Monday, February 7, 2011

Mud Bowl Weekend

I don't follow football.  I don't care about the "greatest commercials." I don't watch TV in general, so the whole idea of Super Bowl Sunday is, I am afraid, lost on me.  Still, we had our own little "super bowl" weekend here at the old farm house.

As has been our experience throughout this adventure, we found ourselves with "workers" who did not materialize to complete the work they'd agreed to perform.  Of course, there were the normal excuses, promises to show up tomorrow, etc. etc.  Much as I would like to believe that the economy is the reason these guys are out of work, I am being forced to face the fact that there are other factors at play, not the least of which is their work ethic.

Nevertheless, we have made the tentative agreement with the contractor who will repair/replace the foundation, install new beams and joists, and install the sub-floor, resulting in a more level house.  To begin his work, he needed us to get the old joists out, the electric wires identified as "hot" or "dead" and cleaned up, and the general area cleaned.  This was a task we'd imagined would take the two able bodied guys two days to accomplish.  That was two weeks ago.  This weekend, after numerous reschedules and such, we decided we'd proceed without them.  We might not be as able bodied, but we were certainly determined to get the job done.

After spending an evening last week identifying and marking the electrical wires, we were ready to tackle the joist/broken rotted beam removal. Naturally, we opted for the weekend of rain, which followed the previous weekend of rain, which followed rain and snow, etc. etc.  Under the house, with the failed foundation and the failed beams and the failed joists, was dirt... and puddles.  At 13 feet above sea level, everything in this county is wet a good part of the year.  Still it is a problem we intend to resolve as part of the restoration of this fine old farm house.  So it was that Saturday afternoon and well into Saturday night we spent schlepping around in the mud, cutting and removing joists and rotted beams, exposing the broken ones still trying to support the two story structure.

Tracing Wires

Breaker Box Mapped

The more we uncover, the worse it looks, to be honest.  If we are successful in restoring this place, we will have brought her back, literally, from the brink of death.  The beams look awful.  The ancient brick piers, which are the foundation, crumble at at the least touch.  We worked with all of the windows open to allow the fumes from the chain saw.... yes, you read correctly, the chainsaw, to dissipate without our gagging or worse.  Joe is a great fan of the chain saw and uses it for tasks not typically considered chainsaw material.  Still, he makes it look easy, and the results were exactly what we were after.


While he removed the wood, I worked with the rake and shovel to clean up decades of crud from under the house. By the time we quit, at around 9PM, our boots were covered in much and our work gloves were wet and nasty, but we'd made major headway.

Joist Removal

Sunday afternoon Joe worked alone, dumping the buckets of crud we'd removed from the house....which led to the lawn tractor getting stuck in the MUD, not once, but twice, and his having to use the big tractor to tow it out.  By the time I returned from a recording session with our choir, he had succeeded in getting the buckets emptied, and the tractors back in place, awaiting the next load. Between church and the recording session, I had stopped over to pick up our latest CraigsList find.... 175 joist hangers, for $25.  That, was a real deal!

Trunk Full of Joist Hangers

Tractor Pulling Tractor
Sunday evening we schlepped around in the mud again, and by quitting time, we had cleaned up the whole area.  We still have to carry the cut timbers out of the house, but the real work is done.

Judy in Mud
Cleaned Up Front Room
Cleaning Up to Start Supper in Garage Apartment
Now..... if the contractor, who is supposed to come over tomorrow afternoon, is not scared off by the task, we should be able to get underway soon. (Of COURSE, it is raining AGAIN as I write this!) On the other hand, if he decides the task is too big, we will be back to square 19 (oh, who's counting?) and rebidding the work.  One thing I know for sure is that at least everyone who bids will be able to SEE the real state of the piers and the joists, something that was previously hindered by the broken joists and miscellaneous trash in the place.

So, while others were enjoying the Super Bowl in the comfort of their homes, in front of their TVs, we were enjoying the mud bowl in the old farm house.  We might not have managed to catch the murder of the National Anthem, but we had our own screaming excitement when the smoke alarm went off, alerting us to the fact that SOMEONE was using a chainsaw!  And we were rewarded with TREASURES, such as old shoes, a red plastic J magnet....and various parts of a lawnmower?

No "pot of gold!"

One thing occurred to me as we were pulling back the "curtain" on this old farm house.  What if.... just what if, this was NEVER a "well built" old farm house.  What if it was a "handy man special" right from the start.  Certainly, from the appearance of the piers, they have long since served their expected life.  It is also clear that we are working with two small structures that were joined to become one, and that the second story was an afterthought.  Yeah, I suppose it is entirely possible that the beams, notched in crazy fashion, weakening them, while allowing them to "fit" into others, is the work of a handy man, rather than a house builder.... still, she has been standing for more than 126 years, and, if we can, we will help her stand for another century.

And lest you think I don't notice the beauty..... Saturday evening we were treated to a beautiful sky at sunset.

Looking Down the Drive Toward the Road

Red at Night, Sailors Delight

Trees at Sunset


Gorges Smythe said...

The house I was raised in was built in 1865. The craftsmanship was pretty good, the design was NOT, which caused a permanent sag in the roof. I'd guess that it was built on a budget. Hey, so was MY house, and I built it myself. Guess we all do what we have to!

mixednut555 said...

I didn't even realize that yesterday was Superbowl Sunday until I read your post. LOL. We don't have a TV and went spent the day touring Hawaii Volcano National Park, where U'i became a Junior Ranger and we hiked down an old lava tube. No rain here yesterday, but it made up for that today. Your house is coming along, I'm sure that before you know it all this work will just be a memory!

Sharon said...

Did any of this come out of your mouth?
"What were they thinking?"
"What the ???"
"What a can of worms!!!"
I have been included in many a remodel, repair, build project. It's amazing that we can live through that stuff!
You really did work hard!
But you did take the time to shoot the sky - awesome pictures!
I didn't watch the Super Bowl either..........

aswesow said...

It isn't exactly the typical construction project that contractors seek to bid on. Joe and yourself are probably more qualified than most, simply because you have experience(alot of it in the past year!) and you own the project. I hope this contractor works out tho. We are in the tenth house we've owned since we've been married. I've seen some "dumbass" in all of them, but alot of it is simply people doing the best they can with what they have at the time. I respect that more than the other thing I've seen, people who simply live in a place and never attempt to fix a door, make an improvement, or add any value to a place. I'd say craftmanship that outlives it's original purpose or the original craftsman is good handy work.

Louise said...

I live in one of those patched together houses. The oldest part was built in 1842, one of the first dwellings in the area. After that, other parts were added on piecemeal, ending with the ground floor bathroom, which was put on in the 1980's. The quality of construction varies throughout the house.

But, like you say, she's held together for over 150 years, and I bet she'll be around for another 100.


Hi Judy

We've lived in our home for 36 years and have remodeled several times. The last time was about 5 years ago and I am sad to say that many of the workers I hired were not dependable and lacked good work ethics. It's been my experience over the years that if I want a job done right I must do it myself.

BTW, thanks for you great comment on my 'Philosophy of Life' post :-)

Niels Windfeld Lund said...

Hi Judy, I really enjoy reading about the "true" treasures in life, making progress in making a farmhouse etc. and I'm absolutely into Mud bowl, much like our(my wife and I) experience last summer ! overall greetings from California Niels

Judy's Corner said...

I am happy to report that our contractor was NOT scared off by the sad state of the foundation, etc, and the work should get underway Friday (crossing fingers and toes here.) I truly hope we are successful in restoring this old place, and she is just charming, even with all of her signs of age and neglect.

Judy's Corner said...

I enjoyed your trip to the HVNP! I'd love to see that in person, but the photos gave the impression of you, Rachel and U'i having a really nice time!

Judy's Corner said...


Yes, yes, and yes...! We are on the upside of this roller coaster today, after the contractor gave us the thumbs up yesterday. I've learned enough to know it is a roller coaster and we will, once again, be gripping our seats as we hold on through the next free-fall, but I have confidence we WILL be happy at the end of the ride!

Judy's Corner said...

I think this contractor is going to be a keeper. He has performed a similar restoration on a house of the same age -- his mother-in-law's house, and when he came back to take a look yesterday, he brought his wife. I'm excited to get underway!

Judy's Corner said...


I have a hunch you are right. We certainly are going to make sure she has a chance to make it into the next century!

Judy's Corner said...

Thanks, OG,

I liked that you quoted Frank Lloyd Wright in that post!

Regarding the necessary work and getting it done right.... we are finding that we pay to get the job done, and then redo it ourselves, to get it done right... hopefully the leveling of the old farm house will be done by the expert, and done correctly the first time!

Judy's Corner said...


You will likely not believe this, but it is a true story. Yesterday the contractor came by to look at the cleaned out space in which he will work. He brought his wife along, and she and I hit it off immediately. We talked about everything homestead-y, from gardening to milk goats, to home-schooling (they have 7 boys) to chickens and eggs. At one point she asked me where I got my overalls. I told her I'd happened into a lot of 10 pairs on ebay for a great price. She said she loves overalls, but had not been able to find them recently in the thrift stores, where she prefers to shop for clothing. So.... before they left, I gave her one of the pairs of overalls from my "stash." She was genuinely thrilled. Gotta love those overalls! Enjoy your time in CA!

Anonymous said...

God Almighty!...