Monday, April 27, 2015

Please Come To Boston For the Springtime

Cousin to Kenny Loggins, Dave Loggins wrote Please Come to Boston and then disappeared. According to Wikipedia, he is still around and wrote a number of songs for other people. I've always loved that song and after four decades, I've decided to finally heed his advice and come to Boston. For my wife, it will be a working trip and for me, it will strictly be for pleasure. I plan to spend much of my time soaking up the history for it is here that the seed of our country was planted and sprang forth into a free nation. I will see you when I get back.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Forgotten Iowa: Part 3

Lebanon, Iowa is one of many towns in rural Iowa that are disappearing as the inhabitants move towards the larger urban centers. I don't know how big it once was but now it consists of a handful of buildings and a church. Most of Lebanon was destroyed in 1944 by a tornado and the rest simply vanished.

At the crossroads, there sits the building above which has been a diner off and on my entire life with more off than on. My wife and I've eaten there a couple times over the course of our marriage on the way to somewhere but currently it is vacant and for sale. As fewer people farm and more people move towards the urban centers, there just isn't enough people left to keep a diner open in this neck of the woods. I suspect that eventually it will be sold to one of the neighboring residents and treated as a storage shed for what remains of its life and eventually it will disappear with the rest of Lebanon never to be seen again.

On a side note, notice the telephone booth on the right side of the diner. To my knowledge, it is the only such phone booth in the county. Many of the rural residents to the east, south and west are Amish and they don't have telephones in their homes for religious reasons. They do however need a telephone from time to time and it isn't against their religion to use someone else's telephone. I didn't check, but I suspect that telephone is still working and still gets used by the local Amish.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015

Forgotten Iowa: Part 1

One of the things that are rapidly disappearing in rural America are barns. In my youth the countryside was full of them and now decades later they are almost all gone, replaced by their metal sheathed cousin called the pole building. There are many good reasons why the barn has disappeared but I am saddened none the less of their demise. A comment on another blog that I read got me to thinking about this sad state of affairs and since then, I have been noticing the carcasses of barns that are still standing here and there. I find myself staring at them imagining them in their glory days while appreciating the beauty of them as they return to the earth they sprang from. I finally took a camera along on a recent small road trip I made and photographed a few of them for posterity.

The top photograph isn't a barn but it was near the barn seen above, both now lost to the woods just to the east of Iowaville mentioned in my last post. The small barn below is a little bit further down the road. Judging from the size of the tree in the middle of the doorway, it hasn't been used in 50 or 60 years, perhaps longer. I am amazed at all the barns like the one below that are the sole survivors of a long ago homestead. The houses and other assorted outbuildings have long since disappeared but the barns are often still standing. Perhaps they were built of stronger materials to withstand the loads of crops, livestock and machinery that were stored inside. Or perhaps they were still utilized long after the house and other outbuildings had served their purpose and so were cared for just a little bit longer.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Real Iowaville

Long time readers will know that in the past, when I've written about my hometown where I grew up, I have used the name Iowaville to preserve a bit of anonymity. I didn't however just pull the name Iowaville out of a hat because there actually was a town of that name years ago. Above you see some of the former residents of Iowaville where they are buried on a steep knob overlooking the river valley.

Indians were the first occupants of Iowaville until the land was purchased by white settlers. They platted out the town and were going to name it Iowa City but that name had already been taken so they settled on Iowaville. The town flourished until the mid 1850's when the railroad went by further north and it gradually declined never seeing a population of greater than 200 residents. Eventually it disappeared until there is nothing left along the river.

Sign on the fence next to the cemetery
 Where Iowaville once stood is now mostly farm land and the grove of trees seen below. If you look closely there is an old barn amidst all those trees though I'm fairly certain it was built after Iowaville disappeared. Only a plaque mounted to a post along the gravel river road is left to tell future occupants of this world that Iowaville once existed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Glory Days

I knew the day would come eventually and as we were down on the farm visiting my parents, my mom had a pile of stuff from her recent basement cleaning spree that she gave to me. Most of it were childhood books that I can pass on to my oldest who is at that age of becoming a voracious reader like her old man was. One box however took me completely by surprise. Unbeknownst to me, every model I had labored over to glue, paint and apply stickers too she had saved, wrapped up in newspaper and put in a box.

I loved to build model cars as a young boy but frankly sucked out at. It seemed as if every model started out with the engine which required lots of gluing microscopic parts together and painted them all shades of the rainbow. I've never seen a factory engine in the colors model manufacturers suggested. By the time I was finished with my rainbow hued, sticky mass of plastic that vaguely resembled an engine, it was time to move onto the chasis and body. Those went together pretty well until I had to apply the stickers. They always required soaking in warm water and then gently sliding into place. Then I spent the next ten minutes repairing all the rips and rearranging all the air bubbles until in disgust I threw the sodden mess into the trash can. That is why almost all my models are sans stickers and the ones that are there I wouldn't recommend looking at very closely.

By the time I was done with the model, I was so disgusted with my efforts, I never wanted to display them and all these years I assumed they had gone quietly to the landfill only to find out my mom had saved them. As I unpacked them on the dining room table last night, pieces were falling off and they were in pretty rough shape after 30 years of storage. I didn't know what to do with them at first. If I sold them at a garage sale, I'm not sure anyone would want to buy them except for a random kid looking for something to spice up his fourth of July firework shooting spree. That is when it hit me that I should just turn my daughters loose with them with one condition, if anything breaks off, they throw that piece in the trash. Several pieces that were loose immediately ended up in the trash but for the most part after one day of play, they are all still largely intact.

My oldest daughter seemed fascinated by them and when she learned that they still make model kits, she was after me to get one for her. I am constantly amazed at seeing things through the eyes of a child. In my eyes, these are relics of past frustrations and frankly quite embarrassing. To her, they are the coolest things on earth and now she wants to build some. I wonder how much has changed in model kit technology after 30 years?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Basement Unprogress

As I suspected, the basement office remodel project got off to a slow start and then slowed down. It just seems like a shame to waste spring working in a windowless basement room. Instead I've been working in the garage this past week finishing up some projects started late last fall and putting the finishing touches on the front door. The latter project I have officially completed and crossed off the master list and later replaced with a couple more projects.

I was able to remove the two closets at the near end of the office. I'm not sure why part of the concrete was painted and the other part wasn't and since I haven't removed the rest of the drywall, I'm not sure which part is like the rest. I suspect though that originally there was only one closet and later someone added the second. In their place though I am going to build a murphy bed and some shelving after insulating and drywalling the wall.

In the top right corner, you can see my progress on the ductwork. Originally there was ductwork extending out to the top center of the picture which made the room feel incredibly small and claustrophobic. After some investigation, the outer duct was the return duct and only extended into this room to move air from a return duct up in our kitchen that doesn't exist anymore and hasn't since we bought the place. Because returns can affect heating and cooling performance in a house and we were one short of the original ones, I removed the ductwork back to the far wall of the office and put a wall register in its place so now the furnace can draw air from the office as well as the other return ducts throughout the house. I also shorted the heating duct in the bottom photo, upper left corner, which extended out to the old bulkhead to just enough space for me to build a new bulkhead next to the remaining ductwork. This will effectively give me another two and a half feet of full height ceilings in this room and really gives it a much larger appearance.

I had a ventilation guy come over to look at reducing the forced air supply side of the ductwork with something much lower profile but due to the five connections on this side of the house, it would cost more money than I was willing to spend to just gain another couple feet. Next up, I need to remove the rest of the drywall on the side with the previous water damage and possibly containing black mold. I bought a new respirator to wear while doing that instead of my normal loose fitting cotton masks. Once I get all the drywall gone, I plan to insulate the two concrete sides with closed cell foam and the other two sides with cheap fiberglass batting just for noise and then drywall everything. I suspect with all the other projects I want to get done this spring and summer, that alone will keep me working in this room until fall before I get it finished.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Spring is here though it really hasn't allowed me to photograph it. Since the blossoms and buds have appeared, we've pretty much had cloudy and rainy weather as witnessed in the above photograph. I don't mind since it was pretty dry here a few weeks ago and we need the moisture to get things going. Besides, we still have a week to go before crop insurance can be purchased and farmers start getting the crops put in the ground.

I love trees and one of my favorites is the Serviceberry tree. For a decade of my life, I rented apartments and had no land. For the second decade I owned a house and a quarter acre of land with two huge mature trees on it plus a few other smaller ornamental type trees so I had no room to plant any more trees. Finally three years ago, we bought this place on two acres and I finally have room to plant some trees so the first one I planted is the serviceberry seen above which is almost ready to blossom. I can't wait. I love spring flowering trees like redbuds, dogwoods and serviceberry and long term, I would like a whole row of them planted down at the bottom of our hill.

The front landscaping is also greening up and starting to blossom though I can't tell you what anything is. My mind just doesn't have the capacity to remember which bulb flower is which.

If you recall, last fall I planted four trees in front of our house, the serviceberry, a sour cherry shown below, a macintosh and a red delicious apple trees. All are starting to bud and leaf out so they have survived their first winter after getting seriously pruned by the local deer which is why you can see the fence in the background. My favorite fruit tree though is always a sour cherry tree and I can't wait until this gets big enough for me to make a sour cherry pie.

My hope is to plant a couple trees every year for awhile until we get things diversified to where I like it. I have great plans to go down into the ditch at the bottom of the hill and mark some trees that can be dug up and transplanted into the more open spaces of our lawn later this fall. Others which aren't growing on my property I am going to have to propagate or perhaps buy in bulk from a tree seedling place to reduce costs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Smoking Gun

As many of you know I am a genealogist though the past two years I haven't done much due to work on fixer upper house. But I get a few moments here and there and poke around still. The Baker side of my family is holding a reunion this summer and I've been invited to attend. This branch has always fascinated me since it had one of the hardest brick walls I've had to knock down while doing research but eventually I discovered that my third great grandfather Joseph Baker was actually Joseph Chicken and changed his name after the Civil War. All the pieces of my puzzle fit together but I've never had that concrete proof. I needed something to tie the Baker family to the Chicken family in document form.

I recently had a few minutes waiting for paint to dry and decided to do a Google search to see what turned up on Joseph Chicken. After a long while of scrolling through thousands of results for chicken dinners at various churches named after St. Joseph, I finally hit pay dirt after all this time. In some records labeled 'Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934', I found a record that was the smoking gun. It was the record of Joseph Chicken/Baker's son Robert and his marriage to Viola. In the details it lists his father as Joseph Chicken and his mother as Fanny Brocton whom with I have many ties to the Baker side of the family. At long last, I can say with 100% certainty, that I have Chicken's in my bloodline. Now if I could only figure out why he changed his name from Chicken to Baker.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Door(s)

This is our front entry door and as you can see, it has suffered with time and heat. All the decorative moldings on the front have warped with heat and time. Functionally, the door still worked and served it's purpose but after spending so much time and money on siding, soffit, garage door and landscaping, the door just didn't fit in anymore. I thought about pulling off the moldings and redoing them somehow but there was one more reason that tipped me over the edge to just getting a new door.

This is the same door from the other side and as you can see, it is at the end of a hallway which always seems to be dark and uninviting, not something you want. The hallway is narrow and the darkness makes if feel even more so. Long term, we would like to create a small bump out on the front to expand the kitchen which shares the wall on the right and as part of that, we would remove the wall, widen the hallway and move the door location. But after everything we've done in the past three years, we decided that financially it just isn't in the cards in the near term. So we decided that if we replaced the old door with a new door with a window, it might do a couple things for us. It would lighten up the hallway making it more inviting and perhaps make it feel bigger than it does. In the future, should we redo the kitchen, we can move the existing door and add sidelights which my wife really wants or just get a new door. In the financial scale of redoing a kitchen, another door is a very minor part.

When we redid the siding, we removed a faux beam that divided up the large overhang of our front stoop into two narrow slivers. It gave a cleaner look and let a lot more light into the house through the south facing windows in the kitchen. Because there is about six feet of overhang at our door, a storm door really seemed unnecessary assuming we had a well insulated door. It was just one more thing to open to escape the house and it was forever getting locked by others who didn't realize that with it locked, our only way into the house was through the garage. (The two sliding doors and master bedroom door don't have keys to gain access if they are locked.) This wasn't a problem unless the power was out and then you were SOL until it came back on.

I have done a lot of things in my life and with most home improvement tasks but replacing a door is not one of them. However I have watched a lot of home improvement shows over the years and replacing a door seemed pretty straight forward so I gave it a go. The one caveat was that we had just done the siding last fall and I wanted to keep the new door trim on if possible to save a lot of caulking, flashing and time. Fortunately I was able to remove the door from the inside and after removing the brick molding on the new door pop it into place. I got out a new level that I hadn't used before and soon had it trued up, shimmed, screwed off and foamed. It was only then that I realized that something was wrong. The door didn't line up with the trim on the outside and when I opened it, it gained speed by itself until it hit the door stop. It didn't seem like it was level despite my level saying it was within 0.1 degrees of level. So I got my old trusty bubble level that has been beat to heck a time or two and according to it, it was way out of level. So I dug out all the foam with a screwdriver, unscrewed it, and did everything over a second time. This time it ended up great though the jam still must not be completely level. You can see this in the above picture by looking at the gap between the top of the door and the surround. I didn't want to do everything a third time and since it isn't enough to affect anything other than aesthetics, I said it was good enough.

Although the window does let in a lot more light and it does make the hallway seem bigger, my poor picture really doesn't give you a sense of that. You will have to trust me.  Above is a picture from the outside showing the new door in place. I still have to fill in all the holes left in the trim from the storm door and do some painting but the hard part is done. This door doesn't have any trim attached to the outside to warp in the sun like the other one did. Instead it is a steel door and the 'trim' is actually just a stamped in design. My wife picked out the paint which seemed pretty bright when I was applying it in the garage but now here in the shadows of the overhang, it seems pleasing to my eye. We went conservative on our siding color so this is our accent to make the front pop a little. Overall my first door replacement went well and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. Now it is back to other scheduled projects.

Friday, April 3, 2015

...And More Projects

I started the previously posted office remodeling project knowing full well that once warmer weather got here, it would be on the back burner. I just have too many other projects that need to get done. One of those is to eventually start a garden. We had a small one at our last place and we definitely have space for a much larger one here but there are several things holding us back. First, with my wife working full time and me fixing up a house and taking care of a two year old, there just isn't time for gardening. When the little one gets a little older and starts school, then I should have the time to properly devote to a garden. Second, the deer here are obnoxious. I don't mean they taunt me or leaving flaming bags of poop on my front porch. There are just so many of them that they purposely treat my lawn as a smorgasbord at night. Nothing is sacred or undiscovered to them. So any garden I create, will have to have Alcatraz like fortifications around it to prevent the deer from entering. Such fortifications take time so thus we decided to do something that doesn't require much time.

Above is my solution to this problem. I built a large cedar planting container for my wife to reside out on the back deck assuming the deer don't climb the seven steps to get up to it from our side yard. I sized it to span between two beams and on top of two support columns so it should be able to take the weight. It should be enough to plant a couple tomato plants and perhaps a few spices and salad stuff as well. The one drawback is that it is on the opposite side of the house as our outside spigot so I will have to get a long hose to water it this summer. Even if I have to carry water in buckets, if it makes the wife happy for another couple years until the wee one is a bit older and I can create a better garden, it will be worth it.

The other project stems from the careless hammering of one of the fellows that helped me with the siding project last fall. While on scaffolding, he was backing up and didn't notice that the hammer dangling from his tool pouch proceeded his but by several inches and he broke the outer pane of our window. Since we were currently experiencing one of the coldest Novembers in memory, fixing the window was put on hold until spring. Since repairing the window was on his dime, I had to wait until he was there to take the window out. The first really warm week of spring came and went with no one showing up. The following week he showed up to get it fixed when the temperatures were below freezing every night. To seal up the window opening while the window was getting fixed, he brought a well used plastic garbage bag remnant that had to have several pieces taped together to fit the opening. He then taped it to the outside and tried his best to patch up the many holes and thin spots in the plastic and left. I could feel the breeze blowing right through it and the road in the valley sounded like it was right outside the window. I decided I had to do a better job so I found a scrap chipboard remnant in my garage big enough to fit the opening from the inside and finish nailed it into place. I'll have to do some putty and repainting work but for the next few days, at least my heater won't be running continuously to keep the house at a reasonable temperature.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Starting Another Notch In the Remodeling Belt

Wive's are cunning. In the waning few days before the warmest weather we've seen in these parts since last October, my wife says lets finally remodel the downstairs office. She knows full well that there are a million things I want to do as soon as the weather gets warmer that involve being outside. I need to summerize things in preparation for the warmer months ahead. I need to clean out the garage and finish up a few odd projects cluttering my workbenches. I need to finish the job we began last fall redoing the siding and soffit on our house. All the windows still need scraped and painted. The landscaping on the backside of the house that is pushed up too close to the siding needs to be hauled away. The wife has requested a large planter garden for the deck in lieu of the real thing which eventually we need to build. The list goes on and on.

But fortunately I am clever myself and I know there is no way I will get this office remodel project done in a timely manner so I will do what I can, when I can and always have a project for those spring rainy days when it really isn't fit to be doing stuff outside. Perhaps this fall I will be able to finish this project.

With the exception of the poked up ceiling panels, the office looks identical to the day we moved in. It still has vestiges of the original wood paneling showing and I suspect that whoever drywalled the room, applied the drywall right over the wood paneling which is frustrating to work on. The room is situated right below the kitchen which when we moved in had a leaking sink that had not only rotted out the bottom of the kitchen cabinet and the kitchen flooring but had also been leaking down into this room. As a result, it had a dank smell probably from mold and we have run a ionizer/air filter down there ever since to cut the smell. Now that the leak has been fixed, I want to remove any mold and fix any water damage to rid the problem once and for all.

Technically this room is a non-conforming bedroom since it doesn't have any egress windows and the only way out is through the single door. The previous occupants used it as a bedroom but for us, we have always used it as our office and exercise room. The two closets that you see above were storage for our extra kitchen gadgets on the left and extra cloths and board games on the right. Those closets will be completely removed and instead there will be a Murphy bed on the left for guests and shelves on the right.

On the opposite side of the office is going to be our new office area. I'm planning on building a built-in-place desk along with some storage cabinets. Because we use this space as an office and as a non-conforming bedroom it only had two outlets in the entire room, I need to upgrade the electrical along with putting in receptacles for cable and phone instead of just draping them from the ceiling.

The biggest issue I have with this room is the large bulkhead that takes up about half of the ceiling which makes this room feel claustrophobic. I know lots has changed in how houses are plumbed for heating and airconditioning since the mid 1970's when this house was built and I'm currently investigating what it would take to reduce these large rectangular ducts to something more manageable. The truncated duct on the right is the return duct and as far as I can discern, there are no returns in this area so possible I can reduce it out of the room and at least get some more space back. I called a heating and ventilation guy I know to come look at it in a couple weeks and help me decipher if anything is possible.

Until then, I plan to strip two of the walls down to the concrete walls of the basement and the other two walls down to the studs. Depending on what I learn about the ventilation, I may or may not strip the drywall off the wall with the doorway. Right now I'm leaning towards doing it since I will already have three walls stripped down and if I can reduce the ducting and thus raise the ceiling somewhat, the drywall already there won't be tall enough. Because there isn't enough debris to justify a trash container, I will end up loading up the debris in a few loads in our van and hauling it to the dump as I go. It takes more time but in the end, saves me a few bucks to spend elsewhere in the project. Besides, I'm not a spring chicken anymore and the ride to the dump is a good breather after toting all that crap up from the basement.