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, September 29, 2006

GE Circuit Breakers

For any of you who might be interested, we have a lot of 15 & 20 Amp GE circuit breakers for sale on ebay. For a link, scroll down to the Additional Links sidebar on this page and click, "Our Ebay Auctions."

We bought a ton of electrical supplies at an estate sale several years ago. The estate belonged to a retired electrician, so we had a pretty good haul. There were two types of breakers in the lot, these and they kind that actually matched our breaker box. They are brand new to the best of my knowledge, and they seem to work fine; my father-in-law, also an electrician, used some of these for his workshop/storage building.

No reserve and the starting bid is $ 0.99.

Saving Places, Inc.?

Since we are certifiable crackheads and clearly don’t have enough to do with our time, I’ll just go ahead and throw this one out there; we’ve been thinking about starting a non-profit. Not now, but sometime in the near future.

This idea has been with us awhile, and, so far, we’ve succeeded in keeping ourselves out of this mess. However, last weekend my wife read this post of over at 1902 Victorian.

Scarlet: “They condemned this house? It doesn’t look any worse than ours did.”

Me: “Are you sure? There are plants growing inside.”

Scarlet: “Hmm. That doesn’t look too bad. Ours had trees growing on the roof. I mean, it’s not like they have to move it.”

Me: “The bathroom sub-floor is completely rotten.”

Scarlet: “The one with all the tiles? Those are so pretty. Repairing the sub-floor wouldn’t be that hard, we’ve done stuff like that before.”

Me: “Well, yeah. That is true.”

Scarlet: “Does she want to buy it? Maybe we could give them some money for it?”

Now, I’m not adverse to helping people, but I have no idea where we’d get the money for another house considering how much we need for the Queen and a new car.

Scarlet: “We should start Saving Places (our name for our imaginary non-profit). You should post about it and see what all the Housebloggers think about it.”

So, here it is.

My wife and I had this idea several years ago when we were first starting this project. The problem we had was everyone hates old houses, particularly banks and insurance companies.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that banks and insurance companies are one of the major reasons why more people do not undertake the kinds of projects Housebloggers seems to. We seem to represent the lunatic fringe that is okay with doing things the Hard Way.

As far as I can tell as homeowner and former real estate appraiser:

1) If loans were ice cream, the bank wants vanilla every time. There are no exceptions to this, this is their favorite flavor. If you tell a bank you want to move an old home and renovate it, they’ll tell you no way in hell. However, if you asked for the exact same amount of money to build a small development of ranch houses or French Provincials, they’d ask when you could start.
2) Bankers, on the whole, have no imagination. They don’t or can’t see the finished project. They will only loan on what they can see, not what you can imagine.
3) Banks & insurance companies are risk adverse. This is why they really don’t want to loan money or insure and old home.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on them too much. Banks are there to make money, and they will tell you this on the front end. Insurance companies are a bit harder to pin down, but, if they will insure you they actual will provide a service (in theory).

If the banks won’t help you, who do you turn to for assistance? In our case, there were two choices: Main Street Russellville and the Nation Register of Historic Places.

Main Street Russellville has done an excellent job in reviving Historic Downtown Russellville. They still have a long way to go, but they have been making steady progress over the last ten years or so. However, since the Devil Queen wasn’t in the historic Main Street District (she was one block outside the boundary), nor is it now, there isn’t anything that they could do for us.

We tried to get the Devil Queen on the National Registry of Historic Places. We hoped that if we pulled this off we could qualify for some grant money to help restore the Queen’s gingerbread & period details. That didn’t work either. Our application was turned down at the state level. Basically, they weren’t interested since the Devil Queen had been moved from her original location and because it was only local significance.

So, who do you have to turn to at that point? Around here there is no one, nothing.

Saving Place would hopefully fill that vast chasm between a hard to obtain bank loans and the scant public and private resources available for old homes. Ideally, Saving Places would offer grants or loans for historic homes or buy & restore old homes itself to resale.

Of course, I don’t have any idea how to set up something like this, but that has never stopped us before. So, what do you think?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

DIY Ubermenschen

“[T]he strongest find their happiness where others meet with their ruin; in the labyrinth, in hardness towards themselves and others, in endeavour; their delight is self-mastery: with them asceticism becomes a second nature, a need, an instinct. They regard a difficult task as their privilege; to play burdens which crush their fellows is to them a recreation.”*

I bet all the eggheads in academia still haven’t figured out that Nietzsche was really writing about DIY Housebloggers; the man was truly ahead of his time.

Also, according to Nietzsche, all the masses of mediocre, sub-par track housing serves an essential purpose; it makes the rest of us look good by comparison. Okay, maybe I paraphrasing that a little too much; I think it actually makes us some sort of aristocratic elite. Okay, maybe I’m still paraphrasing, but I’m pretty sure that both “aristocratic” and “elite” appear somewhere in the text.

Did I mention that my wife says arrogance is one of my flaws?

Anyhow, the next time you find yourself facing cataclysmic foundation failure, five or six figures of debt, wood rot, termites, code violations, and whatever other visitor from the myriad world of home disasters, remember that playing with burdens which crush others is a recreation. I am sure that will make you feel better. Come on, repeat after me, “recreation.” See, don’t you feel empowered already? I know I do: Today the Devil Queen, tomorrow the world!

* Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Beating A Dead Horse

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about it by now, but the AP Houseblog story ran in the Russellville Courier last Sunday.

I had to include this picture. I just love the “story” that they ran next to it. It’s the antithesis of everything good and holy. If that is a friggin' chateau, I'm Louis XIV.

Anyhow, enough horse kicking; it’s time to leave this carcass in peace so it can bloat in the sun.

The Kitchen: The End is Always Near

My wife was thoroughly disgusted with the sorry ass “finished” pictures of our kitchen, so she took some better ones. Here they are:

Just a little more paint and this damn room will finally be finished…

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Executive Decision

We used leftover exterior siding to finish out the walls of our bathroom off the main hall. There were a lot of boards leftover after we finished siding the additions and replacing some of the old rotten boards. It cost a lot to have it custom milled, so we wanted to find a good use for it.

We’ve been trying to decide how we wanted to finish the walls since they went up over a year ago. Stain, oil, or paint? Sunday night we Danish Oiled & stained a portion of one of the boards to see how it looked. The left side has Danish Oil and the right side has the same stain we used on the kitchen floor.

So, can you tell any difference? Neither could we. No grain and no deep rich color, just wood with a hint of gloss. We were underwelmed.

So, we’ve finally decided to paint the damn bathroom. Once that is finished, the pedestal sink that has been languishing in the front bedroom for two years will be installed, we’ll buy and install a toilet, and the this room will be finished (minus light fixture, an exhaust fan, and few other details).

Caulk Obsession

My wife thinks my need to caulk, stopper, plug, or to otherwise obstruct every hole, crack, and crevice in the Devil Queen is a bit excessive.

Sure, maybe I am neurotic, but look at this.

Here is PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF that my obsessive need to caulk crack is utterly justified. In all probability, there is at least one bug or spider for every godforsaken hole in this house. I just can’t live with that.

Did I mention that I hate bugs (though I will make exceptions for small, cute, non-poisonous house spiders if they are smaller than a quarter)?

Monday, September 25, 2006

I Shall Taunt You A Second Time!

Once again, we didn’t make it to the Queen’s exterior. Here is what she’s taunting us with day after accursed day.

Note the cracked and disintegrating board in the lower left corner (I know, it’s hard to see). I don’t know how this board escaped getting replaced when we had the siding repaired/installed. It is yet another annoying, time consuming project for me to complete before we can actually paint the Queen. On the upside, we have a nice sized stack of new, custom milled siding saved up for occasions like this.

And, in regard to the speculation as to what our “good news” is, here are some small tasty bits. First, my wife received a promotion and pay raise at work. For those of you not familiar with old house economics, this means:

[(Current Income + additional income) x A (where A= old home, A has a constant value of zero)] – B (B is current debt from all sources) = Net Worth.

That’s right, new sources of money have the same probability of escaping an old house as light does escaping from a black hole. On the positive side, spending cash is better than charging shit to your credit card, so is that our silver lining for today?

The official paperwork hasn’t been finished regarding the promotion, but it should go through in the next couple of weeks. I was reluctant to say anything until it was a done-deal because Fate is a cruel mistress; she giveth and she taketh away.

On a much smaller note, I recently sold a small watercolor painting. The actual dollar amount was small (1 small watercolor = 1 gallon of paint after paying the gallery its commission), but it was a nice ego stroking none the less.

There are still a few more “good” things in the works, so more on that later if/when they come to pass.

Fighting Dirty

Sure, the old whore landed a solid kick to my shin, but it didn’t stop me from working the laundry room over. I patched over several nail heads the sheetrock guy missed (actually, they were supposed to be hidden behind the chair rail, but it didn’t work out that way), I gave the beadboard ceiling its first coat of primer, and I primed about 80% of walls.

[This bruise is in the middle of my right shin. I bruise very easily, and I got this beauty from leaning against the top rung of the step-ladder on & off for about 6 hours. Admit it, you’re jealous.]

Ms. Scarlet spent most of the weekend laid-low by a nasty cold. None the less, I pressed her into service as the photography slave. Here are some pictures of our work in progress.

In case you're wondering, I was wearing the mask because of all the dust the vacuum kicked up when I prepared the room for painting.

The ceiling will take a lot of caulk to seal-up. The boards are all salvage, and the tongues & grooves were in pretty sad shape. In several places, the gaps are wide enough that insulation is bulging out. That won’t do. I figure 6 to 8 tubes of caulk ought to take care of this problem. Then, another coat or two of primer and we’re ready to paint. At this rate, we’ll have this room finished in 2022.

Technical Difficulty

Well, I'd hoped to post a bunch of pictures and what not, but I can't get any photos to upload. I guess we'll all have to wait till later. Made some progress on the laundry room this weekend. More on that to come.

Hopefully, when Blogger gets unconstipated I'll get some real post up here.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Fate, What Cruel Hoax is This?!

Why can’t I just accept good fortune at its face value? I always start worrying that it is a fluke or cruel hoax.

Apparently I define myself by my anxieties. Life would be easier if I didn’t.

Ms. Scarlet and I have had some good omens (not related to the house per se) lately, and it makes me nervous. Good things happen to other people, primarily works of fiction.

I don’t want to jinx us, so no details until everything is writ in blood & official looking in a legally binding way. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

And, when it is all said and done, what I really want for Christmas is a real mortgage and weather stripping. An iPod would be nice too.

Did We Know?

LA Mama asked, “On the subject of DIY home improvement, have any helpful advice for a couple planning to buy a fixer-upper? We have virtually *zero* experience in this sort of thing. Did you and your wife know what you were doing when you began this type of thing?

I have to laugh, did we know what we were doing? Hell no! If we did, I’m not sure that we would have taken on this project.

So, how did we end up here?

My wife and I both love houses. I’m not sure where we get this compulsion. I can’t speak for my wife, but I always loved building things. Wood blocks and Legos were some of my favote toys. By the time I was about 12, I thought that I would lilke to be an architech. My paternal grandfather was a master carpenter and my Dad learned a few things, some of which he passed on to me. I’m not saying that I knew the tricks of the trade, but I knew which end of the hammer to hold and what “toe-nailing” was.

My wife and I both ended up working for a real estate appraisal company for several years, and getting paid to snoop in other people’s homes got us very interested in houses.

Our first home, Mr. Blue ( 1050 square foot ranch house of sub-par construction), was our first house and fixer-upper. My wife hated the house, but I ended up buying it anyhow. No, she’s never forgiven me for it. Ironically, the Devil Queen was supposed to be her house to make up for that first SNAFU.

We learned some construction basics from fixing up Mr. Blue. Over a period of nine months, my wife and (to a lessor degree) I gave the house a face lift. In hindsight, most of this would fall into the “cosmetic repairs” category: new carpets & vinyl, new AC, wood burning stove, new appliances, repair plumbing & wiring, new interior & exterior paint. Re-framing the carport, insulating the laundry room, and jacking the floors were the only serious construction projects we undertook.

At the time, we thought we had some real construction experience, but, looking back, I’m shocked at how little we really knew.

My wife had been in love with the Devil Queen since she was a little girl. Driven by our love of old homes and inflated sense of confidence we plunged into this project. Nothing has been the same since that time.

First, it helps to think of home restoration project as a serious relationship. It’ll become your jealous lover, your mistress, or your spouse. It comes with all the tempestous ups and downs of any romance. Some relationships make it, some end in divorce or murder. Expect the worst, hope for the best.

Second, I have some more specific advice for you:

1) Do not move a house. If you aren’t familiar with the back story of the Devil Queen, Act 1 of this drama started with us moving the Devil Queen 16 miles. This involved tearing the old roof off, cutting the house in half down the main hallway, and moving it in two sections. Then, we had to have a foundation, septic tank, etc waiting for her at the new site. This little adventure set us back at least two years and $30,000-$40,000. Repeat after me, “Just say NO.’ Yes, even if they sell you the house for a $1.
2) Know thy self. Anyone can learn to work on their own house, not everyone will enjoy doing so. Some people just don’t have the temperament for it. If you are one of these people, there is no shame in this. However, you’ll be much happier if you discover this before you mortgage your soul away for a house that needs some serious help.
3) A high threshold for frustration is helpful if not a must. Things almost never go the way they are supposed to, so be prepared. Beating your head against a wall is a perfectly acceptable coping mechanism.
4) The general consensus among Housebloggers is whatever you think your budget will be (rounding up), double it. This will be the MINIMUM that your project will cost. To date, our costs have been exactly double of what we budgeted.
5) Having prior experience in construction is helpful but not required. A willingness to learn, try new things, and screw up royally (hopefully learning from your mistakes) are required.
6) Banks, insurance companies, and bureaucracy in general will cause you no end of grief. Be prepared and stay away from them as much as possible.
7) Using the right tools makes all the difference in the world.
8) Research everything BEFORE you start a project.
9) The prep-work usually takes longer than the job itself; budget your time accordingly.
10) Read houseblogs. I know that sounds like a shameless plug, but I’m serious. I can’t begin to tell you how much grief I’ve saved myself by reading other people’s houseblogs. There is a lot of great how-to information out their (with copious, step by step pictures in most cases). And, a lot of this information isn’t covered in books or other publications. And, it’s free. How do you beat that?
11) If you enjoy having a robust and exciting social life, be prepared to kiss it good-bye. I didn’t have much of one to begin with, but I missed what little of one I had. There was period of time where we couldn’t afford to go to the movies or eat out. We more or less lived off of pinto beans, bread, eggs, and pasta.
12) Free, salvaged building materials are worth the effort of digging up & hauling. For instance, we salvage approximately $14,000-$15,000 of beadboard from an old home slated for demolition. All it cost us was time, sweat, and the gas money to haul it.
13) Nothing will ever be done on schedule.
14) Pick the right house. There are different kinds of fixer-uppers. Some just need some minor repairs and a lot of new paint, and some need new foundations & to be completely gutted. How much work do you want to do? Also, pick a house in an area you plan to live in for quite some time. There is no telling how long a project will run, and just because you bought it doesn’t mean someone else will want it even if it IS finished.

I’m sure that I’ve omitted a ton of stuff, but this ought to be enough to get you started. If you have any questions, please ask. I hope I haven’t scared you away from home ownership (we have that effect on some people). I think it is better to go into one of these projects a little scared and well informed than blissfully ignorant. You’re chances of survival are greatly improved, I think.

Oh, one last thought. I wouldn't recommend having children mid-project. Lately, there have been a lot of housebloggers having babies. I don't know if we're all that age now or if there have been a lot more alien abductions/impregnations than they are admitting, but it seems that there are babies everywhere. And, a home renovation can be done with babies/children around, but it makes it a lot harder. So, if you have a choice in the matter, either wait until your children are 10 or 12 or put off having them until you're (mostly) finished. I know, life would be easier if we lived in a perfect world.


First, I’d like to say hello to everyone who’s visited The Devil Queen thanks to the AP story (most seem to have found it via I hope you enjoy the sawdust and melodrama.

Second, I’d like to thank everyone for the costume ideas. I’m still mulling them over, so I haven’t made a final decision yet. Ben’s home improvement accident costume has considerable appeal because everything I need is on hand; on the other hand, half of the time I look like that anyhow, so does it still qualify as a costume?

Merideth & an anonymous commenter suggested going in drag as the Devil Queen. This is a great idea, but I’m a little ambivalent about it. No, it has nothing to do with my frail male ego. One, I have high standards (to be explained below), and I know that I would make a spectacularly ugly woman. I guess I'm just vain. Two, I’m worried that my wife might enjoy it too much.

Now, what do I mean by "high standards" when it comes to cross-dressing?

I spent my four years as an undergraduate at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Hendrix is a private college known for two things, rigorous academics and a safe haven for freaks of every sort. Once a year, Hendrix had its Ms. Hendrix pageant, the proceeds from which were donated to a charity (I forget which one).

This was no regular pageant, since all the contestants were traditionally guys in drag. With most of the contestants, it was pretty obvious that they were men. Little things like the chest hair and the 12 o’clock shadow were dead give away. However, my junior year there was one guy who not only looked like a woman, but a beautiful woman.

Pretty well everyone at Hendrix knew who it was, but his performance seriously disturbed the sexuality of several male “visitors” (really, they were there to crash the party because that is what dumbasses from a sub-par school do) from a local state university; they didn’t know it was a man until after the show. Afterwards, I’m sure they had some uncomfortable moments in their dark little heart of hearts.

If I do drag, I'd want to look good but I think carnival freak is as good as it gets for me. Really, since it's Halloween, it doesn't matter. If they can't tell what I'm supposed to be, I'll just tell them I'm a zombie.

Anyhow, I’ll think about it over the weekend and see if I come to any decisions.

As for working on the Devil Queen, I won’t even bother to temp the fates by listing off everything I’m planning to do. If the last two weeks are any indication, I’m doomed to failure. My wife is working part of Saturday; she’s reporting on a pagan festival in Russellville. No, really. And, my mom will be visiting too. She’s offered to paint, but I suspect she’ll be pretty involved with her grandson.

Anyhow, have a good weekend. If you get bored, come over and paint my house. We have liquor.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Man of Constant Sorrow

When you get married, everyone always tells you, “Marriage changes everything.” You kind of nod in agreement, but you really don’t know what they mean until you are there yourself. Last night my wife refused to go to the XXX Store in Clarksville with me.

Right about now you are thinking, “Whoa, way too much information!” But, don’t leave just yet, it’s not like that. In fact, it is a far more benign need that drives me to such an extreme: I need a Halloween costume.

Since the Devil Queen is officially semi-civilized (see the Turning-On-The-Water-Party post), it is only fitting that we throw a Halloween party. Best of yet, the general consensus is that the Devil Queen requires no decorating aside from a few Jack-O-Lanterns. For once, distressed and scary are good things.

My first thought for a costume was the Home Improvement Gimp. The general idea is I dress up in my Devil Queen work clothes (torn, stained pants, work boots, Voodoo Contracting T-shirt, and tool belt), put a studded dog collar around my neck (with attached chain), and don the zipped mouth gimp mask (for the one or two innocent souls out there, see Pulp Fiction). Since I don’t have the last two items (collar and mask), I’d have to buy them. And, what better place is there to look for them than the XXX Store? To the best of my knowledge, Wal-Mart’s idea of “everyday low prices” still doesn’t extend to bondage wear.

My wife is less than enthused with this costume. Her exact words were, "Where do you come up with this?"

So, dear readers, do you have a more palatable suggestion for me?

Budget is somewhat of a concern. If I had a ridiculous amount of money to blow on this, I’d buy some reproduction Viking warrior gear (sword, helm, chainmail, etc). It’d be nice to get in touch with my primordial Norse ancestors since I’m half Scandinavian, and I can’t think of a better excuse for violent, debauched socially acceptable behavior besides joining a college fraternity. Since we owe a kidney’s worth in college loans, that isn’t a viable option.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Houseblogs Unite Fixer-Uppers Worldwide"

Here is a link to the article by Jocelyn Noveck in the Las Vegas Sun. Enjoy!


I don’t know if it is in general circulation yet, but a story about and several houseblogs went out on the AP wire last night. It should start turning up in newspapers today (I think). The Russellville Courier (our “big” local paper) is running it this weekend.

It features Houseblogs, House in Progress, Enon Hall, The Shelter Life, Nightmare on Elm Street, My Marrakesh, This Old Crack House, Killerjeanne (i.e. Fitz the “Missle Silo Guy”) and The Devil Queen.

How do I know all of this if it hasn’t hit the newsstands? It’s one of the perks of being married to a reporter, she reads the wire.

I’ll post a link once the story is out.

In the Beginning

Sometimes it is good to step back from a project to get some perspective. Above is a picture of the Devil Queen's kitchen as it looked in the Summer of 2003. The cabinets were probably added sometime in the 1960's - early 1970's. To the left of the door (not in picture) is where the gas water heater was.

Below (in a seperate post since blogger wouldn't let me put all the pictures in a single one) are some pictures of the kitchen as it has progressed since the picture above was taken.


Below is a picture of the doorway to the kitchen as seen from the dining room shortly after we moved the Devil Queen (Winter of 2002-2003).

Here is the kitchen after we'd begun scraping & sanding the kitchen walls. Also, note that the window has been moved to the porch doorway's old location. The old window openning has been boarded up (2003 or 2004?).

This picture was taken after we'd stripped all the beadboard off the walls between the kitchen and dining room and moved the doorway (2005).

The kitchen after it has been primed and an arched doorway cut out to give us access to the pantry/laundry addition (Summer 2005).

Another view of the new doorway with the final coats of paint and the new pine flooring (Summer-Fall 2005).

The kitchen cabinets sort of roughed in (Early 2006).

The cabinets as Kenny & Burt were in the process of hanging them (Early 2006).

And, the kitchen as it appeared as of last week. I thought I had a better picture of the pseudo-finished project, but, if I do, I can't find it. Sorry, a bit anti-climatic (September 2006). I'll get some better ones (with all the lights on maybe) this week.

I can't decide what is more amazing: that it took this long to get this far or that we made it at all. Just a couple more days of painting trim and this room will be finished, I hope.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Carnival of Pain

Our weekend was one death-match after another. Unfortunately, the RemovAll v. Grunt Work death-match was rained out, so we must defer this dubious pleasure to another day.

Instead, I spent around 3 hours Friday night and 5 to 6 hours Saturday trying to set up our Air Port Extreme. This brutal encounter serves as a definitive example of my ineptitude with computers. If you trust the instructions, the Mac Book Pro user manual, and the other reference material, this should be a simple process. Basically you plug the AirPort in, turn on your Mac, locate the AirPort, select the appropriate settings, and you are finished.

In the end, I had to call the Apple Help line. The downside was spending 10 minutes on hold waiting to talk to someone. The upside was they were very helpful and they got us up and running.

We had two major problems:

1) Our cordless phone is on the same frequency as the AirPort; the interference kept crapping up the connection between the Mac and the AirPort.
2) I’m stupid.

Both have now been overcome for the moment, but tomorrow is another day.

Due to the rain, we turned our destructive energies to some interior projects on Sunday. I spent most of the day fighting the 9th round of the laundry/bathroom ceiling death-match. Before we can do anything with this room, it is imperative that all the old paint is scraped from the beadboard ceiling. The room is fairly small (80 square ft +/-), but it requires a lot of fancy foot work. The hardest part is the section of the ceiling directly over the Jacuzzi bathtub. For obvious reasons we don’t want to set the ladder up in the tub, so we’ve had to improvise.

My solution was to turn some scraps of wood into extension poles and then strapping paint scrapers to the ends of them. I have two sizes. One is approximately 3 ½ feet long and the other is about 9 feet long. The short one can be used from the top of the 10 foot step ladder, the longer one is best used from the floor.

If I were in better shape, I would have simply run up the wall like Jackie Chan, made a couple of passes with the scraper has I hung in the air like Michael Jordan, and then landed with panther like grace on the edge of the tub. Then, repeat till finished.

Since I’m a flabby little white guy, I had to fight dirty. To this date, the project has kicked my ass in the first eight rounds. This time I threw sand in its eye, knee capped it with a pipe, and stabbed it in the face. The sorry bitch went down for the count.

Of course it wasn’t an entirely painless victory for me. I particularly enjoyed the quarter inch long splinter I drove in between my right middle and index fingers. Rubbing the skin off my knuckle was a bonus. Since I’m a real man, I made a pitcher of lemonade by hand squeezing the lemons until the pleasure of the burn reduced me to a blissful, Nirvana like state.

Ms. Scarlet indulged in some old house ennui and painted some more of the kitchen trim.

All in all, it wasn’t too bad of a weekend.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Almost High Tech

The Devil Queen is on the cusp of going high-tech. I picked this little monster, an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, up at CompUSA yesterday.

Unfortunately, we are still stuck in the Purgatory of dial-up internet. Cable is not an option yet, and I don’t have a grand to blow on having satellite internet access installed. Until something changes, this is as good as it gets. I have to keep reminding myself that it is (almost?) better than nothing.

We’re going to have a second go at the paint scraping death-match. I’m psyched for it but Ms. Scarlet isn’t too enthused. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

We’re hoping to scrape at least one window frame this weekend so we can reinstall the old storm windows which have screens. Currently, not one window in the Queen has a screen on it. Since the temperatures have dropped into the 70’s and low 80’s during the day and low 60’s at night, we no longer need to run the AC. However, since bugs are still a massive problem, we can’t open the windows.

Here is our low tech solution.
I’ve temporarily wired (a wire tied off between two screw-eyes, on the door and one on the jamb) the back screen door shut. This serves two purposes. First, it keeps the door snug in the jamb. There is no where for bugs to crawl in around it. It also protects us from maurading wild animals and ax murderers. Right.

The two small holes in the screen were patched with some old screen I salvaged and viola. The floor-fan does a great job of cooling the house down, but opening the windows would be nice.

Have a good weekend and wish us luck. If I survive the death-match, I'll let you know how it goes.

Cabinet Lighting

Here is a picture of our kitchen illuminated by our cabinet lighting. We have lights over the counter-top and inside our bottom cabinets. Both sets of lights have their own switch to the right of the kitchen sink.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fixing a Fan

Any of you have experience with repairing electric motors? Is it something relatively easy to do or should I try to find a new motor instead?

Here is the back story. Several years ago, my wife bought this fan at a flea market for a few dollars. It was “broken” in the sense that it no longer oscillated. One of her great-uncles fixed it and gave it a new paint job. It worked great until a lone plastic sack got sucked into the fan, wrapped around the blade & shaft jamming it, and the motor burned out before we noticed.


Insurance (another ill omen overcome?)

Sorry the posts have been light this week. I’ve been preoccupied with getting homeowner’s insurance for the Devil Queen. In short, no one wants anything to do with this old whore of a house. I can’t even remember how many agents I’ve talked with over the last couple of weeks.

Our original homeowner policy was cancelled after the underwriter sent out one of their inspectors (not to be confused with the independent insurance agent that issued us the policy) to look at the Queen. They were upset because:

1) The house was clearly vacant & unoccupied (we’d been living there for nearly two months at the time).
2) The house was unpainted.
3) There was construction debris in the yard (this include several stacks of bricks and a pile of rocks for landscaping, several leftover bundles of shingles on a pallet, a pile of concrete blocks, one old dishwasher, two old vanity tops, and some scrap wood. Oh, and an old AC unit, a sand pile, and a gravel pile).

To them this meant: 1) we are liars, 2) the house was going rot & we’d file a claim to have our insurance fix our siding, and 3) everyone who came within 1000 feet of the Queen would be hideously disfigured and/or die (this may be true but not for the reasons they allege).

It never occurred to me how many obstacles there are to getting an old, distressed house insured. I figured that I might have to pay more for the policy, but I figured getting one won’t be too hard. The funny part is that I had the money for once but couldn’t get anyone to take it.

I thought that I might mention the two most grievous ones for your information; I was blind-sided by these and wished someone would have told me about them prior to this experience so I’d know what I was dealing with.

First, a lot of underwriters have issues with a house that needs a serious paint job. Apparently, 60-80 year old paint (half of which had fallen away before we got the house), doesn’t count. Their assumption is that your siding will rot and you’ll file a claim to have it repaired.

Second, if you live more than 5 miles away from the nearest fire station, you are screwed. This isn’t a universal caveat, but it was an issue for a couple of insurers (Nationwide and I forget who else). And, it’s 5 miles as driven, not “as the crow flies.” The Devil Queen is 5.8 miles from the nearest fire station. Since we live outside the city limits, I’m thinking about writing the County Judge to see if we might get something (volunteer fire department or a sub-station) out this way.

Anyhow, last night I went to the insurance office in Russellville, signed the paperwork, and gave them a fat check for the first quarter.

I guess I’ll have to start on my insurance underwriter voodoo doll so I’ll be prepared for the next time around.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Small Projects

Here is a picture of one of our small projects, painting the kitchen trim. This is just with a coat of primer. The final coat will be a glossy white. See, we (really Scarlet) have been working on the Devil Queen.

A Marvel of Modern Science: Stain Resistant Wood Putty!

One of the great marvels of the modern world is stain resistant wood putty. You want to draw some extra attention to the enormous screw or nail holes in that special project of yours? Use Elmer’s Carpenter Wood Putty!

This putty sucks if you’re planning to stain your wood. This picture was taken after we stained everything (including the putty).

We were not impressed.

Thanks to a tip I picked up from Gary, I doctored these two spots with oil paint. My wife picked out some yellow ocher, and it worked extremely well.

Here is my oil paint of choice, Sennelier. In case you’re wondering what makes this particular brand of paint special besides its French name, it is the paint is made with pure pigment and safflower oil. There are no “fillers” (weird, non-natural chemical compounds) which gives you good color, and the safflower oil (unlike linseed oil) does not yellow.

As you may have noticed, we have a huge tub of this non-staining wood putty. What will we do with it? I think it’ll work beautifully on the outside of the Devil Queen. We have to patch the plugs where the insulation was blown-in, and this stuff should vanish once we’re finished painting.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Vengeance Upon the Laptop

The Great Paint Striping Contest did not come to pass this weekend. My wife’s laptop died Saturday morning, and it took all the “homework” she brought home from the office with it. In case you’re wondering, it is a bad sign when your computer gives you this message: “Press the “H” key to search for the hard drive.”

The (sorry, piece of shit HP) laptop in question joined the growing list of electronic appliances forcibly ejected from our home. It languished in the woods until I felt more responsible and adult like; then I retrieved it so it could be disposed of properly (i.e. “recycled” and sent to China to pollute their environment).

Once Ms. Scarlet recovered from her melt-down, she spent the rest of Saturday at the office rewriting the entire story.

Sunday, we went to Little Rock in search of a replacement and found one.

By the time we made it back to the Devil Queen, we only had enough time to complete some minor interior projects (priming, puttying nail holes, and applying polyurethane).

We intend to revisit our paint stripping death-match next weekend.

For those of you worried about our son, don’t worry. He is exiled to his grandparents anytime solvents or strong chemicals are used or we’re paint scraping. He’s happy and healthy, and we’d like to keep him that way.

Ms. Scarlet ran off with my camera today, so no pictures.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Care to Make a Wager?

I was going to post about a particularly odious brand of wood putty, but the accompanying pictures have vanished. So, there is no odious wood putty for you to ogle today. Instead you may enjoy a token door knob.

The RemovAll arrived yesterday, so we are seriously considering a paint scraping contest in the name of science. For those of you who are interesting in betting on the winner, here is some information which may give you a better idea of the odds.

Ms. Scarlet: Fiery, stubborn, and impatient, Scarlet will be championing the Removall in this contest. If the RemovAll works as advertised and the paint just slides off, her enthusiasm will kick in and she’ll probably kick my ass. If it craps out like every other stripper we’ve tried, her low threshold for frustration and explosive temper will become the deciding factor. If she chunks the scraper into the woods and quits, she’ll be counted among the losers.

Me: I will be championing the tried and true, suck-ass hardwork-method of paint removal, scraping it off with no assistance from stripers, heat guns, sanders, etc. I have the advantages of autistic like monomania for repetitive tasks and better upper body strength than Ms. Scarlet. On the other hand, I am prone to grievous self-injury and accidents, so I may conceivably gimp myself out of the contest. I’m also a slow worker.

The Devil Queen: She is evil, tenacious, and cruel. Despite our valiant efforts, she may reign victorious and rebuff all efforts to remove her god-awful paint. The Devil Queen has no known weakness and lives eternally like a chthonic goddess of the underworld.

So, any bets on who will win?

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Sorry it has been a while.

I didn’t really do much on the Devil Queen over the Labor Day weekend except watch my wife paint some of the kitchen trim. Then, I took a five hour nap. Who knew that being a spectator could be so exhausting?

Actually, I’ve been exceptionally tired all week. It doesn't seem to matter how much or how little sleep I get. I'm just tired all the time. Last night I was half asleep by nine o’clock. And, I’m being visited by my seasonal headache. I’m not sure if this is an actual condition, but twice a year (usually in the spring and the fall) I get a nasty sinus headache when the seasons change. It usually last for two or three days and then it is gone. It's like my sinus cavities need to pressurize/depressurize. Something else to add to my list of freak credentials I guess.

Given a chance, I will probably start cleaning all of the lumber off the front and back porch so we can begin scraping all the old paint off in near future. Hell, we may even begin scraping paint too. Who knows? The weather is great, the only limiting factor is me and level of motivation.

Unless I’m overcome by my new found love, narcolepsy, I should have some new photos and post for you all in the next couple of days.

Friday, September 01, 2006

RemovAll 320

Yesterday I spent $66 in the name of science.

At my wife’s instant urging, I order one gallon of RemovAll 320. RemovAll 320 is a “green” exterior paint stripper. It is identical to RemovAll 310 (what we originally considered buying in this post) with two exceptions; 320 can be applied with a brush thus eliminating the need for a pain in the ass sprayer and, including shipping, it costs about $12.00 less than 310.

For our experiment, my wife will apply the 320 to one end of the porch and I’ll manually scrape the other end without the benefit of any striper, heat gun, etc. Then, we’ll compare our progress.

It’ll probably take a week or two for it to get here, so we’ll have to wait a little before we put it to the test. Stay tuned.


I have always wanted a castle.

When I was kid, I loved the Lego castle sets. I spent many a summer vacation building, laying siege to, and rebuilding castle after castle. David Macaulay’s book Castle just fanned the flames.

This fetish eased its way into the background as I got older. However, working on houses has reawakened this old demon. And then I found this.

[The second picture is what it should look like when they finally finish]

The very short version of the story is: a Frenchman always wanted to build a medieval castle so he started to in 1996. They are building it by hand with period (c. 1263 I think) construction techniques. There are about 49-50 full-time employees and it ought to be finished in 2023. So many tourist have started coming to see it that the project became self-sufficent after the first two years.

The AP wire and some other news source have been running stories about this place the last two days. Here are some links to them if you are interested:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

And, here is Guedelon Castle’s official website (in English).

Maybe I need to sell everything and move to France to become medieval stone mason. Or, maybe I just need to build my own. Arkansas has plenty of rock if nothing else. Besides, I’m far more reasonable than these folks. I’d be willing to settle for tower.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Allison, you asked for this on a “cap sleeve t-shirt,” and here it is (scroll to the very bottom).

As I mentioned before, the original version of Voodoo Contracting had some quality control issues. One of the trickiest things about reproducing original artwork is getting the colors to transfer true. The original t-shirt failed this test. I spent two days tweaking it in Photoshop, and I think the end result will look much better (and brighter too).

If it doesn’t, please let me know. I haven't printed off one of these new ones for myself yet, so I’m trusting that it worked.

I think the prices are a little high. There is a nominal mark-up to cover the cost of having a “premium” Cafepress store front, but most of the cost (over 90%) is their base price.

The Apotheosis of Gary

I would like to give special thanks to Gary for the generous selection of old-wood, 1 inch plugs he sent us for the Devil Queen’s hideously abused pine floors.

As the Devil Queen’s High Priest, I have elevated Gary to join the divine ranks of my Dark Mistress’ illustrious helpers (you know who you are).

In all seriousness, thanks again Gary. We greatly appreciate it. Let us know if we can return the favor.

The Wrath of Logic and Reason in the “Winter of Doom”

It is disgusting; leave it to Greg to resort to logic and reason. It just takes all the mesquite smoked fun out on my cannibalistic melodrama.

Greg, to answer your question, no the power doesn’t go out for long periods of time on a regular basis over the winter. Personally, I haven’t been without out power for a couple of hours during a winter storm. However, this won’t necessarily save me.

For those of you not familiar winter in the South, I’ll need to give you a little background for this to make sense. And, as a damn Yankee from Illinois (where I did in fact walk to school through the snow everyday), I know how ridiculous this will sound to those of you who live in colder climes. One inch of snow is enough to shut the entire state down for days. No school, no work, no nothing. Really. If it sticks to the road, it is over. This sounds like a bad joke (maybe it is), but to the best of my knowledge it is true; Arkansas has one (or two?) proper snow plows and we share it with southern Missouri. Since snow is infrequent and (usually) short lived, everyone just stays home until the roads clear.

In Arkansas, we typically have one big storm per winter. If we are lucky, it’s only snow. If we’re unlucky, we get ice. The last big ice storm came through in 2000 right around Christmas. We spent a week with my in-laws because we couldn’t leave. Around a quarter of the state lost power for 3 days to over a week. Fortunately, that wasn’t us, but there is no guarantee it won’t be next time.

On the other hand, the winters have been noticeably milder than usual the last few years. Last year it never got cold enough for most of us to wear our heavy winter coats. Maybe global warming will save us. How sick is that? It is certainly responsible for some weird stuff.

As for the generator idea, it is a good one. However, generators are in the same category with a Mercedes Benz. Sure it would be nice to have one if you could afford one, but, even if you had the money, is that what you would want to spend it on?

Here are the two cheapest generators I could find online. The first one costs $499 and the second one is $399.

They seem nice, but I just don’t know if I can justify getting one even if we had the money. If we loose power during a freak ice storm, I’m sure we’ll be wishing that we had.

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