Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From Whence We Came: 1926 Plan Book

Over on the American Bungalow Bulletin Board not too long ago was a link to a bungalow site called Antique Home that has a GREAT Collection of old house-plan books. I looked through, and sure enough the 1926 Standard Homes Company catalog is there. This is a catalog I know well, since it was in the "Mother Lode" of materials I found in the attic when clearing out Foxcroft. Our house is based on the 1926 Standard Homes model The Monte Cristo.

What surprised me in looking at the Antique Home site is that the Standard Homes Plan Service Inc. is STILL in business! I sent them an email saying that our home was based on one of theirs, and that I had their 1926 planbook, as well as three letters from company president, A.G. Johnson, to the original builder. I received a reply from Leigh Cameron, A.G. Johnson's granddaughter, and the third generation in the family business. They have moved the headquarters from Washington D.C. to Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.

Here is a composite picture I made comparing the Monte Cristo to Foxcroft:

Here are Bess' notes to the local architect she gave her plans to with changes:
Here is Bess' description of how she wants the house changed from the example to what was actually built:

"Increase the pitch of the roof making the attic higher. Have it high enough so two or three rooms could be finished off later if desired. I want window at the east (front) as shown in the picture, then would like one on the north and one on the south. The roof pictured is not high enough for these last two but when you increase the pitch, I think they can be put in. Saw a house this style not long ago that had them. Want them all so they will open, with weights like those down stairs."

"Use pretty brown and tan brick instead of the cobblestones. Make the two pillars brick, as high up as that brick trim shown in the picture. I don't care for the openings at each side of the steps at the floor level. Wide low steps as shown on the picture. Have a small window at both the north as south side in foundation for ventilation. Floor of wood, painted like house."


"Fireplace chimney to built of brick similar to that used on the porch, and thick enough on the outside so it won't be discolored by the fire as some I have seen. Constructed to meet the most rigorous fire insurance requirements"

As long time readers know, 78 years later we are finally folowing through on Bess' plan for second floor, by having "two or three rooms could be finished off later if desired".

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dark as a Dungeon

I worked on several things Sunday. Pete and I cut the boards we will use for trim in the first floor bathroom. I’ll post about that when we install them. We also moved the neighbor’s swing set across the street and into our backyard. Thanks to my nephews for the muscle. I then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening clearing and cleaning up my basement workroom.

I built the shelves out of ones that were along the west basement wall that we took down when we put in the deadmen. I mitered them to use my corner space efficiently. There were about 100 (I am not exaggerating) apple boxes in the house, we kept about 30, Lisa’s sister got a dozen, and the rest were sold at the estate sale.

I now have all the paint together in one place, and even labeled it all. I also consolidated my painting tools and junk. I finally located all my tack cloths and have them together. Same for painting tape.

Now that there is enough room to get in the place I can actually WORK in there. I started painting my last 2nd floor storms last night

I strategically didn't take pictures of the messy half of the room, but how hard could it be to organize the rest? Having a whole bunch of drawers, from a house we salvaged from last year, meant that I could have all eight of my hammers together. It's great to have a whole drawer full of saws too. I'm also thinking that the boxes of Coors pottery that are packed away under the the workbenches won't stay there after we finish the dining room, right? I won't be messy again in three months, will it?

I forgot to get pictures of Thanksgiving on Saturday night, but we all had a great time. Everyone was very happy to be able to use a first floor toilet.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It COULD Have Been Fatal

I haven't had any really serious house related injuries since the Wild Parsnip incident, so I guess I was due.

While working on Sunday I got a tube of silicone caulk to seal around the first floor shower. I put it in the gun, cut off the tip, and went to get a skewer from the kitchen to pierce the seal. It bounced right off and poked me in the finger. Not content to admit defeat I went out to the garage to get a piece of wire thinking that the smaller diameter would do the trick. Of course it didn't and not only did it not work I forced it so hard that it bounced out and REALLY poked me in the finger. It drew blood and hurt quite a bit, so I went in and put a bandaid on it and worked the rest of the day. When I finished working outside and took my gloves off I noticed it had swelled, but wasn't concerned.

That night I got my fiddle out to play along with my daughter's practice and I couldn't move my finger at all and it was quite warm. Now I'm right handed and this was my left index finger, but as a musician I would give up a right hand digit before I'd ever want to lose one on my left hand. We were supposed to concentrate on a duet that we will play for her receital next month, but I couldn't do my harmony part. I knew I'd better call the doc first thing Monday morning.

She looked at it and and said time for a new tetanus even though my last one hadn't expired yet. She also prescribed big time antibiotics and said that if the red moved farther down my finger to call her and we'd visit the hand surgeon! Here's what it looked like Monday night when I got home. I've dislocated this one a few times in the past and that big bump at the knuckle is not usually there. The puncture wound is barely noticeable down and to the right of the knuckle.

I managed to get through the banjo lesson I had scheduled with one of my students Monday night, it's easier for me to substitute on banjo than fiddle. Last night I had much more movement and got through Rowan's practice and went off and had a rehearsal with my band, so I'm on the road to recovery.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Just Add Water

I finished painting bathroom trim over the weekend. I carried the salvaged pedestal sink up from the basement as well as the new toilet and put them in to place:

Now I wait for the plumber to come and hook them up.

I do have a few more things to finish yet. I took the door and the cupboard door down into the basement yesterday and began painting them:

As you can see from the first picture I also still need to paint the medicine cabinet door and the laundry chute door. Also when the wallpaper comes I'll hang it then install the trim piece for the top of the beadboard. That seems like a lot yet to do, but having the luxury of a first floor bath again after 6 months, I'll overlook the remaining details.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Too Much Mustard

When I was a kid my parents bought an Edison cylinder phonograph player. One of my favorites was the Europe Society Ocrchestra’s “Too Much Mustard,” a classic early jazz standard

Too Much Mustard is what I always thought of when we walked into our first floor bathroom:

I finished trimming the bathroom Wednesday night. I was working after the girls went to bed so I turned off the air compressor knowing I had few nails to shoot and could do it without worrying about the compressor kicking in. The other thing I did was drag out my old hand mitre box to cut boards.

Using the hand mitre really brought back memories. This is the third bathroom I’m covering over the fake tile plaster with beadboard. The other bathrooms were at our old house. I cut all the trim for those bathrooms with my hand box. I didn’t have to cut much with it on Wednesday. You have to hand cut the copes anyway, I really only used it to cut to length.

I will be finished painting everything by Sunday and the plumber will come Monday to set the sink and stool.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Poem as Lovely as a Tree?

It's dark, but this is our neighbor's enormous oak tree. People tell us all the time that that tree must be at least 150 years old, but Mike next door and I laugh because we have a photo of the two houses in 1929 with no tree there! When the new subdivision Foxcroft is in was platted in 1926 the land was all pasture. The realtors planted at least two fruit trees in the back of every lot and gave owners a choice of elm, white pine, or catalpa for the front. Only some of the pines are still left, but there are lots of BIG trees in our neighborhood.

Here is that photo:

And here is how our two houses looked from the same spot in May 2006:

Today is our last leaf vacuuming day, so we've spent even more time than usual raking.

We have four large walnuts. The story is that Bess brought these as seedling from the family farm when they moved to Foxcroft in 1928. I am tired of walnuts. I know I should be collecting and shelling them, but after a wheelbarrow load full in early October, I've been dumping them in the back ravine. I've put 7 wheelbarrow loads down there. This year they all lost their leaves in nearly a single night. Here are two in the front yard

Here is the really big one next to the garage:

This is a look at our side yard with our crabapple, and our neighbors giant oak and maple:

This is a look toward the far yard, we have another walnut, a black cherry, some hackberry, and then the neighbors pines:

Here is the oak across the street, it must be a pin oak since it still has all its leaves:

And with all these trees we then get a 3 foot high wall of leaves when we rake them to the street:

And here's a pile of walnut leaves and hosta debris:

This is what the street looked like when we left this morning, tonight they will all be gone:

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Take a Look at This!

I worked Friday night and Saturday and painted the first floor bathroom ceiling and I must say it looks great:

Now for those that are a little underwhelmed by this you must know that the old ceiling was quite bad and I resorted to drywalling over it. Here is a shot with a little bit of context:

We started on this bathroom way back last spring, but haven't done anything until the last two weeks. Longtime readers (all three of you) may even remember all this but here's a quick recap:

May 2006

July 2006

So two weeks ago I got 1x8 boards and Pete and I put them down for our baseboard

I spent the last week heat gunning the old paint off the casing for the door, cupboard, medicine cabinet and laundary chute. After that I painted the ceiling as noted above.

On Sunday Pete and I started installing pine wainscoting to cover the badly cracked fake tile plaster.

We worked together for about 2 hours and got the short laundary chute wall and the long wall with the medicine cabinet finished

After Pete left I started on the window wall and got it started. I probably could have finished it Sunday night but I went with my neighbor Mike downtown to hear Illinois senator Barak Obama speak at a Democratic rally.

I came home from work Monday night and finished the window wall

Then I went back and put 1/2 inch base shoe on top of the baseboard and put 3/4 inch quarter round at the bottom of the the base.

I then went down and brought up the primer so I could put that on the wall where the plumbing is, my thought is the sooner I can him back to install the toilet and sink.

I finished about midnight last night

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Who You Gonna Call?

The phone rang last night about 9:00 PM. Lisa answered and said hello then said, "Oh no! Oh my God! Yes, he has stuff for that, I'll send him over!"

It turns that Ben, our neighbor behind us, had gone into the bathroom at their place (a rental) and shut the door. He went to leave, but found that the latch bolt in the lock was stuck and he couldn't get out. He managed to pull the hinge pins, but with the door in the jamb that doesn't really help. Amy, his wife, called Lisa.

I went over with my wonderbar (big flat pry bar) and my pussyfoot (smaller trim pry bar) to offer assistance. I asked Ben if there was a set screw on the door knob on his side of the door (There was) so I passed a butter knife under the door to take the set screw out. When we got the knob and spindle off, it was apparent the spring in the latch bolt had failed. I then pried off the stops on either side of the door (in hindsight I only needed to do the lock side) and with the stops off I could see the latch bolt. Ben slid the butter knife through and pushed and I went from the other side with a putty knife and we got the latch pushed back so Ben could open the door.

He was embarrassed and grateful, Amy was happy she hadn't been the one locked inside as she said she would have hyperventilated after about 10 minutes. Ben said from when he discovered he was stuck until we got him out was only an hour.

In talking to my colleages at work today the comment was made:

What would have happened if Ben had been alone or lived by himself?

The answer of course was that he wouldn't have bothered to shut the door.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Google Map

It looks like Google has updated the satellite shot of our neighborhood. I'm still new enough to our home to be surprised to see the relationship between our house and major landmarks nearby. Here is a link to the satellite/map hybrid view:

Foxcroft 'hood

Our home is right in the center of the group of houses in the woods. The dominant features are Kinnick stadium and University Hospitals to the east. Also in that vicinity are the old field hockey field, outdoor football practice field, UI Recreation building, the indoor "Bubble" practice facility, and UI baseball diamond. The photos must have been taken in about 2005 since the recent football stadium renovation is not shown. To the north and west of our home is a 12 acre ravine of woods. Beyond that is a commuter parking lot for the University and Finkbine Golf Course.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

All God’s Children Got Shoes

Well maybe not, but some of the upstairs baseboard now has base shoe. I installed base shoe Sunday in the sunroom and the hallway. Our local “big box”store (Menard’s) has pre-stained and varnished base shoe on sale so I got some to try it. The color match is acceptable, not great, but at the price and not having to stain and varnish it is OK. Here are some pics of it installed:

And while I was going back and checking things on the blog I noticed my Very Scary Halloween Update had the wrong photo. Here is the corrected version so you can actually see our spooky house:

Friday, October 13, 2006

Very Scary House Update

It’s Halloween time! Since we have picked all the pumpkins ahead of last night’s frost it really feels like fall. Halloween is big here at Foxcroft(but then what holiday isn’t?) This year Lisa bought the best holiday decorations I’ve ever seen. Two big plastic sheets with cat’s eyes on them. We hung them in the front gable windows upstairs, and at night with the bedroom light, combined with the lights on porch, our house looks like a giant monster with an open mouth

The really scary house stuff though is that I cleaned the garage last week. The garage is truly my bete noir, it is so racked out of square in the front that the doors won’t close, it needs a new roof and has some rot along the sill plate. Of course the quick answer is to demolish it, of course I’m trying to figure out how to fix it. I’ll need to use a turnbuckle system to pull it back to square it in front, but keeping it that way will be the challenge.

Now everyone’s garage gets messy but ours was pretty amazing. I took 8 wheelbarrow loads of DIRT out last week, the back 1/3 of the place was buried about a foot deep. Two years ago I took out 6 bags of dry concrete that had been laid on top of the dirt at the back of the garage, some time in the 1950’s. My guess is that this berm was to keep someone from driving through the back of the garage. The result of all the dirt however has been the garage has been a small rodent breeding sanctuary. I found a mummified squirrel skeleton (keeping with our Halloween theme) that explained the bad smell last fall.

Here is a shot of the floor, only the edges of the garage are cemented, the center was gravel to allow oil to drip out of the car.

So to finish the spooky theme, here is a picture from the night of the Iowa – Ohio State football game of the Outback Steakhouse blimp over our house. This was my best picture, the first one looked like all those old fuzzy UFO photos.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Random House History: Repairs

I've posted before about the treasure trove of information we received along with our house. (All we had to do to access it was sort through 75 years worth of accumulation.) I ran across one of those great pieces last night, it's a 3 inch by 6 inch memorandum book that Bess would jot down what she paid for house repairs, and materials along with other tidbits, such as how much fabric it would take to make curtains for 3 kitchen windows and the back door "9 yd a yd wide for two 1 1/4 in hems."

For as organized as Bess was, a big head scratcher is why isn't this thing chronological? It skips around from page to page. I think the earliest dated entry (there are lots without dates) is
April 19, 1932
Pool lot 60.00

I know this refers to the pool that Bess and Helen built in the back yard, but was that the cost of everything? That seems high... They also didn't start digging it until 1933, I thought they had the ground already, maybe they expanded the back yard?

Another favorite is this page:

From the top left it reads:

Mr. Switzer painted
kitchen + cupboards
Aug, 1947 19 hours
labor + material 115.00

Rufus Wagner's "Joe"
removed dining nook seat
"gooed" the roof- new screen
in H's window- repaired
library window 26.59

Singer Sewing Machine 50.00
" " table 23.92

June 16- 1939
China Closet 23.95

The right hand page from the top:

Bought GE Refrigerator
Aug 1, 1939- 128.00
+ (160 deduct for old one)

May 19, 1948 (W.A. Gay)
86# hind quarter beef 49.07

April 27, 1948
Heavy wire to house (220) Nate Moore 55.08

March 31, 1948
Wagner Connell Co.
shower, electric water heater 40 gal
stool- 327.25

So I know 1947-48 was a big update year (20 years after the house was built) they took out the half wall and one seat in the kitchen nook, repainted the kitchen, upgraded the electric service, and converted the basement room (kindling room in the blueprints) into a bathroom.

Here's what the nook looked like originally:

and what it looked like when we bought the place:

As much as I like the look of the original I do appreciate the extra room you get when walking in the back door.

Lisa suggested that as a preservationist I tell Pete that I will pay him historical wages!