Monday, February 21, 2011

Washington's Birthday in the Atomic Age

February 22nd 1950-1954 at Foxcroft, from Bess' diary:

Wed. 30
Walter gone 31 years today. Helen hemmed skirts and I crocheted on bedspread – basted hems in her cream tablecloth + cut her 9 napkins. Betty here in PM to bring coffee bread + Mrs. K brought cookies. “Winned” the canasta games by beating Helen – Walked to grocery store for carrots, oranges and (unreadable) 99¢

Thur. 35
Made a cherry pie with whipped cream + hatchet crust top which took all a.m. Wrote cards to Blanche + John Dornnan. Dottie looked over so here 3 – 5:30 We had tea + pie – she took 2 pieces home – Bob dashed over to borrow some whiskey for an unexpected guest. Bed 6:30

Fri 36
Baked cherry pie – Started to take a couple pieces to Rays when they drove in around 6 but Bob said “I’d rather eat them in your house.” So they did. Worked in basement again in a.m. got several seed orders into the flats - Telephone visit with Mrs. Whipple who called to see if I was OK. Slept a while mid afternoon Bed at 7

Sun. 34
Cold wind – Watered plants – Put cherry pie together took 2 pieces to Dottie and 3 to Wilsons when I went down to dinner at noon. Saw lovely pictures of Rickey’s baby + (unreadable) Home at 1:30 – Wrote Jean - Blanche – Wil + Book of Month - grate fire - Grace phoned - Bed at 6.

Mon. 50
Washed – Helen + Mickey hung up clothes Micky took teacher stuff to Bigelows. He + Helen dyed his army shirts. I finished the knit baby blankets (unreadable) at last. Went to council meeting in evening and found out about paving assessments. Same as Mr. Knowher had given me. Heard last half of Iowa 83 Ill. 65 or thereabouts a big upset. Mrs. Baxter gave me a ride home


Walter was Bess' husband, he died in Serbia in 1919 while still under his enlistment during WWI. He was a doctor and was sent to help deal with a typhus epidemic, he contracted pneumonia and died. He was 37 years old, Bess was 36 at the time. She never re-married.

1951 & 52
The pie with the hatchet crust must have been very similar to the one pictured, which I photographed from my copyright 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (first edition) I'm certain Bess got the idea from this cookbook. It remains one of my favorite cookbooks too. Bob and Dottie were dear neighbors who moved next door in 1950. As a young faculty member I'm guessing Bob needed to do a fair bit of last minute entertaining!

Wilson's were other neighbors down the street. Blanche was Bess' sister who lived in northern California. Wil was former neighbor
Wilbur Schramm

Bigelows were yet another neighor. They built their house behind Foxcroft's fishpond in 1949. The old couple were still living there when we moved in, summer of 2005. As always Bess loved her sports, especially the Hawkeyes and Chicago Cubs.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Descent into the Maelstrom

Besides being the name of a short story in volume II of the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe that I read over vacation between Christmas and New Year's, Descent into the Maelstrom,
is an appropriate description of painting the basement stairway, which I also did between Christmas and New Year's. The number of "untouched" spaces at Foxcroft keeps dwindling, and this was a good one to get out of the way.

For all the time Bess took in planning so much of Foxcroft before it was built, I cannot for the life of me understand why she did not have an entrance from outdoors straight into the basement. Cellar doors or anything would have been crucial in my mind, but apparently not in her's. So any time you had to go from outdoors to the basement you had to go through the kitchen. Lots of very dirty hands went down the stairway over the years, lots! To make matters worse, I'm pretty sure that the stairway was wearing its original 1928 paint until this project.

Here is the way down. I removed the door before starting (Stuccohouse will be so happy to see I did that)

And here is the other side. I took off the light switch covers and taped over the light switches to prevent paint splatters. I also removed the hand railings, which had been added at some later time, as the original handrails don't start until descending below the plaster:

As you can see from this pic and the two above, I primed the corners with a brush before rolling the rest:

We had a lot of "Hubbard Squash" left over from the living room, so that is what I used:

The light switch plate was pretty grungy, Here it is before clean up:

And after boiling in water and baking soda plus some 0000 steel wool:

And here it is back on the wall:

Don't ask about the second switch, it is a long story...

Saturday, February 05, 2011

On Heating Oil and Gov't. Checks

After posting Bess' diary entry for Monday Jan. 31. 1951 I did a little looking around. Currently the national average price for home heating oil in $3.478 per gallon. That is roughly an increase of 25 times Bess' 1951 price of 13.8 cents per gallon. Her 310 gallons today would have cost $1078.18 plus 6% sales tax of $64.69, for a total of $1142.87. The cost difference between 1951 and 2011 would be $1099.24.

An interesting aside is that I have no idea what she would have stored the heating oil in, or where in the basement a tank would have been located. The original heating source for the 1928 boiler would have been coal. The coal room is marked on the blueprints as being located in the basement at the driveway turnaround on the northwest wall. This was likely so that a truck could back in and unload through the coal door. That coal door has been replaced by a small basement window. The coal room is currently my workshop which means I store paint and tools in there. I'm guessing that is where the tank would have been?

The boiler was originally supposed to be in the middle of the basement, so that it was near the coal room. But was instead built near the chimney on the southeast wall toward the front of the house. This put it on the opposite wall from the coal room. When we moved in, the house had a 1979 boiler that ran on natural gas. So that is at least two different boilers with three different fuels to power them. We replaced the boiler with a geothermal system in 2005. Because of that, the only things running on natural gas are our oven, the clothes dryer, and the fireplace. Our monthly gas charge is always $16, which must be the minimum. The geothermal runs on electricity.

The 1979 boiler is still sitting in our basement. My brother, Tom, said it is my duty to hold onto it for him, as someday the 1905 boiler in his house will fail completely. He likes the idea of having a backup readily at hand.

A final thought: If I used the same multiplier effect from above for the price of oil, Bess' still mysterious $75.00 gov't. check would be worth $1875.00 today. That would be a very nice chunk of change!