TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2005

One tough cookie

When Dawn moved to Pennsylvania in March, I mentioned the conditions she was facing, but I haven’t revisited them because, frankly, she wasn’t complaining about them. Well, I just spent four days there and felt like I was in the third world:

  • Inside Aquarius (where she’s living), it’s 110 in the daytime and 55 at night, and at anytime she may have visitors in the “gift shop” downstairs
  • She watches TV upstairs on a borrowed 13-inch portable, but to watch a movie she has to sit downstairs with her laptop and a rickety wooden chair she found in the barn
  • If it’s raining, she doesn’t have an Internet connection
  • There are no lights outside, so at night she has to find her way by feel, and hope the resident horse hasn’t left any calling cards
  • Her entire wardrobe hangs on a spindly clothes rack she bought at K-mart, making her bedroom look like a Salvation Army outlet store
  • She has to get up at 6am every day to let the contractors in, and she doesn’t get back until she’s cleaned up after everyone, usually around 8:30 or 9pm
  • Her cell phone reception is so bad, people have asked her not to call them
  • She has to take precautions never to drop anything because it will slip between the wide floorboards and disappear into the crawl space
  • The shower works intermittently, at best. Dawn asked me one day why I left a bottle of Aquafina in the shower and I said, “rinsing.”

But on the bright side, she finally got a working toilet upstairs, so she no longer has to come downstairs in the middle of the night; she’s getting along well with her mother; and her friends from high school all seem to have trade skills and are more than happy to help out. Darin Tompkins, in particular, has helped her scrape paint, sand floors, strip windows, and is now working with her on the exterior wood. He is also a professional glazier, and can reassemble the windows, fix the sashes, and make storm windows. His wife’s not too happy that he’s doing all of this for Dawn but won’t install a microwave oven at home, but isn’t that the way it always works?

Brian and Bob have also turned out to be god-sends, taking care of so many odd jobs for a very reasonable cost. They removed the porch, cleaned out the basement, hauled all of the trash out of the field, demo’d the Summer Kitchen, fixed the dump truck, and now are pouring the concrete floor in the basement. Dawn’s already asked them to clean the Paymaster’s Office, put a new roof on the privy, build cellar doors, and fix up the workshop. I’m not sure where we’d be without them.

I think of Dawn as an implacable trouper, but I couldn’t help notice she was losing a lot of hair. That can’t be a good sign.

Addendum: On June 6, Dawn discovered a bat flying around the greenhouse. She said she slept under the sheets the first night, but after that she was okay with it. Now that’s tough.

SUNDAY, MAY 29, 2005

Member benefits

Four wolf pups, ranging from black to gray

Four wolf pups, ranging from black to gray

Last week, I invited everyone who had signed our guestbook for a tour. It being a three-day weekend, not many people took me up on the offer, but we had fun anyway.

One of those was Dan Burke, who had written the newspaper article in March, so he got to see the work in progress. I think he was most impressed by what Dawn had accomplished: stripping all the wallpaper, and now working on the windows; supervising two crews in the day, and cleaning up after them each night; meeting with all the local officials, business contacts, and neighbors, etc.

Afterwards, we visited the wolves and had a special treat: Smokey had a litter just a few weeks ago, and they were now running about, playing with the rest of the pack.

SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2005

The electric is dead, long live the electric!

Last month, the basement was dark, dirty, and humid. Now it is dark, dirty, and wet. In the process of digging it out to prepare for a cement floor, Brian and Bob have hit at least three springs, which turned the first room into a soppy mess. They’ve laid drainage pipe to direct the water out to a hole in the wall, but they have no idea where that drains to. A plumber could figure it out with a camera-snake or an RFID tag, but I figure one hole is as good as another, and I’m not worrying about it.

As for the rest of the basement, we assumed it was a dirt floor because, well, it was covered in dirt. It turned out to be a cement floor, and it is in excellent condition! Now it’s almost livable. (Don’t worry, Dawn already shot down the idea of an extra guest room.)

Today the electrician removed all the old wiring. I missed the excitement, though, when they found (the hard way) that removing the entire electric panel did not necessarily mean the electricity was off. Apparently, Dawn’s dad (or grandfather) jerry-rigged a light post outside and hooked it to a switch in the kitchen, which was not only alive, but short-circuited! Fortunately, nobody was hurt, just very, very surprised. (The electrician told me it and it was drawing 70 amps through 15-amp wire!)

I mentioned a few days ago that we wanted to keep the electric meter on the center pole (where it is now), but for some reason that meant they had to install a 4-foot wide electrical box right in the middle of the farm. That wasn’t acceptable, so we grudgingly agreed to put the meter on the side of the main house. Of course, we assumed it would be a little round meter; when they arrived, they had another 4′ box to install!

We talked to Chip of Charming Forge and he showed us how they mounted it to the back of an outbuilding, so we decided to put the electric on the back side of the privy. (I keep making jokes about “wiring ahead” but nobody gets it.) It will still add $8,000 – $10,000 to the budget, but we just can’t allow this affront to the house.

By the way, in our area, they don’t read the meters anymore — the meters electronically report usage — so there is no real reason to have the meter on the outside, other than that’s still part of “the code.” Pathetic.


Memorial Day Weekend

Wow. Every so often, the clouds clear and I realize what an unbelievable schmuck I am. More often than that, though, somebody points out what an unbelieveable schmuck I am. This was the case today, when someone noted that my “problems” yesterday were really:
1. Saved $8,000 on the electric
2. Saved $40,000 on the roof
3. Saved $60,000 on the heating and cooling

In other words, in one day this project went back to being within our budget, and I was complaining about it! What is wrong with me? Perhaps I secretly harbor a desire for this project to fail, so that I can return to my original idea of retiring to Northern California? No, after this project, the only place we’ll be able to afford is northern Idaho.

So the bad news is now good news, thanks to a little trick known as “reality check.”

I’ll be in Pennsylvania for the three-day weekend; here’s my to-do list:

  • Arrive Friday morning at 8:30am
  • Meet the insurance guy at 11am
  • Meet Bonnie Wilkinson-Mark of PHMC Friday at noon
  • Visit Charming Forge on Saturday
  • Give tour Satuday at 2
  • Go out to dinner on Saturday
  • Check references on the new roofer
  • Visit the Old Line Museum in Peach Bottom (open Sunday 1-5 only)
  • Determine paint colors
  • Set up wolf cam
  • Set up computer for a friend
  • Review septic plans
  • Submit sprinkler appeal
  • Visit the Lebanon Historic Society
  • Discuss HVAC with Adam Moyer
  • Transcribe any new videos or pictures
  • Buy wine for co-workers at Mt Hope Winery, chocolate for co-workers at Wilbur’s, and donuts for co-workers at Turkey Hill (I have very spoiled co-workers)
  • Fix mom’s computer
  • Talk to Sid Adams, fire chief
  • Review furniture list
  • Get/clean rugs from Mechanicsburg
  • Fix Dawn’s webcam
  • Move VCR
  • Clean out D’s old room
  • Measure Aquarius stairs
  • Buy magnetic vehicle signs
  • Clean out paymaster’s office
  • Meet with Wachovia bank
  • Visit Tupelhocken Manor
  • Buy summer sheets for Dawn
  • Visit Christmas Tree Hill, in York
  • Order skeleton keys
  • Fly out Tuesday morning at 6:00am

Obviously I won’t get to all of that, so you’ll be seeing much of this again on my to-do list in July.

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2005

Top Ten
In the spirit of David Letterman, here’s the top 10 Google searches for this web site in the past month:
10. restoring colonial house porch
9. forges and furnaces
8. speedwell darlington
7. los angeles septic installation
6. scrubbing bubbles linoleum
5. early 1900 fireplaces demo to new construction cost to build
4. speedwell forge lake
3. olde york homes
2. charming forge
And the number one google search is…
1. speedwell forge

(In the interest of full disclosure, I must say most of these had the same number of searches – 1 – so the ranking is a bit arbitrary.)

I can assure you I will never mention the word “septic” on this web site again (from now on, I will refer to it as “the field”) but I’m pretty sure I never mentioned “scrubbing bubbles” in the first place. (For anyone interested, Scrubbing Bubbles is not recommended for linoleum.)

Good luck to the guys rebuilding their porch and fireplace. My belated advice:
– Colonial homes didn’t have porches, so don’t rebuild it (unless, like us, the state requires you to)
– New gas fireplace inserts have special sleeves, so you don’t need to rebuild the fireplace. (Unless it’s a structural issue, in which case you need to hire a professional and stop looking for DIY advice on the Internet.)

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2005

Four fires

This morning started out badly, and got worse:

– First, my architect called this morning (forgetting the three hour time difference) and we talked about the appeal on the sprinklers. While he didn’t say anything negative, I could tell he didn’t think we had a chance of winning. When you’re paying someone to be on your side, and they still aren’t on your side, it’s very disheartening.

– Then Dawn called, telling me the electrician wanted to erect a billboard in the middle of the farm. We had told him we didn’t want the meter on the house, because, you know, we’re restoring an historic house. He was concerned the local power conglomerate wouldn’t allow us to keep the meter on the center pole, but Dawn talked to them and they didn’t have a problem, so everything was a go. Well, apparently the electrician failed to mention that to increase the service to 400 amps, he needed to install a four-foot by three-foot electric box right in the middle of the farm! I argued that it was still better than putting a meter on the house, until I found out this would also cost us an additional $8,000. So we’re putting the meter on the house.

– Next came the roofer. On my last trip, we met the folks at After Eight B&B, who referred us to an Amish roofer. We had already gotten several bids, selected one of them, and even told them they had the job, but we figured we should get another bid just to be polite. The new bid was $40,000 less. You’d think we’d be ecstatic, but instead we spent twenty minutes trying to decide who would call the other roofer to cancel. (You can’t draw straws over a cell phone. Dawn said she flipped a coin and I lost, but I didn’t fall for that again.)

– Finally, the heartbreaker: We decided not to go with geothermal, although the reasons were a bit unusual. We couldn’t afford it, the company had never done a large retrofit like ours, and everyone advised us against geothermal, but we had gotten past (i.e. ignored) all of those reasons. No, what happened was Dawn found equipment prices on the Internet and thought our company had an unreasonable markup, so she wanted to negotiate. The company wouldn’t budge, which ticked Dawn off, and now we’re not getting geothermal.

So, come see the historic house with the sprinkler heads, electric meter, bank of air conditioners, and the cheap roof. I’m going to go cry now.

MONDAY, MAY 23, 2005

Color swatches

As I’ve mentioned, all the exterior woodwork needs to be taken care of before the new roof can go on. What I haven’t mentioned (because it was a surprise to me) was that we have to paint the woodwork before installing it, so we don’t have to set up scaffolding later. Which means, of course, that we have to pick paint colors.

All of the trim is currently white, but that is definitely not historically appropriate. Colonial Revival, popular in the 1880s as a backlash to the ornate Victorian style, used a lot of white, but true Colonials used bold colors, like bright reds and sunny yellows. So with the assistance of the contractor, Dawn selected a dark (almost black) green for the shutters, a lighter green for the trip, and an off-white for the window sash. She sent me window samples of each, so I spent several hours today mocking up the mansion. I suspect you will have one of three reactions:
1) Wow, that looks great, now completely re-do it using these colors…
2) Wow, I often wondered what the place would look like in a comic book
3) Wow, they let you past the third grade with coloring skills like that?

The contractor also told Dawn that in New England, they usually painted the porch ceiling sky blue. Nobody is sure why, but the contractor really wants to do this. Dawn agreed, noting privately that if she doesn’t like it, it won’t be hard to paint over.

FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2005

On this date in 1760

  • George III becomes King of England.
  • The French surrender to the English at Montreal to effectively end the French and Indian War.
  • The “Great Fire” of Boston destroys 349 buildings.
  • Tacky’s rebellion, one of the longest and bloodiest slave revolts in history, occurs in Jamaica.
  • Benjamin Franklin invents bifocals
  • Speedwell Forge begins operation. James Old, the ironmaster, moves his family into a stone house just across the creek.

Well, not the most thrilling “this date in history,” but it still puts things into perspective. The American Revolution was 16 years away; Lancaster, with a population of 2,900, was the largest inland town in America; the nearby town of Lititz was a closed Moravian religious settlement, barely three years old; and the “gateway to the west” was not St Louis, but Wright’s Ferry (now Columbia), less than 20 miles away. In 1960, on it’s 200th anniversary, Speedwell Forge was the final stop on a tour of ironmaster properties, including Charming Forge and the Coleman-Stiegel Mansion (site of Elizabeth Furnace).


Back porch

The back porch (featured prominently on our main page) is gone. Dawn was quite upset when they told her the wood was rotted and not salvageable, but I was quite happy: The porch was an inappropriate addition to a colonial house, and by not restoring it we would save several thousand dollars.

Then the PHMC, which manages the National Register of Historic Places, told us the porch was historic in its own right, and had to be replaced. Replacing the porch is going to cost quite a bit more than restoring it, so I am no longer happy.

Somehow thinking this would comfort me, Dawn said she would have made me replace it, anyway. She said the house looks like a train station without the porch.