Friday, October 24, 2008

And Now A Word From Ralph Stanley!

As a banjo player I can't express how absolutely delighted I was by this:

I think it's great that "Rank Strangers," a song about coming home to find everything changed, is playing in the background. I think that pretty well sums up the realization of what the Republican Party has become for working class Americans. The "devoted husband" plug was a nice touch too.

Dr. Ralph Stanley is one of the great bluegrass legends. With a 60+ year performing career he is an American icon. Most of you not familiar with his story should recognize him as the person who sang "O Death" in the movie "Oh Brother Where Art Thou."

The very first and last promo shots has him holding a Gibson archtop banjo very similar to one I have.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Step By Step

I'm continuing to work on the back steps. Pete dropped off the yellow pine that he joined together to make the side "boxes" that will cover and hide the end stringers. I spent yesterday cutting and shaping the boxes.

With some luck I can get them painted this week and maybe installed next weekend. Then I would be ready to install the steps.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So Much Work...

...So little to show for it!

After working on steps all last weekend I was able to install TEMPORARY STEPS on Sunday night. While appreciative of the fact that, for the first time since June, they could walk up something resembling acutal stairs, the rest of the family was a little underwhelmed by what I had to show for all my work:

In my defense, since we made the concrete pad high enough to ensure drainage AWAY from the bottom of the stairs (a huge problem before I started this project, water used to pool at the bottom of the stairs , often to a depth of two inches) The distance from the top of the porch deck to the pad was a shade over 19.25 inches. Standard stairs have a 7 inch rise making the perfect height for two steps onto the porch 21 inches. I bought precut stringers and then proceeded to shave off the top and bottom of them to get an approximate 6.25 rise. Since the stringers are pitched slightly forward to ensure water drains off the steps I couldn't just set the fence on the table saw a rip away.

Another issue was how to attach the stringers to the porch. I know that over time the concrete pad will shift and heave. the porch sits on footings so it shouldn't move. I ended up running 2x6 boards from the stringers back under the porch and then drilling through the porch joists and attaching a carriage bolt assembly to tie them together. I only made the bolt finger tight so that over time if there is movement the steps *should* be able to float a bit??? We'll see how that works.

Anyway I got the two middle stringers set up and was able to use salvaged steps from the old basement stairs to serve temporarily. I did get the two outside stingers cut to correct rise and bought a bunch of really nice yellow pine to cover the rise, and to box in the sides of the outside stringers. When I have everything installed the stairs will be 6 feet wide. That means they will extend from one tall pillar to the other.

Friday, October 10, 2008

75 Years Ago at Foxcroft

Helen's Diary

Oct 11, 1933

Up late M and I put down wood. She put on N + W storm windows. I excavated pool about 6-9 inches + scraped sides, concrete fine.


The photo above is labeled "Oct. 1993" but it must have been near the end of the month since Helen is more than "6-9 inches" down. She and Bess dug a trench for the sides of the pool and used the ground as a form when they poured cement for the side walls. After it dried Helen then excavated the middle.

Whenever Helen writes "M" she is referring to her mother, Bess, who was the original builder of Foxcroft.

I can only guess what "put down wood" means: The blueprint for the basement shows a "kindling room" maybe they were putting wood down there to burn in the fireplace that winter? Maybe they laid planks on the gravel driveway for traction in the mud?

I had wooden storms made for the west side of the house, but since it has been so nice I still have the screens on.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Concrete Shoes?

When I got home from work yesterday I discovered Pete had already been by and taken off the 2x6 forms from the concrete pad we poured at the bottom of the back porch on Saturday. Despite the steady drizzle I put paver bricks around the perimeter of the pad and backfilled the places that needed it. I took the broken sidewalk and temporarily filled in the the square of sidewalk in each direction leading from the pad to the garage and the south side of the house.

When digging out the garage side I found that there are more stepping stones under the cement sidewalk, like the ones we found three years ago running out into the back yard. Since the original photos of the house show only a gravel path from the porch to the garage, the stepping stones must have been added when the others were done in the 1950's. Here was our photo of the other stepping stones taken in 2005:

So now I know when I replace the rest of the sidewalk I can recover more stepping stones.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Helen's Diary: Oct. 7, 1933


Worked 8-12 reading scores. M + I to Iowa (38) Bradley (0) game. Got much colder during the day. M canned 35 qts of wild grape juice from Grace Strubley.

Giants won World Series 4 games to 1 over Senators. Score 4-3 in 11 innings


  • Helen had a work study job and UI in foreign language department.
  • Tickets to the Iowa-Bradley football game would have cost $1.00 each according to some quick research showing that UI cut prices in 1933 from $1.50 to $1.00 due to the depression. For the Florida International game this season I bought tickets at face value of $50.00 each.
  • I can't imagine how many grapes it would take to squeeze 35 quarts of juice
  • The New York Giants beat the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. to clinch the series. According to Wikipedia:
    Washington, D.C. has not hosted another World Series since 1933. Game 5 was the final Series game played in the nation's capital as of 2008. This Washington Senators franchise became the Minnesota Twins during the 1960-1961 offseason, and would not reach the World Series again until 1965. The second Senators team became the Texas Rangers. The transfer of the Montreal Expos to become the Washington Nationals opens the door to D.C. again potentially.

Iowa football player and Big Ten 1933 MVP Joe Laws. This photo was taken after the mayor of Iowa City offered Laws any honarary positon in the city after winning the MVP award. He chose to be the fire chief (photo from Des Moines Register)

Washington Senator's Player/Manager Joe Cronin (photo from Wikipedia)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Progress: Porch, Puddles, Pond

I was gently reminded by my most faithful reader last week that it really had been a long time between posts. In spite of little reporting progress continues.

Since we expanded the back porch this summer I needed to make two small columns to place at the corners to attach the railings to. Using the same construction method as the original columns that support the porch roof, I created two boxes 30 inches tall. These will go over the 4x4 posts I attached at the corners of the frame. The railings that ran between the house and the tall columns will fit in there. I have also started to strip the paint off those railings and will get them ready to paint.

Last Sunday I broke up the concrete pad that was at the foot of the porch in order to pour new and be able to build steps back up to the porch. A major reason for all this porch work was that the pad had dipped in the middle and rain water collected into a giant puddle at the foot of the porch steps. With proper slope we should be able to get rid of that problem. Pete stopped by last night and our plan is to dig out and pour a new pad this weekend.

I was looking through Rowan's pictures from her digital camera and selected these to show the pond. These were taken when we had emptied the girls' swimming pool into it. The hole in the bottom still needs to be patched so water has slowly leaked out. I'll get that done this fall too.