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!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Very Wicked All Hallows' Eve to All


Odious Stench

I didn’t get started on the floor until late, so I didn't make as much progress as I wanted. I figure I made it about a 1/6th of the way through in about an hour. So, with some basic math, that leaves me with at least 5 more hours to go. However, it'll probably take longer since I'll have to move furniture and patch some holes once I make it to the other side of the dining room.

Here is my procedure:

1) Loosen the dirt, filth, and gunk packed between the floor boards with a putty knife.
2) Vacuum up the aforementioned filth.
3) Putty like hell making sure to push the putty as far down into the cracks as possible. Ideally, you don't want any voids as this may lead to cracking later. Scrape off as much of the excess as (reasonably) possible. It'll save you time on the sanding segment of this project.
4) Repeat until completed. Once completed, start sanding.

Some other tips:

1) Wear a respirator. Depending on what wood putty you are using (don't use Elmer's, it's complete ass), you may not need one. However, the putty we use (sands and stains better than all the other shit we've tried) reeks. It's truly awful. There is no loopy high you get with the stain or poly, this shit is nasty. Despite the fact that is was in the mid 40's last night, I turn off the heat, opened the windows and set up several fans to ventilate. Yes, it was that bad.
2) Wear gloves. It won't kill you (well, hopefully not) if you get it on your hands, but it is unpleasant.
3) This is a task best done when no one is home. Send the family out or give then respirators.
4) If semi-dry putty begins to accumulate on your putty knife, resist the urge to scrape the blade clean on the lip of the putty tin. It'll crust up and fall into the fresh putty contaminating it. Use a rag or virtually anything else for cleaning the blade.

The dining room seems to be going much faster than the laundry room floor. Since I'm not planning to hand scrape the dining room floor (God help me, not again), I'm not spending as much time scraping off every bit of excess. That's what drum sanders are for.

My goal is to have the whole floor puttied by Thursday night. If it weren't for Halloween and a birthday party, I'd say it was a done deal. In any case wish me luck.

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Titan, Meet Zeus

Okay, the analogy doesn't quite hold up since there are two water heaters, but "Titan, Meet Zeus," sounds better than "Titan, Meet Zeus and a Friend," or "Titan, Meet Zeus and Your Brother Cyclops Whom You've Already Met." Right?


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Titan Revisited

A name is a creature of immense power.

In more modern times, we've become rather lax in our appreciation of names. Sure, parents agonize over their newborn child's name, but we don't attach the same seriousness to it. In many ancient cultures, knowledge of a person's, an animal's, or god's true name was believed to give one power over them. The ancient Jews believed the mere uttering of the name of God could unmake the world.

Perhaps folks in advertising and marketing best appreciate the power of names. On some level, everyone wants to believe that what they buy is super, fantastic, or extra-whitening. And, you can't help but wonder if the reason that the Chevy Citation was a suck-ass car was because it was called a citation. According to Webster's, being cited can mean, "to mention in an official report as meritorious," but, when I hear the word, I think of it in terms of its other meaning, "to summon before a court of law." No one wants to go to court. Bad things happen to good people in court all of the time. And, if a policeman gives you a citation, you can typically expect to pay a fine.

On the surface, titan is a pretty potent name. It implies a creature of great power and strength. Once, they were even gods.

So, if you were marketing an on-demand water heater, calling it Titan seems like a pretty good bet. What could be better than a water heater of immense power, right?

But, upon closer inspection, perhaps Titan isn't such an auspicious name. Take Cronus, self-made leader of the Titans, for instance. He was an abused child, he castrated his father (perhaps not without justification), and crowned that achievement by marrying his sister. As an abused child, it was almost statistically inevitable that would perpetuate the cycle of violence by becoming an abusive father. And, he was then castrated by one of his sons, a product of incest. Nice.

So, what does it mean when your on-demand water heater is a deposed, incestuous, blood-thirsty eunuch-god? It means that your testicles will shrivel like ice-wine grapes and fall from the vine because January is bad time to take cold shower. And, when I say cold, I mean a cold so intense that not showering is an acceptable alternative.

I haven't mention this before for several reasons, several shamelessly self-serving. In our old house, we complained about how little hot water our heater produced for years before I noticed that it was set on the lowest temperature setting. We had plenty of hot water once we turned the magic knob up to a higher temperature. Genius, right? And it only took us (me) 3 years to figure that one out. So, before I complained about our situation, I though it might be a good idea to make sure I hadn't over looked anything obvious.

Also, in the run up to our appraisal this summer, I didn't want to publicly post something calling the integrity of a major household-system into question. The chances that our appraiser would find our blog were pretty slim, but I have no desire to tempt the Fates. If he had found it, he would be professionally and legally obligated to disclose that in the appraisal. And we all know how much bankers love a failing household-systems.

When we originally bought the Titan water heaters, we did our research on them. They seemed like perfect fit at the time with a few caveats. Unlike a traditional water heater, the Titan requires that the water flowing into the heater be at no less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. While I can not find a definitive source for the information, I have heard that the average soil temperature for my part of the world is roughly 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Given that Arkansas' official State Soil (yes, we have one), Stuttgart Soil, has an average temperature around 59 degrees, 57 degrees sounds about right considering we are further north and about 700 feet more above sea level.

Even with insulated pipes, I think our crawlspace may be the source of our problem. I know that slab construction is a fairly typical foundation for new construction. Maybe Titan assumes that this unit will be going into a home with a slab foundation? Perhaps entering directly from the ground and into the home with no basement or crawlspace in between insures the water stays above 50 degrees? Even if the water in the pipes comes into the crawl space at 50 degrees, it may loose just enough warmth to slip below that magical threshold?

Or, may be it is just the heater? We've using the highest setting on the heater, and we still end up with the shower faucet cranked all of the way over to hot. And it still doesn’t matter, the water is lukewarm at best.

Apparently, we are not the only folks who've had trouble achieving the elusive Nirvana of hot water. While they suggest that this configuration is for Northern States who have been historically been doomed to suffer cold water, I suspect that by "northern states" they mean to say any state north of Florida. Of course, the cultural and geographical implications of this are pretty staggering. Who knew a water heater could wreck the social fabric of our nation?

So, the Devil that you are, you may be thinking, "Okay, you have two Titan water heaters. Move one and piggy-back them like the diagram above. Problem solved." Well, not really. And don't think we haven't considered it either.

The problems are many fold. Basically, since the Devil Queen was built before in-door plumbing, it has a huge, sprawling water system. You could plumb two or three new-construction homes with the amount of pipe we've run in the Devil Queen. To conserve on pipe and since an individual Titan is meant to service only two bathrooms and a kitchen, the Devil Queen has two separate hot water systems. One services the master bathroom and the hall bathroom and the other the kitchen, a bathroom, and the laundry room.

Over the last nine months or so, we've toyed around with several possible solutions to our problem. There were two basic variations we narrowed it down to:

1) Buy two new Titan heaters and use them to piggy-back the two we already have.
2) Buy two small (10 to 20 gallon) point-of-source, "traditional" hot water heaters and install them in the crawlspace to pre-heat the water before it got to the Titans

We opted for #2. We bought two 18 gallon water heaters and called a plumber to install them because we're sick of plumbing and don't have the time to do it even if we did love plumbing.

Saturday morning the plumber came out to bid the job. His bid was reasonable, but there was one problem, power. The plumber looked at our breaker box and said, "There is no way I can make this work with your box. There just isn't enough power to run all these heaters. The best I can do is take out these [the Titans] and install two 30 or 40 gallon low-boys in the crawlspace."

What is so galling about our breaker box is that it was the largest one we could find at the time. That's right, 200 Amps is barely enough for our 100% electric house. Sigh.

So, last weekend, we took the two 18 gallon heaters back to Lowe's and traded them in for two 38 gallon low-boy heaters. Now we just have to set up a time for the plumber to come and install them. And, if we have any money left over, we're going to have him fix a few sinks too.

There is one good thing about this. By removing the Titans from the pantry and master bedroom closet and placing the new heaters in the crawlspace, we'll regain roughly 10 to 15 square feet of storage space. And, if the hot water heaters ever leak, it'll fill up the crawl space, not the Devil Queen and it's wood floors.

And, since the Titans work (even if they aren't adequate for the Devil Queen), we can put them in storage until we find a new home for them (don't think we haven't been considering this already).

If nothing else, it has definitely been a learning experience.

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Comic Genius

I am sure most of you Housebloggers have already seen this. This post is for my wife's and my family's benefit. I think they'll get a kick out of it.

Short version: The Wall Street Journal interviewed a bunch of housebloggers for a story on remodeling parties. And, they did write a story about that except they took the angle of dumbasses invited friends over, get drunk, and destroy the house. Some of the housebloggers felt used and misrepresented by the Journal, and the whole episode has provided fodder for some excellent commentary in the form of Halloween costumes.

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Alternative Energy and Energy Efficient Tax Credits -

If any of you homeowners out there are looking for tax credits, incentives, loans, et cetera in your area, this is a great website (if you live in the USA). Click on your state and it will give you every program offered with links and contact information. There isn't too much in Arkansas (are we surprised?), but, if you live in California for instance, wow!

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Clear Corona

Clear Corona, does that mean orange?

Here is the Queen's new skirt.

This color, Clear Corona, will be used for the window sashes, the porches, and some of the trim work.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, or Less is More

If I were to attempt a concise summary, it might go something like this: "Refuse prevents the refinishing of the dining room floor," or, even better than that, "What is all of this shit?"

Really, what is it? Why have I gone to such great length to keep it with me until now only to toss it into the trash last night with a curse? After only three hours of intensive labor and soul searching, I have found my dining room floor. And, now that I've cleared the deck for action, I'm going to spend the weekend outside painting window sashes and hanging storm windows. Can you see why this whore of a house isn't finished?

We're supposed to have a full week of blue sky and sun, so I figure this may be my last chance to get the storm windows up. That way, when February rolls around, my frozen ass won't be handing over the better part of a paycheck to the electric company every month.

I've decided that less is definitely more. Owning a room full of thirty years of shit in cardboard boxes, stacked to the ceiling as though placed there by mischievous poltergeists, is bad mojo. Try it sometime if you don't believe me. I'll bet serious money that you will eventually find yourself raving alone in a dark, cold house saying shit like, "Why??? You have got be kidding me! Shit! Shit! Shit! What is all of this? Cthulhuflagen, Yog-Sothoth , goat with a thousand spawn flibrishermagagiagiiii!"

Not pretty, is it?

Anyhow, even if the floor isn't finished yet, we have been at work. First, we may have painting assistance lined up to work until the old whore house is finished. And, there is allegedly a plumber coming Saturday to make a bid on Plumbing Remediation 2.0.

Wish us luck. And, if Mars is in opposition and Saturn is crossing Orion (and no rain), maybe I'll even take some damn pictures of what we've been up to here at the Devil Queen. A novel idea, no?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shock of the Old New

Okay, after looking at these pictures (and these) at Der Spiegel, I think I may have found my repressed, inner modernist. Really though, I've been doing a lot of reading about the art and literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it’s amazing how mind blowing a lot of this stuff was, particularly when juxtaposed with everything that had come before.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The weather will not cooperate. It's very depressing. We haven’t seen a blue sky for nearly three days. All we have is an endless progression of cold wind, rain, and low, grey clouds. Last weekend was beautiful. Minus the section of skirting under the back porch, we put a coat of Watertight all of the way around the Devil Queen. We'd like to do a second coat, but it may have to wait for a while with the rain. Besides, we still need to seal up some windows before the days of endless winter arrive.

If the rain stops, I'll take some pictures of the Watertight. Even with one coat, it makes a huge difference.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Progress = Demonic Possession

I need an exorcist. I worked on the Devil Queen two nights this week. Demonic possession is the only explanation I can offer.

Last night, I ventured into our much blighted master bathroom. The carnage was swept up, I fought a monstrous brown recluse to a draw (it escaped into a hole minus a few legs, I'll be looking for it again tonight), and I caulked the crack to wasp heaven shut.

Wednesday night, the work was more substantive. Here was the situation when I started.

That's right. It's a lovely, refurbished rim lock without a catch. Once upon a time just before our appraisal, I had a lock-catch picked out for this door. I don't know what happened after that. I suspect that I ran out of time and the lock-catch got used for one of the other doors in the house.

Ideally, the catch ought to be the same size as the rim lock. Unfortunately, all the catches I have left are for smaller sized rim-locks. This left me with two options: 1) go to some junk shops to find a matching lock-catch or 2) just us what I have and hope that no one really notices. Besides, since the lock-catch is smaller than it ought to be, I can always substitute a better matching lock-catch at a later date if the little one bugs me.

Since most people have no idea what a rim-lock is or what one should look like, I felt like option #2 sounded pretty good. And, I'm really tired of waiting on shit. If I'm in the mood to do something, I better do it. If I wait for the stars to be right, it will never happen.

After rummaging through my collection of lock-catches and selecting one, I proceeded to strip all the old paint and mystery gunk using the boiling method (see this post for details if you are interested). Then I shellacked the lock-catch to match the refurbished rim lock.

Since the lock-catch is around 3/4 of an inch shorter than the rim lock, I centered the lock-catch on the rim lock's door latch and dead bolt. Once I was satisfied with it's placement, I penciled the lock-catch's profile onto the door jamb. Then, I used one of my favorite hand tools, a chisel, to cut out the lock-catch's nook. Remember, the key to using a chisel is making sure that it is sharp. If it isn't, you might as well ought to use a flat-head screwdriver because the finished product will be about the same.

Here is the cut-out after about 10-15 minutes of slow, patient chiseling.

And, here is the finished product. It's isn't a perfect installation, but it is pretty close. I accidentally made the cut-out about 1/16 of an inch too deep. This means that you have to give the door a firm push to get the latch to catch all of the way. And, I had to shift the lock-catch to the left about an 1/8 of an inch too. This leaves a gap between the right side of the lock-catch and the door trim.

The flash makes the photo look much worse than it actually is. It isn't really noticeable in person. The gap's shadow blends with the hardware's dark finish, so it is hidden in plain-sight. Only a truly anal DIY'er or Virgo would notice.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Missed the Mark

What originally was intended as a houseblog post went astray. I decided that it really belonged in my journal, not this blog. But, let me ask you this: is it weird to have two documentaries (Gang War: Bangin' In Little Rock and Towncraft) about your high school experience (in a broad sense) and a movie filmed at your high school during the same period of time? I hadn't thought much about it until quite recently, but, after considering it, this seems atypical, odd. Thoughts?


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Season of Slaughter

It's fall yet again, and everything wants to come into the house. I went to Lowe's last night, and, on my way out, I noticed our cat was having a grand time playing with a maimed rat. This rat is the second one he's caught this season. I hope he's killing them all before they find a way into the Devil Queen.

Aside from rodents, we have an on-going wasp problem. There is a gap between where the eve of the master bathroom meets the Devil Queen's main roof. A colony of red wasps has established itself in this crack. When I say "in" mean to say they seem to be pulling tufts of blown insulation out of the crack to make room for their ever-growing nest. I can't begin to tell you how much poison I've sprayed into this hole. I think I've used at least ten cans so far, and, though their numbers are diminished, they are still there.

[The picture is horrible. The specks all over the roof are dead wasps. I lost count after around 40. The brightest yellow area of the eve is roughly where the gap is]

The last round of poison must have been pretty bad. Since I'd slathered the gap with foaming poison, they were driven to find a back-way out to escape sticky-white-death. The poison must be stout, they were desperate. Unfortunately for me, their escape route was through this crack in the master bathroom ceiling.

Nothing like going to take an early morning piss and noticing - mid-stream - that the weird droning was a flight of angry, semi-poison wasp circling the chandelier. Thank God for the cathedral ceiling. Or, thank Scarlet since it was her idea.

So, driven by fear, shifting priorities, the inability to escape linear time, and laziness, the master bathroom has been sealed up for about three or four weeks. Last night, I went in to survey the situation.

I fell like I'm collecting evidence for a war crimes tribunal. There are bodies everywhere, over twenty to be sure. Apparently, the wasps would pull themselves out of the crack and circle aimlessly until they succumbed to the poison or starvation.

Since it was nearly midnight at this point, I decided to set everything up but leave the actual caulking for tonight. Hopefully, I'll finish before Ms. Scarlet makes it home from work.

On the upside, I did finish painting the last four shelves of the living room built-in last night.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Rim Lock Cock Block

The cold front and the accompanying rain killed my exterior painting plans. Then, I had house chores to do and phone calls to make and take. Since I'd spent the day psyching myself up for some real home improvement progress, I felt the need to do something. Anything.

As you may recall, we threw more than a few things together for our appraisal this summer. "A few things" would include most of the door knobs and lock sets in the Devil Queen. Aside from the fact that 90% of these never got a proper cleaning, oiling, and shellacking, they are going to need some work. The parlor door knob feel off roughly 30 minutes after the appraisal and needs to be replaced. Several rim locks don't have catches for the latch. This isn't too big of an issue except in the bathrooms. And, the master bedroom and living room rim locks are falling off the doors. Why? Well, since we were in a rush, I used the screws I had available to mount the locks. Unfortunately, these screws are roughly 1/4 an inch too short, and, as we’ve used the doors, the screws have worked their way out of their holes. The master bedroom lock is particularly bad.

Fortunately, I now have the right sized screws. So, since I was feeling ambitious last night, I though I'd fix this master bedroom lock at the very least. I figured that screwing in a couple of screws would be pretty easy, and it should have been. However, it helps if you have a screw driver. And, since I'm a narrow minded guy, I wanted a Phillips screwdriver for my Phillips screws. No such luck. Since our shit-in-storage has exploded all over the parlor and main hall, finding anything smaller than an armoire is impossible. I'm nearly as stubborn as I am incompetent, so I refused to accept defeat. I improvised.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then, as I finished mounting the first screw, I had a thought: "Maybe you should just go ahead a finish properly refurbishing the lock before you remount it for all eternity. What do you think?"

Son of a bitch. So, I left the damn thing hanging as-is and went to bed utterly unfulfilled.

Maybe I'll have better luck tonight?

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Busy Buggers

The Devil Queen has been a progress-free zone for most of the week. Last weekend the whole family was ravaged by a stomach bug. It kind of set the tone for the rest of the week. Had some side projects to attend to and then we got two days of torrential rain (2 inches in 24 hours), so last night was the first night I came directly home and worked on the house. Basically, I'm still painting the Watertight on the skirt. No where close to finished. I know you must be terribly shocked.

We've managed to line up another busy weekend of non-house activities. We're going to have to quit doing this on such a regular basis. One, if we ever hope to finish the house, I suspect it would help to work on it. Just an idea. Two, I'm really tired: weary, exhausted, whatever. Sleeping for twenty four hours without going to crappy old people birthdays or having a three year old vomit on you at 4 AM would be nice. Really.

Oops. Sorry, that sounds a lot like complaining. We can't have any of that now. But, while I am at it, I have one more thing to add to my list. Our parlor/bedroom #3 smells like monkey ass. We've been trying to sort through all of the stuff from our storage room in hopes of evicting it from the house. I don't know what it was we packed, but, whatever it was, we probably shouldn't have judging from the funk.

And, a couple weeks back, someone asked if I had any art or paintings of the Devil Queen. The answer is yes. I found one piece, and, if you are interested in it, here it is. It was painted last summer before the Devil Queen was painted.

Anyhow, busy weekend. More later in theory.

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