The Devil Queen

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

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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!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Gunslinger or One of the Reasons Why I Lived in Rockville, Maryland

This post isn’t exactly a Devil Queen related post, but you might get a laugh out of it anyhow. And, it does involve home improvement in the broadest sense.

To answer your question (You used to live in Rockville??) Amanda, my wife and I lived in Rockville for about 9 months back in 1999-2000. However, before we moved out into Maryland, we lived in a basement efficiency apartment in Northwest D.C. for about a month.

Our landlord – let’s call him Mr. Dee – fancied himself a home improvement cowboy of sorts. He was a stockbroker from a very affluent New England family, and, while this doesn’t preclude him from being a competent DIY’er, I don’t think he had any prior experience. If he did, you couldn’t tell.

When he came home from work in the evening, he’d change out of his suit and into low-ankle boots, a pair of khaki shorts (it was August), a slightly worn, pastel Polo shirt, and an old navy blue sports jacket. A bottle of beer was permanent affixed to his left hand from the moment he walked in the door till he went to bed.

If we happened to call about any maintenance issue we might have, he’d come right down to “fix” it. It didn’t matter what our problem was, the right tool for the job was always holstered in his sports jacket’s pocket: a cordless drill and a fist full of 2 ½ inch screws. We never saw him armed with any other type of tool. We have reason to believe that he had & used a saw of some sort, but we never actual saw it.

His solution to any maintenance problem was . . . mind bending. For example, the latch on our sole window wasn’t working. Half of the time you’d latch it, it would unlatch, and the window would pop open. His solution? He screwed the window shut. My wife and I were just standing their with our mouths agape thinking, “What the fuck?” He was so pleased with himself he didn’t notice our shock, and we didn’t have the heart to say anything besides, “Um, thanks?”

Our apartment was accessed from the rear of the house. We walked down the alley, opened the gate in the chain link fence, walked down a flight of concrete stairs to our door. Soon this all changed.

A week or so after we moved into our apartment, six foot sections of a wood privacy fence started appearing. I mean that in the most literal sense. You’d come home at night and everything was the same as you left it that morning. You’d get up to go to work the next day and a new section of fencing was there. Its stealth was incredible; it had to be ninja fencing.

The gate was the first to go. It was replaced with a wooden one which stood over six feet tall. It was nearly impossible to open because it didn’t hang square in the opening. It leaned to the side so the dead bolt wouldn’t slide smoothly. You had to throw your shoulder into it as you tried to turn your key in the lock, very irritating.

Then every couple of days, another section would appear. Instead of removing the chain link fence and digging new post holes, Mr. Dee would lash the sections of wood fencing to the chain link fence with bailing wire (or something of the sort). The six foot sections weren’t attached to each other. They were butted together and standing independently. Not only was the “fence” rickety, it looked awful.

Getting into our apartment was now a struggle on two counts. One, it was just hard to unlock and open the damn gate. Two, it was also hard to keep a straight face while looking at the fence. While laughing at it in private was fine, it would be impolite to do so while Mr. Dee was lounging in his back yard drinking beer.

I didn’t take us too long to figure out where the ninja fencing was coming from. One night we made it home by 9 PM, and there was an awful racket coming from the kitchen. You know, kind of like a body or a section of fencing being hauled across the kitchen floor. Which to the two do you think it was? The noise kept up until nearly 11PM, and, in the morning, six more feet of ninja fencing had appeared.

Shortly thereafter we moved out of the District and out to Rockville, Maryland, so we never got to see the completed ninja fence. While the late night ninja fencing factory was annoying, it wasn’t bad enough to drive us out of our apartment. It didn’t induce us to stay either. The final straw was Mr. Dee’s idiot wife trying to make us financially responsible for their flooding problem. So, we moved out two days before hurricane Floyd paid the District a visit; I’d bet a lot of money that basement flooded too.

Cannibalism is Inevitable

I’m not sure how the weather is where you live, but it is starting to feel an awful lot like fall. My wife and I feel time is racing away as we begin the inevitable descent into the winter abyss; the shadows are falling longer as the sun sinks further to the south every day. We are not ready for this rapid decline into the dark and cold.

Worst of all, for the first time in years, we do not have a wood burning stove for back up heat. If we loose power this winter, we are screwed. I just don’t see us navigating down two hair-pin turns covered in a sheet of ice. If the outage lasts longer than a few days, we’ll have to either hike to my in-laws (few miles down a steep incline through the woods with a two year old) or resort to cannibalism to survive. My immediate neighbors seem nice, so I’d hate to go all Donner Party on them. Still, the grim reality is we may have too.

If we survive the winter, maybe next year we’ll install a soap stone stove in the parlor/front bedroom. It would be neighbor friendly if nothing else.

As further fodder for my paranoia and pessimism, I’ve been reading Jared Diamond’s book Collapse when I should be scraping paint. Fascinating if you enjoy man made apocalypses.

As a sign of things to come, my wife was reduced to washing a pair of underwear in the bath tub by hand last night. I’m dismayed that we’ve sunk to such a sad state of degradation; next we’ll be foraging for edible roots & plants to survive. O, glories of civilization why have you forsaken us!?

Anyone have a good recipe for long-pork?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Geologically Speaking

Glaciers move faster than me. I managed to have some quality paint-scraping time with the Queen this weekend, but not enough to move on to the painting phase in the laundry room. I am very disappointed.

Fortunately, Kenny and Burt are still working for us. This week (or the next few days) will be their last for a while. After that, the money runs out for a while and we’ll need to finish a few things before we’re ready for their return.

Since we are rapidly running out of time, we’re switching priorities on our to-do list. We’re now hoping to work our way through the following list:

1) Finish the kitchen (paint trim & vent-hood, install cabinet lighting, install window weather stripping & locks, and order/install a trash compactor).
2) Laundry Room: scrape old paint off ceiling boards; paint ceiling, walls, & trim; refinish floor; install toilet, sink, washer, and dryer; plumb faucet for bath; and install a proper light fixture.
3) Finish back hall: scrape paint off three wall and ceiling; paint ceiling and walls; install and paint trim; weather stripping for door; install light fixture.
4) Main Hall: scrape paint off ceiling; wash walls; paint ceiling and walls; strip wood wainscoting (then stain & finish); install light fixtures, install & finish new hardwood floor.
5) Strip/scrape paint from exterior walls on front and back porches; paint walls and porch ceilings; strip, repair, paint, weather strip and finish all exterior doors; install exterior lighting.
6) Reinstall old storm windows/screens over windows facing out onto porches.

Of course, there is always more to do than this, but we’re hoping that this will get us marginally prepared for winter. I guess we’ll see. I don’t feel lucky.

The table top for our nook. We've finally decided that the slab of mystery wood it is made from is cypress. Below are some pictures the benches, the baseboard, and our new vent hood.

The bench legs fit into the base board so they fit flush to the wall.

The exterior of the vent hood will be painted with the dread milk paint. The interior will be painted with high gloss latex.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Visiting the Dead

One of my wife’s friends from work is getting married in a couple of weeks. Sunday night, my wife and a few other friends went over to help her prepare some of the decorations. Since it was a “girls’ night” event, I dropped her off and went to Lowe’s. On a whim, I decided to swing by Oakland Cemetery to see if I could find the Boswells.

And, I did. I had a rough idea where the Boswell Addition of the cemetery was, and I found their plot in a couple of minutes. I was surprised by my good luck.

This isn't a headstone but a marker for the Boswell family plot.

R(ansom) N(ewton) Van (Dorn?) Boswell was the original owner/builder of the Devil Queen. He lived there from 1890 till his death (probably at the Devil Queen) in 1931.

This is the head stone for Vestal Boswell, Van Boswell's youngest son from his third marriage. Lois Boswell, though marked on the tombstone, is still alive. She was the last owner of the Devil Queen from the Boswell family. She sold it after her husband's death. I've heard that she lives in a nursing home in either NW Arkansas or southern Missouri.

This head stone is for Travis (first name?) Cledys Boswell, Van Boswell's second son from his third marriage, and his wife. I'm not sure if Travis is his real first name because all other references to him call him Cledys Boswell.

This is the headstone for Van Boswell, Jr., Van Boswell's first son from his third marriage. I believe he was (briefly, 1931-1933) the second owner of the Devil Queen.

I'm not sure about Maxie Boswell Hay. I think she is one of Van Boswell's daughters from his first marriage. If so, she was probably born in the Devil Queen.

I believe Norma Boswell Young was also one of Van Boswell's daughters from his first marriage. She was born the same year that the Devil Queen was built, so she may have been born in the Devil Queen too.
This head stone is for Ruth Allen (buried less than a month ago, her death date hasn't been carved into the stone yet) and her husband. According to her obituary, she is the daughter of Norma Boswell Young Hamiltion (where did the "Hamilton" come from?). This would make Ruth Van Boswell's grand-daughter. According to one of Boswell's great grand-daughters from his second marriage, Ruth was the lore keeper for the Boswell family. She was the writer of a short bio on Van Boswell that appeared in the History of Pope County, Volume One. She spent a lot of time visiting her family at the Devil Queen and had lots of memories of the house. I tried contacting her, but was never did hear from her so these stories are lost.

According to Ruth's obituary, Amelia was one of her sisters. Amelia was probably named for her grandmother, Amelia (Thompson) Boswell, Van Boswell's first wife.

I am surprised that neither Van Boswell's first or second wife are buried in this plot. I suspect that they may be buried with their families in the old Norristown cemetery. I think that Amelia's (his first wife) parents are buried there. Van Boswell was in his thirties when she died, and he may not have had the Boswell family plot at the time of her death. The same was probably also true of his second wife who died roughly three years later.

I'm not sure when the Boswells' acquired their plot, by Van Boswell is the first one buried in it in 1931.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Home Improvement Erectile Dysfunction

I just read an article about centenarians on the CNN website. The article says,

Centenarians are a diverse group, according to Perls. Some are teetotalers. Others manage to reach extreme old age despite heavy drinking and smoking, deadly behaviors for most people. One feature common to most centenarians is that stress doesn't bother them.

"They seem to be able to shed stress. It doesn't get to them and cause them to age more quickly. They don't internalize stuff," Perls said."

If this is true, I’m going to be dead at 34.

This week has been particularly annoying. The car was in the shop Tuesday, and we’ve been buried in a never-ending stream petty chores and errands. As my wife so elegantly put it, “it’s just a bunch to stupid, pointless shit.” And, she’s right. None of it is anything that matters to us, it’s all shit that just needs to be done.

It’s depressing spending all of your free-time running around doing things like going to Walmart after work to buy a trash can (our new trash service doesn’t provide one). That was quite an experience. Between that and an exceptionally bad commute, I can safely say I believe eugenics is good thing.

As I understand it, this endless stream of busy-work is a typical part of adult life. Normal, well-adjusted people tell me this. I have to assume that it is true; however, if it is, it doesn’t explain why most college graduates don’t hang themselves after graduation.

To make things even worse, I seem to be suffering from a mild case of home improvement erectile dysfunction. Every morning I wake up and think, “I’m going to come home tonight and finish scraping the old paint off the laundry room ceiling.” When I finally make it home in the evening, I’m still psyched. But, once I’ve changed into my work clothes and had something to eat, my energy starts to ebb. I think, “I’ll put on some coffee and get to work.” The coffee gets made, but I somehow end up sitting on a lawn-chair in the living room watching A History of Violence with my wife; it wasn’t a bad movie, but I don’t get the wife’s reaction to her husband. Neither did my wife. Maybe we’re just sociopaths? In any case, nothing gets done.

Devil Queen, my dark mistress, I’m sorry. I just can’t get it up for you anymore; there is nothing wrong with you, I’m still beholden to your dark allure. My heart is willing but I can’t make my body work anymore.

I wonder if they have a pill for that.

Maybe I can over come it this weekend with sheer will-power alone. My hopes are not high at the moment. Even house porn isn’t getting me in the mood.

Why can’t I be more like Greg? The man is relentless.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blue Vinyl

I read this post today, and it reminded me of this website, Blue Vinyl. Blue Vinyl is a documentary made by Judith Helfand & Daniel B. Gold about vinyl siding. I think it won an award at Sundance four or five years ago. My ever environmentally conscience sister referred me to this site a couple of years back.

I hate vinyl siding. First, it is ugly. I don’t care how much they faux wood grain they give it or how they thick they make it; it still looks and feels like plastic. Second, it is not maintenance free as they like to claim. Sure, it won’t rot for thousands of years, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll look good.

I worked in an appraisal office for a few years, and I saw a lot of vinyl siding. Given half a chance, vinyl siding will do some weird things: it fades, it gets brittle (shattering if hit), warps, strips off in high winds, and buckles. They claim the newer stuff won’t do this, but I don’t believe them. I mean, they are trying to sell this shit. A positive marketing campaign usually doesn’t include statements like, “It doesn’t suck as much as it use to,” or, “Great stuff except for a few problems.”

Vinyl siding is also flammable. As a bonus, when it catches fire it gases off some seriously toxic chemicals. If I remember correctly, one of the gases is what the Nazis used in their gas chambers.

If you think that this is bad, you don’t want to know what it does to the people who actually make it. You’d have a better chance of living till fifty if you smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, drank a fifth of whiskey with dinner, and had unprotected sex with $5 hookers. Really.

In the 1970’s, the Devil Queen was clad in mint green vinyl siding, and it stayed there until we started stripping it off in 2002. Getting it off isn’t too hard. The first couple of runs are the worst. The slats of siding lock together and getting them to unlock is a bit tricky (use a pry bar and brute force). After that, all you do is slide your pry bar under the siding (preferably near the nails) and just pop it off. Half the time the nail comes out with the siding and the rest of time they remain buried in the wood after the vinyl is gone. Pulling them is tedious, but not too bad. If you’re lucky, the nails won’t have cracked too much of the under-laying wood siding. Mind the dust, dirt, and spiders though. The only great thing about an old house clad in vinyl is it protects the original wood siding from the elements. About 75%-80% of our original siding survived.

Instead of sending our vinyl siding to a landfill, we ran an ad in the local paper. Basically, it said, “free, used vinyl siding; come and get it.” Within a week some came and hauled it all off. I imagine sooner or later this abortion of a building product will end up in a landfill somewhere, but, at least we’ve delayed the inevitable for a while. And, at least the folks that got it didn’t buy new siding for their shed. There is already too much of this shit in the world as it is.

For those of you who might be interested, here is the synopsis of the documentary Blue Vinyl that I’ve quoted from the website:

“My father’s answer to rotten wood…Everyone assured me vinyl siding was safe, and would only let off toxic gas in the rare event of a house fire. But after my experience with cancer caused by DES [a synthetic estrogen and anti-miscarriage drug prescribed to my mother and millions of other women], I figured any material so loaded with synthetic chemicals had to pose some kind of risk. Later I asked my dad, "If you had known that over the course of its lifecycle, from the factory to the incinerator, vinyl produces a wide array of deadly pollutants that threaten our future with a global toxic crisis, would you still have put it on the house?" "I hope not, honey," he said. "But they didn't write that on the box." So, with a piece of vinyl siding firmly in hand (a remnant from my parent’s house) I took off – on a journey to re-write the outside of the box.

The vinyl capital of America I wanted to go to the source of my parents' vinyl siding, and since Louisiana produces about a third of North America's PVC, the key ingredient in all vinyl products, there's a good chance it started right here in Lake Charles – a port city about forty miles from Texas. Lucky for me, I arrived in Lake Charles just in time for Mardi Gras. It soon became clear that my father's answer to rotten wood was somebody else's toxic hazard. I wanted a better idea of just what went on inside a vinyl plant. But when I tried to arrange a visit, the public relations officer turned me down and instead referred me to the industry's trade association, the Vinyl Institute. (It is still a mystery as to how an industry trade association whose mission is to “promote and protect vinyl” for their corporate members can have an “org” which symbolizes non-profit status, go figure.)

And then to Venice, not exactly the first place that leaps to mind when you think of vinyl. But it’s actually one of the vinyl producing centers of Europe and has been since the 1960’s when Ampelio Magro worked as a “bagger”. He now speaks with the aid of a vibrating voice box.“One day I went to lunch to eat, and I washed my hands, and my arms. And when I dried myself, and I looked at my hands, they were white. My co-worker looked at me and said: 'The dust. What have you done to yourself?' And I couldn't wash it off. 'And the dust that you breathe,' he said, 'When will that come off? If it won't even come off by washing your hands? When will that go away? Stay home from work,' he said. This is what happened to me. I can assure you that in one of the departments where PVC was being produced, the way in which it was bagged was terrifying. From here, those who worked there, very few are still alive. And it was here that you had all the baggers. Everybody. Because I have cancer in the lungs, and it was here that the poison affected us, in all of the lungs at the larynx.

Kicking off a toxic odyssey to find an affordable building material that didn’t harm anyone at any step of its life cycle. Blessed and somewhat haunted with the first-person knowledge of the health impacts of vinyl production -- past and present -- on the residents and workers in Lake Charles, Louisiana and Venice, Italy, I became obsessed with the idea of taking the vinyl siding off my parents house and replacing it with a less harmful material. My co-producers and I grounded this fantasy with the ideas and experiences of nationally recognized and independent scientists, doctors, legal experts, “eco-builders and architects”, environmental business theorists; and an old Yiddish saying: “ if your neighbors’ house is on fire you’re also not safe”. Ultimately I got my mother’s begrudging but sincere blessing and I set out to find an alternative. From stucco to sustainably harvested cedar shakes my colleagues and I jumped feet first into the complex world of trying to choose materials that don’t hurt anybody at any stage of their life cycle – from production to disposal – and can also easily recycled. In San Francisco I cut a deal with a “green” straw-bale house builder to come home with me to Long Island to help talk my parents into stucco. Finally – one fixed t.v. antenna later -- my parents said yes, not to stucco – but to the concept. So in addition to meeting my own high standards of non-toxic, sustainable, and affordable -- I had to find a material that fit in with the neighborhood and could [hopefully] be put on in time for the High Holidays. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy. After an exhaustive search I found myself choosing between an old red barn in upstate New York (c. 1890) and what had once been the roof of a mill in Nashua, New Hampshire. (c. 1900). Which one got recycled into a brand new “next life” with Florence and Ted in suburban Merrick Long Island? One thing we can tell you...the house is STILL blue. An environmental health movie --- let alone a “social change” documentary has never been this much fun.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Midweek Meditations

Kenny and Burt finished up the breakfast nook today. I don’t have any pictures yet, but we’re still amazed by how they integrated the benches into the baseboard (which we love). It never would have occurred to me to do it this way, but I’ll quit teasing you. I’ll try to get some pictures for tomorrow.

My wife and I have decided that we really love the milk paint look in our kitchen, but we seriously doubt that we have the fortitude to paint the entire bookcase/entertainment-center with it. If you figure out the square footage of all that surface area (the shelves themselves are killers), it is really friggin big. One shelf (18" x 6') is roughly 18 square feet. This built-in has roughly the same surface area as 12' x 12' bedroom except that it harder because of all the nooks and crevices. Even our masochism has limits.

As it is, we are still going to be painting the vent hood, and that will be challenging enough.

I’ve been thinking about buying a heat gun. Lowe’s sells them for around $30, and, based on what I’ve seen on various houseblogs, they seem to be the way to go for some serious paint stripping. I have 11 or 12 doors that are in need of its services, and that is probably worth the investment (cheaper than chemical stripper). Jack says he has one, but it hasn’t turned up yet. I still need to finish the laundry room first so I’ve got some time.

And, Steph of Restoration of Ash-Leigh Acres please email me if you’re interested in a “house portrait” at thedevilqueen(at)hotmail(dot)com.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I’m a Lazy Sod

I wish I could tell you that we finished the Devil Queen this weekend. No such luck.

Aside from filling a few nail holes with wood-putty, I didn’t do much either. Ran errands, brunch with the in-laws, and helped Charlie repair some damaged logs on his house (log house + carpenter ants = big mess) until we were rained out.

Our lack of personal progress is somewhat discouraging. Maybe things will turn around this week. I can always hope. In the mean time, I have sweet tea, Nietzsche, air conditioning, and Thomas the Train.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bench Warming

The curved-top vent-hood has been giving Kenny and Burt some trouble so they’ve been working on the breakfast nook until they puzzle the damn thing out.

Here’s the original sketch.

Here are the benches last night.

Scarlet, Gideon, and I have taking turns sitting on them; we love them. The wall-mounted table-top ought to be finished in a day or two.

We love the storage space too because we horde shit like crazy street-people.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Voodoo Contracting Active Wear

I knew I had a picture of this somewhere. My sister took this picture a couple months ago. I know the shirt is hard to see because of the filth, but there it is.

Back By Popular Demand

I was going to stop subjecting you to my art, but, since you asked for them, here they are.

The first one is "Voodoo Contracting." The small print at the top reads, “When good manners and patience don’t work, VOODOO CONTRACTING!” I originally envisioned this one as a T-shirt design and even had one made. Unfortunately, the purple background (the area that I applied with a Primacolor marker, dumb idea) came out brown-purple instead of true purple. It was a little disappointing. If I had Photoshop and knew how to use the program, I could probably fix it. Maybe.

This one is “Sacrifice.” I think it speaks for itself. Click on the picture for a larger version if you can’t tell what they are doing.
And, this one is “There is No Place Like Home.” Once again, I think that says it all.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More Devil Queen Art

Evil is inescapable. Here are two more oil sketches of our infernal mistress.

This one was the first oil sketch in the series. For those of you with an eye for art, you might notice how repressed the brush work is in this one. Anal retentive repression is hard to shake. This is the side window & the view in my son’s room to be.

And, the one I finished Monday night. It was a bit of a challenge because of the weather. It is odd mixing paints in the rain as the water beads up on top of the oils. The colors are actually a bit darker in life; the flash brightened them some.

Once again, contact me if you want them.

One Gallon of Grease

Kenny & Burt returned to the Devil Queen. Yesterday they started work on the vent-hood. This is a bit more complicated than it ought to have been. Somehow things always seem to work this way.

The core problem is that we changed the layout of the kitchen several times over the last couple of years. To keep this short, the main problem is that the window over the sink is closer to the stove than we planned for it to be.

Now, as I understand it, most builders (and some building codes require) the vent-hood to hang 2-3 inches past each side of the stove top. With the configuration of our kitchen, this isn’t possible. The left side of the vent-hood will be roughly even with the stove top. The right side will not be. For it to be even with the right side of the stove, we’d have to build the hood over the window trim. Aside from the fact that it would look bizarre, it would also mean that we’d never be able to replace the window-weight cords if (when) they break (no access panels).

So, we have a compromise solution which ought to work fairly well. We hope. Here are some sketches I made for Kenny (Sorry the one is sideways; I thought I fixed it but didn't. Oops).

The hood will be off center, but that isn’t the end of the world. Asymmetry can look balanced if handled correctly. On the other hand, since the kitchen is nearly finished, I’m not sure what we could do or move to balance it out if it looks odd. Blind faith is all we’ve got now.

If you measure from the cabinet to the left of the stove over to the window trim, you get exactly 26 inches. This is the maximum width our vent-hood can be. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to discover that 26 inches is not a standard hood size; 32-36+ inches seems to be the standard width range. What other options are there? There is only one that I found, special order.

The Lowe’s special order catalogue had two vents (sans a hood) that would fit our area. One was 22 inches wide and the other was 16 inches. We picked the 16 inch vent (photo at bottom).

It cost us about $68 (including tax I think). It has a light, a single vent (the 22 inch one had dual vents), and a 7 inch diameter exhaust vent. Now, all we need is Kenny to build a custom hood out of wood, install the vent, and run the duct work out the roof. Then we get to milk paint the exterior and latex paint the interior.

Of course, there is the obvious question: if this is such an ordeal, why bother with the vent-hood at all? In researching vent-hoods, I came across this bit of information. The average kitchen stove can generate around 1 gallon of airborne grease per year through cooking. If the grease isn’t vented, it accumulates in the home and becomes rancid. This attracts insects and encourages mold growth. I believe the inclusion of a vent-hood that vents outside is becoming a common building code requirement. That has got to be a good thing unless you’re into grease saunas.

So, I figure our odd little custom vent-hood is well worth the effort; a little hood is better than nothing.

Here is the beginning of the hood. The rectangle of plywood sitting on top of it is what the curves will be clad in.

And here is the vent.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Food, Shelter, and Clothing for Kenny

Since I clearly don’t have enough to do, I’ve decided to start an art blog. Now is your chance to support a skilled craftsman; buy my art so I can pay Kenny. If you're interested, email me here.

These are a couple of oil painting sketches I recently finished. I won’t go into all the gory details here, but these are quick sketches (45 minutes to an hour or so) that I do to loosen up before work on larger projects. I’m hoping to produce at least 3 or 4 of these a week; whether I manage to or not is an entirely different questions.

If you’re looking for a Devil Queen connection, both of these paintings are the view from my son’s future bedroom.

Money Sucker

In a couple of months, my wife and I are planning to start stripping the Devil Queen’s exterior paint. Having tried a variety of stripping methods, we’re thinking about trying RemovALL. We’re hoping this stuff doesn’t suck as much as everything else we’ve tried.

For those of you not familiar with RemovALL, here is a glurp I pulled off the internet:

“RemovAll 310 is a water based paint remover that is biodegradable, non-toxic, user friendly and environmentally safe. It is extremely effective in removing tough coatings like urethanes and alkyds from brick, wood and other architectural surfaces.RemovAll 310 has proven it will effectively lift urethanes, lacquers, latexes, alkyd paints, elastomerics and varnish as well as most graffiti from all types of substrates, including wood, masonry, brick, concrete and other porous and non-porous surfaces found in architectural structures.”

Sounds great, doesn’t? There is one snag (in addition to the $70.oo per gallon price tag):

“The RemovAll products on this page were designed for spray application only. Airless sprayers and/or HVLP spray equipment are the only methods recommended to apply these products. If you do not have access to this type of equipment contact a local NationsRent or other equipment rental company servicing your area. Typical rental charges range from $65 to $80 per day.”

I had no idea what an HVLP is. Once I looked it up online, I discovered that HVLP stands for “high volume, low pressure.” They are supposed to waste less paint than conventional sprayers and have better control. Sounds great, but I haven’t found anyone that rents these yet.

I looked at prices online, they range from organ harvesting expensive to scary cheap.

Here is the mid-range one ($700-$800):

And here is one of the low-end ones ($120). I can’t help but think these are being built by illegal immigrants in a sweat-shop hidden in someone’s garage.
I really want to try the RemovALL, but how much is a test run worth? I’m looking at $70 for 1 gallon of RemovALL (plus shipping) and at least $65 to rent a HVLP sprayer if I can find one or $120 to buy a cheap one. That’s all ready in the $200+ price range.

So, do any of you know anything about these HVLP sprayers? Have one you don’t need and are willing to sell for cheap? Has anyone used RemovALL? Would you recommend it?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Maintaining a Positive Attitude

I can’t think of a more rewarding way to build character: scraping paint, pulling nails, sanding floors, plumbing drains, glazing windows, and hauling off tons of construction debris. It makes me smarter, stronger, and tougher. This is what I want to spend my entire adult life doing. If I die striping paint, I will die a happy, fulfilled man.

Fuck it, who I am kidding? I’m tired of this shit.

What I really want is a horde of willing, skilled laborers to descend up the Devil Queen like a biblical plague and finish her, every goddamned last bit for FREE. I’d love to give them a carte blanche, but my wife has some very definite preferences when it comes to design or paint color. Actually, I do too but I’ll put it all on her so I don’t look too demanding. No, to be honest, I’m the anal retentive ass-wipe in this relationship. So, I can’t give a carte blanche because I want it my way. See, isn’t honesty liberating?

Presumptuous? Of course it is. There has to be some unfettered egomania at work with some other serious, disturbing psychology issues when you believe that people should be honored to have the pleasure of working for you for free.

From time to time, housebloggers talk about house-fairies. I don’t believe in them (that’s right Tinkerbelle, I just killed your ass). That isn’t to say that I don’t believe in supernatural creatures with a penchant for finished carpentry; it just seems more probable that they are flying monkeys or Fomori. You know, some seriously wicked looking shit. Hell, there is even biblical precedence for this. What did Solomon build the temple with? Pixies? Nope, he used a horde of pissed-off demons.

Really, I know I can’t depend on supernatural intervention to clean up this mess. When reality rears its ugly head, I know that prison labor is all I can count on now. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy to come by as it was in the good old days. I may have to write my state representative to see if he can hook me up or get some new enabling legislation passed for me.

Ranch Houses, Why Do You Love Them So?

No, really. I want to know.

I’m not trying to be mean or snarky. This should be considered a fact finding mission not an attack on a house style some people obviously like or even love. To be honest, I am baffled.

First, I lived in a ranch house for 14 or 15 years with my mom while growing up. The quality of construction is better than a lot of the McMansions they are throwing up now, but it doesn’t transcend average quality. It has 8 foot ceilings, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a den, and kitchen with a dining area. There is a fireplace, central heat & air, carpet & vinyl floors (were, my mom has been pulling them out and replacing them with laminate), a two car garage, and a deck with a view. The second ranch house I lived in was Mr. Blue. My wife and I lived there for about five years. It was even less glamourous (even after a complete make-over)

After 20 years of first hand experience with ranch houses, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like them. The ceilings are too low, there is little to no air flow, and their personality is tragically vanilla. I like high ceilings, classical proportions, extensive wood work, and high quality construction that older homes offer.

I know tastes change. One hundred years ago, people revolted against the tyranny of Victorian homes. They hated the tacky gingerbread, the cavernous rooms, and frivolous decoration. They wanted clean lines and functional spaces. I suspect that they never imagined that one day these homes would coveted as architectural treasures; time changes things.

Please tell me, a child of late 20th century suburbia, what charm these ranch homes have; I’ve lived with them for so long that I can’t see it for myself.

Hog-tying My Beelzebubs & The Return of Kenny

Sorry today’s post isn’t really much of one. Every now and then the demons get loose, and you have to spend some time herding them, wrestling them to the ground, and locking them in the back closet. With a little willful ignorance, you can ignore the scratching and moaning until they escape again. Somehow the little bastards always find a way to break out.

Kenny called two nights ago, and he is coming back to work for us. He’s going to spend half of Monday doing some maintenance work on Mr. Blue, our sad little rental house. Then, he will return to serve her Dark Majesty once again. We’ve missed having Kenny around, and not just because we like his work. We actually missed him. You don’t hear that about contractors that often, do you?

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be able keep him as long as we’d like. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Maybe it’s just the end of the week doldrums, but I’m feeling worn down and worn out today.

Maybe I just need nap?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fuzz and Junk

I was wading through all the pictures on the digital camera and found these.

Here we have a mountain of house junk. It’s mostly light fixtures on other assorted fixtures waiting for the long promised day of completion. Once the last coat of paint goes on to the ceiling in the hall, the porches, and any other number of rooms these babies will finally replace our lovely selection of bare bulbs.

I know, you’re thinking, “So what?” Really, getting this pile reduced to this size is a great accomplishment. Just a few weeks ago, this entire room was filled with building materials and junk. Shrinking piles = progress.

Some fates cannot be avoided. Here is what happens when you don’t plug top of a window weight pocket and blow insulation into the wall. Somehow Kenny and I both missed this one. It doesn’t look like too much here, but I filled an entire contractor sized garbage bag with this stuff. I probably spent 45 minutes bagging and vacuuming up this crap. Blown insulation is like sand on the beach, it works its way into every crack. Not fun.

Take Your Brass and Shove It

I’ll just admit it; I’m jealous of folk who have double hung windows with nice access panels. You know brass screws, fittings, and the like. Most the reference works I've consulted feature access panels of this variety.

This is what I got instead:

The top of the access panel is held in place by these two nails (there are driven into the jamb on the "inside" of the weight pocket).

Here is the access panel in profile. Not the lone nail (not a screw) sticking out of the bottem; this is driven through the panel and into the jamb.

A close up of the nail.

And last of all, the top of the access panel. Someone spent a lot time notching this out, glad it wasn't me. You slip this end in first until the nails lock the top of the panel in place. Then you nail the bottom into place.

Functional? Well, mostly I guess. It’s not awe inspiring though. If I were to guess, it looks like the window jambs were built and the access panels were added as an after-thought before they were installed.

Another oddity is the three smaller windows added in the 1920’s or so have no access panels at all. Yes, I know they should have some, but they don’t. Very annoying.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Slathered in Milk

Yes, this is another one of those monstrously long posts . . .

Over the weekend, my wife and mother-in-law painted our custom kitchen cabinets. We used milk paint we ordered from The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co., Inc. I’ve been pleased with them so far. I ordered online, the paint arrived in about a week, and is just as they described it.

Milk paint is an entirely different animal than oil or latex based paint. It differs from oil & latex paints in several ways:

1) It is powder. You pour the powder into a bucket (we used an old coffee can and an empty joint compound bucket) and mix it one part powder to one part warm water. Then, you stir like crazy. The Old Fashion Milk Paint Co. recommends that you use a standard paint mixer (drill attachment or the like) for larger batches. Since I was making a small batch (a bit over a pint), I used a plastic fork. Very professional, I know. Basically, stir until you get all the lumps out. The use of warm water helps the powder dissolve quickly and makes for a smooth, non-lumpy paint.
2) If stored correctly, the milk paint powder can last for a very long time (years?), but, once you mix it, you are committed. You have to use it immediately or else it will spoil. According to the instructions, if you seal it well enough (and refrigerate? I forget), it can last up to 48 hours.
3) If you’re applying it to bare wood, you don’t have to prime it. The milk paint bonds well to the wood.
4) It goes on unevenly. The first coat or two are scary even if you know that this is how it is supposed to look. However, once you get several layers on, it gives you an interesting finish, an extra sense of depth & texture.
5) If you’re applying milk paint on something that will be exposed to water or cooking grease, you need to seal the milk paint. Otherwise, it will be ruined. Since we haven’t sealed ours yet, I don’t have too many tips on that yet. I’ll post more once we get around to it.

I made the first batch after breakfast thinking that they’d start painting within 30-40 minutes. As it turned out, they didn’t get to it for a few hours. The coffee can lid didn’t do too great of a job in sealing, and the paint had already begun to set by the time they were ready to begin. What had been a creamy liquid was now thick like pancake batter. Fortunately, adding some additional water thinned it back down enough to paint with it.

Even so, after a couple of hours, it was starting to get “boogery.” Additional water didn’t take out the snotty clumps, so we mixed up a fresh batch. This batch came out pretty good except that it was a little too watery, but it was still serviceable. That’s what I get for eyeballing my measurements I guess.

My mother-in-law wasn’t impressed with the milk paint at first. She looked at the bucket of paint and said, “are you sure you want to use this?” After the second streaky coat, she still hadn’t been won over, but, by the end of the day, she’s decided that it looked really good.

We originally planned to use this buttermilk (this is the color of this milk paint) as the base coat. However, once they got the cabinets painted, we decided that we really like this color as it is. So, we won’t be going over it with a top coat of purple and wiping & sanding it off to give it an old, worn finish. Buttermilk makes us happy for now.

And, speaking of a change in plans, my wife painted the refrigerator. She decided that she liked the wood paneled Petch House refrigerator, but the temptation was too great to resist. She scrubbed the front doors of the fridge down with a strong cleaner (I had to leave, it made my nose run) and painted the doors with milk paint. I had no objection to this though I am wondering how long it’ll stick. So far (three days and counting), it is holding really well.

My wife and mother-in-law had a few thoughts about the milk paint once they were finished. Foremost, neither of them would want to paint an entire room with this stuff. It took them around six hours to paint all the cabinets. My wife estimated they put on around 10 coats of the stuff. I suspect that 10 coats were necessary because the second batch of paint was a bit too thin. My guess is that they could have had the same finish with about 6 or 7 coats if I’d done a better job of it.

The finish isn’t smooth like most paints. Even if it looks flat & smooth (no obvious bumps, boogers, et cetera), it feels course to the touch. As you use the cabinets (or furniture as the case may be), the paint is supposed to buff up to a nice satin finish. It doesn’t chip or flake off but evolves instead. It should be interesting to see how it turns out over time.

One other note, if you happen to get any sort of grease, oil, or similar substance on your unfinished wood before you paint, you may want to prime it. Apparently, there were a few spots where something got on one of the cabinet doors and it’s bled through the paint already. It’s not too bad, so we’re just going to let it be. However, if you’re looking for a perfect finish, you may want to keep this in mind.

And, some pictures:

I looked for some good before pictures, but they are all fuzzy. They don't really show the grime or age of the Kelvinator. I shit you not, this is the actual name on the fridge. Of course I can't call it by name without doing my best Hans & Franz impersonation (Ja, ve painted die Kalvinator!). It almost looks new with a few dozen coats of milk paint.

The Kitchen Sink

Yep, here it is. Not very exciting to look at, but we’re very glad to have it. Currently, this is the only working sink in the Devil Queen and we love it.

The sink is cast iron with an enamel finish. It’s a Kohler from 1972 and made in the USA (possibly Arkansas) judging from everything stamped on its underside. My wife got this from her father several years ago, long before the Devil Queen. He owned an old house in Russellville that was converted into a restaurant. They completely remodeled the house, and the kitchen was gutted. We were supposed to get the clawfoot tub too, but it got away from us. They removed it from the house by tying a chain around it and dragging it through the exterior wall with a pickup truck. They set it out at the curb and let some guy take it for free.

Wife: “Dad, where is the clawfoot tub?”

Dad: “Oh, they got rid of that.”

Wife: “What?! I wanted that tub.”

Dad: “That old thing? Why?”

Wife: “Do you know how much that tub was worth [it was in near perfect condition]?”

Dad: “No.”

Wife: “Probably around $1000.”

Dad [looking very shocked]: “Oh.”

The top edge is a little scratched and scuffed (the guys gutting the house weren’t gentle), but it’s in pretty good condition. The color is a pale, creamy yellow that somehow manages to blend into the kitchen. You can’t really tell from the photo, but the sink has two basins. The one on the left is maybe 6 inches deep and 9 inches wide. It’s great for rinsing dishes & vegetables or thawing stuff. The main basin on the right is super deep and wide; I love that. You can fit nearly anything into it: whole turkeys, ritual sacrifices, and the like.

If you add up the cost of materials and the faucet we bought on eBay, the total cost for the sink et al is around $120. Not bad since I’ve seen similar sinks ($350+) and faucets ($200+) at Lowe’s. O, the joys of salvage.

I was a little concerned that the sink was too close to the stove (to the left of the sink) at first, but it works really well. You can go to and from the sink to stove and vice versa without making an enormous mess or worrying about spilling boiling water on someone. Need some more water for something cooking on the stove? Just snake the sprayer attachment over and turn on the water. I like this a lot better than the fancy $500 faucets they’ve started installing over high-end stoves. I’m just not comfortable with any indoor water spigot that isn’t mounted over a drain of some sort; that is a disaster waiting to happen.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dumping Iron

Saturday we completely slacked off, but we made up for it Sunday.

Sunday, long-suffering Jack and I spent the day loading up the roll-away dumpster. It should be hauled off in a couple days, so we tried to get every last bit of trash. This included huge pieces of rusty iron, an old hot water heater, an iron bath tub (not antique or clawfoot, just freaking heavy), old insulation, rusty bits of metal, shingles, and God knows what else. It was around 100 degrees out so it wasn’t much fun. As part of world’s infinite cruelty, thunder clouds ringed around the Devil Queen, but none came to visit us. It sucked.

I’m still shocked by how much trash we still had laying around. The yard looks a lot better for not having a couple of toilets sitting out front. If it weren’t for the weeds and peeling paint, we’d almost look respectable, classy even.

Meanwhile, Scarlet and her mom painted our custom-built kitchen cabinets. They used milk-paint which merits a post on its own, so I won’t go into too much detail. They ended up spending about 6 hours painting so it was quite a day for everyone.

More later in the week, hopefully with pictures.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mr. Blue vs. The Devil Queen

It seems too good to be true. I want to believe it, but it just doesn’t seem possible.

Yesterday, we received our first electric bill for the Devil Queen since we moved. We’ve feared this moment of truth for weeks now.

To our shock, the Devil Queen cost us about 18% less for our first month of habitation than Mr. Blue (our old home turned rental) did this same time last year.

While this is great, I don’t think that it is really representational of what a normal energy bill for June-July will be. First, we didn’t live in the Devil Queen for the first week or so of the billing period. The first few days we were there we only had one hot water heater, a fan, and lighting. As the month dragged on, we gradually turned on more appliances. Little things like our 5 ton AC unit, the second water heater, a refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher.

I’m pretty sure that next month our energy bill will be noticeably higher. I’m guess that it will be 5-15% higher than our energy bill for Mr. Blue this time last year. That is still pretty mind-blowing. Ever the pessimists, we were anticipating a 100-150% increase from Mr. Blue’s usual rate. I mean, everyone is always carrying on about how hard it must be to heat and cool and old house. There must be some truth to that, right? I’m not so sure myself. Here is comparison of the two houses:

Mr. Blue

1050 +/- square feet
8 foot ceilings
50 gallon standard water heater (approximately 10 years old)
electric stove (new)
refrigerator (25 years old)
washer & dryer (7 years old)
dishwasher (new)
1 window unit AC (new)
piss poor insulation
double pane vinyl windows
ceiling fans (4 total)

The Devil Queen

1850 square feet
12 foot ceilings
2 tankless water heaters (new)
electric stove (new)
refrigerator (20+ years old)
NO washer or dryer yet
dishwasher (new)
5 ton AC unit
insulation (new)
single pane, double hung wood windows
two ceiling fans (to date)

Here are few other factors to consider. The Devil Queen has 19 windows and 4 exterior doors. The doors and windows are all wood with single pane glass. There is no weather stripping at the moment and the storm windows have been removed for maintenance. Most of the windows’ have had their interior casings/trim removed for maintenance too. Mr. Blue has 4 windows, one sliding glass door, and a metal/glass front door with a full storm door.

You’d think the Devil Queen would be hemorrhaging money for the AC alone, but that hasn’t been a problem so far. I have a growing suspicion that old homes have a reputation for being horrendously energy inefficient because of two reasons: 1) the utter lack of adequate insulation (particularly the walls) in most of them and 2) old, inefficient appliances. There are no shortage of people bemoaning their drafty windows (myself included), but I think good insulation is the real key to it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Sorry for the lack of posts. We had a really bad weekend and virtually nothing was done at the Devil Queen. I’d originally hoped to finish a good bit of the painting in the laundry room/bathroom, but it didn’t happen. Why? My son got really sick, so we had lots of entertainment. The ER, needles, doctors, medicine, sleepless nights, and a whole world filled with similar delights. There should be a class you can take in Toddler Kung-fu. You know, twelve toddler submission holds so you can squirt a mouthful of “pleasant strawberry flavored” medicine into their maw. You could tell when he started feeling better; he'd spit it back at you instead of swallowing. Pleasant as always.

That pretty well kept us entertained for four full days. He’s doing much better now, so no worries there. My wife and I are still trying to catch up on sleep, but we haven’t quite managed that yet. We’re still doing the whole grumpy zombie routine. Well, I am at any rate. I think she’s sleeping better than me, so she may be feeling better.

Add a few other petty annoyances that come with everyday life (bills, money, & other bull shit), and I’m ready to crawl into a hole and hide for a while.

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