The Devil Queen

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

My Photo
Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Friday, June 22, 2007


Just in case you were wondering, we are the "experts" now. A few weeks back I was researching something house related online. I've forgotten what it was exactly. The first ten hits Google pulled up were all houseblogs, and they had what I needed to know.

It's pretty wild how far the whole houseblog thing has come in last couple of years.


The Old Home Buying Check List, Part 1

Okay April, here it is. Or at least the first part of it. And, since I rushed some of this, please excuse the "draft" quality of it. Hopefully, I'll refine it at a later date.

If I'd remember to bring my camera with me last weekend, this would be an illustrated list. It was unbelievable. Everywhere I went this weekend their were prime examples of water damage, failing roofs, bad foundations, collapsing additions, etc. I may have to do a version two of this with photos.

Also, I'd highly recommend this book, Renovating Old Homes by George Nash. Among other things, it has a lot of info (and photos) on how to assess an old house's condition.

The extremely short version of it is this: Rot, mold, moisture, termites, environmental hazards (asbestos, lead, oil leaks, etc) and structural failures (roofs and foundations in particular) are things are need to look for in an old house.

And, here are a few tips or cardinal rules.

1) Don't move a house, ever. Leave that to stupid, crazy people like me.
2) Nearly anything can be fixed, repaired, or refurbished if given enough time and money; however, just because it can be done doesn't mean that you should do it. Pick your battles based on your budget and emotional fortitude.
3) No matter how bad you think a house is, it is usually twice as bad and it will take twice as much time and money too. If you move a house, go ahead and triple everything for a good measure.

Now for the long versions. Here are some of the things that I would look for if I were in the market for an old home.

General Exterior

1) What are the exterior walls of the house clad in? Brick, original wood lap-siding, asbestos, aluminum, vinyl, etc?
2) If it is asbestos, aluminum, vinyl, or other type of "modern" siding, was it laid over the original siding (typically wood of some sort) or did they tear the original siding off before they installed the new siding? Nearly every house I've seen has had the original siding underneath. If this is the case, typically one of two things has occurred (or both). The new siding has protected the original siding from the elements and it is in better shape than you'd expected, or the new siding has trapped moisture between it and the original siding and rotted it.
3) What is its condition? If brick, is the mortar still good? Does it need to be repointed? Was it "repaired" with concrete? If so, has the concrete started to crack the bricks yet? [I've never owned a brick house; if anyone has something to add to this, please let me know]. Is the wood rotten, termite eaten, warped, etc? Is the paint on it lead based (chances are pretty good that at least a few layers are)? Can the siding be saved with a little repair or does in need to be completely replaced?
4) Asbestos? You'll want this to come down sooner or later. As long as it isn't crumbling in such a way that the asbestos fibers are becoming airborne, you should be okay as I understand it. [Again, I've never had to deal with this problem; Greg at the Petch House has if I remember correctly. Please let me know if you have some tips on this]

1) How old is the current roof and what is it made of? Composition shingles/asphalt shingles typically have a 30 year life span. If they are incorrectly installed (i.e. laid over pre-existing layers of roofing), reduce the expected life span by 10 to 15 years.
2) If the shingles (or other roofing material) are laid over older layers, how many layers are there? Example: The Devil Queen had two (or three?) layers of composition shingles laid over the original wood shingles. Over 100 years, the weight had caused portions of the roof to collapse.
3) Is the roof shedding its shingle or other roofing material? This is usually a sign that it's time to replace it.
4) Has the roof been patched with tar, asphalt, or other material? Pay particular attention to the areas around chimneys and vent pipes.
5) Is the roof sagging or uneven in anyway? If so, check the framing to see if it is damage. Sometimes though, this can be caused by settling and may not be a problem.
6) Is there moss or other plants growing on the roof? If so, you can assume that the roof will need to be replaced. You might also have some serious drainage issues you need to identify.
7) Go into the attic and look at the underside of the roof. Look for stains or other signs of leaks on the underside of the roof. If there are signs of leaks (current or fixed), go down. That is, water flows down, so look for where it would have gone once it entered the house. Did it pool between the joists? Did it seep through the ceiling into the room below. Did it run down the inside of a wall? Look for the usual rot, mold, etc.

What kind of foundation does the house have? Crawlspace, full basement, partial basement, slab, pier & beams, concrete, rock, brick, etc?
2) How high is the sill plate from the ground as viewed from the exterior of the house? Most codes that I am aware of require a house to be 18-24 inches above grade. Many older homes are not. I've seen some that actually touched the ground in places. Moisture damage is possible, and termites damage can almost be guaranteed.
3) Does the surrounding ground slope towards or away from the house? French drains or landscaping can take care of this, but check for signs of water damage, mold, etc.
4) Are there cracks or holes in the foundation?
5) Look for mold, water stains, and standing water in the crawlspace or basement. We once looked at a house (40-50 year old ranch house in Atkins) that had standing water in the crawl space. It was a deal killer for us.


1) Does the house have any additions to it?
2) If the house does have additions, do they extend beyond the original foundation or roofline of the house?
3) If the answer to #2 is yes, carefully check where the addition is attached to the house. This is often one of the weakest spots on the house. A lot of additions are poorly executed and poorly designed creatures which are structurally unsound or trap water. The Devil Queen's front and back porches were enclosed in the 1980's or early 1990's. Because of how they were built, they didn't ventilate well and collected moisture inside the porches. They'd rotted from the inside out by the time we acquired the Queen. Even if we hadn't moved her, we'd have to raze the porches and rebuild them.


Monday, June 18, 2007

The Disease Spreads

It looks like we may have started something.

Historic house to be moved to Atkins lot

"A historic house is scheduled to be moved to a lot in the 3400 block of West Main (Highway 64). The Atkins Planning Commission unanimously approved a request last week by Sarah Keathley to move the Effie Tucker house from the Pottsville school grounds to the vacant field east of a field owned by her sister, Mary Clow. The two of them addressed the commission about the plans. Their stepfather, Ray Tucker, is preparing the house, which was his parents’ and his residence, for the move, which is scheduled for sometime in June. The house has been used as a child-care facility. The school board decided to remove it to build a new building and offered it to the family. After it is moved and renovated, Ray and Sue Tucker, his wife and mother of Clow and Keathley, plan to live in the house. (The Chronicle will have a more detailed story and pictures in a future edition. The house was built by a Dr. Jean.) The Planning Commission approved another request and accepted one permit at its monthly meeting Tuesday, June 6. The other request was rezoning of a lot just north Sexton Foods from R-2 residential to C-2 commercial. That request, by Joann Baker, for a vacant lot formerly occupied by her family, was approved unanimously. She is the wife of Charles Baker, chairman of the Planning Commission. The building permit was to Ann Goodall for a metal building used as a camper at 1703 W. Main St., $2,000. All members were present, including Chairman Charles Baker, Kathleen Napier, vice president; Janis Davis, secretary; Chris Fryer, and Elmo Bizzell, and permit inspector Albert Thatcher. Also present were Joann Baker, Mary Clow, Sarah Keathley and one reporter."

On the upside, these are good folk who seem to know what they are doing. Mrs. Clow's husband did all of our concrete work, and she brought everyone by the Devil Queen for the how-to house moving tour. I think they'll do a much better job than we did, quicker and more efficient. In any case, I wish them the best of luck.

And, apparently, we are more influencial than I thought. Even Harvard is getting into the act (thanks to EGE for the heads-up on this one).


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Post-Appraisal Honeymoon Ends

I won't lie to you. I am almost sorry that this post has been so long in coming, but the delay was well worth it for me.

Now, before I go too far, I would like to mention for April's benefit that I have been thinking about your old home inspection check list. I have not forgotten you. It seems simple enough, but, once you start the list, it just keeps going. And that is just the list, restoring an old home is even worse.

So, since the appraisal two weeks ago, what have we been doing on the Devil Queen? Absolutely nothing. And there has been no signs of withdrawal or guilt to date. And, I've been catching up on my sleep. Getting by on only 4 to 5 hours a night for a few months really wears on you. It makes you psychotic, not in a good way.

Sleeping 6 to 7 hours is fabulous. It definately improves my attitude. According to my wife, I'm a lot less evil. Pleasant even if you could believe that. I think she believes an alien abduction may have occured.

After years of anticipation and struggle, my wife and I finally took sailing lessons. We've been dreaming about this for years, and it is like we're resuming our life where we left off before we bought the Devil Queen. It's like being reborn as a bitter, older version of yourself who's plagued with regrets and an unresolved passion for fine architecture, old homes, and residential construction. Really, I think it is a good thing.

In case any of you are wondering, sailing was great. I love it. If we can get enough practice in and get our finances straightened out over the next year or so, we'd love to get a small beginners boat of our own. The only thing that marred our sailing experience was Gideon coming down with a stomach bug in the early hours of Sunday morning. Let me tell you, you haven't experienced the joys of parenthood until you've waken up to the sound of your child throwing up all over your bed.

In any case, I plan to take Chris' lead and spend more time out on the water starting today.

Speaking of beginnings and rebirths, I've started a little side project here. I've been meaning to do this for months, but life has been getting in my way until now. The posts will probably be a bit spotty, but at least it's a start.

Rest assured that I haven't completely degenerated into a lazy, decedent sod which is quite unfortunate. I think I'd be rather good at it, a natural even. Instead, I've been playing catch-up. For nearly every project we completed on the Devil Queen, there was at least one chore being neglected. So, the corollary that developed was that as the Devil Queen became less decrepit, everything else in our life began disintegrating at an ever increasing pace.

So, now it is official: my post-appraisal honeymoon is officially coming to an end. Partly it's because we actually want the house completely finished (narrow minded of us I know), and partly it's because things are starting to bug me after only two weeks.

What's first on my list? The gaps between the single pane glass and the sash were the old glazing has crumbled away on four windows. Really, most of the window glazing is in need of attention, but I'm seriously disturbed by the fact that the Olsen twins could conceivably fit through the gap. I figure we'll be turning the AC on in a couple of weeks, so the sooner I get this finished the better.

Who knows, maybe I'll even start posting more too?


Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Room of Unspeakable Pleasures

This looks innocuous enough, no? A fully functional toilet (the third and final one for the Devil Queen) and sink in our laundry room/third bathroom.

And here is the tub, our wicked, sinful tub.

Kristin, I blame you. Ever since I read this post of yours, I can never look at this plumbing fixture the same again.

You've shattered my innocence. I feel like the guy who walks in on the long-haired hippie licking the LSD off Hunter S. Thompson's red flannel shirt in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

"With a bit of luck, his life was ruined forever. Always thinking that just behind some narrow door in all of his favorite bars, men in red woolen shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he'll never know."

Thanks to you, my slide into utter depravity has begun already. Before too long, all that will be left for me will be rum, sodomy, and the lash.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Appraisal

The bank called back and they have our appraisal. I haven't actually seen it yet (it's in the mail), but, in theory, it should be enough to pay our two bank loans off and a majority of the credit card debt we ran up on the house. We're not exactly dancing in the streets, but we quietly pleased. It's definitely something we can live with for now. Really, we did pretty good considering the shape the Queen is in currently. Hell, most of the floors have not been refinished yet, so I guess there isn't too much to complain about (except having to refinish the floors that is).

I guess we'll see how everything goes.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Small Pleasures

Scarlet and I have spent a lot of time talking about the kinds of plants we like have in our garden. We were thinking about several different ones for this rock retaining wall. Something to grow out of the cracks or cascade down over it from the top. We still hadn't decided what we'd put here when something volunteered itself.

Poison oak. Nice. I'm so very excited.

Thank God I'm lazy (and suspicious) and didn't pull it out when I was weeding.
It's taking pleasure in the little things that make life worth living, right?


"Go Away"

For a long time now, the restless dead have been quiet at the Devil Queen. No sounds of footsteps in the hall or phantom crying babies. Then, we cleaned out the bay window room (parlor/bedroom) at the front of the house and things started to happen.

One weekend a couple of weeks ago, Liz, Fidge, and Jack came over to help us paint in our run up to the appraisal. Jack was painting the exterior trim on the master bathroom window when I happened to walk by looking for some errant tool.

"I hear someone talking to me out here," he said without looking up from his work. "I looked around but didn't see anyone."

"Really, what did they say?"

"It was like, 'ooo away,'" he said. "Had trouble hearing the first part."

"'Go away' maybe?'

Jack shrugged, "I don't know. Maybe. I don't think so though."


A couple of days later I was talking to Fidge and she told me that she heard a voice in the bay window room while she was painting in there.

"What did it say?" I asked.

"Go away."

Scarlet and I our irritated. We don't much appreciate folks, living or dead, trying to run off our free, volunteer help. Why couldn't they have run of the SOB's who came and took $2000 in tools a couple years ago?

It is so hard to find good help.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Life: Moving From One Disaster to the Next Until You Die

I was hoping to give you some juicy house posts, but I'm afraid you're going to have to listen to me bitch and moan a bit today. If that isn't on your agenda for the day, move on to something worthy of your time. Believe me, I understand.

Something Scarlet and I have been talking about is the "it's all the Devil Queen's fault" excuse. Basically, whenever something goes wrong, we (mostly me) have gotten into the habit of blaming the house. Usually, something goes wrong, we don't have the money or time to make things right, and it's the house's fault since we've spent all our money and time on it. And, to an extent, this is true. But, is it really the Queen's fault? Somewhere along the way, we instigated this whole stupid project. We're the one's who decided to spend our money on this, right? So, is it the house's fault or ours?

Anyhow, two of our three cars are dead. My wife borrowed her step-father's truck to go to work, and it died this morning. So, she's driving her grandfather's truck. Because of our transportation troubles, she's been missing meetings and interviews which is very bad if you're a reporter. Fortunately, her employer hasn't complained about it. Yet.

We still haven't heard from the bank or the appraiser so we haven't tied up all the loose ends on the house. God, I love fiscal limbo. Sweet.

We're going to have to buy a new used car this weekend, because we really need it. And, it sucks being thirty and having to borrow your parents and grandparents cars all the time. It makes you feel like your all of 16 again.

And, as it is, we may not be able to take the sailing lessons we've been looking forward to for months because we may not be able to physically get there and we need to go car shopping.

So, the real question is, if we can't blame the house for everything, does that mean we're incompetent, cursed, or both?

I'm going for both.

Being an adult sucks.

Oh, and did I mention that our mini-storage has given us until the end of the month to clean out our "storage room."? I say storage room in quotes because we're actually renting a small two bedroom house adjacent to the facility for our stuff. He offered it to us last year because he didn't have a renter and all the big units were full. Now, apparently he would like to rent it out again. He's offered us a large unit for our stuff, but if I'm going to have to move all that shit anyhow, I might as well ought to move it to the Devil Queen, throw it away, or give it to Goodwill.

Having been rushing against the bank deadline for so long, I'm really irritated to have yet another deadline to meet so soon. If we could have had to the end of July, it would have been much better for us.

And, I'm still waiting for something else to go wrong. It's like a scent on the wind, I can just tell that this storm hasn't passed yet.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

More Interior Pictures, the Master Bedroom

It's funny, when this furniture was in our crappy little ranch house with 8 foot ceilings, this furniture looked monsterous. Now, it looks just right. High ceilings, you've got to love them.

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