Friday, April 29, 2005

A Motivated Sleeper

Ok, I’m going to go to bed early and get a good start on the weekend. I need to finish the 2nd coat of plaster in the kitchen and maybe start ..… oh, screw it, I’m sleeping in. Being a motivated sleeper is still a form motivation, right?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Wrath of Grex

Some troubling policies of the city have recently come to light. I have crafted a Letter to the Editor based on fact and filled with inflammatory rhetoric and wild accusations. I hope it gets someone’s attention. Others out there who own old homes may have experienced similar things in your city. I would be curious to hear from any of you who live in cities with similar polices.

The policy I speak of in the letter is directed at older neighborhoods that have many turn of the century homes. Even I will admit that these neighborhoods are in need of revitalization but I don’t think bulldozing them is the answer. It bothers me even more because all of these old houses are built from 100% old-growth redwood. All studs, floors, walls, sub floors, roofs are old-growth redwood. That is all they had here 100 years ago.

Even with poor maintenance, these houses can last hundreds of years because redwood resists rot and wood boring insect infestation. My own house shows almost no evidence of rot or insect damage after 110 years. And that includes 80+ years of neglect while it was a rental unit. The house sits on all its original posts and beams and is level and straight. What will replace these homes when they are bulldozed are poorly constructed, mulit-unit chicken coops made of vinyl and composite materials that have a life span of maybe 80 years, even if they are well cared for. This is the very definition of waste.

Dear Editor

I recently found out that it is a policy of the City of Eureka to encourage the demolition of single-family homes in favor of low-income housing (Municipal Code 155.053). In addition, although it may or may not be a policy, we know of the program of sending early release prisoners to Eureka to be housed in low-income housing. Everyone remembers last year when some teenagers were stabbed in Cooper Gulch by some of these prisoners.

This sounds like a recipe for creating slums in Eureka. Is my neighborhood Eureka’s next planned slum? Are businesses going to want to relocate to a city that encourages the building of slums? How can it benefit a city to encourage the transformation of neighborhoods of single-family homes in to neighborhoods of low-income housing filled with early released prisoners? Why would a city want to do this to itself?

Even more troubling is the fact that almost none of Eureka’s paid city staff at City Hall – the people that actually run the city - lives in the city of Eureka. So now I’m thinking this is a grand conspiracy to keep society’s less desirable citizens in Eureka and keep them out of the cities the Eureka City Staff lives in. The alternative is that this is happening because of colossal mismanagement of the city's housing. Perhaps we should just give up now and rename the city Enron, CA.

Whatever the reasons for these policies I can’t see how this can benefit the city in the long run. I encourage all citizens to attend City Hall meetings or tune in Tuesday’s at 6:30 PM on cable channel 10 to better educate yourself about what exactly is going on in your city.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I Love the Smell of Plaster in the Evening….

…It smells like Victory! Got the first coat on all walls. For the first time since about 1915 my kitchen is a complete, defined space with no partitions and no framing showing. I’m pooped. Good night.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I Just Flew In From The Kitchen…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. I just flew in from the kitchen and boy are my arms tired. Bu-dump-dump-tish. Take my wife…please.

But seriously folks, I did just get back from plastering in the kitchen and my arms are tired. Today was the first coat called the scratch coat. Didn’t quite finish it all but it is a good start. Now, with a little luck and a lot of wine I’m going to be plastered myself in just a little while. As the saying goes, I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

You’ve been a great audience. Drive safe and come see me this Saturday and the Airport Ramada.

Monday, April 25, 2005

It’s An Odd Way To Celebrate, I know

It is an odd way to celebrate, but then maybe I’m a bit of an odd person. Let’s see if you can figure what I bought. Here are some hints. I lined one chimney, bought an 1895 cast iron stove that burns wood or coal, and I have 2 coal burning fireplaces. Did you guess it yet? That’s right, I bought coal!

To some this may seem like nothing special but I’ve never seen coal before. I’m excited. I’ve always lived in temperate climates where heat in the winter, while nice and very much a necessity, is not a life or death issue. I’ve never lived near coal country either and so I’ve never seen it. Coal used to be the main source of heat for my house and much of the area. While researching the original owners of the house I found that the head of household, a Mr. Thomas Petch, ran The Eureka Lighting Company around the turn of the century. He was an early electrician, but also sold gas lighting. I found the add below in the 1898 city directory. As you can see he also sold Coal, Coke, and Coal Tar.

So I’m getting coal. Nobody stocks it so I’ve ordered a 50 pound sack if Bituminous Coal to play around with. I wonder when was the last time there was coal in my house?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Little Bit of This And That

Got a lot done today but it was unfocused. One thing I did was I finished the chimney liner. The last 6 inches sucked. They made this thing like it could withstand a nuclear blast except for the last 6 inches. This stuff is absurdly expensive. Double walled stainless steel with a layer of insulation between.

The part at the bottom is a “T” so it can make a 90 degree turn and come out the wall. The “T” is about a foot long with a 6 inch horizontal part that you connect the stove pipe to. It costs $190.00! The 6 inch part is one layer of stainless steel and is held on with 2 sheet metal screws. Very flimsy. They used the shortest screws possible. They are hanging on by 2 threads and one screw is stripped.

The idea is that you take off the six inch part while you are feeding it down the chimney and then re-attach it once it is all in place. Easier said than done. First off I had to go to the hardware store for new screws. They used a 2 inch screw, that was barley long enough, and I replaced them with a 2.5 inch screws. Cost me .70¢ for 2 screws. It would have been easier if they had used 2.5 inch screws to start with and charged me the extra dime, but no they needed to save the dime.

The next problem was the “T” was in the chimney which was set back a foot and a half in the brick. I know had to re-attach the flimsy 6 inch stainless steel part and a foot of stove pipe to get it to exit the wall. This all had to be done through an opening that was about 7 inches in diameter. If I were a spider monkey this would have been a 10 minute job. It took me about 3 hours and a few more trips to the hardware store.

The important thing is it’s done. I know have a stainless steel chimney liner that can survive WWIII. Unless I’ve missed something plastering comes next.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

As Hard As A Rock

So, I got the chimney liner in. It wasn’t brain surgery just a lot of grunt work. Over a year ago I had plastered the wall in the kitchen where the liner comes out. I had never plastered before so this was a test wall. At the time the plan was to vent the stove out the chimney so I had to reduce it to a 4 inch opening. The plan later changed to an 1895 cast iron stove which needed a 6 inch flue. I now had to get the reducer out of the wall. I knew at the time the plan might change but I had to start some place.

I was amazed how hard this plaster was. I was up there with a hammer and chisel swinging as hard as I could and I was barely making a dent. Even more impressive is the fact that there were no residual cracks in the surrounding wall. I was able to chisel out the reducer with out a lot of major damage.

The 1895 plaster was a one stage lime and sand plaster. I could find no references on how to do this, only that it could take up to a year to cure. Naturally, that was out of the question. In my search of how to do plaster I found a great PDF file made by Dave Worley. It had step-by-step how-to instructions for doing a 3-stage gypsum plaster wall. The method works great, and, as I’ve found out, is very durable. After my kitchen test wall I was able to restore the plaster in the bathroom, my first finished room.

The 1895 walls are interesting because they did not use lath strips. They sheathed the walls with uniformly milled 1X8 T&G boards. The boards have dove-tail grooves milled in them every 2 inches. As the plaster is applied to the boards it fills the grooves thereby creating the keys and securing the plaster to the wall.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Very Disappointing

I can’t please everyone but I’m forced to disappoint three people. If you read yesterday’s post you’ll know I’m renting an apartment. To be honest it is not just any apartment. You guys out there who own the teens and 20s bungalows KNOW what kind of apartment this is. This apartment is your house but on a smaller scale. It has charm and character. It has that je ne sais quoi.

I can tell when showing the apartment who gets it. I can tell those people who’ve lived in the chicken coop and are seeing a pleasant little apartment for the first time. I know they’ll be happy here. I know they’ll respect it. It is at that moment that I change from being the reluctant landlord to being the landlord that wishes he had more apartments just like this one.

I have two young women and a young couple to chose from. I watch their eyes widen when they walk in the front door and see the simple yet elegant little mantel. I watch them when they see the claw foot tub and the charming little kitchen. It is really a pleasure. I have only been in these apartments 2 or 3 times in the last 3 years so it is also fun for me to go in to them as well.

I first told the young couple they weren’t getting it. They were very disappointed. It was both hard and easy to tell them no. The young woman is the daughter of the owner of the largest antique and salvage store in town. I could really see some benefits of being a good landlord. Unfortunately her boyfriend was not what you would call the perfect tenant. He ask two things when looking at the apartment. He wanted to paint the bedroom dark brown and he wanted to set up a full drum kit in the living room. I said no to both and they still returned the application.

The next woman I’m going to call tomorrow. She really liked the apartment a lot. It is going to be very difficult to tell her she didn't get the place. She loved the apartment. I ended up renting to a 30 year old woman who works at the Co-op market 3 blocks always. I shop there a lot and have interacted with her very many times. Very pleasant woman. She is currently renting from the biggest slum-lord in town. I think she will be a very good fit with me and the other tenants.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Reluctant Landlord

My house came with a 6 car garage with 2 one bedroom apartments above the garages. The main house is 1895 and the garage building was built in 1926 and is actually quite nice. I’m not sure of exactly what style to call it. It is a flat roof structure with a roof façade that extends above the roof. The façade has what I call an art-deco profile to it. The second story is shingled and the first floor is 1X8 shiplap. It has a nice little front porch for the entrance to the stairwell that leads to the two apartments. The garages were all made for Model Ts so they are really only practical for storage. It does not exactly go with my Victorian home, but it is a very attractive little building in it’s own rite.

The apartments are each 625 sq ft and have mostly original bathrooms and, for the most part, original kitchens. The kitchens have nice built-in cabinets and a little built-in dinette set with benches attached to the wall and a little table with these legs that form little hart shapes. It is the very definition of the cute bungalow style kitchen. The bathrooms still have their claw foot tubs and vintage toilets, but what ever was there for a sink is long gone. They are really very charming apartments. To be honest I really don’t want to rent them, but the money is good, and I’m hemorrhaging cash on the main house, so rent I do.

I’m in the process right now of trying to rent one of the apartments. I am a reluctant landlord. The current tenants are moving out because they are expecting a baby and need more room. They gave notice more than 2 weeks ago and I just put an add in the paper 2 days ago. I’ve gotten about 20 calls in 2 days. What a pain. You have to tell people to same thing over and over again.

I’m very picky about who I rent to. The neighborhood I live in, while not bad, is not the best in town. As many of you probably know, a lot of the fixer-upper houses are in the neighborhoods that need some “revitalizing”. I keep the rents low because I want tenants to stay. I don’t want to have to go through what I’m going through now every 6 months. Because the rents are on the low side I get some of the less desirable tenant stock calling. Drug attics and the chronically unemployed, you get the picture. They may be very nice people, but I don’t want someone who is going to be drinking beer all day on the porch while they pay rent with Section 8 vouchers.

I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a bad person but, I’ve gotten a little screening system that I use. First, in the ad I say no smoking and no dogs. I love dogs but they don’t belong in upstairs apartments with no yard. People who own large dogs and want to live in small upstairs apartments are not really thinking it through well enough and that is a good indication that I don’t want to rent to them. The smoking thing is personal – I just don’t like it. Also in the ad I use the line “Clean, quite, and progressive”. The “progressive” word, while I’m not even really sure what I mean by it, has an amazing way of filtering out what many people locally refer to as “The Tweakers”. Use your own imagination.

The next step is 2 people max, and both employed. You would be surprised by the number of people who call that want to move in to a 1 bedroom apartment with 3 or 4 people. Next, I go by the sound of the voice on the phone. The ability to speak in clear and complete sentences is a big plus in my book. If they do not posses this ability I tell them the apartment is already rented. If they’ve made it this far through the screening process I tell them where the building is and have them do a drive-by. I try not to be too specific about the apartment, amenities, or deposit yet. If they like it from the outside I tell them to call me back and I arrange for a viewing.

Finally, there is the face-to-face meeting. I ask a lot of questions while we are looking at the apartment. If I like them and I want to rent to them I make the deposit $425 and the laundry facilities are free. If I don’t want to rent to them I charge extra for a key to the laundry room (the washer and dryer are not coin-op so this really is free laundry) and the deposit can be as high as $1500. The less I like them the higher it goes. After 20 calls in 2 days I have 2 potential tenants so I canceled the add. With any luck I will ink the deal with the new tenant on Saturday and get back to working on the kitchen. Who ever I rent to I hope they stay there until they retire and move to Florida.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I’m Casing The Joint

I’m sort of in a holding pattern this week. The chimney liner won’t arrive until Friday and I can’t start to plaster until I get that in. I did, finally, get the last of the mill work from the mill. There were 4 parts to the order and getting the last of it was like pulling teeth. Click here to read a good story about the mill and the corner blocks I ordered.

Eric, the owner of the mill, is a real craftsman but he can be difficult to work with. You have to be patient and you have to keep prodding him. It is like he has a short attention span. He likes the glamorous stuff like the corner blocks or raised paneled wainscoting he did for me as part of the same order. When it comes to the simple stuff, like the casing, he seems to lose interest and it never gets done.

He is a nice guy though, and he does great work, so I keep going back. Yesterday, when I was at the mill getting the door casing we got to talking about the door I made (you all remember The Door) and other things. I then mentioned that I had found some old growth 1X6 fir flooring. It is really cool stuff. It is milled by a guy in Placerville. He takes 120 year old salvaged 3X12 floor joists from an old mill in Alaska and makes 1X6 fir flooring out of it. The stuff is hard as a rock. The trouble is shipping. It needs to be shipped freight and a lot of freight operators won’t ship to a residential address. Eric tells me, no problem, just have them ship it to my mill here and then you can come get it. He gives me the name and number of shipper he works with all the time. You can’t beat building relationships with people.

That is 120 feet of 1X6 redwood casing. To the left is some salvaged 1X6 redwood crown molding that will go on the kitchen cabinets.

That is a sample of the 1895 casing on top and the new stuff on the bottom.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Just Like Old Times…Sort of

There was a time when this little town was a bustling sea port and logging was king. Ships came around the horn, from Australia, and up and down the west coast. They brought in supplies and took out lumber. Those days are long gone but I have seen pictures of the bay crammed with tall sailing ships.

This week we are having a visit from two old Tall Ships. That is The Lady Washington on the left and The Lynx on the right. The Bay in question is Humboldt Bay which is in No. California about and hour south of the Oregon boarder. The dock they are at is a public dock which is at the foot of my street about 8 blocks away. I can see the top of the masts from the attic windows of my house. Pretty damn cool.

Not exactly house related, but what the hell. I thought I'd share.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Great Injustice

I realize that not everyone’s idea of what to do to a house, specifically an old house, is the same as mine. There are many styles to chose from. I’m sure there are people who see the things I do and they roll their eyes and think, “Come on buddy, it’s the 21st Century”. However, it just seems wrong to do irreversible harm to a house because you are following the latest trend that will no doubt be out of fashion in a decade or so. In the mean time what was taken out is lost forever.

Case in point. I went to an open house on Sunday of a late Victorian home. It was a gut remodel. Naturally, they removed walls and made The Great Room. I don’t know when this trend started but I can’t wait until its over. I’m sure there are people reading this that love The Great Room concept. It is fine with me if you want to build a new home and have The Great Room. I would never buy it, but there are a lot of people that would, so Go Hog Wild. On Sunday I walked through the front door of a late 19th Century home and entered The Great Room of an early 21st Century tract house.

To add insult to injury they also removed all of the original trim and replaced it with 1X3 finger jointed wood covered in fake plastic oak tape. No doubt what was there was 1X6 casings, 1X12 baseboards, and nice corner blocks and plinth blocks. It probably had more than its share of paint and some dings here and there. Still, it seems that the original trim could have been fixed up and repaired for less or as much than it costs to demolish and replace with a far inferior product. Why would you replace a solid wood product that can last almost forever with a product that is going to be damaged easily and may not even be able to hold up to regular cleaning? The reason they did it was because it was cheaper and faster. We are a very wasteful society.

Lets fast forward to the year 2030. A new episode of This Old House is on CNBCPBS. Norm and Steve walk in to a late Victorian home to give it the once over to see if the show can do the project.

Norm: Well what do you think Steve.

Steve: Well Norm, I’ve got to tell you this is not what I expected. All the pictures I see of these old homes they have parlors and dining rooms. This is just one big open space.

Norm: You’re right Steve, that is probably what was here before. This looks like a remodel done about 20 or 30 years ago. The big trend at the turn of the Century was The Great Room. The idea was to combine cooking, eating, and entertainment spaces in to one big space.

Steve: Sounds like a fun idea.

Norm: Yes, you would think, but people found that it was hard to find privacy. The daughters trying to do homework at the dining room table while the son is playing video games and Mom’s cooking dinner.

Steve: Yes, I see what you mean. I can also imagine that if you had fish for dinner that night you pretty much had to smell it the rest of the evening while you were watching 3DNetV.

Norm: Oh sure, then there was also the noise of the dishbot and the humm of the fridgbot. You just couldn’t get away from anything. And you can forget about leaving clean up for later. Everything was right there. This Old House did a few of them but they were done in large homes where there were other spaces in the house besides The Great Room and bedrooms. It just doesn’t work in a smaller home

Steve: Ok, so The Great Room concept is out. What are we going to do now with this house.

Norm: Well, the current owners want to put it back the way it was. They want separate spaces for entertaining, dining, and cooking.

Steve: And that’s were we come in. So can we do it.

Norm: Well, yes and no. We can build the walls no problem. You have to understand, though, that when this house was built there was lots of wood work in here and were not talking skimpy stuff. Multiple layers of wood. Very fancy stuff. It would cost a fortune to replace all that today if you could even find that much old growth wood.

Steve: I see your point, and look at this stuff they replaced it with. It looks like it was ready for the trash pile 10 years ago. So what do you think happened to all the original wood work?

Norm: They probably just threw it all away,

Steve: Boy, what a waste.

PS This is not the original Norm and Steve. These are the latest robot hosts of the show that just happen to be named Norm and Steve.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Junk Vortex

Today I’ve been working in the junk vortex. I have to remove a few feet from the top of the chimney so I can get the new liner in. About 2 years ago when I rewired the house I had this space mostly cleaned out. The junk vortex is, of course, the attic. There is a full stairwell leading to the attic and the floors are sheathed in redwood planks. It is just too easy to put things up there and forget about them. I pulled up many of the boards to run new wires and the idea was to not nail them back down so I could put in insulation when the new heating system goes in this summer. That is all good and well but now there is a ton of crap up there.

The attic is huge. It is maybe 1200 to 1400 sq ft with about half that as usable space you can stand up and walk around in. I’m doing a somewhat period restoration on the first two floors of the house and the idea has always been that this will one day be a high-tech media room. When I rewired I gave the attic a dedicated circuit. I also pulled 2 CAT5 network cables and 2 coaxial cables from under the house all the way to the attic. Someday, it will get done.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Rain, Rain, Go Away

It’s raining again. It kind of makes my get-up-and-go attitude get up and leave. I like to do something everyday when I’m working on a project so I’m back to focusing on the plaster walls. I got the plaster washers in the mail a few days ago so I’m securing lose parts. Eventually I’ll patch holes and skim coat the entire room.

I took measurements for the chimney liner as well. Not quite as bad as I thought because the access in the kitchen starts 8 feet up on the wall. I need about 19 feet to get me into the attic. Later I will finish it out the roof. Both chimneys fell in an earthquake some time ago so they no longer extend through the roof. That project is on the list and will probably stay there for a while.

I also had to get a new drain pipe for the garage. The house came with a 1920s 6 car garage with 2 apartments above the garages. I removed a 2 story addition last fall and stored all the wood in the last garage. The addition was also from the 1920s and made entirely of old growth redwood. I have just got a ton of wood in there. Anyway, the 4 inch drain that drains all the water from the garage roof runs along that side where the wood is. The drain has a 12 foot horizontal run to get the water out to the alley. It rusted out on the bottom and all of the water went in to the garage. I’m sure the wood will be fine but I had to fix the drain so I did that this morning too. Loads of fun.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Moving On

Mem’ries, Like the corners of my mind. Yes, The Door is in the wall and just a memory now. I was just thinking back to all the fun we had. Frolicking in the surf down at the beach. Running together through a dewy meadow. Oh, and there was the time we tried to cook live lobster in the kitchen. The Door scared me as I was trying to get the lobster in the pot and the lobster fell on the floor and crawled behind the frig. Sigh. That’s all over now, but I’ve moved on. I think The Door has too. Sure, there is the occasional awkward glance as I walk past The Door in the kitchen, but it gets better every day.

It is time to move on and that means the last of the in-wall projects in the kitchen. In an impetuous moment a few months back I bought a circa 1895 cast iron stove to go in the kitchen. I have to line the brick kitchen flue to bring it up to code other wise the stove will be nothing but an expensive piece of eye candy. So far the estimate I’ve gotten seems to be about $25.00 a foot for flexible stainless steel liner. That is if I do the work myself. I need to go up through 2 floors and a tall attic. Below is a picture of my impulse buy. Feel free to use expressions like, “Holy Crap” or “Jeeze Louise, will you look at that thing”. Needless to say, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

PS That is not my house in the picture

Thursday, April 14, 2005


It was a cold one today. There was frost on the windshield when I left for work this morning and I swear I can see a small patch of fresh snow on the local mountains from my upstairs window. The wind coming off the bay cuts through you like a knife. I would guess the temp is in the low 50s but it feels a lot colder when you’re in the shade and the wind hits you. It ain’t much better in the house. The weather stripping is missing on the front door and there is a hole in the floor by the back door. Because of the work I’m doing in the kitchen there are no doors between the front door and the back door so I get a wind tunnel effect going when the wind picks up. At least it ain’t raining.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Door Is Reborn

In my mind I read this as if it were narrated by James Earl Jones with the theme song from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It was a year and a half of planning and more than 2 weeks in the making. They said he couldn’t do it on his crappy little $150.00 table saw and his $69.00 plastic router table, but he proved them wrong. music builds It has three rails, 2 stiles, and 2 raised panels. The panels have “Eastlake” style beading, the rails have a cove detail, and the door has antique cast brass pulls. Now the kettle drums - BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM. And now the horns come in as you scroll down to reveal the pictures.

To recap: I uncovered a long lost opening between the kitchen and dining room that was used to pass hot dishes and other things. Once I reopened the boarded up space I discovered the tattered remnants of a frame but no door. Based on the frame I rebuilt the door and frame from salvaged old growth redwood.

You won’t see the top half once it is installed. On the dining room side it will be oiled and shellacked to match the raised paneled wainscoting and other wood trim. On the kitchen side it will be painted. It should look much better once it is painted and oil/shellac. It will really bring on the detail. You can't see squat in these pictures.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Last Operation

The final milling operation appears to have been a success. There was some glue seeping when the final clamp went on but that seems to have stopped now. The door is resting quietly for the night. Friends and family have been calling all day for a status report. We are all very tired. Tomorrow the clamps come off, and with any luck the new door can be installed in a day or two.

Mortimer Part II

When last we left our hero he was eating tuna and I was bleeding profusely. This was about 4 years ago. As I said, it would be a long time before I would try to pet him again but I continued to feed him everyday. After a few weeks of this I decided to see just how much he could eat. I had been slowly increasing the amount of dried cat food I left for him. He would eat it all no matter what. One day I was in the backyard sitting in the sun and Mort jumped over the fence expecting food. I obliged. I gave him a big hand full and watched him eat it. I gave him another handful and another and another. He continued to eat everything I put down. I would say he ate about 4 cups of food in one sitting. All that food in his skinny body made him look like a snake that had just eaten an ostrich egg. I figured he was just going to get sick so I stopped. He eventually waddled over to the honey suckle bushes and fell asleep fat and happy.

As spring turned to summer and summer to fall the weather turned cold and wet. Mortimer took up residence in the little recycling area I had set up in the corner of the yard. There was a small shelf with a roof and a burlap cover where I put cardboard. It was the same height as the fence rail that it sat next to so he had easy access. I would go out every day after work and lift up the flap and there laid Mortimer curled up on top of the cardboard. I would put down a handful of food and then carefully scratch him on the head as he ate. I had progressed to an opened palm on the back of his head and neck but still stayed above the shoulders.

One day I heard a dog barking in my backyard. I must have left the gate open. I looked out the window and saw Mortimer making his way along the fence rail to his cardboard home. The dog was barking at him every step of the way. It was a medium sized dog with short white hair. Easily 4 times Mortimer’s size. I figured I’d go out and chase the dog out of the yard. As I walked out the backdoor Mortimer saw me. He jumped off the fence over the dogs head and started trotting across the yard to me. He acted like the dog wasn’t even there. The dog took out after Mortimer and I took out after the dog hoping to get in-between them before the dog shredded Mort’s behind.

As the dog bared down on Mort his instinct must have kicked in. Just before the dog attached Mortimer swung around and jumped on to the dogs head. He started to tare in to that dogs head the same way he tore in to my arm several months before. It was all over in a few seconds. The dog yelped and backed off a few yards. I could see blood coming from 2 or 3 scratches on the dogs face. It wasn’t too difficult to chase him out of my yard after that. I gave Mort his handful of food in his cardboard home and went back in the house.

We went on like this and Mortimer was gaining weight and looking good except for the fur. He still had big bald spots. I thought is was a skin disease or something but I would find out later he was doing it to himself. In his aggressive attack on his fleas he would pull out clumps of his fur. I’m still not sure if he pulled out his fur in order to get to the fleas or if the fur removal was just a byproduct of him trying to kill the fleas. Once the fleas were under control his coat would come in thick and shiny. To this day when ever I see large clumps of black fur around the house I know it is time for more flea juice on the back of his neck.

Regardless of the fur problem he was starting to look good. He had a little home and a steady supply of food. He was able to clean himself on a regular basis and he had put on a few pounds. I was thinking about bringing him in the house but he never seemed interested and to be honest he still seemed very aggressive and I really didn’t trust him. One evening I went out to give him his food and he wasn’t there. I left it for him and didn’t think much of it. The next day after work I went out to feed him and last nights food was still there. The next day the same thing. I started to think maybe he had been hit by a car or picked up by the pound or something. I took a walk around the block hoping I wouldn’t find him dead in the gutter.

That night it rained very hard. This was in December or January. I had been feeding him for about 8 or 9 months now. I still hadn’t seen him in a few days and I was starting to think I would never see him again. I was watching TV and I heard a cat meowing on the front porch. I opened the door and it was Mortimer. He looked fine except the tip of his right ear was missing. He looked up at me as if to say, “I’ve had enough of this crap. I want in”. I opened the door wider and he walked in. I sat down on the couch and he made his way around the house checking everything out. He eventually came back to the couch and jumped up in my lap. I still didn’t trust him. I leaned back to keep my face a safe distance from those claws. I slowly petted him on the head and carefully ran my hand down his back. After a few minutes he began to purr. We sat there for a few minutes and then I got him some food.

That night and for several nights after that he slept in the bathroom. I still didn’t trust him. I would find out later that he had been trapped and neutered. The ear was clipped so if he was trapped again they would know he was already fixed. Slowly we gained each others trust and he has turned out to be one of the best pets I’ve ever had. He is always there when I’m working on the house. Everyday he runs out to my truck and greets me when I got home form work. He also knows a trick, or maybe it’s a fetish. Whenever he sees me holding a paper bag his eyes bug out and he gets down in to a crouching position like he wants to pounce on something. As I put the bag on the floor his butt begins to wiggle back and forth and he takes out for the bag. He hits the bag at full speed and most of his body goes in. His back feet continue to run and he pushes himself along the floor inside the bag until he smacks in to the wall or a piece of furniture or something. He sits there for a few seconds in the bag and then climbs out. I pick up the bag and move it across the room and he races in again – smack! This continues until I get tired of it.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Raising Panels

I’ve been building my first mortise and tenon raised panel door. It is a small door. A very small door, but it is a good size to start with. Two raised panels with rails and styles. The door is 22 X 22 inches square. It is a dumb waiter style door that will go in an opening between the kitchen and dining room to replace one that was removed in about 1915. Of course (he writes with an air of snobbery), I made it out of salvage old growth redwood so it will match all of the other wood in the house. It was quite a challenge. Hopefully I’ll have pictures in a day or two.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

His Name is Mortimer

Everyday when I get home from work Mortimer runs out to my truck to greet me. I park on the street and have to make a U turn at the corner before I can pull in. As I pass by the house he starts down the steps of the front porch. By the time I’ve made the turn and am pulling up to the curb he is already at the sidewalk. Before I can get out he has come around to the driver’s side and is sitting in the street waiting for me. I scratch him on the head and ask, “How’s it goin’ buddy?”. Mortimer is my cat. This happens every day.

I took Mortimer in as a stray about 4 years ago. He is 10 or 12 years old, jet black with a few gray hairs. He was a feral cat and was mean and ugly. When I first saw him he was so skinny it was hard to look at him. His big head with the jowls of a tom cat was out of proportion to his starved body. He was missing a lot of fur and had a few scars on his face. His right eye was permanently dilated. No doubt the result of some past injury he sustained in a fight. He was mean. He was the king of the alley behind my house. To him the world was put in to two categories. Everything was either food or competition for food. Other cats ran when he came by.

He was not afraid of me at all. He never ran from me if I approached but he would just hiss and then slowly walk away, occasionally looking back to make sure I wasn’t following too close. My yard was completely fenced and I had no dog so he usually took refuge there. One day while I was mowing the lawn he was sleeping under the honey suckles. As I approached with the mower I figured he would move. I got closer and closer and he didn’t move. I had the mower less than a foot from him and he still didn’t move. I thought he was dead. I pulled the mower back and touched him with my foot. He lifted his head and hissed at me as if to say, “Just go around me you asshole”. I turned off the mower and went inside and got him some food.

I opened a can of tuna and put some on a plate. I took it out to him he immediately started to devour it. I slowly put two fingers out and scratched the top of his mangy head. I then made the mistake of running my hand down his side. When I got past his shoulders he attacked. It was quick and vicious. His attack lasted no more than 3 seconds and then he quickly moved off just out of my reach. My arm was shredded. There were deep, purple puncture wounds, long scratches and lots of blood. He slowly inched back in towards the food keeping his good eye on me the whole time. That would be the last time I would touch him for several months but I still fed him every day.

To be continued…

Saturday, April 09, 2005

I'm Seeing Red

In this case it’s a good thing. On the east wall of the parlor is a big stained glass window made up of more than 40 pieces of glass. In the center is a large 32 inch diameter piece of red glass. We survived the big storm and woke up to sunshine. That means the morning sun streams through the window and fills the front parlor with color. A large circle of red light surrounded by a rainbow slowly moves across the floor as the day progresses.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Winter Has Arrived

I live in a mild climate to begin with but this winter was very mild. Snow is a once in a life time event and it never gets very hot here. The temp always stays between 35 and 75 year round. You have to enjoy fog and cool days or you'll hate it. It is not for everyone, but after living in many places around the country I can honestly say I love it. This is were I was meant to live.

We got some rain in December but after that January, February, and March were very pleasant. Lots of T-Shirt days. You get cool mornings and chilly evenings but the days are just wonderful. About a week ago that all changed. The rains started and it probably won't stop until June. Last April it rained every day but 1. The record for this day is 1.3 inches and I'm pretty sure we blew that record out of the water today (no pun intended - or was it). We're talking Biblical. It was coming in sideways and it was cold. I got hail around 8:30 this morning and it is really coming in strong right now as I write. The old house creaks and moans a bit in the gale force winds coming off the bay but she has been through this many, many, many times before. We’ll both survive and be better for it.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

My Window on the Dining Room

There was, at one time, a sort of dumb waiter door that lead from the kitchen to the dining room. On the kitchen side it was located next to where the large cast iron stove was. On the dining room side it opened next to where a sideboard would have sat. Originaly there was a door about 2 feet square that lifted up into the wall. It was kind of like a single hung sash window. It worked with pulleys and weights just like an old window. Back in the 20s when the house was cut up into apartments the dining room and kitchen ended up in 2 different apartments so they removed the door and boarded up the opening. I’m restoring it.

This was a real surprise find. Since it had been done 80+ years ago and was covered with many layers of paint and wallpaper it was impossible to tell it was even there. It was not until I removed all of the wallpaper (17+ layers) that I found the boarded up opening. Although they removed the actual door they left most of the door frame in the wall. The frame was in bad shape, and missing a few pieces, but there was enough left to use it as a pattern to construct a new one. I hope to get the new frame in the wall tomorrow. Next I can start making the door.

You can sort of see the opening in the wall just above the bead board in the picture below in an earlier post. It is to the left of new opening I just framed in.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

On The List At Last

Well, I Just got back from the meeting. The Dis-honorable Acting Mayor Droz did not attend. At the beginning of the meeting his letter was referred to a few times as The Letter but it was quickly dropped and no one mentioned it again.

The meeting was a very interesting experience. Lots of questions form the 6 members of the Commission. The representative from the City Planning Department said they had never before received so many phone calls from the public about an issue before the Preservation Commission. The chairman asked if they were mostly positive or negative and she said they were mostly people asking how this would affect their own property. I won’t go into details now, but Historic Preservation is a very hot-button issue in this town right now, and not every one is in favor of it.

I did a lot of research on the house and the first family to own the house (The Petch Family, as the name of my blog implies). I sort of went overboard in my description of the house and the family. It was 7 pages, single space, 10 point font. Very detailed. I saw it as an opportunity to get down what I know of the house and the Petch family as public record for future homeowners. Unfortunately, architectural history is only a hobby and not a profession. They had a few critiques.

To be fair, their comments and critiques where helpful but I did kind of feel like I was being grilled by 6 professors on a thesis I was submitting. They all made comments about how detailed the information was and how impressed they were with it. One even used the word “Intimidated”. The experience was very gratifying. The city is going to allow me to make changes to the information based of the Commission’s comments before it is submitted as public record.

The important thing is, the house is now on the list. This means that future homeowners won’t be able to cover it with vinyl siding or attach some butt ugly and incongruous addition to the house without getting a permit from the Preservation Commission, and the Preservation Commission won’t let that happen if they are doing their job.

I was telling my boss at work about getting my house listed and he asked me why I wanted to. He said he would never want to buy it if it meat he had to go before the Preservation Commission to make changes to the out side. I wasn’t sure how to tell him that it was fine with me because I wouldn’t want to sell the house to someone who would want to make major changes to the out side of the house. That is the whole point of historic preservation.

Next stop: The State Register of Historic Places

The List and the Lunatic

I’ve applied to have my house added to the Local List of Historic Places. The application process started about a month ago. I had to go down to the city hall and fill out a form. I submitted a long letter outlining the various elements of the house along with a brief history of the original owners. Then some members of the Preservation Commission came by the house and looked it over form the outside. In short, everything was going well and today is the day the Commission meets to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The meeting is in the City Council chambers down at City Hall in about 2 hours.

Part of the process allows members of the public to comment on my application as part of the public record. The meeting agenda is posted at City Hall and property owners with-in 300 feet of my property are sent notices that I have applied to have my house listed. This gives them an opportunity to make comments in person. I also received a notice of the meeting. This notice had a copy of my original application and my write-up of the property, along with copies of any public comments that have been made. There was one written comment along with the notice.

The comment was from a Jerry Droz. It is a long, rambling, disjointed discourse on just about anything relating to the city that seems to have popped in to his little head while he was writing. There are 3 sentences in the first paragraph that have to do with my house. The rest is filled with parables and denunciations of city leaders, and all sorts of other crap. He peppers the letter with sentences like, “I will determine what is best for this City and I shall steer you in the right direction nor will I mislead you”. He signs the letter City & County Director and Acting Mayor. I’ve since learned that he appoints himself to various posts in the city and county. He also list a real-estate developers license.

About my house he says that my property should not be considered because it already fits in the category of a historic structure (Huh?). He says it should already be on the Historic Registry but he does not think it should be added until it is cleaned up(Whaaa?).

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my house is less than perfect. However, and not to toot my own horn, I would like to point out to Mr. Droz that I bought my house about 3 years ago. In that time I’ve replaced every inch of wiring and plumbing. Removed the asbestos siding. Removed a 2 story addition. Repaired or replaced exterior elements damaged by the siding installation. Stripped all walls of old wallpaper. Stripped acres of paint off woodwork. Stripped all floors of old carpet, vinyl, etc. Redid the bathroom. Made a zillion dump runs. This house was a drug den and neighbors have personally thanked me for cleaning up the property and getting rid of the drug dealing and riffraff. Right now I’m in the process of doing the kitchen. Oh, I also remolded the 2 apartments over the garage and have them rented out to some very nice people. AND I did all of this work by myself!!

Now here is the real kicker. Today as I was at work (my work takes me on the road a lot). I passed by a property about 15 blocks from my house. It is a sorry looking little place from the 60s or 70s with a flat roof and no imagination give to the exterior at all. It is vacant, run down, and the yard is over grown. The place is an eye-sore in every sense of the word. Hanging on the front of the house over the front door was purple banner about 3X4 feet that said “Jerry Droz Developer”. I just about crapped right there. I had to go around the block just to make sure I saw what I saw.

After seeing that I have only one thing to say to Mr. Jerry Droz: Mr. Droz, go fuck yourself.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Beast Must Go

A few ago years when I bought my house I decided I needed a pick up truck because of all the work I was going to be doing. Being that I had just bought the house I didn’t have a lot of money so I couldn’t justify a second vehicle. I decided I was going to sell my current car and buy a truck. The car sold in record breaking time. I was washing it in front of the house and getting all of my stuff out. As I finished, I put a For Sale sign on it and was going to go down and list it in the paper. Just then a woman walked up and ask me about the car. We took it for a test drive, she made me an offer and I excepted, and then next day she paid me cash for the car.

Now I had no car. I’m in a small town and my work is less than a mile away. I walk to the bank, post office, and market anyway, so it wasn’t the end of the world. My work takes me around town a lot and a few days later I passed by The Beast. It is a 71 Ford F100. I bought it from the son of the original owner. It had a few minor dings here and there, but nothing major, and it ran great. It is a bit of a tank and kind of loud. When I fire up the big old V8 in the morning pets scurry for their lives and small children think the world is coming to an end. It has just been a great truck for the past 3 years or so, and is a lot of fun to drive. I never have to lock it because there is nothing to steal. Insurance and registration run about $25.00 a month, and it has just been so reliable.

The big problem is I paid $2.80 a gallon for regular unleaded gas this morning. There was a Simpson’s episode a while back where Rainer Wolfcastle (sp?) pulls up a new Canionaro SUV. Marge asks what kind of mileage he gets and he replies with a smile and in a thick Austrian accent, “It gets 1 highway and 0 city”. Now, my truck isn’t that bad, but going downhill, with the wind at my back, and nothing in the truck bed I bet I don’t get much more than 7 MPG. Like I said, I don’t do a lot of driving anyway, but most of the big dump runs have been made, and most of the mill work has been done, so it is hard to justify the truck anymore. Not sure what I’m going to get instead, but the decision has been made. The Beast must go. Yesterday I started looking for something else. Sniffle, sniffle.

Monday, April 04, 2005

New Old Walls

Still working on the kitchen walls. The way they did the plaster walls in the house was they used 1X8 T&G redwood planks and then milled dove-tail grooves in them every 2 inches. As the plaster was applied to the boards it filled the grooves and created the plaster keys.

Back in the 20s when the house was cut up in to apartments they put up a few partitions and added a door. The also added a Murphy Bed to one wall. The bed opened on the dining room side. When it was removed during the 70s someone did a really crappy job of fixing the hole. I'm not even sure what they were trying to do.

Anyway, I was able to tell where the door used to be and how wide it was once I got down to the original floor. I've just about got it closed up and back the way it was. I used some salvaged 1X8 and 1X10 redwood planks and milled new boards myself with the dove-tail grooves. I also used salvaged redwood beadboard on the bottom part and salvaged redwood 2X4s to frame the wall.

It took a lot of boards. There is in the doorway from the Murphy bed (see pictures), a doorway in to the back parlor, and a second door on to the porch. Each entry needed boards on both sides to close it up. I thought I was going to burn up my little router running all of the wood. The router held up but I think the bit is toast.

Still some more work to do. I hope to start plastering in a few weeks.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Kitchen

Day one. Well, actually more like day 900. That is about how long I've been working on the house. I've been in the kitchen for a few months now. Today's issue was finding quarter round trim that has an 1.25 inch face for the corners of the plaster walls. Quarter round with a 3/4 inch face is easy to find. The stuff I need doesn't exist. I ended up making my own.

All of the outside corners have a piece of quarter round trim to give it a nice bull-nose instead of a sharp corner. Because the walls are 7/8 inch wood and 3/8 inch plaster the face of the quater round needs to be 1/25 inches. Most is till there but when the kitchen had some partitions added they removed a few peices of this over-sized quarter round. I removed the partitions and so needed to replace the missing trim.

It wasn't too bad. I ripped down some 2X4s to 1.25 inches square and then tilted the saw blade to take off one corner of 1.25 inch square peice. After nailing it up I finished shaping the round-over with and RO sander.