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!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Getting By

We have a busy weekend coming up. Hell, I haven't even mentioned half of what went on last weekend (a couple funny stories) and lots of sanding. I'm getting a little back-logged. I'm hoping to stain and seal the masterbedroom floor this weekend. Actually, I'd hoped to have finished that by now, but it didn't happen. Oh well. What is one more week without water?

Next work week will be very busy too. May not get too much done or too much posted. Bear with me. If nothing else, I can get some pictures of up (I hope).

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Scary Thought

You know things are not well in the state of Denmark when your house renovation project is no longer your biggest problem. In fact, it is now going better than just about everything else in your life.

The implications of that are simply terrifying.

What is This?

Okay, I know this is part of a doorknob & lock assembly. However, I’ve never seen one quite like this. In particular, there is the weird “button” mounted to the side of where the doorknob should be. My guess is it operated the door latch, but, since most of the parts are missing, it has been hard to figure out. There is no matching piece on the inside of the closet door, and no latch or bolt. In fact, the places where these pieces should have been are patched (sloppy work) with what I think is wood putty.

It is mounted on the closet door in the master bedroom. It hasn’t been a functioning piece of hardware in quite a long time. A modern interior doorknob (cheap, $5.00 fake-brass looking thing you’d find in any house built since 1975) was mounted above this piece of hardware.

Does anyone recognize the style, model, or age of this? If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Genius at Work

First of all, we have the lovely hole in the masterbed room floor. The end of this board was completely eaten up with dry rot. Oddly enough, the boards to either side of it are fine. I can't figure out what about this board doomed it.

Since all our power tools were stollen a couple weeks ago, I gathered up all the tools I had left: a nail set, a set of three chisels, a file (for sharpening the chisels), a wood rasp, a hammer, a rubber mallet, a small square, two "C" clamps, a hand saw, and a lot of sandpaper.

I cut the rotten end of the board off using the chisels.

First, I went under the Queen and measured out from the main beam under the bedroom wall to the first floor joist. I went back the bedroom, measured out from the wall (adjusting to take the base board & wallboards into account), and marked the board. I squared the line up (with the square of course) and scored it with the chisel. Once I'd done that, I used the chisel cut out along the line. Cut towards the scored line, it'll give you a nice straight cut & it'll keep the chisel from cutting up past the line. Once you cut out to the bottom of the score mark, rescore and repeat the process. If I had power tools, I would have drilled a 1/2" hole with my drill and then used my jigsaw to cut it off.

I don't know if I was just nervous or the use of hand tools made me work slower, but I swear to God this was the straightest line I've ever cut in my entire life. It was magnificent.

Sorry for all the pictures of me. I know you just can't enough pictures of that goofy, Kraut-looking sonofabitch, but it seems a little excessive even to me. After I got the damn rot out, I sanded the cutline and used the sand paper & chisel to clean all the filth, gunk, and splinters of wood out of the neighboring boards' tongue and groove.

Now that the board was out, the new challenge was finding something to patch the hole with. First, I found a scrap of 2x4 and nailed it to the floor joist shown above. This gave me something to nail the new board into. As you might remember from some recent posts, we're starting to run out of wood. Kenny used the few floor boards we'd saved to patch the dinning room and living room floors. The only thing that I found was a scrap of wall board.

Wall board might seem like and odd choice, but it actually fits well. Aside from the framing, most of the Devil Queen is finished with 3/4 thick, five inch wide, tongue-in-groove boards. Floor boards were sanded smooth on their tops, the bead board was finished out with beads, and the wall boards were left semi rough. Also, the color of the wood is identical too.

The photo below is me cleaning my scrap board off. Unfortunately, it was full of wallpaper tacs and a few drywall nails. The nail holes are small and can be patched with wood putty. I'm hoping the blackish stains around some of the holes will sand out. If not, it's not too bad. They shouldn't be too noticable.

My wife caught me with the "genius look." I do my best thinking when my mind flat-lines. We use to have a fat Persian cat that always had an expression like that, it was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen on four legs. And, he was terribly neurotic. For example, he was terrified of his own poo.
I measured the board, marked off the section I wanted, and I clamped it down to Kenny's work bench with the C-clamps. I cut along the line with the handsaw and sanded the cut smooth.

The trick was getting the new board into the hole. First, I cut off the bottom part of the groove. I tried wiggling the board in, but, since it had to slide under the baseboard and wallboards to fit, it wouldn't go. I could have used another 2x4 as a nailing block on that end, but I thought I would get a better fit if I could slide it all the way under the wall & baseboard. So, I cut off about 4 to 5 inches of the tongue on that end of the board. It worked better, but not enough to slide in. Then, I shaved the next 4 inches of the tongue down so it tapered as it got closer to the cut off portion of tongue. This worked. With help of the rubber mallet, I manage lock it into place.

Here you can see the patch as I face nail it into the nailing bock.

Verdammt Noch Mal!

Starting Friday afternoon, our plan of action for the weekend went straight to hell. About two weeks ago, I called RSC in Russellville to ask if they rented out floor sanders. They did. I got the price, hours, etc from them. Friday afternoon at 3 PM, I get a call from my wife. RSC didn’t have a sander. They told her that they SOLD their old sander and hadn’t replaced it yet. So, either they lied to me when I called, which may be why they were so interested in renting me a buffer/sander instead of a drum sander because, "all the contractors are using it." Right, we all know that means, absolutely nothing. Or, they sold it since then which seems a little wierd. In either case, I was pissed. So, I called the RSC in Little Rock and asked them if they had a sander. They did and they agreed to hold it for me. I used an hour and fifteen minutes of vacation time and left work early to pick it up.

I knew something was wrong when I pulled up in front of the store. The gate was locked and the place looked deserted. There was huge “For Lease” sign hanging on the fence. I’m think, “What in the seven hells?!”

I circle the block and stop at a gas station pay phone. I call them back. It turns out they moved to a new location in January. They give me directions. The new place is on the other side of town. I get there and rent the drum sander & the edger. I load up and get out of there just in time for rush hour. It takes for freaking ever to get home. Three wrecks block the highway and they bring traffic to a stand still. By the time I get home, I’ve been in my car for three hours. I'm tired and still a little pissed. My wife comes home from work. She’s tired and feeling a little sick, so we decide to scrap our plans of sanding all night long.

Saturday morning we get up early (for us), have breakfast, and head to Russellville. Our plan is to cruise some pawnshops, drop off some photos at Express Foto, and go to Lowe’s. The first pawnshop we walk into has my miter saw. The bastards who stole it put our gallon of denatured alcohol to good use. I haven’t seen the saw that clean since I took it out of its box. I didn’t say anything to the store owners. The police told us not to confront them, so we didn’t. We wrote down a detailed description of the saw, took one of pawn shop’s business cards, and left.

Saturday was one of those rare days when I wish that I had a cell phone. If I had one of those cool camera phones, I could have taken a picture of our saw for the police. And, if I had a cell phone, I could have called the police from outside the store. As it was, we hadn’t brought the police investigator’s phone number with us (duh), so we had to go back home, call the police, and then come back to Russellville to finish our errands.

In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to hurry home to call the police. I guess I was secretly hoping that they’d send out the SWAT team to kick some ass, but things are moving at a slower pace. We still haven’t heard from the police. I’m curious to see what they come up with.

By the time we were finished with everything, it was nearly 6 PM. None the less, we went on up to the Queen with the grand idea of sanding down the master bedroom and bathroom floor.

[Here is a photo of the master bedroom after we spent over an hour hauling a mountain of junk out of it.]

The master bathroom floor is “new” so it didn’t require any additional prep-work for sanding. The master bedroom was an entirely different story. At some point, the master bedroom floor was covered with linoleum. A twelve-t0-eighteen-some-odd-inch wide ring of sticky black gunk circled the room, the remains of the glue used to lay the floor. There is also a wide assortment of tacks, finishing nails, and framing nails driven into the floor. The best part was the tin patch though.

[A couple of pictures of Ms. Scarlet scraping the hell out of the floor. In case you're wondering about that hat, it was really cold that night.]

[It's a little hard to see, but this is the patch after I'd pulled up one corner of it. I was only minutes away from finding the Black Hole of Calcutta.]

A few months back I was pondering a similar patch in the living room (to read the original post and comments, click here). According to Gary, the “patch” was used to level out a depression in the floor so they could lay rolled linoleum. I pulled up the living room patch, and everything beneath it was intact. So, the moron that I am, I assumed that the patch in the master bedroom was the same. Nope. It covered a big hole and about 18 inches of dry rot. YES! It was my lucky day. Since my wife was there and we had the camera, we have a lot of before, during, and after photos of the repair. I’ll post those separately later this week.

[Another not so great photo. The two stubs of floor board between the vent (taped shut to keep dust out) and the base board, are hanging down about an inch.]

Oh, but it gets better. We also found a one inch diameter hole we believe was for a natural gas line (we’re thinking it was for a space heater). Not too bad of a problem, but a pain none the less. And, then there is the two sagging floor boards the heating/air guys left us. It probably isn’t all their fault since they used the existing air vent cutouts. However, they had to enlarge the holes by and inch or two to make the new air vents fit (they are slightly larger than the old ones). They had to notice that these two boards were sagging down into the crawlspaces, but, of course, they didn't mention it. The only thing holding them in place was the baseboard. Why didn’t we notice it earlier? We had too much shit piled in this room to get a good look at it.

After 10 PM, we called it quits. There was too much to repair, and we were getting tired. We decided that a good night’s sleep would do us some good, and then we’d give it another go Sunday.

Sunday was a big day, but I’ll post more on it later.

As a final note on RSC rentals, I'm pretty pleased with them - the branch in Little Rock that is. The equipement was in good working order, they only charge you for one day if you rent over the weekend, and they'll buy back the sanding paper you didn't use. The branch in Russellville can suck big hairy moose butt crack for all I care. I wouldn't recommend them to anyone. They're a national chain, so if you need a drum sander, check them out. Maybe you'll get lucky.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Great Outdoors

Here are a few outside shots of the Queen and our little piece of property that my wife took this weekend.

My personal favorite, the creek.

A couple of pictures of the Queen as seen from the creek.

This was our last giant wood pile. It streched from the pile of bricks to the pipe in the forground. All of it has been consumed by the Queen.

Weekend Survivors

Sorry that I haven’t posted in a few days. We’ve had some unpleasant, non-Devil Queen related things that have required our attention. In addition to that, we had a busy, bizarre, and utterly exhausting weekend.

Here are some pictures proving that actual progress has been made over the last week or so. Once I catch up on my sleep and regain my bearings, I’ll give you the full rundown of the weekend.

The "bread box" cabinet with its door propped in front of it.

The walls of the laundry/mudroom/bath have been sheetrocked.

The kitchen stove in its proper place.

Sheet rock, over sink light mounts, and "bead board" in the master bathroom.

The master bathroom again.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Okay, I'm back begging for advice again. We're going to start taping and finishing our drywall soon. My wife and I would like to know what kind of tape you all recomend using. Traditional tape, that wierd, sticky plastic mesh, or something else? Please let us know. Thanks!

Old School Mania

The house we live in now was our first DIY home improvement project. And, unlike the Devil Queen, we lived in it as we worked on it. It was a complete shit hole. The great thing about living there was we could work on it whenever we wanted to (we didn't have a kid either which helped). At the time, my wife was unemployed & a full time DIY’er and I was self employed in real estate appraisals. The lack of a rigid schedule allowed us to live true to our night-owl natures. We’d have dinner around 6 PM, lay around the house until about 9 PM when we got our second wind, and then we’d just go nuts working on the house. It wasn’t unusual for us to work like maniacs until 3 AM the next day, and we loved it.

Tonight, we’re going to try to recapture some of that magic. If my wife can rent a sander this afternoon, we’re going to buy a pizza, change our clothes after work, and run up to the Devil Queen to sand the master bedroom and master bathroom floors until they’re ready to be stained or we drop from exhaustion. You might think that I’m being sarcastic, but I’m really excited about it. What’s better than cranking up some music, eating a pizza, and going nuts with huge power tools? Admittedly, beer would be nice with the pizza, but I’m pathetically inept while sober, and beer isn’t a real performance enhancer. You remember what I did with the grinder and the clawfoot tub, don’t you?

I’m going to take my camera too, so there should be all sorts of gripping photos for y’all next week. I know you just pissed yourself in anticipation. I know my bladder weakens when I think about “refinished pine after 80 grit paper.” It’s just so naked and raw. There will also be some pictures of our current problem area (the hot tub), and I’ll demonstrate why I’m a complete moron yet again.

You’ll also get to see the wine rack Kenny installed yesterday. I’m curious to see it myself. Instead of having that useless little cabinet over the refrigerator where ugly china, cheap liquor, and mice go to die, we decided that we wanted something more functional: a wine rack. Sure, it’s probably not the ideal location for a fine bottle of wine (heat rises), but lets be honest. What are the chances that a $300 bottle of wine is going to find its way there? There’s a greater probability that we’ll find a leprechaun and a flying monkey than an ancient, venerated Boudreaux in our kitchen.

Since my wife and I are giddy with the anticipation of moving into the Queen, we’ve started talking about putting our current house back up for sale. We’ve learned to manage our expectations when it comes to selling Mr. Blue. It’s been on the market for two of the four years we’ve lived there with poor results. We have still have some hope since we sold it once, sort of. They guy died the week of the closing. I’m not sure what kind of omen that is.

Last night we had the following conversation about it:

Me: “Maybe we’ve been advertising it wrong? I think we should try something different.”

Wife: “Like what?”

Me: “House for sale: two bedrooms, one bath, completely updated, and 1100 square feet on one acre. A great rental property or meth-lab! Motivated sellers!”

Wife: [Laughs] “I don’t know.”

Me: “Well, why not? I bet we’d get a ton of calls on it.”

Wife: “Yeah, we probably would – from the police!”

Me: “Can they stop us from advertising it that way? I mean, it’s not like we have a meth-lab.”

Wife: “I don’t think we want to go there.”

Me: “Guess not, but I still think it would be fun to do.”

Wife: “Of course you do dear. Are you going to put this on the blog?”

Me: "Probably."

Wife: [Sighs] "I kind of wish you wouldn't. I'm afraid if you keep up with all these drug references that someone will think you have a problem."

I guess she has a point, I do make an awful lot of drug references. And, I do have a problem. It's the 115 year old Victorian sucking ever loose nickle out of my pockets. Really though, what serious DIY'er has the time or money to mess with illict substances? I'm way too busy spending all my time and money on my caulk to mess with anything else.

Anyhow, it should be an interesting weekend. We’re enthusiastic, impatient, and have no experience with floor sanders. Plus, it’s supposed to be colder than a witch’s tit. Wish us luck, we’re just scary enough that we really need some.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

All Jacked Up

I visited the Queen after work last night. It was an impromptu visit, so I didn’t have the camera with me. Sorry.

The master bathroom has wainscoting, the sheet rock has been hung, and all the outlets, switches, and boxes for the light fixtures are in place. It is incredible how much difference sheetrock makes. It looks like a real room, one in which people might live comfortably. What are the odds that would happen to us?

Kenny has also started working on the mudroom/laundry/bathroom. The sheetrock and wainscoting are a little over halfway finished. I imagine that it’ll be finished by the end of the week.

I also suspect that the kitchen cabinets are entering the final stretch. I’m hoping that they’ll be finished by next Monday or Tuesday.

Last weekend we stopped by the Queen with a couple of friends. They hadn’t seen the Queen in over two years. They looked like they’d been struck by lightning. I mean that in a good way.

Their favorite parts of the Queen are the: 12 ft. ceilings, the back porch, and the kitchen (the purple and sand have been a big hit so far).

Another comment that I greatly enjoyed was, “Wow, it’s a lot more solid than the last time [I was here].” I hadn’t really noticed it myself, but he was right. Kenny is responsible for this. Charlie and I have spent a couple days dragging the jack around under the house over the years, but Kenny is the one that deserves the most credit.

About two or three weeks ago, Kenny added something like four new piers under the house and shored up two more. The Queen feels rock solid now. The only thing that was not fixed by this Herculean work was the master bedroom closet. The closet door and the wall it’s mounted in may have sagged a little since we moved the Queen, but, according to Kenny, most of the sagging occurred long before we acquired the Queen. The beam the wall sits upon is permanently warped. Kenny said he tried jacking it, but instead of taking the sag out it raised the whole side of the house. He shored up the pier and set it back down as level as he could get it. He gave the closet door a thorough inspection, and it has been trimmed to fit the crooked door frame by a previous owner. I’m not sure what exactly Kenny did, but the door fits perfectly now even if it’s a little lopsided.

God I love progress.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Paradox of “Good” Neighborhoods

The police called my wife yesterday to follow-up on our stolen tools. They mentioned that several other people in our area had reported stolen equipment too. It seems that we aren’t as special as we believed. Unfortunately, they don’t have any leads either at this time.

My wife and I can’t escape the irony of our situation. The house we currently live in (Mr. Blue) is in a “bad” neighborhood by local standards. It’s called Pea Ridge (not to be confused with a Civil War battlefield in NW Arkansas of the same name), and it is about 4 to 5 miles outside of Atkins. The homes are an odd mix of share-cropper shacks, old shotgun houses, ancient mobile homes (single and double wide), abandoned chicken houses, and a few “nicer” ranch houses. Most of the homes have sever deferred-maintenance issues to the point of that they are on the verge of collapsing. Hell, one house was gutted by a fire and I didn’t notice for over two weeks. Yes, some of the homes are that bad. And, we also have a cemetery. I like it, but it apparently creeps a lot of people out. Weenies.

Most folks in Atkins and Russellville think this is a terrible neighborhood. They think that the people are all poor (most are), trashy (a lot are, some aren’t), and thieves (if there are any here, I’ve never met or heard about one). The only documented case of criminal activity was a short lived meth-lab at the end of the road. That didn’t last long. The police had the place staked out after they accidentally launched their kitchen stove out the roof and into someone’s backyard with an explosion of mysterious origin. Most people can’t figure out why we live here since we appear to be nice, clean, college educated people. When we tell them where we live, they look at us like we’re crazy.

The Queen’s neighborhood is considered a “good” neighborhood. Development is restricted by covenant (no barbed wire, mobile homes, chicken houses, a minimum of 1500 square feet, et cetera), the lots are large, most have a view of the Ozark Mountains, and the rest have a year-round creek. The people that live there are solidly middle class with good jobs (in local terms this means a lot of them work at the nuclear plant).

I grew up in West Little Rock which is (was?) considered a good neighborhood. Vandalism, burglary, and theft are chronic problems. My father lives in Maumelle, a high-end planned community, outside of Little Rock. The subdivision he lives in now is nicer than the one I grew up in. Car windows are smashed out and their CD’s and stereos are stolen on a regular basis. Burglary is less common, but there has always been a good bit of vandalism.

The irony is that in the four years we’ve lived in Pea Ridge, no one has ever robbed us or our neighbors. We’ve left our door unlocked and we’ve had huge piles of tools & building materials stacked in our carport (which is in plain view from the road) but no one has ever stolen from us. In my limited experience, “good” neighborhoods have far more crime than the shantytown community I live in. The amenities and standard of living are sub-par in Pea Ridge, but I think my property and my family are safer there. Who would have guessed that? I’m always amazed at how bizarre the workings of the world are.

Living in Filth

I received the following comment from Carol in regard to this post last week:

“It will take you WAY longer to finish than you expect. Try and spread out the flow of capital and get parts of it livable, then finish the rest as needed. Do not make decisions too fast. Try and live in it. You will succeed if you give yourself enough time.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I’d love to live in the Queen’s filth. However, our financial situation conspires against. Now, if we’d simply bought the Queen without adding the extra step of moving her, we’d already have a mortgage and the basic amenities like running water, sewer, and electricity. Living there might have been dirty and inconvenient in many regards, but we would have managed. Best of all, we could have worked at our own pace and “spread out the flow of capital.”

As it is, we’ve combined the worst of new construction with a complete renovation. After three years we sort of have electricity, we almost have water, and we have no heating or cooling. My wife and I are not adverse to roughing it (ask us about our first apartment or our first house if you don’t believe us), but we have to draw the line somewhere. Neither of us wants to bathe in the creek or shit in a hole in the woods. And, since we now have a two year old, we need to get all the old, painted surfaces dealt with before we move him in with us.

Another problem is the bank. Since we had to take out a construction loan to move the Queen and take care of the new construction aspects of the project, we have to have a certain “finished” product to show them to get a mortgage. Until we achieve that finished product, we will be paying them over $2000 every six months in interest. No principle is included in that figure. We still owe just as much on that loan as we did the day we signed the papers in 2003.

Between the interest payments, our current mortgage, taxes, construction costs, et cetera, we desperately need to hurry things whether we want to or not. Our current situation can not continue indefinitely. As it is, I can’t believe that we’ve managed to hang in there as long as we have.

While foregoing the fireplace was a real disappointment, most of the Queen has progressed more or less like we expected it to (except that it has taken longer to make it livable than we ever imagined). Sure, we would have loved to have had $6000 kitchen counter top, but there is nothing saying that we still can’t have one. It just won’t be anytime soon. And, for anyone interested in marble tile countertops (Home Improvement Ninja), we bought all our tile and materials for about $150. I believe that this is about $50 cheaper than formica, the reigning champion of low-end counter tops, would have cost.

I’m sure there are going to be things that we’ll find that we don’t like once we move in, but this whole project has been nothing if not a giant learning experience. We went into this project knowing that it wouldn't be perfect no matter how much we wanted it to be. I’m sure that our families will cringe to hear it, but we’ve already been talking about what we’ve learned in regards to our next house. Don’t worry, the first item on the things-you-should-never-do list is MOVE A HOUSE (unless you’re obscenely rich, which this project has gone a long way to ensure that we won’t be).

As for the last bit, “You will succeed if you give yourself enough time,” I believe she is right. If we stay and work on the Queen, the outcome will probably be better. And, if not, I have a backup plan. I can become a bitter, sexually frustrated, alcoholic living in the stench of his own misery. Failure is nothing if not a sure indication that you’ve set your goals too high. It’s comforting (motivating?) to know that the least desirable outcome is always within reach.

Really though, as bad as it’s been, I’m gratifully that it has gone as well as it has. I could have been (still could be) much, much worse, but, at this point, I actual think we’re going to pull the damn thing off. Knock on wood and keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Free Love Hardware

First, I’d like to thank the lovely folks over at Nightmare on Elm Street for their generous donation of hardware to us and the Devil Queen. We greatly appreciate it, and I encourage everyone to send some good karma their way. They’re genuinely good people.

I had great time on St. Patrick’s Day. It made me realize that I really need to get out more. It’s hard to beat free Guinness, a good steak, and the company & conversation of several beautiful, intelligent, young women (In case I’m giving the wrong impression, this does include my wife; I’m not that kind of a man). The joys of scraping paint pale in comparison.

No exciting house news from the weekend. No new leads on our tool thieves, no exciting finds at pawn shops, and a pretty quiet weekend overall. The most exciting bit was the surprise my wife gave me. I now have a new framing hammer and a new sander. The hammer is perfect. It has the right heft and it feels good in my hand. I’m always astounded by me wife’s ability to pick the perfect gift. It’s the hammer I would have picked for myself if I’d have been there.

Jack and Fidge were over for dinner Sunday night, and Jack was looking at the tools. Holding the hammer he asked, “Nice framing hammer. Do you have a finishing hammer?”

“No, just a drywall hammer. I’ve never finished anything,” I said. It was meant as a joke, but the sad part is that it’s true. A double entendre, no?

The sander is exceptionally cool. It is a three-in-one (or is it four-in-one?) sander. It has a basic sander (kind of like a palm sander, a vibrating pad), a random orbit sanding attachment, and a small “rabbit” attachment for getting into tight corners. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it looks promising. If we get up off our lazy asses this weekend, we might have a chance to try it out.

Over this last weekend, we hammered out the Big Four projects we want Kenny to finish before we’re too broke to keep him: 1) built-in cabinets in the living room, 2) a small, built-in breakfast nook in the kitchen, 3) a front step, and 4) crown molding in the main hall. After that, we’re on our own once again unless we win the lottery.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Fight or Flight

This post over at House In Progress has been knocking around in my mind since I read it. I particularly like this passage:

“More than once over the last three years, I have really, REALLY wanted to ditch this house.

There. I said it. It's off my chest and I'm relieved. I have daydreamed about leaving the door unlocked with a sign on it that says, "Help yourself" and taking the first flight out of O'Hare to...I didn't care where. Somewhere far away where I could rent an apartment or, better yet, sleep on a beach and work as a waitress and never pick up a power tool again. This has happened more often than I've let on. And regret is a nasty roommate at 3:00 a.m.”

Even when they are wrapped in the throws of regret and despair, I admire their restraint. I’ve had similar thoughts and feeling though I’d be more inclined to burn the Devil Queen like a pagan king laid upon a pyre than leave a “Help Yourself” sign on the front door. Melodrama and catharsis are hard to beat.

This post also reminded me of a post of my own I started a month or two ago and never got around to posting. For whatever it is worth, here it is.


“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

- Winston Churchill

Several months ago, things were bleak. The Devil Queen's relentless pressure was grinding us into a fine powder. It did not make for a happy home life.

My wife was ready to call it quits. She didn't care if we were crushed in the falling wreckage, because, at the rate we were going, it wouldn't matter anyhow. This would make me furious, and she was always mystified as to why. She'd ask me, "Why do you want to keep going? Why do you want to keep pouring money into this? It's hopeless. We've squandered our time, our money, and our opportunities. I'm tired. I don't want to try, to struggle, to fight anymore. Why do you!?"

I didn't know either. I had no cogent arguments, and I needed them to win over my wife. Aside from the fact that she'd hate it, she would make a great lawyer. Her cross-examining skills are incisive and brutal. I even had the advantage that she secretly wanted to be won over to my side. But, I faltered and failed.

Months passed, we muddled through the miasma, and, miraculously, things improved.

I'm lukewarm about many things. I am passive to a fault. Commitment isn't something I fear per se, but I lack the energy and initiative to rise to the occasion. Then, at some inauspicious hour, I am fire-inspired and set ablaze. I latch myself to the object of my obsession with a death grip. Prudence is not a consideration. Even if it's decidedly not in my best interests, it's too late.

The Devil Queen is more than a house, a project, or a commitment. She is more than an obsession too. To my own detriment, she has become my punishment, my penance, and my redemption. If I succeed, a string of failures will be broken, poor choices will be forgiven, and I shall reign victorious over the field of battle. I hope.

I haven't achieved anything that I'd really hoped to at this point in my life. I've had what I believed where good ideas go bottom up. Things didn't work out, I was a victim of circumstance and my own poor planning.

Then there is the Devil Queen. Sure, maybe it was a stupid idea: move an old shit-heap of a house, fix it up, make some money on it, and have a cool place to live. As one of my in-laws said (sympathetically), "Jesus, talk about a big fucking mess." And, it definitely is one. But, for whatever stupid reason, I simply could not make myself quit. If I failed, it would not be for a lack of spine. I never, ever want to look back and wonder what would have happened if I'd just kept at it a little bit longer. If this whole adventure ends in ruin, so be it, but it won't be for a lack of trying.

The truth is that despite all the black omens I still secretly hope for success. More than that, I really want it to be a success. I need to finally achieve something for a change. If I can just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I will reach the end.

For years I've watched old homes disappear. They fell in, burned down, or were torn down. Wasn't that a damn shame? What was wrong with people? Why didn't someone do something about it? Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I could do something. I didn't want to be another obnoxious, hypocritical whiner. If I wasn't going to do anything to change the situation, I ought to just shut the hell up.

So, I put my money where my month was, and three fourths of the time I wish I hadn't. As for the other fourth, I'm really glad that I did, and that is why I'm still at it.

I'm tired of playing the victim to the vagaries of life, and I am tired of my half-assed follow-through on everything. This project will be different. So, “once more into the breach,” and I shall return victorious or on my shield.

Erin Go Bragh

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Instead of being lame and staying at home, we’re knocking off work early and driving out to Altus, Arkansas to celebrate at Kelts Pub. It’s probably the only place in rural Arkansas where you can get Guinness on tap.

Ironically, we have a whole lot of German immigrants to thank for this luxury. They came over from the Old World, built a Catholic monastery and planted acres upon acres grapes. If can believe it, Arkansas has several commercial vineyards, and Altus is the heart of Arkansas wine country. Since most of this part the state still doesn’t believe that Prohibition was done away with in 1933, this anomaly is rather remarkable. Personally, most of the wines are too sweet for my taste, but I really appreciate the effort they put into making, selling, and drinking wines.

The weather is supposed to be terrible for the weekend: highs in the 40’s and lots of rain. Saturday we’re going to cruise pawnshops and auctions to look for our tools or replacements for them.

Sunday, we’re thinking about actually working on the Queen. Wild idea, isn’t it?

Here are few pictures from this week. First, we have the Queen with her lovely new spot lights.

A gratuitous moon shot.

And, our master bedroom ceiling. If you've never scrapped paint off a ceiling, you don't know how much fun you're missing. Feel free to come over and try it some time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Marble Tiles and Trim

We'd love to have a counter top like Greg's, but we've had to settle for the next best thing, marble tiles. These tiles are a 12" x 12" so we'll have a lot more tile than grout.

The white tile looks way too bright in this photo. It looks a lot better in person. It'll match all the white trim & base boards when everything is finished.

Kenny has been working on the threshold between the dining room and living room. Originally there was a wall here. The previous owners tore the wall out, did a piss poor job of patching the hole, and then laid carpet over it. Kenny tore out their work and is replacing it with something nicer.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Suspicious Minds

In reference to these comments, I’ll admit that I am suspicious of the electricians too. It just seems weird that they showed up to work the day we were robbed. I mean, it could be coincidence, but it made a flag go up none the less. Why? I'm not sure, it is just a feeling. However, my wife still feels pretty confident that The Drunk is the culprit.

A few things make me think the electricians are not the most likely candidates are: 1) they stole a gallon of denatured alcohol but not the $100 of new breakers sitting a couple of feet away, 2) the electricians were recommend by Tony Anderson and everyone he’s referred to us has been legit, 3) the electricians wouldn’t know where to park (we’ve had a drought the entire time they’ve worked for us, so mud holes haven’t been an issue until yesterday).

To be honest, I still don’t think this proves them to be guiltless, but I’m pretty paranoid at this point. I question my own judgement.

So, lets have a show of hands. Based on the information I've provided so far, how many of you think the electrician stole our tools? How many think it was the drunk contractor we fired a couple years ago? Or, do you have another theory? Aliens, Satanic cultists, or something more nefarious?

If you haven’t read these posts yet, check them and tell me what you think. Paranoid minds want to know.

My Lucky Day

Reaming Update

A Crime Story

Spring Cleaning

Head Hunting

Head Hunting

Gary Greg, to answer a question you left in the comment section last week, I'm not sure we'll be able to prove who stole our tools.

We think that our tools were probably stolen by a contractor we used a couple years ago. I can't tell you who he is exactly since I'd hate to get sued for liable. Lets just call him The Drunk. The Drunk got his sorry ass fired because: 1) he was a drunk, 2) he was lazy, 3) he lied, and 4) he was a cheat. Ironically, he was the only contractor we ever signed an official contract with.

When we fired him, he sent us a final bill with an inflated labor cost and a bill for materials that weren't used on the Queen (one example was he charged us for 50 sacks of concrete when he only used 25). To make a long story short, my wife told him that it all was all bull shit, shaved $2000 off his bill, and told him that was her final offer. If he thought that he was in the right, she’d be more than happy to see him in court. He took his greatly reduced fee, and that was the last we heard of him.

The Drunk is our number one suspect because: 1) he has a grudge against us, 2) he has a white truck, 3) he is one of the contractors that got his truck stuck in the mud because he parked too close to the Queen, and 4) he has proven himself to be untrustworthy in the past. Also, based on the quality of work he did for us, I doubt he has too many repeat customers. And, as a drunk, I’m sure he’s in need of beer money.

Tracking him down has been problematic. Online searches have come up with nothing, and I haven’t found him in the phone book. I have his old business card with a phone number on it but no address. I’d call but I can figure out what I’d say. “Hey Drunk, just calling to see if you still have that white truck because I think you stole all my tools last week.” Yeah, I’m sure he’d just confess and bring them all back if I’d just call.

What I really want to know is where he lives so I can drive by and get his license plate number and a better description (photo) of his truck. We suspect that in a few weeks who ever robbed us will be back to see if we’ve replaced our tools and left them laying around again. As it is, I’ll be writing down the license plate number of every white truck I see cruising our street.

We’re also going to start going to all of the local pawn shops on a regular basis. If we think we’ve found our tools, we can call the police and they can search the pawn shop records to find who brought them in.

Even so, we figure our chances of finding our tools or proving who stole them are pretty slim.

One tip for everyone out there, write down all of your power tools’ serial numbers and keep them somewhere safe (not with the tools for instance). We didn’t, and it would make finding them much easier.

Kenny at Work

Here is some of Kenny's most recent work on the Queen. First, we have the repair job he did on our dining room floor.

Nine months after we started this project, we finally have an arched doorway between the kitchen and dining room. The door was bought from an antique store. Unfortunately, it only had trim on one side.

Here is the new trim for the kitchen side of the arch laying on the counter top.

This is a close-up of the kitchen side of the arch. I know this doesn't look like much, but I'm really proud of how this turned out. I roughed-in the door openning, and it is a nice tight fit. It's proof that I can actually use a tape measure (the whole master bathroom window fiasco called my skills into question).

Fuzzy Wuzzies and Wallpaper

Here are some photos of the wallpaper we peeled off the ceiling in my son's bedroom. The first photo is a close up of the cut & paste job used to make the braided corner medallions. You may not believe me, but this is some of the best looking wallpaper we've found. There was some hope for taste in the 1890's, but it just uglier and uglier after that.

And here's what we found under the wallpaper. I know you all wish you had some of this stuff. I just can't wait to scrub this down with TSP or bleach.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Spring Cleaning

We're still adding items to our stolen tool list. In addition to everything I mentioned last week, we're missing our jig-saw, two palm sanders, one belt sander, spool of electrical wire, and a one gallon tin of denatured alcohol.

I'm still not sure if the spool of wire was stolen. Back in October we hired some electricians to help speed things up on the Queen. They came out a few times and wired up most of our lights, the kitchen stove, and a few other things. They didn't finish the whole job though. It's been months since I heard from them. I was beginning to think they'd quit. I wasn't too concerned since they hadn't been paid for the job yet. Either they'd be back to finish or they wouldn't get paid.

Wednesday afternoon (same day we discovered we'd been robbed) they showed up and finished wiring the parlor/third bedroom. I suspect they may have used up the missing spool of wire, but I haven't gotten a hold of them to ask yet. In any case, the Queen is approximately 85% wired. The ac/heat needs to be connected, the pantry needs a light, the kitchen needs outlets and some lights, and a few other things need to be finished.

As part of our token anti-theft measures (I say token because if you aren't there, there is no way to keep folks out if they really want in) Jack came up and installed some temporary, outdoor lighting. It's ugly as shit, but we're hoping that it'll deter further late night visits. Once we move in, the ugly lights will come down, but I'm not sure if or where we'll relocate them.

Scraping paint off the master bedroom ceiling this weekend only served to confirm that I'm a weak, flabby girly-man. It's a sure sign that I need to spend more time working on the Devil Queen so I can get into better shape. Finishing the Queen is only a secondary concern at this point (well, not really).

Scraping paint, what is there to say about it? Scrape, swear, sweat, and repeat until exhausted or finished. We nearly finished half the master bedroom ceiling before we gave into exhaustion. Mercifully, there are only two coats of paint on it, and most of it flakes off fairly easily (as much as old pain ever does). Once we finish the scraping, it'll be time to move onto the good old prime, caulk, and paint routine.

We spent most of Sunday afternoon and evening cleaning out the front bedroom (my son's future room). We bagged trash and hauled all the original exterior gingerbread trim into storage. Unfortunately, the only place we have for it at the moment is the crawlspace. I don't think we'll have to worry too much about it down there though. The trim is so dry rotted that most of it is only good as a template for re-milling new trim at a later date.

After we hauled everything out of the room, we started tearing down the old canvas & tack wallpaper. We were shocked to find some paper that wasn't ass ugly. We found what appears to be the original 1890 ceiling wallpaper, and it was actually attractive unlike the two or three layers of 1950's - 1970's wallpaper. We've cut out a few large swaths to save for posterity. They're very brittle, so we're going to mount them on acid-free foam board. I should have some pictures of it later in the week.

Under the wallpaper, we found a nasty, fuzzy-white colony of mold. We're going to have to do some serious scrubbing before we can paint this room. Fortunately, the wood seems to be solid and free of rot. Once we get the outer layer of white gunk off, it should be fine.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Crime Story

They had probably been watching the Queen for a while, two or three weeks. Maybe more. They knew what early hour Kenny arrived and when he left in the afternoon. They knew that I often visited in the evening just after dark. They knew that we came out on the weekends to work or check on things.

They also had easy access to the house. They knew where all of our tools were and what we had. They'd probably walked through a time or two just to scope things out. It was all mentally catalogued well in advance. They probably appreciated the fact that there were working lights in most the rooms. It was easy.

Tuesday evening our neighbors, the H's, noticed a white Ford pick-up truck parked on the side of the road. A large, white, middle-aged man had been walking the neighborhood, wandering the vacant lots, and then returned to his truck. The H's pulled up next to the truck and rolled down their window. "Hello. Are you lost? Do you need some help?" In true Southern fashion, this turn of phase offers the person addressed the benefit of the doubt. It sounds polite and helpful, and, to an extent, it is. But, also carries a second, implicit meaning: who the fuck are you and what are you doing here?

The man looked at them and said, "No. I know exactly where I am." He rolled up his window and refused to speak any more. A few moments later he left.

That night between midnight and 4 AM a white Ford truck pulled into the Devil Queen's drive leaving 10 inch wide tire tracks. Instead of pulling up as close to the house as they could, they parked very close to the street. This means each round-trip to the Queen and back to the truck was probably about 100 yards. Why did they park there? They parked there because they had worked for us before.

Last year and the year before, the weather was much wetter. The clay earth was soft. The delivery man from Rideout and two contractors sank their trucks deep into the mud when they parked too close to the Queen. The ground near the road is firmer and less prone to becoming a morass. Everyone that has worked on the Queen for any length of time knows to park here.

There were probably two men, but they didn't take anything too big for one man to move. They worked careful and fast. Nothing was broken or thrown around. Items that did not interest them were set aside to clear their way to their chosen prize.

What they took is almost as interesting as what they did not take. A cheap, six-dollar lock from Lowes was taken, but the $200 Victorian door ringer it was sitting on was not. The old doors, the vintage locks & knobs, and architectural details were left. These men did not value old things.

These men loved tools, and they knew their tools. They took the best stuff we had: the Porter-Cable compressor and the Dewalt nail gun, the compact, collapsing ladder, and the portable table saw. They didn't waste their time with the cheap, no-name skill saws or battered hand tools.

The tools fall into two categories: those easily sold for good money and those they could keep for themselves to use.

It probably didn't take them more than ten minutes to wipe us completely out. About $1500 of borrowed equipment vanished. The hoard of tools we'd collected over four year was gone.

I still have some wrenches, screw drivers, pry bars, chisels, and tape measures, but I don't have a damn thing to drive a nail with. It's bad enough to be robbed, but stealing another man's hammer is a cold-blooded, personal insult.

Wednesday morning Kenny and his cousin came to work on the Queen. Kenny immediately knew something was wrong because the bat of fiberglass insulation he keeps stuffed under the front door was kicked to the side.

By 8:30 AM, Kenny had called my wife. Family and police were called.

It was just another lovely day at the Devil Queen.

Cutting Glass

Gary made mention of a couple glass cutting tips in this post. Does anyone have any additional tips? I have a brand new glass cutter and a small stockpile of 60-70 year old glass I salvaged from a few hopeless sashes. I should have enough glass to repair three panes if I don’t screw up too much of it. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise, my wife may kill me if the mood takes her.

Pre-Robbery Kitchen Photos

Here are a few photos we took a couple days before we were robbed.

First, here are some of the custom cabinets, the counter top decking, and our window with all its trim.

Here is the other corner.

The window.
And, here is a close-up of the bull's-eye corner trim I repaired. I wish I'd taken a before picture so you could appreciate my mastery of wood-putty. The top 1 inch or so was broken off when we removed the trim a couple years ago. No matter how careful you are, getting trim off in one piece is hard to do. This piece of trim is about 6" square, but they used 6 freaking enormous nails to set it. Overkill?
I scavenged up a piece of old wood and cut it down to size with the table saw. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I drilled out some starter holes for the nails. I nailed them together with some tiny framing nails, and filled the crack with wood putty. I gave it a good sanding, but didn't get around to a second coat (note the visible crack on the left side of the patch) before Kenny put it up. No harm done, I can finish it as it is. Then, caulk and paint.

And, a nice, tight joint.

I was up at the Queen last night to check on things. The kitchen is moving along at a good pace. Kenny has cut out the hole for the kitchen sink, laid the concrete backer board for the tile, and built-in a few more cabinets. More photos in a few days.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Instrument of Wrath

I came across this post yesterday. It seems timely, so here is a portion of it:

"I have to admit, for a brief second in dealing with someone the other day, I felt my blood boil and entertained violent thoughts.

Of course, I didn't do anything other than what I usually do, which is wish a sudden violent death upon him. Unfortunately, that hardly ever works.

No, because I am a peace loving man, I sought guidance from a Higher Power and offered the following prayer.

Dear Lord,

Please offer me strength to deal with your wayward child's insolence. He knows not what he does. Please grant me the serenity to deal with his dickery and restore my calm.

In the alternative, Lord, I pray that you enable me to be the instrument of Your wrath. Please guide my foot to the place that will do him the most good. In guiding my foot, I pray that my aim is true but that I don't actually break it off in his nether region when I bestow Your Divine correction. Please let my foot set him back on his path and prevent him from straying again in the future.

I hope that this is not too much to ask for, but it would be really cool if you could cause him to spontaneously combust. Or make him impotent for like ten years.


Reaming Update

Thanks for all the comments left on yesterdays. I greatly appreciate them. And, thank you very much Tarr, you really shouldn't have by which I mean we're very grateful.

Here is our current list of stolen items:

1. Compressor, Air Hose, and Nail Gun
2. Paint Sprayer
3. Two cordless drills and complete set of bits
4. Portable table saw
5. Miter saw
6. Halogen lamps
7. Head lamp
8. Two ton truck jack
9. Miscellaneous wiring tools
10. Several hammers

I think there may be a few more items that I've forgotten, but this is the bulk of it. Our estimate is that about $2000 worth of equipment was taken. As though being robbed wasn't bad enough, over half this stuff was on loan from family. Jack, my wife's step-father, lost over $1000 of his equipment. It'll probably take us a few months to manage it, but we plan to replace or reimburse him for everything.

My wife filed an incident report with the police yesterday. Chances are slim to none that this stuff will make its way back to us, but, if it turns up in a pawnshop, we can call the police and they can seize the shop's records to find out who brought in the stuff.

Anyhow, more about this latter.

A First Time Fugly

The first time you try doing something on your own, you are bound to screw something up (unless you’re Greg in which case it looks pretty damn good). Fortunately, we’ve managed not to do too much wrong with the Devil Queen. Well, nothing that we couldn’t fix before someone else saw it. This, however, is a notable exception.

What can I say? We were young, stupid, and in a real hurry. I’m sure you can tell. I mean, why else would the main sewer line run out from under the front porch? And, as Greg correctly guessed in a previous post, this is exactly were the front stairs should go.

I can’t even begin to estimate how many hours my wife and I, our contractors, friends, and family have stood around wondering what in the hell we are going to do with this monstrous bit of PVC plumbing.

Two weekends back, before I got the flu, I started work on my master solution for this problem. The short explanation is I’m going to bury the damn thing. Here is another before photo.

And, here are some in-progress photos after an afternoon spent rolling rocks around.

When I’m feeling wildly optimistic, I think I’m about a quarter of the way done with this little bit of landscaping. The rest of the time I am wondering how it's going to get this finished. The truth is somewhere in between.

There are two potential problems this “solution” creates in and of itself.

One, it leaves a small, narrow gully running between the house and the rock retaining wall. This means I’m going to have to make sure that there is sufficient drainage to keep water from collecting here. I’m also going to have to clean out dead leaves and other woodland debris to keep this from becoming a snake den too. There isn’t anything more exciting than a tangled mass of peeved copperheads outside your front door, but I’m just not into that kind of excitement.

Two, it raises the ground up awfully close to level with the porch. Instead of front steps we may have a front step. My wife has an interesting idea to solve this problem, but we haven’t fleshed it out yet.

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