Hitting The Dirt

In our last episode, I removed all the rocks from the Pony Express courtyard; however, the story could not possibly end there. Katie managed to get a great floor model deal on a new hot tub to go in the courtyard which pushed the courtyard paving to the top of the project list. We decided on paving stones as the best option but they require a 5″ deep bed of gravel and sand thus the digging began.

It seemed like this would be an easy enough task and it was for the first couple of wheelbarrow loads but then this happened.

The dirt just went on and on until our arms threatened to mutiny but we discovered how to tell when we could stop digging. We found a hard packed ash layer in the dirt that may have been from the fire of 1866 or even later. As luck would have it, the ash layer just happened to be level and at just the right depth for our gravel bed making it a perfect depth gauge. All the soil above it was new with very few artifacts to be found other than some new stuff. Surprisingly, there was a Nerf football buried in the corner of the yard which gives you a good idea of how old that soil deposit was.

Another challenge we faced was all of the tree roots of the black locusts we had removed at the beginning of the project.

They will have to be ground out but the good news is that the roots are dead so they won’t be pushing up the paving stones in years to come.

Another issue that cropped up was the condition of the post office wall in the courtyard. The hot tub will back up to it so it has to be repaired before the tub goes in. As you can see from the first photo, it was really shaggy but with a little finesse and a bit of tin, it should look pretty good.

This also gave us the opportunity to demolish a few attached apartment complexes.

Now, I have to figure out what to do with that old window in the post office wall. The sashes are rotted and many of the glass panes are actually plexiglass replacements. Perhaps it’s time to build my own window from scratch.

Rock Star

The weather had been a little less squishy the last two weeks and I took it upon myself to clear out the Pony Express yard. This entailed removing scrap lumber, salvaged brick and a couple of large piles of rocks. Of course, I was not looking forward to this but it had to be done.

The hitch was that there was no way to get a Bobcat into the yard to move that stuff the easy way so all the rock had to be moved by hand.

The small bits worked with the wheel barrow but the larger ones I carried out by hand so that they could be sorted into piles based on size and shape. How I wished I was still in my twenties.

Then, as if on cue, our neighborhood mason showed up wondering if we were ever going to repair that window in the Pony Express wall.

The window was looking pretty grim after 160 years and the repairs that had been done in the past were even less attractive. To remove the mess, I suspected that a sledge hammer would be required but on further prodding, the entire mess just fell out, missing my toes by inches.

With the dirty work done, the mason stepped in with a keen eye and a skilled trowel to bring the window back to its original grandeur.

On a job like this, most of the mason’s time is spent looking for just the right stone and then chipping away at it for the perfect fit. My previous work at sorting the larger ones saved time and put my favorites front and center for the mason to choose from. The large pink block at the bottom was an old foundation stone from the kitchen structure that used to be behind the hotel. It’s long gone now except for the stones that came up when the gas company trenched for the new line.

In the end, the mason had done a darn good job which is why it pays to hire out some tasks. It took the mason three days to make this look awesome whereas, I would have taken three weeks to create something that looked okay at best.

I See the Light

Now that Katie and I have moved into the hotel and the boxes are getting sorted out, we now have the ability to start decorating.

The furniture came first with the idea that if the pieces are in their final locations, they won’t be in the way. Well, that’s only sort of true but the theory works for the most part. Here we have a seating area in the saloon that Katie arranged.

The furniture pieces are mostly things that we have collected specifically for the hotel and Craigslist has been our source for most of it.

Along with the new acquisitions, we also had many items that were waiting for a new home. The painting of Lake Tahoe in the last picture had been hanging in Katie’s garage for years where it was really feeling a bit lost. It looks much more at home in the saloon.

It was also my great pleasure to start rescuing my light fixtures that had been hanging in the basement since last fall. Down there, they were just a hazard for banging one’s head on but upstairs, they really fit in.

This fixture is from the early part of the 20th century and it is actually a compilation of three different fixtures. To explain, I don’t like to buy complete light fixtures to restore. I much prefer obtaining heaps of parts and designing my own creations in the style of the period.

This hallway fixture is a bit more humble. It pretty much started with the cross bar that I found in a box of parts and I just started adding things from there.

Along with the light fixtures coming out of storage, I found a grandiose wall hanging that I had packed away three years ago and was pleasantly surprised that it had not split from drying out in the desert climate.

It started life as a souvenir coffee table from the Holy Land. It’s cedar with wood and mother of pearl inlay and it originally had four short legs. When I found it at a garage sale; however, the legs were all broken off because cedar is really brittle and the table had spent its life with a bunch of rough housing children. It had also been treated to a thick coating of Varathane which took many hours to strip off. Once the wood was stripped, I coated it with three coats of old fashioned shellac and buffed it with paste wax. After that, it was a simple matter to add a hanging cleat and hoisting it up on the wall.

Of course, all is not fun and games and the hobby room floor proved this. We call this room the “Rocket Room” because building and flying rockets is something we like to do; although, it’s really the most extreme game of “fetch” that I’ve ever encountered. One spends lots of money and hours of time building the rocket only to launch into the air so high that it can’t be seen anymore. With a little praying, it soon reappears gently descending on a parachute and when all seems well, the wind catches it and blows it all the way to Winnamucca.

If you look beyond the rockets, you can see the new VCT tile floor. We chose the VCT because it had the vintage look of the old asbestos tiles without the asbestos. It’s also tough as nails and easy to install…. well maybe. As it turns out, the tiles are easy to trim and lay but the glue is a real challenge. It’s a form of rubber cement that has the habit of sticking to everything. Just imagine spreading the glue on the floor with your trowel. Then try to put the trowel down. It won’t let go of your hand so you pull it free with your other hand but now it’s stuck to that one. It’s a real face palm moment but even that gesture has a downside.

Now that the floor is done, it’s time for a bottle of brew. I would love to have a second but the first bottle is still stuck to my hand.

Box Canyon

In the last two months, it’s been a whirlwind of activity. December was the big push to get the certificate of occupancy and once that document was signed, we started moving in the same day.

We spent January moving stuff out of the old house and having a monumentous garage sale. Even with the sale, we ended up with a lot of boxes to move to the hotel.

The saloon looked almost as bad as when we bought the place but luckily, the smell was different. No more “essence of dog and cat wee”.

To back up a bit, the cert of occupancy required a few last tasks that I’d been procrastination over. The biggest one was actually the easiest since it was just a matter of writing a check. We hired a guy named Bob who owned a Bobcat to grade the back yard.

The next task was installing the wall vent for the range hood. It had been worrying me because it required drilling an eight inch diameter hole in the kitchen wall twelve feet above the ground. The contractor quotes were also quite high for the project so it was much cheaper to simply buy a rotary hammer and do it myself.

The installation proved to be a lot easier than expected. The old brick was so soft that I was able to drill a series of holes in an eight inch circle and then chip out the center with a chisel bit. The rest was simply securing the the vent with masonry screws and caulking. I also am the proud owner of a rotary hammer which may never get used again but it was still cheaper than hiring a contractor.

The final project was getting a code compliant banister on the stairs. The challenge was that we wanted to reuse the original banister but to get that to fit correctly, I had to build the newel post for it to secure to. Of course, the construction of the newel post required that I build the newel post lamp as well before I lost access to the wiring within.

The newel post lamp that I used came from an antique shop in Reno. It was a very early original with a socket that had mica as an insulator inside. Sadly, sockets this old are hard to reuse since the mica tends to degrade over the years thus leading to possible shorting so I found one in my stock of parts that looked just like the old one but without the mica.

The result was pretty attractive for both the lamp and the banister which, ironically, you can’t see in this picture. The banister that you can see, on the far wall, is original and still needs to be raised up to the code compliant height. It seems that we are much taller than the average person 150 years ago.

Of course, all this work meant nothing without cat approval. We had five to move, three of which went peacefully. I still have scars from the other two. Once they got to the hotel; however, all was well with the exception of the stairs. None of the kitties had encounter stairs before which led to a few instances of fuzzy tumbling but there were no injuries. Meanwhile, the kitchen provided more satisfaction including Wyatt showing us where he wanted us to store the cat food.

Now, once the boxes are unpacked, it will be time for interior millwork.

Tile We Meet Again

The weather is turning cold and Katie and I are making the big push for our certificate of occupancy. The building inspector has been by to provide us with the final requirements and we now have a clear set of goals that need to be attained.

My hat is off to Katie for taking on the finish plumbing. While not difficult, the plumbing is a persnickety task requiring multiple trips to the hardware store to pick up that one last adapter that’s holding up completion only to discover that the adapter needs an additional part to make it work correctly thus another trip to the hardware store. Okay, that was a run on sentence but you get what I mean. In any case, the kitchen is now fully functional and the two bathrooms are complete except for the shower controls which will be installed after the showers are tiled.

Meanwhile, I started wrestling with the hearth that the wood stove will stand on. The stove must be fully installed for occupancy which made the hearth a bit of a rush project but I did not want it to look slapped together. The basic structure was not a problem because it would never be seen. Here we have a platform of 2x4s and plywood.

On top of the platform, is a layer of sheet metal that is required by code. I highly suspect that this is overkill considering what will go on top of the metal but it’s easier to comply than argue. The metal and sides of the platform were then covered in 1/4″ thick tile backer board.

Once the backer board was secured, we started experimenting with finishes which seemed like a simple task at the time. At first we purchased porcelain tiles which looked nice but the look was not right for the space. We traded the tiles in for natural slate but then discovered that the bull nose edge pieces that we needed to finish the top were expensive and would have to be special ordered. But then, our tile salesperson, got an idea and showed me a dusty crate of orphan travertine pavers. They were an inch thick and would not require a bull nose like the slate and there were just enough to do the hearth. I bought the lot at a discount thus fulfilling my love of using recycled and surplus materials.

Once the parts were assembled, it was just a matter of gluing everything together and grouting.

Eventually, I’ll add a small wood molding around the base to dress it up but in the meantime, it’s good enough for occupancy and the stove will go onto the hearth this week.

For the next projects I will be reinstalling the original banister and Katie will be tiling the upstairs shower stall with white subway tile.

Now That’s Jenga

The carport in back of the hotel was built in the 1950s and was not really a historically proper element to the hotel. Originally, there was an extension to the back of the hotel that housed the hotel’s kitchen on the first floor, several guest rooms on the second floor and the catwalk to the two story outhouse in the rear yard. At some point in history, the extension was removed and possibly replaced with a balcony. I can’t be sure when that was but it was most likely after the turn of the century because all the nails in the balcony were round wire nails. The carport was later added in the 50s and we know this because there was a building permit drawn for the construction.

This is what the carport looked like when we bought the place.

It was dilapidated then and after two winters, it was getting a little scary but it served the purpose of keeping building supplies dry and sheltering contractors on their smoke breaks thus it stayed up for longer than we had planned.

Ironically, the carport’s final demise was triggered by cherry wood counter tops. It was my job to climb inside the kitchen cabinets and screw the counter tops to the cabinets from the bottom which seemed like a simple enough task. The problem was that cherry wood is extremely hard and even after drilling pilot holes the lag bolts were just snapping off like toothpicks. After several failed attempts I took my frustrations out on the carport which we had to tear down anyway for the certificate of occupancy. So with a fresh saw blade, I started chipping away at the roof.

I started with the rotted parts which came out easily but the roof soon started to put up resistance. There were three layers of asphalt roofing sandwiched between three layers of plywood which was just murderous to cut through. Luckily,  some of the plywood had totally de laminated and it was easier to break it up with a pickax than to actually saw through it. Then I could saw through the timbers underneath without too much trouble.

The big question, at that point, was where to stand. Cutting from underneath required standing on a ladder and pleading with the laws of gravity to not drop anything more than 20 pounds on my head. Of course, everything up there was more than 20 pounds thus my dislike for that option. The other tactic was to cut the beams while standing on the increasingly shaky roof. This offered the distinct possibility of hanging ten and crying out “Kowabunga” as the roof collapsed underneath leaving me to land gracefully on the beach of nail infested debris below.

In the end, I did a little of both with a concentration on sawing through any connection points between the carport and the two surrounding structures, the hotel and the neighbor’s brick wall. Once the carport was disconnected from the buildings and was wobbly enough to give me the willies, I tied a rope to the most vulnerable looking column and gave it a tug.

It all came down with a big crash missing everything that I hoped it would. In the fall zone were several windows, the electric meter and the gas meter and nothing was even scratched.

And now, the scariest task of this project is done. As for the cherry counters, I discovered self tapping lag bolts which drill their own pilot holes. I think they may just work.

 

Trick or Treat

Halloween has come and gone and I’m proud to say that we hosted our first batch of trick or treators. Since purchasing the hotel, Katie and I have watched the place on Halloween just in case of any mischief but we’ve never seen any children before. It was a pleasant surprise and we sincerely hope that the first sighting of costumed creatures on the doorstep is a good omen for things to come in the Dayton downtown area. Once the children were properly sweetened up with Snickers and Reese’s Peanut butter Cups, Katie and I went back to our card game with the new neighbors.

Along with our bony companions, the table and chairs are a new/old addition to the hotel. They are 1800s originals from Virginia City which have, most assuredly, witnessed  many an intense poker game and much boozing. Katie fell in love with them at the local antique mall and they have become a perfect addition to the saloon.

You’ll note that under the table, the floor has made a miraculous transformation. Katie and I decided to get some help from a flooring contractor to sand and top coat the floors that we nailed down. Of course, between sanding and top coat, it was our job to apply the stain.

This turned out to be a tedious and messy process that required us to be on hands and knees for hours doing the Karate Kid bit of “wax on, wax off” with the only difference being that we were using stain instead of wax. As for our new pairs of his and hers knee pads, they’re now worn out but the end result is pretty spectacular.

The look is really close to what the original floor looked like and has the added benefit of not having the pet urine smells that were present when we bought the place. But, to reassure the historical purist, we still encounter small reminders of the stench that was. When we sand the bottom of the door jambs, the delicate fragrance still gently wafts from the wood fibers. We plan on heavy coats of primer to encapsulate the experience for those who wish to sniff out historical clues in the future.

Another spectacular creation was the vanity for the first floor bath. Katie and I had been scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do with the space. We had been looking for an old piece of furniture to repurpose but to no avail. We could not find anything that was both attractive and the right size.

In desperation, I descended upon my prized stash of redwood church paneling that had been given to us by our friends Gail and Tom. Most of the panels were huge but there were a few smaller scraps that worked out pretty well.

I added antique ice box hinges, a cherry butcher block top and a talavera sink from Mexico. Now, it needs knobs for the doors and I’m thinking of Victorian brass filigree to complement the hinges. The mirror frame above is something that I made years ago and it will be perfect once I put the mirror back in.

Stay tuned for more fun additions. We are getting closer to receiving our Certificate of Occupancy and this requires more of the creative finishing touches that I’ve been looking forward to.

Hunch Back of Pike and Main

Since my last post, Katie and I have been pushing forward on the wood floors. We finished up all of the second floor except for the walk in closet. As the stacks of flooring dwindled, my Chicken Little self kept envisioning the saloon floor with an unfinished closet sized patch where we ran out of flooring. But when the saloon floor was complete we still had enough wood to do both the first and second floor closets. That was a big relief.

There were, of course, challenges on the way. The first of which was where to put all the stuff. 75% of the hotel has wood floors and they all had to be completely clear of stuff before the flooring could go down. This led to ridiculous looking conditions like a kitchen with a piano and bar in it.

Also, several of the doors had to be removed for trimming because they would not open with the new and thicker flooring. This led to conversations like:

“Honey, Where’s the bathroom door?”

“I think it’s in the pantry.”

“What’s it doing there?”

“Leaning against the wall, I think.”

Meanwhile, the act of installing the flooring was troublesome on it’s own. The top of the stairs was probably the hardest part.

The stairs were level  but the floor of the upstairs living room had a dramatic slope to the East. The entire second floor does this and it’s been that way since it was built in 1870. As evidence to support this, all of the original East to West base boards were carefully tapered so that their top edges were level while their bottom edges were flush with the floor. As you can see from the photo, the top riser was far from even.

To make matters worse, there was a dip in the floor joists at the landing.

It was subtle so I didn’t notice it until after I had glued and nailed down a plywood patch replacing all the original floor boards that were too decayed to support the new landing. This was a problem since the new flooring was flat and would not bend sufficiently to accommodate the unevenness.  The best solution was to devise some tapered shims that allowed the new flooring to transition from the straight riser at the top of the stairs to the curved floor beyond.

After that hard bit was sorted out, it was just a matter of nailing the new flooring down with what I like to call “The Beast”.

This clever gizmo connects to an air compressor and drives a serrated steel cleat at a 45 degree angle through the edge of the floor board thus rendering the cleat invisible when the next board is set in place. The way it works is that one sets the nail gun with the yellow arrow on the edge of the plank and hits the big black button with a heavy rubber mallet. The mallet blow causes the plank to snug up tightly to a previously nailed plank while the cleat is driven by compressed air thus securing the plank to the sub floor. The handle on top is for moving the nail gun. The handle; however, is so short that one would have to be 4’6″ to feel comfortable using it and after nailing 1500 square feet of flooring, I’m now shuffling about with a hunched back and wondering where the nearest bell tower is.

The next step will be applying stain and finish which I’ll address in the next post. But for now, it’s off to finish the closets and practice a French accent for Halloween.

 

 

 

The Old Soft Shoe

We’ve been at this project for quite a long time now and wearing things out is inevitable. My shoes for instance.

I bought these for a fabulous trip to visit friends in the UK where these shoes have strolled through many sheep pastures, ancient castles and picturesque graveyards. Now, they have fallen victim to too much kneeling on wooden floors.

The wooden floors; however, are in great shape. The Doug Fir planking is going down fairly easily despite none of the rooms being truly square. The last plank in each room always requires a tapering cut which I do freehand on the table saw. This seems tricky at first but it’s no worse than using a Skillsaw and my cuts are quite straight.

My real concern is how well the old plank floors under the new ones will hold up. They took a considerable amount of water damage last fall when the roof was off and they developed quite a bit of cupping that had to be flattened out.  A ton of galvanized ring shank nails took out most of the cupping and a bit of heavy sanding knocked down the really bad stuff. It seems to have worked so far in that none of the new planking squeaks but it might in the future. Of course, since our look is “ghost town revival” a few squeaks won’t be a bad thing.

Besides the boots, the only other casualty of floor laying was my rubber mallet.

When I first got it, I noted how cool the wood grain was but that; in fact, turned out to be its own downfall. Instead of the grain being straight and strong through the mallet head, it curved at a 45 degree angle making it very weak and after 800 square feet of flooring, it neatly snapped while whacking a particularly unrepentant plank.

On a more successful note, our color pallet has been working out nicely. Katie chose a green hue for the master bedroom and it serendipitously turned out to be a color that was used downstairs in the original saloon.

You can see the similarity in the photo above. The green floorboards were salvaged from a saloon wall to repair the bedroom floor. The wall color is just a darker version of the original.

The front door also received its new color.

The ocher color is the same that we are using on the windows and the trim color to come, is a deep brown which you may recognize from earlier posts. The front facade is hardly complete but the new brick threshold is in and all of the glass is now 1/4″ tempered to make it safe for the public. As for the porch lamp, it’s just a placeholder until we can find an antique that more suits the look.

Doh!

When we started this project, we were warned that there would be the occasional hiccough. One of these was the coughing toilet. For weeks after installation, air kept leaking into the water lines which caused much chugging and hacking each time the tank refilled. Eventually, the plumber figured out that this was air escaping from the empty hot water heater. The chugging ceased once the water heater was full so that story ended happily enough.

Another hiccough was one of my own creation which I really should just leave unstated but it does make a good story. When cutting the butcher block counter tops for the kitchen, I was a little concerned because cherry is a rather dense hard wood that sometimes offers challenges. My first attempt lived up to this concern quite satisfactorily.

With great clouds of blue smoke, the Skilsaw blade burned through most of the first cut until it just stalled before completing the task. Of course, the new smoke detectors didn’t notice anything in the saloon as Katie ran to open all the windows in an attempt to clear the haze. It seems that their job is to go off randomly to report when the air is clear and real smoke is beyond their interest. In any case, neither the saw nor the smoke detectors were working correctly.

In a vain hope at fixing the situation, I ran off to the hardware store to buy another blade. The new blade, however, gave the same results as the first one which led to some panicked head scratching.  Then, I noticed the direction of the saw teeth. The blade was on backwards! That’s what I get for buying second hand tools with no manual. To make matters worse, a backwards blade cuts through soft woods just fine so I never noticed before. Feeling really stupid, I flipped the blade and completed cutting the counters with no further issue.

Well, enough of my silliness and on to something of real importance. The last item of the seismic retrofit has been completed! The beam that adds rigidity to the staircase wall has been successfully installed and signed off by the building inspector.

As originally designed, the beam was supposed to be a 28′ long iron box beam that weighed around two tons. It was an okay design for strength but getting it into place proved to be impossible without a crane and the crane was impossible because of power lines in front of the hotel blocking access. As a result, our contractor got his own engineer to design a wood option which the county approved. It is actually several wooden beams that were hoisted into place separately and bolted together to become one thus providing required rigidity without needing a crane.

The final addition for today’s post is the upgrade on the front door. Previously, it was held shut with a padlock that could only be secured from the outside. This caused a problem of curious people entering the saloon while we were working upstairs. We expected this to happen when the front door was open but folks were letting themselves in even when the door was closed. So…..

there is now a deadbolt on the front door. Originally, I’d intended to put a new lock cylinder in the original mortise lock but it was so much easier just to leave it alone and add a modern deadbolt above it.

I think the next addition will be a doorbell since we do still enjoy guests. We just don’t want them wandering around downstairs unattended.