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, June 30, 2006

Shear Walls, Framing, and Air Flow or Anatomy of a Wall Two

Yesterday I put up a post to answer some questions regarding the construction of the Devil Queen’s exterior walls. For those who may have missed the post, click here.

Ron from Top to Bottom left an interesting comment that I’ve quoted here:

“I think your ideas about the lower class cheap housing in the south is right on. From what I know, this type of construction is used because, if your illustration is correct, they eliminated one entire layer by putting the sheathing on the inside. This gave them a semi-finished interior surface and save a pile of labor and material. Sin[c]e for the most part in many places in the south they are not too worried about keeping air movement out of the system this was not a problem. In the north this would be a big problem. Renovating these houses can be a problem though. If some people do what you mentioned in one of your options of removing the interior boards, it could be disastrous. Those boards are probably acting as the shear walls [click here or here for definitions at Wikipedia], or a major portion of that, and if it is replaced by sheetrock, that has no shear strength; you can have a major major problem. Insulating that system can also bring problems that might not be immediately apparent. Changing the airflow system of that type of house can cause some big mold and rot problem down the road. I think your approach is probably the smartest option”

Not only where the builders of old home in the South, “not too worried about keeping air movement out,” but they actually designed their homes to have maxiumum air flow. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of previous posts [this is the only one I could find], but I’d like to elaborate on it in regard to the walls.

Here is a rough sketch of the framing for the Devil Queen:

It is pretty straight forward. They lay the sill first (on top of rock piers in this case). Then the floor joists are installed. The joists are notched and set on top of the sill. I don’t care too much for this particular technique. Here is why:

Over time the joist tends to split/crack in the direction of the wood grail staring from the corner of the notch/cut-out. So far this hasn’t been an endemic problem, but there were a few joists that I had to jack-up until the crack closed, sister new 2x10’s or 2x12’s to the joist, and add another pier under the joist in some cases.

This building technique does have an advantage from an air flow point of view. Here is a diagram of the framing with the tongue-in-groove flooring added:

And here is a cross section of the framing if you cut the room in half between & parallel to two floor joists:

The notched technique allows cooler air from the crawl space to flow up into the pockets inside the walls. The pockets also allow warm air (air in the pockets is heated from the sun shining on the siding, etc) to escape upward creating a convection current. In some homes (but not the Devil Queen), there is a small opening into the attic at the top of the wall pocket. This allows the air to vent into the attic an out of the house via gaps under the original wood shake shingles (which the Queen did have).

Some of you may be thinking, “what about the firebreaks between the studs?!” Based on the walls we have opened up in the Queen I’ve concluded that none of the original walls have firebreaks. From what I understand, the use of firebreaks didn’t become common or required until after World War II.

To retrofit the Queen for insulation, we had Kenny block off the bottom of the wall pockets in the crawlspace with 2x4’s. If we hadn’t done this, when (if?) a contractor blows insulation into the wall pockets it will spill out the bottom until the crawlspace is filled. We’re hoping that this blocking, the fire-retardant insulation, and 100% new wiring will alleviate any fire concerns. Still, there is no way in hell that I’d strip paint off the Queen with a heat gun!

As for the tongue-in-groove wallboards serving as shear walls, Ron is absolutely correct. Without the wallboard it would only be a matter of time before the Devil Queen collapsed. Replacing the wood shake shingles (requiring no decking) with composition shingles (requiring decking) also increases the weight the walls have to support.

If you wanted to get rid of the interior wallboards, I’d recommend the following:

1) Strip off all the exterior siding.
2) Install firebreaks and reinforce framing as necessary.
3) Sheath the exterior framing with plywood or something comparable.
4) Install new siding.
5) Strip off all the interior wall boards.
6) Run wiring, plumbing, etc as needed.
7) Insulate.
8) Sheetrock.

To make everything fit together correctly, you’d probably also have to either replace the old windows or build out the frames, sashes, etc to get everything built out to accommodate the thicker walls. I’ve also see houses where folks have wrapped the sheathing in some sort of vapor barrier (?); having never done that myself I don’t know any of the pros, cons, code, etc regarding that.

Also, don’t count on getting to reuse all the old siding and wallboard you pull down. A lot of them won’t survive the removal process no matter how careful you are. In my experience, the interior wall boards will fair better.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


The folks from Energy Miser still haven’t shown. Maybe it’s time for blood sacrifices and . . . a new contractor?

Anatomy of a Wall

Eric thanks for the questions. I hope this post answers them.

First, the walls (interior & exterior) of the Devil Queen are 100% wood. Here is a rough diagram of the how her walls are put together.

The wall studs of the Devil Queen are pine, true 2x4’s. On the exterior side of the wall, beveled lap siding was nailed to the studs (double nailed incase any one is interested). The interior walls are made from 3/4” thick, tongue-in-groove wall boards. This construction leaves hollow pockets between the studs & the interior/exterior surfaces. The wiring, plumbing, etc are run through these pockets just like a modern house.

I’m not sure how prevalent this style of construction is. In my person experience, it is predominately found in the South in lower to middle class homes. Most of the upper middle class and upper class homes seem to have plaster & lathe construction vs. the tongue-in-groove wood. Every old home I’ve personally seen in the Arkansas River Valley is built with this kind of construction. The only houseblogger with this construction that I’ve seen is Kristin over at 1902 Victorian. Greg at the Petch House has found a peculiar version of this construction: tongue & groove wallboards modified to serve as a heavy duty lathe for a plaster wall (his kitchen stairway I believe).

I’ve searched for other examples of his construction online, in books, and in person and found very little. George Nash’s Renovating Old Houses makes no mention of it. I didn’t find any reference to it at the National Registry website’s preservation briefs. Even books on the Old South focus almost entirely on the ante bellum plantation houses and not the Everyman’s home.

The interior wall boards were never meant to be the finished wall surface (with the exception of the kitchen which has tongue-in-groove beadboard that was painted several times and never wallpapered). When the house was originally built, canvas was stretched until taut over the walls and tacked into place. A layer of wallpaper was glued to the canvas as the final, finished surface. As years passed, new layers of wallpaper we laid over one another until around the 1970’s. At this point, the wallpaper and canvas were beginning to crumble with age. Instead of tearing it all down and starting from scratch, they covered it with ¼” drywall or wood paneling.

We’ve spent years tearing out all these different layers of stuff off the walls. Once we reached the original tongue-in-groove wallboards, we had to decide what came next. Our options were:

1) Tear out the wallboards and replace them with standard sheet rock & insulating the walls with rolled bats from the inside.
2) Do a modern approximation of the canvas & wallpaper wall covering
3) Clean the wood and oil it with Danish Oil or varnish/shellac it
4) Paint the wood.

Option 1 was never really an option. I was too invasive in our opinion. Option 2 didn’t really excite us though it was probably the most historically appropriate. Option 3 was tempting. The problem is that since the wood walls were never intended to be a finished surface, the carpentry was shoddy in some place (huge gaps, cracked board, etc). Sections of several walls would need to be pulled out and rebuilt.

This left us with Option 4. I feel pretty good about this choice, but I still sometimes wonder if it was the best option. On upside, if someone comes along after us, they can always revert back to historically accurate canvas & wallpaper without anyone ever knowing what lies beneath.

Since dining room has tongue-in-groove beadboard, it will be the only exception. We’re going to Danish Oil two of the walls and paint the third one as an accent wall (it was in too rough of shape to oil).

As for our color schemes, the only painted room in the house is the kitchen. Yes, we really did paint two walls in our kitchen purple on purpose. The other two walls are painted “Sand” and the ceiling is white. I might also mention that our camera refuses to take a picture of the purple that is true to life. For some reason it looks bluer than it really is. The base boards and trim are all going to be white as well. The purple will probably not be nearly as forceful once all the appliances are installed. The refrigerator and stove will cover a lot of it.

The master bedroom and bathroom will have green walls with white ceilings (the master bath will have white wainscoting too). The hall and my son’s room will be blue with white ceilings, and the living room will be . . . robustly red.

Just wait until you see the colors we’ve picked for the exterior of the Queen. She’ll definitely be a woman who cannot be ignored.

Technical Difficulties

I don’t know what happened since last night, but the Paypal Donate Button’s code went crazy. I had to remove it to get the content of the Devil Queen to display correctly. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Loose Ends

First, I’d like to thank all of you who take the time and effort to post comments here. I would also like to appologize. Sometimes I don’t manage to post a timely response or any response at all, and, for this, I am sorry. Life is chaotic, and I’ve never been an attention-to-detail kind of guy. I get distracted and don’t get around to responding. A lame excuse, but there it is.

Also, Archimedes24, thank you for the email regarding my desire to live in New Orleans before it sinks into oblivion. I tried to respond, but my email came back as undeliverable. Sorry and good luck on the move.

For those of you still waiting for kitchen pictures or tanks water heater specifications don’t worry. I have not forgotten. I’m hoping to get to that this coming week.

Words of Wisdom

"If you want to learn how to build a house, build a house. Don't ask anybody, just build a house."
- Christopher Walken

I stumbled across this yesterday. It rang true so I decided to include it here. Having learned from experience, I would caution you that this approach lends itself to the School of Hard Knocks Approach to life. A lot of it sucks, but, if you survive, you’ll definitely know what you’re doing (or what NOT to do at least).

A Floor to Die For

Well, maybe not. Don’t get me wrong, I like my kitchen floor. I don’t like it that much though. I’ve always taken the “adequate ventilation” caveat seriously, but my best just wasn’t good enough (windows & doors open, fans on, etc). The day after we stained the floor my wife and I were both hung-over. That’s right, all the pain with none of the fun. It sucked.

It was so bad that Kenny left all the window open and fans going when he left the next day. Normally Kenny locks the Queen up when he leaves, but the fumes were still too much for him 24 hours later. Wow.

This floor looks substantially different from our master bathroom floor even though the wood is all from the same source. Maybe the planer took more of the surface & varnish off than the sander did? I don’t know, but I still like it anyway. Scarlet says she likes the kitchen floor more than the master bathroom. I don’t know; I like them both.

Here is the part where I torture you with my astoundingly bad photography skills. In real life, the floor isn't as dark as the first picture and has deeper, richer color than the second picture. If you imagined a darker, richer version of picture two you'd probably be pretty close.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Master Bedroom Death Crawl

It would be easy to think that only token progress has been made in the master bedroom, but that is so far from the truth. I thought we'd have this painted by now, but I was wrong (do you see a trend?). The washing and selective de-tacking takes a lot more time and effort than imagined. Slowly we're making progress. We're dreading the caulking stage. I think we can reasonably expect to use at least two cases of caulk on the walls alone. Ouch.

On the upside, as slow as this has been, it is still faster than stripping that damn wallpaper!

Arbitrary Deadline Death Match

In short, I lost. However, despite my best efforts I didn’t die either. Doesn’t that make me a failure on both counts?

As of 9:20 PM last night, the Big Question for me was: can I load the drum sander into the back of my car without throwing up or passing out? I was pleasantly surprised to discover the answer was “yes.”

In the delusional dream world that I inhabit, the kitchen, rear hall, and mudroom-laundry would have had their floors sanded, stained, and sealed with at least three coats of polyurethane by day’s end Sunday. It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. There are no pictures either. Saturday I brought the camera with, but the battery was dead. Sunday the battery was recharged but I’d forgotten the camera. Oops.

The most amazing thing about being me is my unfailing ability to set unobtainable goals for myself on a regular basis.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my first floor sanding experience was a cake walk. We used salvaged 3 inch, tongue-in-groove floor boards for the master bedroom floor, and, before we put them in, we ran them through the planer. This took all of the old varnish off, so leveling them was the big concern. We used the same floor boards in the kitchen and other addition to the Queen, but we didn’t run it through the planer. God, I wish we had because this stuff was a freaking nightmare to get off. Add working our way around the kitchen cabinets and weird doorways, and it an awful, time-devouring process. It took me a full day just to get most of the varnish off.

Sunday Jack came up with his arsenal of palm sanders, belt sanders, and angle grinders to spot sand the trouble areas while I worked the floors over with the fine grit paper on the drum sander.

I have learned something new about drum sanders. If you rent one of these babies, I suggest checking all the screws and bolts on it before you start using it. These machines shake like the Devil, and sooner or later the screws start working themselves out of their holes. In my case, a screw worked itself loose under the sander. There is a metal plate with four screws directly behind the drum that runs parallel to the floor. As far as I can tell, it is there to help collect the dust and channel it up to the dust bag. My sander only had two of the four screws when I began my project (which I discovered after the fact). As I worked my way down the back hall there was a bang and loud grinding noise like a box of nails being run through a jet engine. The 60 grit paper I’d just put on was turned into confetti. Cussing, I pulled the drum off the floor and shut the damn thing off immediately.

Jack and I inspected the sander. The screw dropped out of the machine and was shot down the hallway (thankfully missing the glass door). The metal plate now only held in with one screw pivoted forward until it hit the drum and WHAM!

Somehow, the floor wasn’t damaged in the least. Jack found the screw, and I put it back into place. While I was at it, I tightened all the other screws and bolts I could find on the machine. I discovered that the handgrips and control portion of the machine is supposed to be held on with 6 screws, but only 3 were in place and they were all loose. I’d hate to see what would happen if the handle came off while you were sanding.

Installing Our Kitchen Sink

This is a new one for us. The kitchen sink weighs a freaking ton. Kenny and Burt set it into place for us, and they complained about how heavy it was. Since they work with lots of big, heavy stuff for a living, this really says a lot.

According to everyone we’ve talked to (none of which are plumbers), all we need to do is set the sink in place, caulk around it to seal the small gap between the sink lip and the counter top, and then connect the plumbing. Is this correct? Please let us know so we can get our kitchen working some time this week.


End of an Era

Kenny and Burt will be leaving us at the end of the week. They haven’t finished everything that we wanted them to, but they’ve reached a point where they’re going to have to wait for us to do a lot of painting and prep-work before they can continue. And, they have two projects they’d like to take up in the mean time. If the stars are right, they should be coming back to us at the end of July, but you can never be sure.

Wednesday Energy Miser should be out to start blowing insulation for us. The whole process has me kind of nervous. On the one hand, I’m excited about getting insulation. On the other, I’m not real excited about them having to cut holes in the siding to blow it into the walls. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed and covered up, but I just don’t like the idea of it.

We’ve got a dumpster for the old insulation they’ll be removing. We’ve already started filling it up with all the trash and crap that has been laying around the Queen.

With Kenny packing up, we can clean out the dining room and living room. They’ve been his de facto workshop for months now. Once all the wood, tools, and saw dust are gone, we’ll have two rooms that are ready to be finished. You know the whole glorious scrape paint, scrub wood, prime, and paint routine. And, the floors can be refinished too. But, before we can begin on them, we’ll have to do the same routine the hallway, Gideon’s room, and the master bed & bath.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Milky Goodness

Kenny has nearly finished the living room built-in. Once he installs the doors for the TV nook in the middle, it will be finished for now. If we have time and money, we’ll have tall, narrow glass doors installed to enclose the exposed shelves, but that isn’t a priority for the moment.

My wife was doing Zen mystic meditation to commune with the Devil Queen last weekend when she suddenly blurted, “We should paint these cabinets with milk paint.”

Surprised, I froze for a moment and then said, “Yeah! That would look awesome!”

So, after some research, we decided we’re going to try it. We’re going to buy the paint from these folks, The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company, Inc.

Milk paint was a traditional interior paint in centuries gone by. We’re hoping that painting our built-ins with milk paint will help blend their modern materials (plywood) with the old, original woodwork.

We haven’t settled on our final color scheme yet. We’re going to do a base coat with one color and then a top coat of one or two different colors. The top coats will be applied and then partially wiped off to give it more complex and “worn” finish. We’ve never attempted anything like this before, so it ought to be an interesting challenge.

In the mean time, we are still trying to finish a few things up so we can move into the Queen. If everything works in our favor over the next 4 to 5 days, we should be in soon. After work tonight, I’m hoping to pick up a drum sander for the weekend. If we get a dumpster delivered by Monday morning, our insulation guy should be able to start work.

Kenny has been knocking things off of his to-do list at a good pace. Nearly all the vapor barrier is down, door frames are getting trim, all the window weight pockets should be capped off sometime this morning, and countless other projects are in the works. Last night I put in a few hours scrubbing the master bedroom walls and pulling wallpaper tacks. Yes, I’m still at it. I didn’t make it nearly as far as I would have liked and somehow managed to pick up a mess of chiggers. My ass is just one big chigger picnic at this point. Nice.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Few Small Projects

Here are a few pictures of some of the side projects. First, we have the vanity for the master bathroom sinks. I filled the nail holes with wood putty and sanded it down. My wife then put two coats of primer over it. The next step will be me drawing a bunch of sunflowers on it and marking the cut-outs for the drains and faucets. Then we'll paint the sun flowers, seal it with four or five coats of polyurethane, and mount the sinks. Since we still don't have a finished bathroom to put it in, it is on the back burner for now.

This weekend we pulled the two old faucets and the remenants of the drain trap off the mudroom sink to take them to Lowe's for spare/replacement parts. The trap looks like it was installed in the 1970's and it is completely rusted out. The faucets are original and in working order but probably need new gaskets. They also have odd sized threaded nipples so we'll need special water feeds or adaptors. And, here is a picture of the hair line crack near the drain. We don't know how deep it is, but we're going to patch it with JB Weld just to be safe.

And here is the master bedroom ceiling after I finished caulking it. It went a lot faster than the kitchen ceiling. About a third of the ceiling boards in the kitchen fell after the move et cetera. It took a lot of work and caulk to make it look right. The kitchen ceiling needed a case of caulk (24 tubes) while the master bedroom only needed 8 tubes.

Lock It Up

One of the signs of a good contractor or carpenter is that they are as excited by your house as you are.

One night last week, Kenny and I went through the Queen looking at the windows. Kenny really got a kick out of the old, original window locks. He particularly likes the ones in the front room with the bay window. They are cast iron with a spring-loaded mechanism. You pull a knob on the latch and it will pop itself into the unlocked position.

I just finished a two week long shopping spree on eBay for vintage window locks and pulls. Roughly 50% of our original pulls and locks were stolen before we bought the Queen, and, since we’re hoping to move in soon, we thought it was time to lock the place up.

Here are some pictures of the locks we have left.

Fortunately for us the Boswells liked variety in their window locks. The style differs from room to room, so anything goes. Most of the locks I bought off of ebay are nearly identical to last two.

Here is a picture of a window in my son's room sans the trim exposing the window weight pockets. The thing that Kenny and I can’t figure out is this:

Here is a closer look.
In case you still have no idea what I'm talking about, the window frame is cut at a 45 degree angle and the bottom piece is leaning into the weight-pocket.

Not all the windows in the Queen are like this, but a lot of them in the oldest part of the house are. We can’t figure out what purpose these weird splices and cuts would serve. Kenny’s guess is they wanted the windows larger than the frames originally were, so they cut them, spliced in an extension piece on each side, and put it back together. That could be, but some of the windows don’t have a splice. They just have a single 45 degree scarf joint. I can’t help but wonder if this was their attempt to make a bootleg access panel to the window weight pocket. Instead of prying the whole piece of window trim off, they could knock the panel open and stick their hand into the pocket.

Really, it doesn’t sound practical to me. They would have to have been some seriously malnourished SOBs to get their arms and hands into these tiny holes. Moreover, I don’t think that it would be any easier than just popping the trim off.

I don’t know. Thoughts?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blow Me

Tim from Energy Miser stopped by Saturday to give us an updated quote on blowing insulation into our attic and walls. He gave us a quote over a year ago, but it took us a lot longer to get the Queen ready for him than we thought.

Yeah, I know. It is such a surprise.

We asked for a new quote since we figured that the price would have gone up since then. Everything else has. We were pleasantly shocked when it was about the same as the original quote.

Not only will he be blowing new insulation, but he will also be removing what is left of the old insulation. Having bagged removed half of it by hand, I can’t tell you how excited we are to NOT have to finish this job ourselves.

As part of the removal process, he will need a giant dumpster. We pretty excited about this too. All the scrap metal, junk, and what-not that accumulated around the Devil Queen over the last few years will finally have a new home, a landfill.

And, if Kenny has finished with the windows this week, Tim will start next Monday.

I’m trying hard not to get too excited about this so I can manage my expectations, but it is hard. I’ll wait to dance around and scream, “HELL YES!” when the Queen is insulated, the last return air duct is run, and the AC is cranked up to full blast. Then, the celebration will begin.

Frisky and Tankless

Tarr, since you asked . . .

According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, frisky is an adjective meaning, “playful and full of energy.”

I know that in common usage frisky usually has a sexual connotation, but I like (mis)using it anyhow. In part, I just like shocking people. And, it is also my shorthand way of saying that I’m feeling pretty good so let’s jump right in and start a potentially disastrous project before I change my mind.

The tankless water heater we have is a Titan. If you’d like more information on them, you can follow this link to their website. We bought ours off of eBay two-some-odd years ago. We bought the 120 volt version (N-120) which is the most powerful one they sell. According to the website, the unit takes 54 Amps of power if you have it on the highest (hottest) settings possible. I can’t remember for sure, but I believe Julian Electric has it hooked to a 60 Amp breaker of its own.

The 120 volt model is supposed to provide enough hot water to supply a kitchen and two 3-fixture bathrooms. The Devil Queen has a sprawling layout and three bathrooms so we have two separate hot water systems. The tankless heater we connected over the weekend supplies hot water to the master bathroom (two sinks, clawfoot tub, and toilet) and the hall bathroom (shower, sink, and toilet). The other system supplies the mudroom/laundry/bath (washer, hot-tub, sink, and toilet) and the kitchen (sink and dishwasher).

Tarr, in regard to your question about the hot tub, I'm not anticipating any problems in having enough hot water to fill it. Moreover, our tub has a heating/recirculating feature, so it should keep the water warm on its own once filled.

So far we’ve been very pleased with the heater’s performance. However, since we’re only running the hot water to the clawfoot tub right now, it’s not like we’ve pushed it to its limit. One thing we’ve noticed is that the water gets hotter the longer you run it unlike a traditional water heater which starts running lukewarm after a while (well, our old one did).

Here is a picture of the heater we turned on this weekend (note the devilish orange glow of the "stand-by" light).

If you're wondering about the exposed framing, we haven't drywalled this wall yet. We want to make sure the shower plumbing (the two pvc pipes behind the heater) works before we close it up.

I should mention that we’ve deviated some from the manufacture’s installation guidelines. It seems to work, but I thought you might want to know if you’re considering installing one. The heaters need no less than 18 inches of hard copper piping run from both the cold water supply side and the hot water out let. The reason for this is that the heater gets too hot for CPVC/PVC piping. I don’t know if the CPVC/PVC would melt, but, at the very least, it would get brittle and break (I think).

While we used copper, we ended up using soft copper instead of hard copper (long story). The copper pipe is connected to the heater with a brass compression fitting. Basically, put the brass “collar” on the copper pipe, insert pipe into brass nipple, slide bolt into place, and tighten. The nut will tighten (compress) the collar around the pipe creating what should be a waterproof seal.

Since the soft copper has more give than the hard, we gave the nut a few more twists than the directions called for. Again, this seems to have worked, but I don’t feel that we’ve fully tested it. Time and continuous use will be the real test. On that note I might mention that I don’t much care for it being in my master bedroom closet, but it is the lesser of many evils.

If anyone has questions regarding the heater, please let me know and I’ll try to answer them for you.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Seven to Ten

That is my hopeless little timeline for moving into the Devil Queen: seven to ten days. It could happen, but will it?

The weekend didn’t start out too well. The drum sander we reserved wasn’t there when showed up at 8:15 AM or when I came back at 9:30 AM. The guy who’d rented it the day before decided he needed to keep it for another couple of days. This begs the question of why they call it a reservation if you don’t actual get what you reserved. In any case, there are no other floor sanders for rent within about 30 to 40 miles, so I decided to change my work plans.

Saturday and Sunday we worked on finishing the master bedroom. If we pull this off by the end of the week, I’m going to sand it and the kitchen floor next weekend and move in a few days after that.

Preparing the master bedroom wall is more work than we expected. The walls are filthy and it takes forever to clean them. Then there is the tack pulling, blah, blah, blah. In short, we’ll be doing good to finish painting the master bedroom this week.

Sunday, we were feeling frisky so we decided to try out the tankless hot water heater that services the master bathroom and the hall bathroom. And, not to jinx ourselves, it seems to work. No leaks, no fires, et cetera. After about 30 seconds, we get lots of very hot water (and it’s only on the medium setting). It’s absolutely amazing (so far). For the first time ever, we took a bath at the Devil Queen after a day’s worth of work. We actually went home clean for a change. Once again, it was amazing.

I have pictures, more details, et cetera but it’s been a hell of a Monday, and I have a lot to do and to survive so I can eat good Mexican for dinner.


The Devil Queen was fine as of 5:45 AM this morning, but I’m waiting for the sky to fall.

It’s been a day of ill omen for reasons I can hardly explain. The first thing I did when I left the house today was break my shoelace. It struck me as a being particularly unlucky. Why? I don’t know.

Then, on my way to stop by the Devil Queen before I went to work, I hit something in the road. I’m not sure what it was since it was dark and it was gray, but I think it was a small owl or some other bird of prey. According to some Cherokee I spoke with, birds are messengers. According to some, owls are harbingers of eminent death (yours or some close to you). Now, I’ve seen more than a few owls in my life, and no one has died. However, it just seemed like yet another bad thing to start your day with. Whatever it was, it bounced off the top of my windshield and vanished. I’m hoping this means I didn’t hurt it, but birds are fragile. The odds are against the little bastard.

Everything has been a struggle to day. Computers crash, things get lost, every simple, routine thing has become difficult. So, as any nominally rational person, I’m waiting for my doom. In the mean time, I’m day dreaming about having some good Mexican food for dinner. Now, if I can just live long enough to eat it.

Friday, June 16, 2006


I have a feeling that this is going to be a rambler. Consider yourself warned.

It ought to be a productive weekend at the Devil Queen. No Hallmark Card Fathers’ Day weekend for me, and that suits me just fine. Fathers’ Day doesn’t seem like a real holiday to me. I don’t mean that it is a fake holiday, but, since it was always a holiday for my father, it seems odd that it should suddenly be one for me after twenty-some-odd-years. Instead of kicking back and relaxing (is that what fathers are supposed to do?), I’m planning on sanding, staining, and sealing about 400 square feet of wood flooring. Recreation is for the weak.

My wife’s step-father is picking a sander up for us today (I think) so we can get started. Not only is he a kind and generous soul, but he also shares a common goal with us. With my thirtieth birthday just weeks away, I’d like to be living in my own home. I get along great with my in-laws, so this shouldn’t be taken as me desperately wanting to escape from them. It’s just that everyone likes having a place of their own. And it’s weird living with parents (yours or your wife’s) because it makes me feel like I’m twelve. Even if you aren’t an independent adult, you can at least pretend to be one if you have your own home.

Kenny and Burt have been kicking ass up at the Queen this week. Of course I don’t have any pictures to show because I suck. They have been working hard to get the Devil Queen ready for her insulation. In a normal house, this would be pretty straight forward, but not in the Devil Queen. The main problem is preparing for the blown insulation in the exterior walls. The problem is that none of the windows have headers (the doors don’t either). So, if you blow insulation into the walls, you’ll also fill up the weight-pockets. How well will the windows work if the pockets are filled with insulation? I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out.

Kenny is currently pulling all the window casings off so he can install wood stops at the top of the weight-pockets. The only exception to this is the bay window. There isn’t too much wall to insulate over the windows, and Kenny said he couldn’t figure out how they put all the trim together. He is afraid that if he started pulling it off that it would be broken beyond all use. I seconded his idea to skip the bay window.

Kenny has also decided to replace all the window weight ropes with new ones while he is at it. Genius! Why didn’t I think of that?

There are some other oddities about the windows that neither Kenny nor I can figure out. I won’t try to explain; I’ll take some pictures and just show you.

The only mishap so far was Burt was attacked by a whole pane of window glass. One window in the master bedroom had a pretty sizeable crack in it. Burt was bent over in front of the window pulling nails out of the trim when the attack occurred. Kenny saw the whole thing. According to him, the whole pane fell into the room, landed on Burt’s head, flipped off to the side, and shattered on the floor. No one besides the window was hurt.

Kenny said he couldn't figure out how it happened. My guess is that since the pane was pretty badly cracked it somehow wiggled loose of the crumbling window putty and fell. Or, something like that. Kenny is going to pick up some glass for me so I can repair/replace it.

In the next seven days, the vapor barrier should be installed in the crawlspace, the third return air duct will be installed (meaning if we don't mind air conditioning the yard we can crank that $5000 bitch up), the weight-pockets should be capped off, the kitchen, back hall, and mudroom (God willing) ought to have refinished floors, and the master bedroom ought to be painted. I’m hoping next weekend we’ll rent the sander again and finish the master bedroom floor. Then we could move. I think. Please.

As part of our mad dash to get the Queen ready for our immanent occupation, I’ve been buying ass loads of stuff off of eBay. Yesterday I bought window locks (vintage) and a faucet for the kitchen sink. I’m looking at more window locks and a faucet for the hot tub today.

Anyhow, have a good weekend and wish us luck. So far it’s off to a pretty good start. I bought a couple packs of Guinness today because it was on sale. How much better does it get than that?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Window Trim

Here are a couple of pictures of our new window trim. The first window is in the mud room/laundry room. The second one is in the master bathroom.

Hidden Hinges

No, this is not a Coke ad. Really, it is not much to look at, but I'm very excited with my new cabinet doors. Since this picture was taken, all the kitchen cabinets have had their doors hung. The living room built-in was about half way finished too.

And here is one of the master bedroom walls after a good scrub.

Marble Counter Top

My wife took some good pictures of our kitchen counter top, so here they are. The marble may not be as fancy as Greg's, but I like it anyhow.

And, while we're at it, here is the finished hot-tub suround. [The glare has washed out the diamond pattern.]

The Beast Named Ambivalence is Slain

That is right. We’re sick of all the indecision, so we put it out of our misery with brutal, decisive action. The beast has been slain, and the walls of the master bedroom will be painted. All of them. No half and half or accent walls. We want the cracks filled and the room to be light and airy. The time for progress is now.

I could go into a long, drawn out explanation of it all, but we think that this will be the best path. Moreover, we’re keeping two of the original dinning beadboard walls in a glorious, naked, and oiled state, so I can’t feel too bad about covering this wood up.

Gary, in one of the comment sections, suggested that I research the original treatment for walls like these. I haven’t done extensive research, but I can tell you what most folks did with walls like these, they covered them with tack & canvas wallpaper. This is all of the moldy, brittle shit we’ve been finding under the wood paneling, sheet rock, etc.

Here is a picture of our most recent find.

Apparently, to get a nice finished look, the original layer of tack & canvas wallpaper was put on before the base boards, door trim, etc. This has made removing it tricky. In a couple places, we’ve had to gently pry the boards out a little and pull the paper loose from the tacks with needle-nose pliers.

I’ve spent some time over at Enon Hall reading about the colonial style, face nailed boards. Mostly, I want confirmation that nails (or tacks) can be driven into the wood (at least flush with it) and painted over and still look nice. I’ve been won over, so all we have to do is scrub 100+ years of filth off the bare boards. This has been slow going. I you angle the brush the right way, you can scrub the canvas remnants off their tacks without too much trouble.

[Sorry this picture is so dark. I didn't realize it until I went to post it, and I'm too lazy to fix it now.]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What Is At Your Big Box Store?

Wow. You might want to check your purcase the next time you're shopping at Home Depot.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Strategic Planning

Shortly after we moved the Devil Queen, my wife was abducted by aliens. It was fairly traumatic, but not entirely unexpected. We are those kind of people. Then she turned up pregnant, which was a life-altering, traumatic event. Once we recovered from the shock of it all, we started planning accordingly. Mainly, we began thinking about what we’d need to do to the Devil Queen to make it alien-spawn safe. One of our first thoughts was, “He’s going to be in the creek all the time, we’ll need to watch him.” Alien-spawn or not, drowning kids isn’t cool. We made sure that there are a number of windows with good views of the creek. You can see down there from the laundry room, the master bath room, the master bedroom, and the kitchen. Mission accomplished.

What we didn’t stop to consider is that “if you look into the abyss too long, it will look into you,” or if you’re sitting on the master bathroom toilet everyone can see you. Sure, we can hang curtains, but we haven’t made it to the civilizing stage of our project yet. All you can do for now is grin and wave.

The two views from the toilet.

Facing forward and slightly to the left.

And, over the right shoulder.

Mrs. Fix-it

Accord to Laura, one of my wife’s illustrious co-workers, I don’t include my lovely wife enough on the blog. I think she may be right. I would like to say that it isn’t a deliberate omission on my part. She’s there if you read between the lines. For instance, most of the good ideas are hers. And, the bargain building supplies we seem to stumble across? She finds those, not me.

My role in the whole Devil Queen project is one part Barney Fife, one part unskilled labor, one part draftsman, and one part enabler/translator. You need someone to injure themselves with a power tool? I’m your man. You need someone to haul a few thousand bricks? Call me. You need someone to sketch out your dream kitchen? I can do that. You need me to turn “I want one of these things, and you turn it her, and can we run the water here?” into “She wants the antique, wall mount sink here with a chrome S-trap and the water feed run up and out this wall. Move the outlet too.” I’m your man.

Now, since I do a majority of the blog posts, things tend to be John-centric. Sure, I’m a raving egomaniac, but it isn’t why my wife isn’t front and center more. It’s because I spend a lot of time writing about what is wrong, and that inevitably comes back to me.

In short, I write about me a lot because I do a lot of stupid things.

For example, my wife picked the kitchen color scheme. I think it looks great and have said so. I would have never thought of it myself, so she gets all the credit. That makes for a pretty short post. Now, tearing my thumb off with a drill attachment? That takes a lot more explaining.

One of our more recent near disasters occurred this last week. To make it short, I paid Kenny out of the wrong checking account on accident. Ooops. Thankfully, everything got sorted out and no one was upset (except me).

When Scarlet showed up at the Devil Queen with a fat wad of cash, she asked Kenny why he called her and not me.

Kenny grinned, “You’re Mrs. Fix-it, aren’t you?”

Well said.

Monday, June 12, 2006

You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee (Except When You Do)

For those of you not adverse to a good, computer animated movie, I’d recommend Hoodwinked. We recently got it for my son to break the endless monotony of Thomas the Train and Shrek. Maybe it is a sure sign that our minds are going, but we found it wildly entertaining. I think that we even like it better than my son at this point.

One of my favorite lines from the movie is, “God as my witness, one day you will learn to speak.” Of course this is funnier if you’ve seen the movie but I won’t go into explaining it all here. If you’re curious, watch the movie. While this favorite line is addressed to Twitchy the Squirrel, it could just as easily be addressed to my son.

For reasons only known to himself, my son prefers not to speak. Every now and then he’ll try out a word or phrase. Satisfied with our enthusiastic response, he obviously concludes that he has mastered the word or phrase, grins, and never says it again. There are, however, a few exceptions. His favorites are “car” “OH NO!” and “train.” Since we’ve moved out of our Smurf Blue House and in with my in-laws, my son has added a new phrase to this line-up of favorites, “Go home.”

To get the full effect of this, you have to picture him with an armload of toy trucks and the other arm pointing at the front door. He prefers for you to hold him when he does this too.

Gideon: “Go home!”

Me: “Son, we don’t have a home any more. We’re homeless and slum lords now.”

Gideon: (Looks at me)

Me: “I’m sorry, but we can’t go back there anymore, but we’ll have a new house soon.”

Gideon: “Go home!” (Looks at me, checks for a response. Not getting one, the toys and tears begin to fly)

Now, both my wife and I thought the move might be hard on him, but we didn’t expect him to get upset until we moved into the Queen. We thought that the time at his grandparents would be okay since he spends a lot of time there anyhow. We were wrong. The first few days were cool, kind of like a giant sleep over, but now he’s ready to go.

At first it was a little comical, but now I’m starting to feel real guilty.

On a different note, I’m amazed with how much stuff we have and how little I NEED to make it through the day without missing anything. If I could find my black dress shoes and a couple of shirts and ties, it would be nearly perfect.

Since the Queen isn’t ready for us or the mountain of shit we own, we had to rent a small house to store all our shit in. The irony has not escaped us. Now you’re thinking if they had to rent a house, why did they 1) move out to begin with and 2) why are they living with his in-laws. The rent from our Blue House is paying its mortgage and then some. The storage house is part of a mini-storage complex and isn’t being rented to tenants; even if it were, there isn’t enough room for us and our stuff (a sure sign that something has got to go). Also, it only costs $65 a month.

Between the move, the renter, and work it is really hard to make time for the Queen in the evening. I made it up there after work Monday, but I had to skip it yesterday. I know the more work we do, the quicker we’ll be ready to move. But, there is only so much you can do before you start to give out. Little aches and pains don’t bother me much. What is getting to me in just pure physical exhaustion. Instead of taking a walk, eating, or running errands on my lunch break, I’ve started taking naps in my car because it’s the only thing getting me through the day. Even coffee doesn’t give me that extra umph it use to.

Too Many Projects, Too Little Time

We spent a lot of time at the Devil Queen this weekend, but I don't feel like we finished as much as I would have liked. Part of the problem is we have so much to do. We spent a lot time trying to figure what use of our time was best.

Getting the AC running has moved to the fore of our list. The weather was abysmal this weekend. Summer in Arkansas is just like a preview for an eternity in Hell.

Hopefully I'll have some photos et cetera later today or this week.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Tile is Finished

Sorry, no pictures of the finished product yet.

I don't know what has been up with blogger lately. Can't post half the time, can't leave comments, and what not. It is getting annoying.

Anyhow, Jake called last night, and our tile work will be completely finished as of Thursday. We're considering moving in this weekend. Since the tile work is finished, we now have a working shower. The most recent idea has been 1) finish painting the master bedroom ceiling, 2) install a ceiling fan in the master bedroom, 3) sand, stain, and seal the kitchen floor, 4) install a sink & toliet in the hall bathroom and 5) move in our bed, some clothes, and a few kitchen items.

And, since blogger won't let me comment on my own site, I'll answer my sister's question here. Most of the Queen's walls will be painted minus two walls in the dining room and the hall bath. I think we're leaning towards oiling the master bedroom walls and living with it for a while.

Another thought we've been entertaining is selling our bedroom suite and down sizing for something smaller. We're just sick of moving the damn things around.

Three Legged, One Eyed Mule

Okay, I admit that I don’t nor have I ever owned a mule, but I’ve worked this car like it is one. If anyone at Saturn would like to “donate” some money to the Devil Queen, I’d more than happy to do some advertising for you. Buy a Saturn, they are nearly indestructible! Or, the 1996 model was at anyrate.

I know it’s un-American to not trade up or buy a new car every few years, but, if all cars were this tough, we wouldn’t have to. Actually, a lot of cars are probably tougher than most folks realize, it’s just that they don’t keep them around long enough after the “new” wears off to find out.

Now, there is no substitute for a good truck or van when it comes to working on a home. However, since we still don’t own one of our own, we’ve had to make do with the Saturn. Some interesting facts that you may not know about this car:

1) If you configure the seat correctly (back seat down, no passenger in the front seat), you can fit over twenty, ten-foot-long pieces of PVC pipe into the car.
2) You can haul enough tile in it to do a shower, 16 square feet of flooring, a kitchen counter top, and a hot tub surround. This includes the mortar et cetera. Of course the tires look like they're going to explode, but they didn't!
3) A 16 foot long articulating ladder will fit into the back seat if you aren’t picky about snagging some of the cloth seats (Ooops).
4) Paint is surprisingly easy to clean off the dashboard.

And, since it’s still running (under protest), I haven’t had to divert several thousand dollars for a new car from the Devil Queen – yet. I should take bets on how much longer its going to make it. Hell, I didn’t think that it would ever make it this far, so I have not idea how much longer it has. Another 25,000 miles would be nice.


Here is another reason that I love old homes. While I respect the intent of folks who are making new homes that look old (there is even a book on it), there are some things that replicas and salvage just can’t replicate. This picture is a close up of the inside face of our screen door to the back porch. I’m not 100% sure if it is the original screen door, but, based on the hinges and a couple other clues, I really think it is.

If you look closely, you’ll see two arcs etched into the wood (sorry, the flash washed out some of the depth). These arcs were left by one of these.
The top arc is deeper and than the second one. Above the arcs, there are two holes. One is larger than the other. The larger one was first I think. I’m guessing it rotted or wore out, the latch was removed (or fell out) and the second hole was sunk for the latch.

These arcs, as the rest of the screen door, are painted green. This particular shade of green is Army Surplus Green. After World War Two, the US Army sold off or gave away all of its surplus paint (on the East Coast the Navy did the same thing with its Battleship Gray paint). Vestal Boswell couldn’t pass on such a great deal and painted the entire Devil Queen with it (minus the white trim). Our guess is this coat of paint went on some time in the 1950’s. This was the last coat of exterior paint the Queen ever received.

When they painted the Queen, they took the hook-latch off the screen door and never replaced it. How do we know that? If they had replaced the latch, it would have continued to wear at the groove rubbing all the new paint off. The paint in the grooved cracked with age, but it is not worn.

This means that these two arced grooves were etched into the door by constant use over a period of approximately 70 years. Every time Ransom, Amelia, Cassie, Maria, Ransom Jr., Vestal, and everyone else who lived or visited the Devil Queen came or went through this door, they wore it down ever so slightly. It is almost as good as a hand print.

I hope that I’m not jinxing myself, but I’m hell bent on keeping this old screen door. Even if ends up being mostly epoxy, I don’t care. And, I have absolutely no intention of filling in or “repairing” these grooves (the holes have some dry rot so I’ll probably have to clean them out and plug them with putty or epoxy). I’ll probably find a solid place a little higher up on the door and sink in my own latch.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Here are a few new pictures of the Devil Queen. First, we have the Jacuzzi bathtub in the mudroom/laundry.

Second, we have the marble tiled kitchen counter with a thin band of wood trim.

Third we have the hall bathroom shower and floor.

And, did I mention that we've had a real front step of sorts for about a week now? No more concrete blocks stacked in a wobbly tower of death for us. It's a bit unconventional, but we have our reasons (like the main sewer line). Just wait until we get to landscaping everything. We're hoping to make it blend seemlessly into the garden.

What to Do With Our Wood?

Here is another picture of our master bedroom. This is after Kenny finished tearing all the drywall down for me. The camera has washed the color our some. The wood is really a richer, amber color. The wood immedately to the left of the door is closest to the true color. As I mentioned in the comment section of the previous "wood" post, the wood is virgin. It has never been painted, stained, etc.

Tarr suggested using a Minwax pickle-whitewash stain. Here is picture of the color from the Minwax website.

So, back to my original question, what should be do? I can't make up my mind. I started yesterday thinking danish oil and then I switched back to paint and then oil again.

Also, the wood still has thousands of little wallpaper tacks in them. We've considered leaving them for "character" or pulling them all, or . . .


Waiting for a Wet Down

So close yet so far away. Jake, our tile guy, was out working on the shower SUNDAY. Here is a picture of the shower as of Sunday night.

I’m guessing that he’ll finish tiling the walls and the floor today. Then, I figure he’ll tile the hot tubs back splash Tuesday. That means he should spend Wednesday grouting everything, which means all our tile work should be finished.

Since I’m a camera retard and my wife is the camera guru, she was supposed to take some good pictures of the kitchen tile work. I keep over or under exposing the pictures, so the tile looks like crap. This is a very sad thing for me. The actual tile looks beautiful, but you’d never know looking at my pictures. The Mrs. was busy last night so no kitchen eye candy. Sorry.

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