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!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our Old House - RIP - Links

In my last post, I mentioned Our Old House (though not by name), and I've a request for more info on the blog. They have pulled their site from the web although there is a "thanks for the memories" and a graphic in its place.

You can go here and here at and pull all of their old posts though. It is a beautiful house and it was very sad to see them go.

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Yard Work, A Regularly Scheduled Breakdown, Et Cetera

I am so far behind.

Last week, it was time for the VW's 12,000 mile/four month breakdown, so it's in the shop. Again.

The weather has been good this week, so I've been hauling and burning brush, building brick walkways, rolling rocks, and pruning trees. Doing this has clearly illustrated several things for me: we are trashy people; the people we hire to work on the Devil Queen (minus Kenny and Burt) are even trashier; I am in horrible shape; and I'd never make it as a bonafide brick farmer because after two day my left elbow is killing me.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction Or The Coolest Reason to Walk Away From Your House

Not to sound like a crotchety, incontinent octogenarian, but I've seen a lot houseblogs come and go. Some have ended from lack of interest on the part of the blogger, one ended when the home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, another ended because they couldn't find a contractor in the whole of Canada who'd show up and fix the bloody slate roof, et cetera. I never imagined that I'd see one end because the homeowner and blogger was moving to New York to became a male fashion model. This has to be the coolest one I've seen. Congratulations and the best of luck Nate!

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Too Little Too Late?

Last night, as I plodded through one small house project after another, I had to wonder if it was too little too late. At this point, it seems like no matter how many things get taken off the list, another half-a-dozen show up or refuse to be finished. At what point are you officially screwed?

Maybe I already am but haven't noticed? Behold the power of denial!

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The One That Got Away, A Follow Up

Yesterday, I went to my Dad's to look through some of our family's old photos. One of my favorite ones is below.

My Dad and I figure this picture was taken around 1897 somewhere in or around Kewanee, IL. The man in the buggy is my great-great-grandfather, Thomas "Tom" Chisnall. Beside him is his second wife Rosa (Miller) Chisnall, my great-great-grandmother. The children with them are my great-grandmother Annie Chinsall (later Damaske) and her brother, John "Jack" Chisnall. They were all residents and/or owners of the family home at 423 Tremont St., Kewanne, IL, featured in this post.


The One That Got Away, The Tremont House

For those of you who might be interested, this another picture of my family's old home in Kewanee, IL.


A March Down Memory Lane

For those of you who where interested this post about my family's old home in Kewanee, here is a follow-up for you.

The picture above is the Tremont House circa 1918. The house has a new porch and paint job (compare with this picture and this picture). Correction. This is the house across the street from the Tremont House which explains a lot. See the comments below for some more information from the current owner. If you zooom in on the picture, you will not the soldiers are carrying sticks and not rifles.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another 10 Minute Project Completed in Just 1 1/2 Years

So, we return to the Pee-Wee Playhouse Bathroom/Laundry Room for yet another living-dead project. It's been so long that I can't actually remember when this project officially went on my Sisyphean to-do list. It's been at least a year and a half ago. Maybe more.

This particular project was ridiculously easy. Between the edge of the tile around the hot-tub and the wood trim (a bull-nose of sorts I suppose) there was a crack of variable size. It went from non-existent up to a quarter of an inch in one place. For those of you who might not have mastered home improvement arithmetic, the simplified equation for this problem is: chronic moisture + crack + wood = rot (which is bad; in any equation rot and bad are interchangeable).

The solution to this problem is very simple. Take a few dollars to Lowe's and buy a tube of waterproof kitchen/bath caulk, read the directions, vacuum debris out of the crack, mask off edges of the crack with masking-tape, apply caulk, smooth caulk, remove tape immediately, and let it dry for 24 hours or more. See, that was hardly rocket science.

And, here is a crappy picture of the finished product. Apparently I'm too brain damaged at this late stage in the game to use the zoom-in button on my camera. If you can't tell from the picture, it looks a lot better. Really. And, it only took less than two years to complete this project.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

"I See Window Treatments"

After four years, it's finally happened, "I see window treatments." More importantly perhaps, we actually have some.

My mom was kind enough to make these for Gideon's room. Unfortunately, my lack of math skills and total ignorance of sewing prevented me from accurately estimating how much material we'd need to do both windows. I'll be heading back to the fabric store soon.

They look purple in the picture, but they actually are very dark blue in person.

And, as an extra bonus, I did some remedial caulking around the window trim before I hung the curtains. It's definately keeping the room warmer.

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Change At The Pace of Continental Drift

You can be forgiven for thinking this a picture of my wife's Persian cat. The whole point of this picture is what you are not seeing: daylight shining in under the front door.

Our front door has been an unrelenting source of misery and discomfort.

By the time we bought the Devil Queen, the door didn't have much going for it besides being original to the house. The roof over the door had collapsed, the floor had rotted through, the joists and sill plate were disintegrating, and the door was slightly warped. As a nice finishing touch, all the original hardware had been stripped with the exception of the hinges. I think the 10 coats of paint over them may have saved them.

Over the last four years, the framing has been redone twice. The first time it was done by idiots (not us), and the second time by a first-rate contractor who finally fixed it. Even with the wonderful job the second crew did, the door has never been quite the same.

The weather stripping I installed, a vinyl "tube" mounted on a metal bracket screwed into the jamb and flush with the door's face, was a disaster. The weather stripping pealed the latex paint off the edges of the door and it had to be mount so close to the door's face to seal that it interfered with the getting the door locked or unlocked. And, it still didn't seal well.

Then, there is the threshold. It was too close to the door for any of the bottom mounted sweeps or weather seals. However, the gap was big enough for daylight to shine in under the door in the early morning and there was always a draft. I tried stuffing all sorts of things under or behind the door, but they didn't help much and they were usually a pain to deal with as you opened and closed the door.

Apparently, I am not the only one with this kind of problem. While forlornly dragging myself up and down the isle at Lowe's I discovered a sweep which mounts on the interior face of the door. Ideally, the sweep is supposed to be flush with the top of the threshold, but ours is a bit too far forward for this. Still, it seals for the most part, you can't see daylight under the door, and the draft is nearly gone (definitely 90% better). I haven't done a true, empirical study, but, based on some readings I took with a thermometer, the main hallway is now 4 degrees warmer on average. Even close to the floor, the temperature is only a few degrees cooler than the thermostats setting. It may not sound like much, but this is a huge improvement.

In addition to mounting the sweep, I've replaced the vinyl-shit weather stripping with spring-bronze on one side and the top. Even though I'm not finished yet (one side to go), this has made a huge difference. The door seals much tighter and it locks and unlocks without a problem.

Sure, it sounds great, but there is still one nagging question. Why didn't I do this earlier?

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Quick Patch - Part 3

Here is my patch after 4 coats of paint.  I think I may give it one more and call it finished.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Quick Patch, Part 2

Here is Part Two.

I found a piece of scrap wood that was about 3/4" thick and 1 3/4 wide and cut a length that would span the hole plus 2-3" to each side of the hole. The total length was about 6-7 inches.

I drove two screws into the wall, one on each side of the hole. Since I don't have a counter-sink bits for my drill, I sank the screw in as far as they would go and then removed them. I used a knife to deepen the holes the screw heads had made. Then, I sank the screws in until their tips had just cleared the back side of the wallboards.

I took the stub of wood and partly sunk a screw in the middle of it. This would serve as my "handle" so I could insert it into the hole and hold it flush with the back of the wallboards. Once it was in place, I sank the two screws in all the way. Here is a picture.

I then removed the central screw and inserted the patch I'd cut in part 1. It fit pretty well, so I sank one screw into the center of it using the same method as above. Then, I shot several 1 1/8 brads into it to help hold it in place.

Now that the patch was secure, I caulked it. After the fact, it occurred to me that I could have also used wood putty or epoxy for this as well. Both would have produced a smoother finish, but, with walls this rough, it would be more effort than it's worth.

Here is the patch after a single coat of paint. Not bad minus the fact that it could use 3-4 more coats.

I've put on three more coats since this picture was taken. I'll have a picture of the finished product in Part 3 and a review of the EZ Clean Paint Brush (about 7 months after the fact).

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A Quick Patch, Part 1

Okay, here is a quick post. Would you believe I've actually done more on the Devil Queen than I have time to write about? When was the last time that happened?
Here is the hole in our living room wall. As you might guess based on the three switch panel above the hole, this where the original living room light switch was located. I don't know why the electricians didn't expand this hole instead of cutting a new one.

First, check to see if there are any wires behind the hole. You don't want to cut or nick them latter in the process. Fortunately, all the wiring drops down from the attic, so we are safe from electrocution. Snakes, rats, or other wildlife are another story.

Whoever did this cut did a sorry job. I laid a piece of paper over the hole and made an etching using a graphite art pencil I had laying around. Here's the etching.

I taped the etching to a block of scrap wood of the same thickness as the wallboards (3/4"). Ideally, I would have used a jigsaw for this, but I still haven't replaced the one that was stolen a couple years back. Instead I used our miter saw and just tried to get it as close as I could to all the funky curves.

Not that this is a terribly involved process, but I will have to post the rest later. I know, what a gripping life I lead.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An Open Letter to the Weather Gods

Dear Lords and Ladies of the High Heavens, Zeus, Thor, et al:

A little snow every now and again is fine at our latitude. Twice in March is kind of pushing the limits of acceptability, but it's alright. No hard feelings on that count, really.

The issue I would like to see addressed as soon as possible is the temperature. You see, it's been far too cold for far too long. Sure, it helps keep the bug population down in the spring, but it also keeps my electric bill in up in a low-earth orbit. In fact, my electric bill is killing me.

Now, to be fair, I have to take some responsibility for my predicament. No, I didn't get all the storm windows up this last year. Sure, the weather stripping on the doors (if they have any) sucks. And yes, I did chose to live in an old house which is by definition drafty.

But, at the same time, there are some mitigating factors which ought to be considered:

Storm Windows: While most of our storms are not up, roughly 50% of windows in the areas we use most do have storm windows. The other rooms are closed off and unused in hopes of saving some energy. That, and the house is too friggin' big for us. Besides, since the storms screw into the window trim, getting them on and off is a real pain. We're still waiting for some re-touch painting before we commit to mounting them. Forever.

Weather Stripping: Okay, there are no mitigating factors to consider on this one. I'm lazy.

Drafty Old House (I): I was young and stupid when I bought this wreck. I actually thought you could seal the bugger up at the time. Little did I know that there isn't enough blown insulation, Great-Stuff foam insulation, and weather stripping in the world to truly seal an old home. Perhaps dipping the house in resin like some insect or scorpion in a freakish natural science museum gift-shop would work, but I don't see that as a viable option.

Draft Old House (II): I was young and stupid when I bough this old wreck; I had no idea that it was a creature of pure evil. As a creature born of Hell, the Devil Queen shares many characteristics with its land of origin. Specifically, the Devil Queen is as cold as Hell's dark heart (see Dante's Inferno, Ninth Circle if you don't believe me). In accordance to the Laws of Thermodynamics, "it is observed that temperature differences in a system lead to heat flows from the warmer to the colder parts of the system." As such, since Hell exists outside the laws of the limited, physical universe and will presumably remain cold for as long a it might exist, the Devil Queen will remain a cold, heat-sink in our world for as long as it exists. No amount of insulation will uttimetely keep the house warm. On the other hand, it's quite nice during an Arkansas summer.

Of course, there are factors completely beyond my control. The fact that our corporate masters increased electric rates last year has not helped. Jacking up the price of diesel to over $3.40 per gallon at the same time was not fair either. And, best of all, our corporate masters couldn't care less. Sacrificing a hecatomb in their honor just doesn't make an impression. Beseeching? Imploring? Yeah, good luck on that.

High Lords and Ladies of Heavens, if you could send some righteous storms or a well-placed bolt from the blue their way, I'd be much obliged.

So, Mighty Lords and Ladies of Heavens, I am left with no recourse anywhere else in this world. You are my only hope. I beseech thee: let the days be warm and the nights cool, so that I might turn off my bloody heat pump. Amen.

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More Snow

We had more snow last Thursday and Friday.  I managed to make it home from work before I was snowed-in.  I know that snow is normal in many parts of the country, but bear with me.  I know that somewhere in Fargo there is some one going, "WTF?!  It's just snow."  That it is, but, in the South, it's a cultural event.  Besides, it's significant to a future post or two.


Sunday, March 09, 2008


Would you believe I got snowed in again?  In March?  In Arkansas?

Weather-wise, it's been a very weird year.  On the upside, I did get some much needed work done on the Devil Queen.  More posts to follow.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Death-Wish Wish Fulfillment

There are wasps in our attic. At first I thought they were living in the trim where the master bathroom joins to the rest of the house. That was wishful thinking. They are in fact in the attic. I deduced this by watching them slowly piling bits of blown insulation from the attic on the porch roof to make room for their horrific love nest.

The freak snow storm we had earlier this week was probably one of the last appearance of winter for the year. Soon, spring will be here. When it arrives, the wasps will come with it. Now is the time for me to strike.

I've done a bit of research and preparation. Bug-bombs are out and Spectracide aerosol wasp spray are in. Now, all I have to do is make my way into the attic on a cold night, find the nest without drawing too much attention to myself, hose it down with poison, make my way back to the attic hatch (50-60 feet back to the rear of the house) without getting stung or falling through the ceiling. I anticipate this being as much fun as swimming around the Great Barrier Reef with a five gallon bucket of chum tied around my neck.

Later, just for kicks, I can climb onto the roof and plug the hole into the attic.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Not a Completely Wasted Day

See, I didn't completely waste my snow day.


Home Improvement Minions: Crows vs. Flying Monkeys

Since making zombies is such a labor intensive process and they do half-assed work most of the time, I'm always looking for new minions of evil. So, this article at NPR really caught my attention.

Here is a short excerpt:

" Hacker Josh Klein wowed attendees this weekend at TED — the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference — with his "crow vending machine," a device that gives the birds peanuts for depositing a coin. It's all part of Klein's plan to train crows to save human lives.

Just wrapping up in Monterey, Calif., TED gives inventors 18 minutes to wow an audience of people who each paid $6,000 to be blown away by new ideas. Klein's game plan? To explain "why crows are better than flying monkeys, and how you can teach them to do your bidding."

Personally, I still think flying monkeys are the way to go. In addition to really freaking out your neighbors, they have opposable thumbs. I don't care how smart your average crow is, can he use a nail gun with that friggin' beak?

That isn't to say that having trained crows don't have their uses for the average DIY'er. Screw saving lives, let's focus on the important part: these birds collect money. And what DIY'er doesn't need more money? I don't know how fast these crows work, but I imagine that a whole flock of them working day after day could bring you quite a nice haul.

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Just Say No to Crack

Originally, all the Devil Queen's interior walls were covered in wallpaper glued to canvas tacked to the tongue-in-groove wall boards. After 100+ years of neglect, the wallpaper and canvas were in very sad shade, so we tore it all out.

The problem with this is that the tongue-in-groove walls were never intended to be finished walls. This means there are all sorts of fugly gaps were boards, corners, et cetera come together. Who cares about a snaggle-toothed 3/4" gap if it's going to be covered with wallpaper?

Well, now that the wallpaper is gone, I do.

Here is the big old nasty crack in the main hall.

Here's my freakish old-man looking hand for perspective. Look at that thing. If we hadn't filled the bugger with spray-foam you could nearly slip your whole hand into this gateway to the poisonous spider, fat wall-mice underworld. Yuck.

Here is the trim in place. It's a thin, 3/4" piece of cove trim from Lowes. I used 1 1/8" (I think) brads to nail it in place.

Here is a close-up shot. The wall boards are not level (vertically or horizontally), so there is still some visible crack. I will caulk the hell out of this and paint the trim blue to match the wall.

What is so sad about this who project is just how lazy I am. It took me all of 15 minutes to get this trim up and in place. This was mainly because I'd cut the trim to fit last year. If you're looking for way to make a 20-30 minute project last 4-6 months, I am your man.

Fuck me, I don't know which is worse, working on the house or making myself work on the house.

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Look what happens when I actually get off my huge, lazy ass and work on the Devil Queen.  Since driving off a mountain top in 8 inches of snow is bad idea in Arkansas, I "wasted" a vacation day and stayed home.  No official snow day for me since my office, 70 miles away, didn't get much.  Oh well.


Monday, March 03, 2008

A New Perspective

Saturday was beautiful.  Gideon, Scarlet, and I went to visit her dad for the afternoon. Among other things, he is a licensed pilot, and he took us up for a ride.  Flying makes me very nervous, but I figured what the hell.  It's was a good day to die.  Besides, he's an excellent pilot from everything I've heard.

Fortunately, I remembered my camera for once.  Here is the Devil Queen.

I'm glad I decided to go up.  It was a beautiful day and a lot fun.  

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