Monday, August 31, 2015

Ode to a chainsaw

There are few things quite a scary as watching someone you love try to start a chainsaw. 

In this case, I stood by as I watched both my dad and my husband try and get the thing going.  The first time Dad brought it to the cottage, he tried to set it on the ground, pulled the cord, and we all watched in horror as it spun around as if to say “Do you feel lucky, punk?”  Then he tried to teach Larry how to start it.  This did not go well either, because once it gets started, they couldn’t really hear each other. 

This weekend, however, the chainsaw was the hero.  We decided to tackle a portion of the back yard that was fenced and so overgrown that you couldn’t really see through it, let alone walk through it easily.

You can just barely see the fence to the right of the tree because the weeds even hid he fence.

You can also barely see the red cistern house peeking through the weeds.

By the time Larry and Dad got the chainsaw going, they realized the chain was all chewed up and we needed a new one.  We drove to Round Top, where the general store had a surprising array of chainsaws and accessories, including “The Farm Boss” which would probably have caused us to lose our health insurance.  Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that the length of the chain is measured not by the actual chain itself, but by the portion of the blade that is exposed.  So we took off towards LaGrange.  Three stops later, we had our replacement chain (Tractor Supply seduced us into buying other junk as well, but Larry somehow resisted the temptation to buy Johnny Cash’s greatest hits at the register).

And boy did we make progress after that.

We unearthed several "treasures" leftover from the decades before, including part of an old cast-iron pot, part of a mayonnaise jar, some bricks, some chunks of granite, and many cans of tuna.

Not without incident, however.  Larry got stung by a yellow jacket.  We also found more patches of poison ivy, but everyone lubed up with Technu after we noticed it, and no one developed a rash.

By the end of the day, the back yard was mostly clear, except for the piles of brush.  You can now clearly see the cistern house on the right and the chicken coop on the left.

Near the cistern house is an old water pump.  Oh, yes.  It stays.

Even though the prior owner said they always called this the cistern house, he said it that was probably always a misnomer.  He told us that the time the doctor occupied the main house, a kid lived in the building during the school year so that he could attend the school next door.  In exchange, he milked the cow every day.  This area is fully fenced and had the clothes line. We think that at one point before the age of washing machines, the cistern house must have been where they did laundry.  

We also unearthed the "granite" (Larry says its technically not granite but granodiorite.  Whatever.) path that leads from the house to the backyard.  

The prior owner told us that the chunks of granite leftover from the company in LaGrange that made tombstones.

I also managed to get a few shots of the milking barn.

Towards the right of the picture above, you can see an open door.  There is a separate area to the left with another set of doors, but the door is wedged shut from the weeds.

Below is a shot inside the open door.  The ceiling is fairly low because of a hay loft above.

I kid you not, on the outside of the barn is a "toilet" That is a cement hole with a hand-made wooden seat.  We could not find any remnants of an outhouse building.  It appears that this was never protected or enclosed, save for being tucked behind the outside of the barn.

And to answer your questions:  1) no we haven't used it; 2) no I am not planning on lifting the lid.  

That's all from Wistera Bend for now.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Beginning

After years of longing to restore an old house, we pulled the trigger.  I had just finished my Masters in Construction Management in May.  One of the reasons I started the program was so that I could save historic properties.  I happened to see one on and showed it to Larry.  He said we should go see it that day.  I initially hesitated, but Larry convinced me we needed to make an appointment.

All I can say, is that it was love at first sight.  Not just for me and Larry but Mom and Dad too.  They joined us to check it out and it took no time at all for that little house to creep into all our hearts.

Since we've had so many questions about this crazy adventure, I thought it would be fun to start this blog to document our progress.

So this is the starting line.

The cottage is a 20's craftsman style farm house on the very edge of the Fayetteville city limits.  As you can tell right off the bat, something is a little wonky with the porch.  It also has asbestos tile roofing (!) that needs to be replaced.  It also presently has lead paint, and knob and tube wiring.  In sum, the place is not for the faint of heart.  However, the wood siding and front porch columns are cypress and are apparently good shape.

Around the right side of the house is a side porch with a pergola that is going to have to be completely replaced.  There's also the back door, complete with creaky screen door.

The living room has the original built-ins flanking the fireplace, and french doors to the dining room. As you can begin to see, the entire house--inside and out--is made of wood.  Most of it is long-leaf pine.  So though there has been some termite damage from prior roof leaks, the structural engineers said we had nothing to worry about because there is so much wood, it remains structurally sound.

]Here's another view of the living room facing the front porch.  The floors in the living and bedroom appear to be oak, and have never been re-sanded or stained.  There are some pretty nasty 1960's ceiling tiles in several rooms.

This is the original dining room.  The piano came with the house.  It doesn't work now, but getting it restored is on the to-do list.  Before we bought the house, someone had removed whatever was on the ceiling.  The strings hanging down and small strips just to the right of the piano are the remnants of cheesecloth.  Back in the day, they nailed cheesecloth to the boards to serve as backer for wallpaper. That's probably why the boards themselves have maintained such beautiful color, but the cheesecloth has so decayed that it comes apart in individual strands.

Here's the kitchen.  Nasty wallboard and ceiling covering up more wood walls.  Nasty linoleum floor covering wood floors. Cracking paint everywhere.  Nasty laminate countertop.  But check out those cabinets.  They still have the original crystal pulls. And how about that sink? Apparently under the countertop is a solid piece of cypress wood that we are probably going to up-cycle.

Another view of the kitchen. The jog in the wall hides an old chimney.  There used to be cast iron stoves the heated the kitchen and the smaller bedroom.

This isn't the best picture, but you can see the mudroom and back door to the left and a breakfast room on the right.  The breakfast room has the most water damage.  

Icky.  There's really not more you can say about it.  But where there is now a before, there will soon be an "after" (eventually).

Off of the kitchen at the back of the house is a sunroom with two walls of windows.  All of the windows are the original double-hung wooden windows that lift with the help of window weights and cords.  Most of them still open, though the cords have broken on some of them so we have to prop them up.  Quite a few work amazingly well for their age.

The smaller of the two bedrooms features 1960s faux wood paneling over icky 1940s(?) wallpaper.  It also contains the "upgraded" electrical boxes.  

Is this not the scariest thing you've ever seen?  The electrician who "upgraded" the electrical tied in modern wiring to knob and tube that had completely lost its insulation.  Needless to say, we have not yet turned on the power for fear of fire.

The interior hallway connects the two bedrooms, the dining room and the only bathroom.  The bedroom is through the closed door on the left.  The smaller bedroom is straight ahead.  The dining room is through the door on the right.  Notice the nifty telephone ledge.  Oh yeah, the phone nook will stay, but it might get upgraded with a usb plug for cell phones.

The bathroom.  Notice the prior owners left their cleaning products behind.  The walls and ceiling are probably the most disgusting in here.  Clearly a lot of work to be done.  But you can see the original crystal doorknob on the door.  We have all of the original doorknobs too.

At the front of the house, just off the living room, is the master bedroom.  The master bedroom is big enough for a king size bed and has a cedar-lined closet.

The house sits on just over an acre of land that has 10 (overgrown) pecan trees. There are 5 outbuildings.  Below is the garden shed.  The vines growing up the outside of the shed and on the tree to the left are poison ivy.  You can see the "modern" garage in the background on the left that probably dates from the 1950s.

This is the older garage that we think was built contemporaneously with the main house.  There is more poison ivy to the right of the garage, which Larry discovered the hard way.  But growing all along the fence is also a ton of wisteria that should look amazing (after the overgrowth is cleared).  I haven't yet summoned the courage to enter the back room of the garden shed.  

There is also a little red barn in the back, a chicken coop, and a cistern house.  I don't have any photos of them right now, though because the back is very overgrown and too scary to go poking around (between spiders, snakes, and poison ivy, the photos will have to wait until we get someone to clear the brush).

In sum, even though it's going to be an enormous project, we are pretty excited to start the journey and share it with all our friends.