother?

Lately, we've been feeling the hate.

Friday, I was off of work for Veterans' Day and my wife was not. I spent the day at home with my son, something I seldom get to do. One of the great things my son is that he takes a nap every afternoon. Having long been exiled to Cubical Land, an afternoon nap is as exotic as a Hawaiian vacation. As a general rule, when the baby sleeps, we all sleep. At four in the afternoon, I was asleep on the couch with our two cats.

I woke up shortly thereafter. I swore I heard a woman yelling my name, but the house was silent. I guess I dreamed it. I got up, wandered around the house to check on everything, and sat back down on the couch. I was considering going back to sleep when the phone rang.


"Hey Bro' how are you?" my sister asked.

"I'm good. Happy Birthday! I was going to call you a little later. What's up?"

"I've got some news for you, but you're not going to like it."

I was worried. My sister was using a tone of voice I associate with a distant relative having died or someone getting diagnosed with cancer.

"What is it?"

It turns out my sister was talking with Jill, her fiancé's mom, earlier that day. Jill has a sister that lives in Dardanelle, Arkansas (Dardanelle is about 25 minutes from Atkins, just over the river from Russellville). Her sister is a nurse who works at a hospital in Russellville (I think). One of her co-workers was complaining about, "a couple that had cut a house in half and moved it into their neighborhood" on Crow Mountain. This woman was mad because they'd, "brought the property value down." She said she was trying to get some neighbors together to sue them for damages. And, she claimed, the woman brought her son out to the house while she was scraping lead paint. Clearly, these are some truly heinous people.

Since we are the only people who've cut a house in half and moved it to Crow Mountain in living memory, I'm pretty sure that she's talking about us.

At first, I was worked up about this even though nothing she said was true with one exception. We did cut the Queen in half to move it. After thinking about this for a while and talking to a few people, I'm feeling better.

Well, sort of.

As far as suing for damages, bring it on. If they could even get an attorney to take the case, I believe it would get thrown out of court. What really bothers me is the allegation that we've exposed my son to toxic substances. I have no faith in the Department of Health and Human Services ability to do the right thing. All I need is some busybody to report us to the state because some ankle-bitter hates my old house. I am going to be very upset if social workers start turning up on my doorstep.

When we first moved the Devil Queen, we pissed off most of our neighbors. The subdivision we moved her to is covenant restricted. You can't put in a mobile home, you can't have barbwire fences, you can't have a house over two stories tall, you have to have at least 1500 square feet, et cetera. And, in most folks' covenants, you can't move in houses either, but we can. Why? The realtor that developed our subdivision switched attorney's midway through the development. When the new attorney took over, he didn't include this language in the covenants for the lot we bought. We were free and clear to move in the Queen.

Our neighbors didn't like it. We were never directly contacted by any of our neighbors, so we never knew who we pissed off. They'd call the realtor, and we'd hear about it from him. At one point, I think some of our neighbors threatened to sue the realtor. They never did, mainly because they don't have a case.

I can't help but be amazed how small the world is. In less than a week, the words out of this woman's mouth made it to my ears. It's funny how little separates us.

Hate Mongering Neighbor (0 degree) - Jill's sister (1st degree) - Jill (2nd Degree) - My Sister (3rd Degree) - Me (4th Degree).

We haven't met all the folks in our neighborhood yet. None of the ones we have met are nurses (that I know of). So, I asked my sister to get a name for me. You should always keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

"Well, don't go and antagonize them," my mom said. "They might vandalize your house or something like that."

No need to worry. I have no intention of contacting them. I just want to know who they are so I can keep an eye on them. And, if need be, I'll have a voodoo doll with their name on it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Boudicca & Tamerlaine, Home Improvement Warlords of the Apocalypse

I thought about what Greg said in this comment and decided he was right. Here's the parsed down version of my original "psychotic" post.

I’d say that our (the Mrs. and I) collective attitude toward the Queen shifted from anxiety to animosity over the weekend. If the Queen were a person and not a house, we'd have tied her to our kitchen table and taken a nail file, a propane torch, and a pair of pliers to her.

So, why the change in attitude? First, after waiting for two months, our brick mason has not shown up. The is no one else we can afford, and we're tired of waiting. We’ve officially decided that we're through with it. We're returning the bricks and all other material as of this week. Two, the plumbing is still not finished. Three, the materials we ordered two weeks ago to enclosed the crawlspace still haven't arrived. Four, we are sick of screwing around with contractors, bankers, etc.

Case and point, my wife went to return several items to Lowe's. Normally, this would be no problem. We've spent a lot time and money there over the last three years, and we've never had a problem returning anything in that time. Even if the staff, on the whole, isn't particularly knowledgeable and the management sucks, they are usually polite. However, there is always an exception to the rule.

One of the plumbing parts my wife took to return was a 3 inch pvc T. It was a little dirty since it had been dragged around under the house. When I say dirty, I should clarify that it was covered in a fine, powdery coating of dust and dirt.

The girl at the returns desk refused to accept it because it "looked used." Since there are no purple cleaner stains or dried glue on this piece, I'm not sure how exactly it looks used. Apparently, to this girl's way of thinking, anything brown on plumbing is poop. I can only assume the only experience this girl has had with plumbing involved a wild party that culminated in the accidental flushing of her brain. Not only did the girl refuse to accept it, she refused to touch it because, "lots of people have been digging up plumbing and trying to return it."

I'm still not sure what to make out of this gem. Are people honestly digging up a single pvc T or a couple hundred feet of sewer line complete with a thousand years of excrement and a tangle of roots in hopes of exchanging them?

"Miss, I need to return this."

"What is that?" girl at the returns desk asks while gesturing at the fetid pile of pipes and holding her nose.

"Oh, that? Those are roots. It came like that. We just bought too much for our job, can we return it?"

I guess it's possible people are doing this, but our 3 inch T couldn’t look that bad.

My wife's fuse was lit long before she got to Lowe's. The fact that she had to go to Lowe's again had already soured her mood and ruined her day. Exasperated, she told the girl that she didn't want or need the pipe. If it was too dirty for a refund, she could have it and the hell with the money.

The girl made an indignant "fuck you" grimace and shoved it off the counter into the trash can.

This royally hacked my wife off. It don't think that girl realized how close she came to getting bludgeoned senseless. Or, maybe she did. In any case, there was an inch or two left on my wife's fuse, so I didn't have to bail her out of jail.

"If you won't take that pipe, you will pick it up out the trash and hand it to me now."

Cowed by the wild flicker in my wife's eyes, the girl fished it out of the trash and returned the T. I'm not sure how my wife does this, but I've seen all 5'4" of her back grown men into a corner with a stare. She can be damn scary when she's in the mood.

My wife didn't go off until she made it back to the Queen. The girl could have been a quarter back. They guy at Lowe's gave her a 3/8 to 3/8 fitting instead of a 3/8 to 5/8 fitting, and she went ballistic. The fitting, a pile of scrap wood, and anything else handy sailed across the yard as it was chased buy a steady stream of profanity. That was after she beat the front porch with a board until it broke in half (the board, not the porch).

Finally I said, "That's it, lets go."

"Are we calling it a day?" Charlie asked.

"Yeah, I'm sick of being here. I'm going home."

The House of Broken Knees 2.0 (Short Version)

ARTHUR: You are indeed brave, Sir knight, but the fight is mine.

BLACK KNIGHT: Oh, had enough, eh?

ARTHUR: Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no arms left.



BLACK KNIGHT: Just a flesh wound.
[Headbutts Arthur in the chest]

ARTHUR: Look, stop that.

BLACK KNIGHT: Chicken! Chicken!

ARTHUR: Look, I'll have your leg. Right![whop][ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's leg off]

BLACK KNIGHT: Right, I'll do you for that!

ARTHUR: You'll what?

BLACK KNIGHT: Come 'ere!

ARTHUR: What are you going to do, bleed on me?

BLACK KNIGHT: I'm invincible!

ARTHUR: You're a loony.

BLACK KNIGHT: The Black Knight always triumphs! Have at you!Come on then.
[ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's other leg off]

BLACK KNIGHT: All right; we'll call it a draw.

ARTHUR: Come, Patsy.

BLACK KNIGHT: Oh, oh, I see, running away then. You yellowbastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you. I'll biteyour legs off!

For those of you who don't recognize this passage (blasphemers) , it is from Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Jack, Charlie, and I have all injured our knees at some point in our life. As Fate would have it, our knees were all acting up Sunday. With Mars in opposition, what else could you expect? I found it vaguely amusing as we all did our Igor-shuffle around the Queen. If we keep it up, our home improvement project may become a Special Olympics event. Maybe it already has.

The Wrong Kind of Attention?

When I first started this blog, a lot of our first visitors came to it thinking it was a S&M bondage site, and they were right. But it wasn't that kind of S&M site. Sorry folks. After they figured out the Devil Queen was a house, they went elsewhere. That isn't to say an interest in old homes and an interest in bondage are mutually exclusive, but old wood apparently wasn't their favorite fetish.

Visitors that are not family, friends, or housebloggers, usually find the Devil Queen through Google or Yahoo searches. Favorite keywords are "salvaged flooring," "paint stripper," or "insulation."

Monday, we got a new one: "my wife getting laid."

Why someone would be searching for that online . . . I don't want to know, but, apparently, it happens here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Weekend 156

Sorry for the dead-link on Houseblogs to The Devil Queen yesterday. I had second thoughts about my original post. I've been feeling rather agitated this week, and I decided it showed too well in the post. I was trying for grim humor. Instead, I think I sounded psychotic.

Jack, Charlie, the Mrs., and I all put in a full weekend at the Queen. We finished a lot, but it wasn't much fun. For instance, after four trips to Lowe's, we are still one brass fitting away from completing our plumbing system. At this point, I'm nearly willing to forgo hot water in the kitchen and laundry room. Just cap off that damn water heater line and the hell with it. The fact that I'd probably have to go to Lowe's for 3/4" cap is a real disincentive though.

We have officially given up on our fireplace for the foreseeable future (if ever). After waiting two months for our mason to work us in, we are finished. We can't afford anyone else, so the hell with it. Since we haven't unbundled any of the supplies, Acme Bricks and Rideout are coming to pick everything up for a full refund minus the delivery (de-delivery?) fee. It's probably the best $75.00 I've ever spent.

We're thinking about installing a woodstove instead. Since I've installed these before and they're a lot cheaper, I think this is a great trade off. It also means I can close in the enormous hole in the living room & front bedroom. Any left over money will either go to Julian Electric or for skirting the crawlspace.

Speaking of Julian Electric, I'm glad to say that they have been out to the Queen over the last week. I'd say they are between a third and half of the way finished. At this rate, the Queen may be completely wired (more or less) by the end of November.

I'd love to say that I'm overjoyed, that I can finally see some real progress, et cetera, but I'm just too tired to give much of a crap one way or another. Besides, as sure as God made little green apples, something will go wrong, there will be delays, or we'll be eaten by cannibals.

I'm hoping for the cannibals, they offer closure.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Midway, Dunkirk, or Stalingrad?

I figure in the next six months the Devil Queen is going to go one of three ways:

Midway - Against the odds, we emerge victorious because of our hard work, cunning, and good luck.

Dunkirk - We fall back, regroup, and live to fight another day.

Stalingrad - Victims of our hubris, we cling too long to an untenable position and are utterly destroyed.

In any case, it is bound to be interesting.

I have an exciting weekend of plumbing planned. I'm beginning to think an outhouse and a hand-pump would be far superior to indoor plumbing. Plumbing is the work of the Devil (seems fitting though).

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Little Bits

There isn't much new to report on the Devil Queen. We've been too busy to swing by the Queen to see if our electrician has been by yet. Late nights at work, minding the young master (i.e. my son), impromptu visits from mental disturbed in-laws (seriously, they have the papers to prove it), and what not have kept us thoroughly entertained. By the time I get home, going to bed is the top priority on my agenda.

I've heard rumors that our local Lowe's is going to get a major face lift. I'm not sure if it'll be an improvement or not. I have a recommendation for any Lowe's marketing gurus that may stumble across this blog. If you are going to sell door locks, you might consider carrying the blanks for the these locks in your key cutting area. Just a thought.

While I was at Lowe's last weekend, I stopped to have some extra keys made for our contractors. I assumed that since I'd bought the lock there, they'd have blanks for them. Wrong. I know it was a pretty stupid assumption on my part. Customer convenience? Why bother? I mean, it's got to be easier for me to drive down the street and spend my money elsewhere than for you to order another set of blanks, right?

I've been reading a lot of posts about insulation lately. This Old House Magazine ran an informative article about environmentally friendly insulation this month. You might pick it up if you're interested. I checked their website, and, unfortunately, it's not posted online.

I've had several very interesting conversations this week with folks from all over the state. I think there may be a few posts in there somewhere, but I haven't sorted it all out into coherent little bits.

Gary over at This Old Crack House had an excellent post today. I'd refer anyone considering a DIY home restoration to check it out before you begin. And, if you are just getting started, it probably wouldn't hurt to visit either. The importance of managing your expectations and knowing what you're in for can not be overstated. Go check it out.

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