Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Twin

I was bored this afternoon, so I pulled out the August issue of Old House Journal. I was paging through the stories when all of a sudden I saw a photo of something that looked very familiar.

A few months ago I wrote a post about a door handle I had inherited from my late uncle. I had been guessing it was from one of my ancestor's old German farms in Southern Minnesota.

There in this month's magazine was an article on restoring a patina on old hardware. At the top of the article was a photo of an identical twin to my door handle.....down to the orange finish.

We are talking i-d-e-n-t-i-c-a-l.

I sent off an email to the Old House Journal asking if the author of the article has any more info. about the history of the door handle. We'll see if I receive a response. Fingers crossed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Beijing, Then & Now

I'm not sure what it is about the Olympics. Before they start, I could not care less about them and have even less interest in watching them. Then one night when nothing else is on, I get sucked in. Pretty soon I'm up at 2 am cheering for a team from a country I can't even find on a map, competing in a sport that I didn't know existed. There's no explanation.

It was fun to see the coverage on China though. 15 or 16 years ago, I spent 2 months backpacking through China. I'm pretty much of a purist when it comes to my house. But, this doesn't extend to the art decorating my walls (and floor & shelves). All of the art was hauled home from trips I have taken. A large chunk of it is from China. The art & craftmanship (and price) was unbelievable. With the exception of the rug & the terracotta soldier, I met the Chinese artist that created each item and in the case of the reverse painted bottle, watched him do it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Little Less Dreaded

I sensed a little skepticism yesterday. A little worry from readers after seeing the plywood, that this project was not going to end well. Admit it.

Oh, ye of little faith.

I still have to decide how I want to address the expanding foam in back - I now have two ideas I'm mulling over. Then I need to buy the copper flashing to replace the current stuff and run it all the way back. But, it's looking better, no?

(the line down the center is white crayon I used to line everything up)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Most Dreaded Project

The summer's most dreaded project is about 75% done.

I have one eave crannie that needed repairs. At first I thought I might get out of it by simply hiring a roofer to come out and be done with it. I rationalized that roofing supplies are not sold in small quantities, so it would almost pay for itself to hire a pro to handle it quickly and efficiently.

I had two guys out for estimates. One guy told me the whole thing was rotted out and gave me some vague plans about cutting into the rafter that extends out of the stucco & supports the entire overhang, as well as the bargeboard. He assured me that whoever had restored the overhang had replaced a truckload of rotted wood. I didn't really have the heart to tell him that I had done that work....and while there was rot on the overhang, there was none in that area.....and no sign of it now. His estimate - over $2,000. I laughed. I laughed out loud. I laughed until I got the second estimate for over $3,000. The second guy assured me he would "do it right," but was a little short on details.

Seriously? The old shingles need to be pulled out and the area needs sheathing. Then a EPDM membrane patch needs to be put on. It's ugly, dirty work, but come on. The current roof is 10 yrs old and this patch is in a protected area. $3,000 to give me something that will hold until I need to replace the roof?

So, my next plan was to buy all of the materials and hire the handyman I had used to install my storm door. Well, that plan didn't come off as well as I had hoped.

I put is off as long as I could, but Fall is in the air and I knew it had to be done and I was going to have to be the one to do it. I think it's a fear of running into a bat (specifically, a bat that flies into my hair) or some other living creature that has me on edge.

Yesterday, I hauled my ladder to the front of my house. Ripped off the old shingles and looked at the hole that indeed went directly into my attic. I looked for rot - none. Whoever did the roof back then simply didn't feel like dealing with cutting sheathing for that section. So, they ran roofing paper up and used tar to attach the shingles and then called it a day (and probably charged $3,000).

I carefully cut a new piece of replacement plywood sheathing. I installed the nicely fitting plywood in the spot and nailed it down. I sealed the joints with exterior latex caulk (EPDM patch does not stick to silicone). The thickness of the new sheathing actually matches up to the old sheathing. I put some expanding foam into the small gap at the very back of the repair to ensure a tight seal and provide a bit of insulation. The rock in the photo is not part of my work :-)'s just weighing down the wood while the roofing caulk dries. The worst part of the work is that you have to kind of stand on the ladder, twist around and lay across the right end of the front door overhang to reach this area.

Tomorrow I will have to trim the expanded foam and then cover the plywood with Eternabond. Finally I have a small piece of crown molding to cover the foam in the back where the new EPDM meets the beadboard of the eaves. It's currently not the prettiest situation (what was up with using all the roofing tar?), but I'm pretty confident that this is going to look quite good when it is done.

The flashing also needs to be yanked out, replaced with copper and run all the way back (the copper drip edge people were supposed to do that last summer - but that's a whole other story). Then the wood will need to be stripped & painted. If anyone has ideas on removing roofing tar from stucco, I'm all ears.

Of course, a photo of the finished product coming shortly.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

History in the Making

Well, this is turning out to be amazingly easy. I'm embarrassed that I put it off for so long.

Thanks to a comment to a previous post by Anonymous (a huge thank you) and a link to the Bureau of Land Management website, tonight I was able to find a copy of the Land Patent that transferred the ownership of the land where StuccoHouse is built from the federal government to the original owner back in 1856.

They have the option to order a "certified" copy on parchment, suitable for framing for a measly $2.00. I'm thinking kind of cool to have framed and on a wall.

From the BLM website, I was able to find a link to the National Archives and info. on how to order a copy of the Land Entry Case File that actually documents the sale (kind of like a receipt, I guess). I'm hoping at the least it has the price paid per acre.

More as it comes......

Friday, August 15, 2008

Entryway - Before & After

I was organizing some old photos and ran across a pic I took of the entryway to my house right after I moved in. Then a photo of the entryway as it looks today. It's a little shocking to me because the changes happen so slowly over time, you kind of forget what has changed.

Anyway, for your amusement....before & after. Got to love the pressure treated stairs, huh?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Original Building Permit

I've lucked out in researching the history of my house.

In Minnesota, when you buy a house, in most cases you receive an Abstract that details each and every owner of the parcel of land through history. Mine starts when the United States sold off parts of Fort Snelling back in 1856. So, with the exception of the original Native American owners, I essentially have a collection of the names of every owner of my parcel of land from the US government to present day.

Shortly after I moved into my house, my neighbors across the street mentioned to me that they had photos of my house dating back to the 1930s and asked me if I wanted a copy.

Then the neighbor that lives next to me told me he had a photo of my house's entryway from the 1980's and gave me a copy.

Last summer I was reading through a neighborhood paper and read an article written by a neighbor historian about one of the founding fathers of the city and his trend setting daughters. The guy's name rand a bell, so I pulled out my Abstract and sure enough he was the original owner of my property back in 1856.

Then last fall, I was out of town for work and in a very strange coincidence ran into a former friend of a PO of my house. She was able to provide me with a few more photos and lots of details about my house circa 1990-2000 .

This brings us to yesterday. I decided it would be nice to have the original building permit & perhaps the name of the builder. In Minneapolis they have set up a "311" phone line that you can call for just about any city related topic. I thought that might be a good place to try. I was right. The 311 operator did a quick search of her database and discovered a bunch of permits on file dating back to 1923. She gave me the phone number of the person in charge of the microfiche and within 24 hrs I was emailed a copy of the entire permit file for a mere $5.25.

I now have the name of the original owner, name of the tradesmen, cost of house & a breakdown of those costs by trade.

I can't quite make of the hand written name of the builder on the permit. I'm also curious about the 1929 "Flour City Furniture. CO." entry on the inspection that lists the work as "W. A. Htg. Plant" - could this be the furnace?....and if so, how on earth did they survive 4 winters without heat?!

In subsequent years, I can also see when the original lead plumbing was replaced, when the gravity furnace was converted to gas, and when the stucco was "repaired" and "painted" (heavy sigh). There were also a lot of repairs to the roof.

StuccoHouse was built for $3400 with and additional cost of $1070 for electrical, plumbing and plaster. I'm pretty sure that original owner would have a heart seizure if he knew what I paid for his handiwork....and be pretty impressed with how long it has lasted.

I guess now I need to track down the relatives of some of the POs......

Monday, August 11, 2008


Spent most of the day Sunday stripping paint off of the horizontal half-timber on the front of my house. The wood is covered by that old recipe that mixed paint with Portland cement and was sprayed on houses in one thick, orange peel textured coat. All of this was uncovered last summer when I took down the aluminum trim.

I curse the company that invented that concoction. It is the 1920's version of vinyl siding. The "paint" is impervious to a heat gun and the only way to remove it is paint stripper and a lot of scraping. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you have heard me whine about it before.

Repeat after me: "It has to look worse before it can get better, it has to look worse before it can get better....." The trim will eventually be painted the same color as the window boards below it (which looks a whole lot more vivid online than it does in real life).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ready for a Close-Up?

I took a few more photos of the mysterious light socket for my Tappan Deluxe oven. It was wired together with what I thought at first was the wiring intended to install it. But it turns out the bare wire was just holding the two sides together.

If you go to the inside of the oven, the narrow end of "ruffled" light bulb side of the socket fits precisely into that hole. Then, I presume the other end of the socket would fit on the exterior of the oven in the insulation....and hook up to the electrical there.

Here's the thing. The two ends fit together nicely on either side of the oven wall, but there is nothing that holds them together. I thought I'd put one end into the oven and the other outside and they would screw together neatly and hold each other in place. No such luck. How do you think they would have joined them?

I looked through both of my Tappan Owners' Manuals. The older manual makes the statement that stoves with Visualite ovens have light bulbs. I have a Visualite oven, but I believe it is one of the early models. The older manual was written for stoves prior to the Deluxe model and the very first Deluxe models (1948). Both of the manuals instruct you to use a 40 watt oven duty light bulb.

Geez, I wish I could find a vintage Tappan Service Manual.

Who knows...maybe that's why it was never installed in the first place. The Tappan installation guy didn't have a Service Manual and couldn't figure out how to keep the two sides of the socket together and after spending the afternoon trying to make it work...stuffed it into the insulation and called it a day.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Vintage Stove Mystery

Work on the Tappan Deluxe has come to a minor slow-down. I was happily plugging away until I ran into a screw holding one of the top side panels in place. It is rusted and refuses to budge. This has happened a few times before and was resolved by WD40. This screw has been marinading in WD40 for a week now and still shows no sign of giving up the fight. I know I can drill into the head of the screw, but I really don't want to do this if I don't have to for a variety of reasons, not the least being it's out-of-the-way location. So, we wait. And hope.

I did make one very cool discovery though.

I'm slowly peeling back the smaller parts and repainting them (if needed) with high temperature stove paint. One day I ran across this little round piece inside the right storage area. Behind the little round piece is the space that holds the insulation for the oven. The piece was held in place by one screw, so I took it off to repaint it (in the photo you can see it with a little ring of rust around it in the top center of the photo).

When I took off the round piece, I saw something white sitting in the oven insulation behind it. It was just kind of shoved in there and wasn't attached in any way, so curiosity got the best of me and I pulled it out.

It was a ceramic socket for a light bulb.


Then it dawned on me. I opened the door to the oven and looked inside. In the same spot on the right wall of the oven, there was a little square piece of metal. I pushed on it and it moved. I once again went to the outside of the oven and looked behind the insulation to the outside wall of the oven. The little square piece was placed between the outside wall of the oven & the insulation. I slide it out. It wasn't attached with anything other than the pressure of the insulation.

This stove was set up to have a light in the oven, but it was never installed. The wires to the socket were never connected and are still wrapped neatly around the socket.

So, what do you think the story is?

The guy at the Tappan factory who installed the oven lights was on his coffee break when this one came through.......Or, the light was put in all of the stoves, but only the high end models got it installed.....Or?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Conquering Technology

Last night I sat in front of the tv and watched a show where dog owners danced with their dogs. This was followed up by The Baby Borrowers: Lessons Learned. I watched them in their entirety. Why? I was stalling.

Minneapolis is wireless and as part of that deal anyone living in the city can also subscribe to wireless service. My neighborhood was one of the first to go "live" and I subscribed almost immediately. Then I pretty much did nothing.

While I love the tech toys, I hate the tech toys' set-up. I used my laptop on the wireless network periodically, but am ashamed to say kept my dial-up for my primary service. My laptop connection was iffy most of the time and I wrote this off to my house being stucco with metal lathe and surrounded by big, old trees (listed as probably problem causers on the wireless website).

Well at 10pm last night, I finally called the USI Wireless 24/7 customer service line. Bless the heart of the guy that answered my call. He first gave me the address of my nearest wireless "pod" (my word, not theirs), so I knew where to point my modem. Then he started to walk me through set-up for my laptop. All of a sudden a thousand lights went off in my head.....because my laptop has a wireless card, my computer had been accessing the wireless service through that.....and not through the modem. Duh. I confirmed this with my customer service guy (again, bless his heart for understanding my non-techie terminology) and then went off to disable my wireless card. Whala - 100% signal. The term "wireless" as it turns out, is confusing.

So, while I had a brief glimmer of understanding of how the "signal" flowed.....I decided to set up my wireless router. It went relatively smoothly, but it did take me a while to figure out that I needed to turn my wireless card back on once the router was up & running. A little cheer went up at Stuccohouse when the first wireless connection was made via router.

The router under my belt, I moved on to installing the wireless adaptor into my desktop. Again, sucess. I was in bed and fast asleep by 2:30 am....with a mild headache that I attributed to all of the new wireless waves bouncing though my house.

I spent a lot of time staring at these last night (the last one is the crooked ceiling drywall job done by the PO):

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