The Plane Truth

As many of you have probably noticed, wood has done what alchemists have been trying to do to lead for centuries, turn into gold. The lumber that I was using for door casings and base boards is now almost $60 for an 8′ board which just makes me dizzy! Well, I do have an untapped resource in the form of all that manky lumber that I saved in the basement. It’s covered in old paint, cat pee and schmutz whose origin I don’t really wish to know.

These two boards are a good example with plenty of paint and nail holes to make life interesting. To fix this, we have the beast.

This thickness planer showed up as a surprise anniversary gift from Katie. It’s kinda loud and scary but works great at smoothing down the old 1″ thick boards. I’ve set it up on my miter saw stand so that I can use the supports of the stand to keep the boards running through the machine without binding. The stand was also paid for long ago so it suits my budget just fine. Once set up, the planer cleaned up the first batch of boards with ease.

The old nail holes will have to be filled but that’s not a bad tradeoff considering that the lumber was free. Besides, it’s kinda cool to keep the old lumber in the hotel.

Speaking of nails, the planer hates them. Any bit of metal in the wood, no matter how tiny, will nick the planer blades. Once this happens, the blades will leave raised lines in the boards which will need to be sanded out later. To prevent this, I have a metal detecting wand that I run over the board before planing. Then, I either dig out the nails or cut around them before planing.

The other challenge is the wood shavings. Without a dust collecting system, the planer shoots the shavings over 10′ out the back which is not optimal. Of course, almost everything can be resolved with a bit of Googling. In this case, it led me to the device below which catches the shavings and drops them in a bucket.

I think it catches about 95% but one board will fill that bucket so perhaps I should install it on a 50 gallon trash can instead.

Meanwhile, other elements of the hotel are progressing. For a long time, the top kitchen cabinets have not had glass in the doors that were made to be glazed. The cabinet manufacturer had quoted $1000 to install glass in the factory which caused my middle finger to twitch most dramatically. I know, in fact, that glass is not difficult to work with so we went with the DIY route. The glass we used was salvaged from a bunch of framed pictures from an architectural office and the clips holding it in place were about $10 on Amazon.

Now, with the glass in, we were able to start the fun part.

The bottles were from my collection that had been in boxes for many years and we had lots of fun rediscovering all the pretties. I installed LED light ribbons between the front and back rows of bottles and used museum wax to secure the bottles in place. Some of the bottles in the back row were too short so we used museum wax to secure them on top of inverted whiskey glasses to make them taller.

Keeping up with our love of glass, Katie is also working on the stained glass for the transoms.

Since we have a lot of transoms to complete, we’ve dedicated the hobby room to the project. We found a second hand drafting table to work on and dug out all the old glass tools from the past. Katie and I both dabbled in stained glass when we were in school so we were able to avoid a lot of start up cost by using the tools that we had been storing for years. I also repurposed an old armoire into a glass storage cabinet.

The last project that we are working on is the lighting in the saloon. Currently, the 6 ceiling lamps are modern sugar bowl shaped things that I installed as a place holder until I could build some antique fixtures. In the basement, I have a set of 18″ diameter milk glass shades which I had intended to use but after a few trips to Virginia City, our desires changed. Most of the saloons are decorated with kerosene lamps so that’s the way we will go.

We have five of the type on the right with the hanging crystals to go with them. Some of them are wired for electricity and some I will need to wire myself. Now that many of you are gasping in horror, I must reassure you that I do not drill holes in these things. I just get really creative with hiding wires and light sockets. Of course, the wiring is the easy part. Getting them up on the 12′ ceiling will be a trick but that’s another post.

A Tall Order

Last time, I talked about restoring the door to the post office and now, I’m tackling the 9′ tall double doors between the saloon and kitchen. These were in pretty rough cosmetic shape and as a focal point of the saloon, they were looking a bit too rustic. The other challenge is that they are just huge and I had to rearrange the shop to get them onto saw horses. Now, that I have one of the doors down, I can take the hardware off and get it cooking in the crock pot.

After 150 years and many coats of oil paint, these hinges are putting up a fight. The trick is to remove as much paint from the screw heads as possible and this I do with an old screw driver and hammer. An ice pick is also useful to remove the paint out of the slot in the screw head. After cleaning out most of the old paint, I then place the screw driver into the slotted screw and twist while tapping the handle of the screw driver as if it were a chisel. This helps break the paint away from the screw so it can twist out freely.

The old paint provides another hurdle in that it locks the hinge in place and it’s very difficult to get the hinge out without damaging the door. Luckily, the repair is pretty easy.

The chips can be glued back in with any interior/exterior glue. This stuff is pretty strong and should hold the chips in place for the next hundred years.

Now that I have the hardware off the door, I can proceed to the damaged trim. I’ve decided that since this is going to a focal point door, I’m going to replace the panel molding to improve the aesthetic quality.

Note the gap at the right of the panel. This was caused by the door parts shrinking over time and will disappear once I have the new molding in place. A stiff putty knife is good for getting the trim loose and the flat bar finishes the job.

With the trim removed, the next step is to repair any odd damage that is more than just beauty marks. Near the middle hinge, there is a chunk of wood missing which requires filling.

I’ve decided to splice in a new piece of wood and I’ll use the router to cut out a flat area in which to glue the splice.

With a scrap board tacked in place as a guide, I’ve cut a nice straight notch in the edge of the door and now. it’s just a matter of gluing in a stick to make the new edge. The stick I cut from an old shelf that came with the hotel. With the price of lumber these days, I hate to let anything go to waste.

The splice trick is one that I learned when working at a mill shop in Texas. Another trick that I learned is to use automotive body filler for filling large gaps.

This crack has been scraped out to make it larger and the filler will be forced into it. Then, with a bit of sanding, the crack will never be seen again.

Here is the completed crack repair along with the new molding and caulk. Then, with some primer and paint, we have a lovely restored door.

So, what is my reward for all this effort? It’s another bit of history.

While sanding off the muck, I discovered some old signage. Before the hotel was repurposed in 1935 as a mining office, the back half of the first floor was a large public dining room. This was only hearsay but it was corroborated by the calligraphy on one of the doors. I was able to carefully sand just enough paint off to find this hiding underneath. Apparently, the other door had “Dining” painted on it. Now, the intent is to find a sign painter to recreate the old lettering in the same style.

Something About Locks

I was going to start work on the 9′ tall kitchen doors but I got sidetracked. The door to the shop just kept glaring at me with its hideous peeling paint, hand prints, vintage dog snot and cat pee stains. The photo does not do the dirt justice, of course. Well, there was only one answer, 60 grit sandpaper.

The first step was to remove all of the hardware and get it cleaned up; however, before I proceed, I can provide a little background information about antique door locks that some may find interesting. There are two types of door locks in the hotel. On the doors that were installed in the 30s, the lock is a full mortise lock which, much like a modern lock, is completely embedded in the edge of the door. This was a slightly superior design that also provided an more refined look. The older locks installed in 1870 are of the rim lock style and are attached to the face of the door which removes the need to mortise out the wood of the door. A rim lock is what we have on this particular door. Both lock types work well at the job of keeping the door shut but the mortise lock takes a bit of skill and special mortising chisels to install whereas the rim lock can be installed with only basic skills and a drill thus making it ideal for the frontier setting. The rim lock; however, has a disadvantage in that its exposed location on the face of the door offers the temptation to paint the lock when the rest of the door gets painted. After a few coats of paint, it becomes badly gummed up and just icky looking. There is hope, though. Old locks, for the most part, are quite robust and can be cleaned up and made to operate like new.

Here is our lock in all its painted glory.

Most of the locks in the hotel are 1870s rim locks and this one is a perfect example. It was one of the mangiest locks in the place with at least three coats of oil paint on it but it still worked. The hardest part of the process was simply taking the lock off the door. With so much paint, the slots in the screws were no longer visible. I successfully used an ice pick and small hammer to open up the slots. Then, with luck and a bit of swearing, I was able to get enough purchase with the screwdriver to get the screws out. I saved the screws for good luck but they eventually got replaced with new old stock screws that I’ve been hoarding for just such an occasion. I just love estate sales for finding useful stuff. These screws are perfect for installing locks, hinges and escutcheon plates.

Once the lock was off, I dragged out my thrift store crock pot and filled it with water and a shot of dish soap. The hinges and lock went into the pot which was set to “Low”.

After soaking all night, most of the oil paint simply peeled off.

Any remaining loose material I removed with a wire wheel. What was left is what looked like splotchy gloss black paint. This was the original finish on the lock which is called “Japanning”. Unfortunately, Japanning comes off with the paint and must be completely removed. So, the lock went back into the crock pot for a day or two until the Japanning came off easily with the wire wheel leaving a dark iron finish much like a cast iron skillet.

Before I put the lock back in to soak, I removed the screw that held the lock body together and took off the cover. Inside, the mechanisms on these old locks can range in complexity from simple to “holy cow!” So, at that point, it was a good idea to snap a photo of the mechanism for later reference. Inside the exposed mechanism, I found the usual dribbled paint, dust, hair and dog only knows what all packed into the crevices.

All the internal parts were removed and wire wheeled. Since these parts are pretty small, care must be taken not to fire them across the room when wire wheeling. Also, a face shield and filter mask are a must. The wire wheel can shed wires that will stick into things like one’s face and the paint may have lead in it so it is essential to take all the precautions.

While the lock was still in the crock pot, I had time to focus on the door itself.

This was the side that faced the saloon. I sanded off all of the dog snot and replaced the panel moldings with new. This was actually the ugliest side of the door but I don’t think that anyone would notice once I got it painted. Oh, and the primer that I used was good old fashioned oil base. It’s kinda stinky and messy to clean up but it sure covers up all that vintage paint.

Meanwhile, the crock pot finished boiling off the paint on the lock and I finished wire wheeling the lock casing. Then, I wiped casing down with alcohol to clean off any grease and applied a nice coat of black paint to imitate the Japanning that I removed earlier.

With that done and the door painted, it all went back together fairly easily.

Now, we just have to finish the door jamb.

Tile, We Meet Again

Spring is here for sure and the yard is recovering from its winter bleakness.

The apples that we planted two years ago are blossoming for the first time and the pumpkins are popping up as hoped. It’s interesting to note that the pumpkins are even more aggressive than the tumble weeds and will shade them out. They also stay green all summer thus providing a bit of fire protection when compared to the flammable tumble weeds.

But, enjoying the yard is no excuse for sitting back and relaxing while there is a kitchen that needs completing. I refinished the doors to the pantry and rocket room as a warm up and then jumped directly to the hardest part, the tile backsplash.

One of the challenges presented by our butcher block counters is that they are not quite as deep as other counter materials with the result being a 1/2″ wide gap between the back of the countertop and the wall. The answer to this was to install 1/2″ backer board on the wall so that the tile would be able to cover the back edge of the counter.

The tiles we selected are hand painted in Mexico and have slight variations in pattern and color which support our look of rustic without being too rustic. We did a lot of modeling of more intricate patterns, boarders, and colors but found that “simple” worked out a lot better. Besides, much of the tile would be hidden behind kitchen tools and appliances.

I think it turned out looking pretty good. I’m getting better at this but we’re running out of tile jobs. The only thing left is building a tile surround for the laundry tub and that should be a walk in the park compared to the other tile jobs I’ve done.

Of course, no job is complete without our fuzzy building inspector.

Resistance is Useless

Hello again. It’s been 11 months since the last post and I was trying to sail off into the sunset but that was not to be. I’m back by popular demand and a bit of arm twisting by friends and family. So, without further ado…

We have not been idle while hunkered down awaiting the vaccine. The first project of note was the roof on the old post office.

The post office had been leaking since we bought the place and it seemed like a good idea to sort that out before it leaked onto something important. We chose the green tin which is great stuff that can be walked on, as well as, being approved for the historic neighborhood. One drawback, though, is that the metal is a bit slick and I found myself, on several occasions, gradually sliding toward the edge. At one point, I had to buy more roofing screws because the bag I was using took the plunge and I couldn’t find it until after the project was done.

Meanwhile, the hanging of a pretty piece of glass triggered another project.

Before I even knew about the hotel, I had this piece of confetti glass. It was too pretty to cut so I made a redwood frame for it and gave it to Katie for a birthday present. After moving into the hotel, we rediscovered this gem and hung it in the window above the front door where it reminded us constantly that we have a lot more stained glass in the plans.

The first step toward attaining our glazing goals was to convert the rocket shop to a glass shop.

We scored a sturdy drafting table from a friend and it turned out to be the perfect height for glass cutting. The transom at the first floor bathroom was the first endeavor. It’s all straight cuts to help us with the learning curve. Also, the clear glass parts were cut from the original 150 year old glass salvaged from the old hotel windows.

Oh, but wait. I forgot that the rest of the bathroom got finished out as well. The shower has tile and a surround and the ceiling got crown molding which I will talk about in the next post.

Now that we are starting to finish out the interior, I have the chance to use some of the hardware that I’ve collected over the years. Below is a Victorian sash lock that I’ve repurposed as a latch for the bathroom transom.

There are also doorknobs to install. This is another collection of odd things I’ve collected in the past and it is such a pleasure to get these out of boxes so that they can be enjoyed. The idea is that each door will have a different knob set so that wondering around the place will provide numerous opportunities for discovery. In my next post, I will talk about what it takes to get this hardware back in usable condition.

Oh, and for our ghost hunting friends, there is a new video. Watch for the cat. Max makes his movie debut.

Our Ethereal Friends

I have to admit that if we have to self quarantine, the hotel is a pretty darned nice place to do it in. I’ve got my tools, materials and a Roku TV. What more could I ask for?

In the spirit of playing the home game, the office model below represents several hours of incarceration. It’s the dream of turning my office space into a display space for my insulator collection. But first, as a reminder for the younger readers, who have not had the pleasure of seeing these things still in service, insulators were glass and porcelain gizmos that used to go on telephone poles. The telephone wires were tied to them so the wires would not short out to the pole.

They are historically interesting and quite pretty if displayed well as I’m attempting below. Envisioned is an office with three walls of backlit cabinets with bookcases underneath.

Of course, this is still a bit of a dream since I still owe Katie baseboards. But, before this design got put on the back burner, I did install a light fixture made from parts in the basement.

Well, this has been a total tangent from the title of this post which I must correct. The true theme is based on house guests. As many of you may have suspected and a few of you have experienced, the Union Hotel has ghosts. This was something we considered when we bought the place but neither Katie nor I are bothered by the idea.

Our first encounter was in 2016. I was creating construction drawings that entailed measuring all of the rooms in their original decrepit state. There were vague shadows and feelings of being watched while I completed the task but as disconcerting as they were, they all disappeared as soon as we started cleaning up the place. The only time I felt it again was when we found a gold coin in the basement. We took the coin off site for safe keeping and the feelings of being watched in the basement reappeared until we promised to bring the coin back.

Things were very quiet after that until we moved in. Then, it started with footsteps on the second floor and went to muffled conversations in the halls and actual sightings of orbs, ghost cats and shadow forms. This even got the hotel enough attention to be featured on a YouTube video.

Now, I still remain a skeptic and many of our experiences can be explained away in one way or another but there are just some things that we can’t shake, like a light fixture that turned itself on and off or a bedroom door opening on its own as we listened to the knob turn without being touched. Also, the number of experiences says something. One or two and I’d think my mind was playing tricks on me but dozens?

Recently, there was an earthquake which triggered loud conversations on both floors of the hotel. I thought that Katie had turned on the TV upstairs but when I entered the room, the sound stopped and the TV was not on. If that wasn’t strange enough, Katie, at that moment, was on the first floor listening to another conversation in the work room behind the kitchen.

So, this really is not so unusual for the neighborhood. The Dayton tap house across the street claims apparitions of both a lady in white and a cowboy. There have also been many other stories that we’ve heard from the neighbors about their own haunts. What this means for us is that we are becoming one with this community on both a corporeal and metaphysical basis. I think that it’s safe to say that we are home.

Charlie Gruber’s hearse collecting him for the last ride. Is he still here?

Long Hard Winter?

More like a short weird one. We only got one or two decent days of snow, an earthquake and lots of wind. It was a perfect time to stay home doing small projects like adding bling in places that have never had bling before.

As our neighbors already know, Adele’s restaurant in Carson City had a kitchen fire which rendered the building too expensive the repair. It was sad that this Nevada landmark came to an end in such a way but the memories will still last. There was an auction in which supplies, furniture and fixtures were sold off. J’s Old Town Bistro across the street from the Union got the Adele’s bar sign.

Katie and I were fortunate enough to bring home furniture, light fixtures and a lifetime supply of drinking straws.

This fixture was in the Adele’s hallway to the restrooms and I suspect it was recycled from a casino of years past. Adele’s was full of repurposed antiques so my theory is plausible.

This fixture was from the Adele’s foyer and now graces our upstairs bath.

What was nice was that the Adele’s light fixtures were in good enough shape that they did not require rebuilding. We have other fixtures that I’ve kit bashed from the stock pile of parts that I keep in the basement.

This is the beginning of two gas and electric combination wall sconces. The one on the right shows what the original parts look like with years of dirt and mismatched colors. The one on the left has been wire brushed and is reading for toning.

Brass toner is a special mix of muriatic acid and probably some other stuff I don’t really want to know about. In any case, when the parts are swirled around in a small tub, it darkens the brass pretty evenly so my lamp parts will look like they actually belong together.

The color match is not perfect but it’s pretty good. It will also improve with age. Since I don’t wax or lacquer my lamps, they will continue to improve on their nice brown patina. Oh, and the gas part is now defunct even though the fixtures still have their decorative glass candles.

The next lamp was a much easier restoration.

This one came all in one piece and it was pretty easy to convert it from kerosene to electric. I found a socket that nested well in the center of the old burner and I used thermostat wire which is small enough to render it almost invisible while still being able to supply 1200 watts to the bulb. The wire was also solid core which meant I could sculpt it to the contours of the lamp and it would retain its shape thus allowing me to hide the wire in the curvy brackets without drilling any holes in the lamp.

Of course, once these new lights were installed, they were well tested by the 5.0 earthquake in Indian Hills south of Carson City. The lamps did okay, but an antique seltzer bottle leapt off a shelf and dive bombed an old gallon pickle jar below. The pickle jar lost.

Pickle jars aside, I thought I’d finish this with a few before and after pictures.

It’s still a work in progress but that’s the fun of it. We will be adding to and polishing up the place for years to come.

Fear of Falling

Fall has been a time of catching up on a last few road trips before the cold sets in and this has slowed down progress on my never ending hotel to do list. We did; however, manage to get a few things done.

The first order of business was the rain downspouts. It used to be that the rain coming off of the roof would just pour down the back wall of the hotel and saturate the wall all the way through to the interior. This is why the back wall was ready to fall apart when we bought the place. To remedy the problem, I had the contractors install scuppers with angled spouts below them to kick the water away from the wall which worked but it was only a temporary fix. The real fix was to install the full length downspouts below the scuppers.

The task looked simple enough with the caveat that I would have to climb a 26′ ladder to install the brackets holding the downspouts. Now, I don’t have a fear of heights but I do understand how bad a fall from that high up can be and also understand how ladders can fail. All I can say about this process is I’m very glad it’s over and I hope I never have to do it again.

On a more down to Earth task was the sewage clean out near the back of the property. It was a problem in that it was right in the path of our RV parking spot and we had already run over it once, shattering the clean out cap. Well, concrete can fix a lot of problems and this is how we fixed ours.

A little rebar and lumber and we are set to pour.

The finished product turned out pretty nice looking. Once I took the forms off, I packed roadbed gravel around the slab which should protect the edges of the slab from chipping. It will take a few winters to see how well this works.

After getting a few outdoor tasks completed, I got completely squirreled on a few indoor projects that could have waited until the rainy season. Of course, after the high altitude adventure with the downspouts, I figured I deserved a reward and the basement closet door had been pleading for attention for quite awhile.

Making and installing the door casing trim was tricky but with a bit of drywall adjustment it worked out fine. The problem was that the door frame was vertical but the drywall was not and I had to shave the drywall near the door so the casing would lay flat.

All the while I was getting plaster dust on Katie’s floor, the basement trapdoor inside the closet was hijacking my attention. It needed some sort of lift system since I don’t fancy bending over to pick up a 50lb slab of wood on a regular basis. Below is my first attempt. It is a single pulley system which, by mechanical advantage, decreases the lifting weight of the hatch from 50lbs to 37.5lbs.

37.5lbs is still too much so I will be replacing the single pulleys with doubles. This will allow me to rig it in such a way that the pull required to lift the hatch will be only 12.5lbs. When I learned this stuff in Boy Scouts a billion years ago, I never thought I would actually have a use for the information but here we are. By the next post, I should have this all figured out and if I’m lucky, someone will give me a merit badge for being so clever.

Dental Hygiene

Now that the interior is shaping up, I wanted to get some winterizing done. The first item on the list was protecting the breaker panel for the hot tub. Granted, it really did not need protection from the weather. It was more about protecting the panel from being seen.

It certainly was not aesthetically pleasing and the PVC conduit was already getting damaged by the sun.

A few recycled fence boards made a nice doghouse for the entire assembly and I held it in place with a magnet which was attached to the inside of the wood. It just holds itself in place by latching onto the steel breaker panel. It’s kinda simplistic but it looks really good and will weather to a nice dark grey color.

The real work; however, was much higher up. The top of the pony express wall was in great need of attention. It has been decaying slowly for the last 150 years and although it wasn’t threatening to collapse, it certainly deserved some help.

The top of the wall, being open to the elements, had taken quite a pounding over the years. You can see that the mortar between the stones had just turned into gravel leaving many of the stones at the top of the wall to rely on gravity alone to keep their position. This would have been fine but I have a fear of small boulders tumbling out of the sky when I’m trying to kick back with a beer. It’s really a mood killer.

If decomposed mortar is not enough to make one nervous, frost damage should be sufficient to give everyone the willies. In the picture above, you will see that successive years of rain followed by freezing temperatures have split this stone which could eventually crumble. Another question to ask is, “what does that freezing water do inside that wall?” Well, it expands and the wall starts behaving like popcorn causing the top of the wall to puff out and eventually fall away.

Now, to avoid the eventual fate of popcorn, I am applying a mortar cap to the entire wall just like a dentist would fill a cavity. I figure that keeping the water out and holding the top stones together will make this wall last many more years than I do.

Once the cap dries, it will be difficult to see especially from the ground which is where I intend to spend most of my time anyway.

I did something similar on the three abandoned chimneys as well. Each received a porcelain floor tile mortared over the chimney opening to prevent rain from making my walls soggy during the winter months. The tiles are pretty thin but porcelain is waterproof and I doubt that anything will break them considering that there are no trees around and the hotel is the tallest building on the block.

Now, during all this, the interior has not been ignored. We now have a new pet in the saloon.

Katie named him Elky Summers and he fills a huge empty space on the wall. We were also told by a long time Dayton resident, that there was an animal head of some sort in the saloon many years ago so our addition may not be too out of place.


Now that we’ve been living in the Union for awhile, it’s time to focus on the finish woodwork. The cat doesn’t really care if insulation and wall studs are showing but I do.

As you can see, I’ve boxed in the windows and surrounded them with high density spray foam. As it turned out, the foam was critical because the masonry surrounds on some of the windows did not offer much to nail to; in fact, a couple of the windows that were installed into the new concrete at the front and back walls had no place for nails at all. They are firmly held in place with just the foam which should last longer than we do.

After the boxes were installed, I constructed the face frames downstairs in the shop. I carefully measured the window boxes and with a bit of quick math, I was able to make the right size frame, well, most of the time. I only got it wrong once but that’s enough since those clear pine boards were $27 each and waste was expensive.

To get flush joints in the corners, I used an angled screw jig on the back side. The gizmo is made by a company called Kreg and I’m just thrilled with what it can do.

It allows one to predrill screw holes at just the right angle so the screws will secure the boards together without the screws poking through the finished face of the boards. I’d seen them used before on kitchen cabinets and it makes a potentially tricky job much easier.

Speaking of tricky, mounting the face frames on the window boxes posed a challenge in that the boxes were, like the rest of the building, not exactly straight. The masonry openings were not straight to begin with and this telegraphed through to the wood a little. This galled my perfectionist nature but there was nothing to do about it except to make it work.

Sure, I can pick apart my own work but in reality, my fit and finish is better than most new homes. Besides, once the draperies are up, nobody will notice that 1/16″ bow in the window box.

Below are a couple examples of the finished product including the draperies that Katie and her mom Marla made.

The light fixtures were also elements that had been waiting for the right moment. Katie and I have been collecting fixtures for the hotel and it is really gratifying to see them in place.

Other decorative features from the collection have been gathering in the kitchen.

Most of the furniture was found locally and some of it came with me from my old house. We still have the doors and jambs to complete but the furniture looks great despite the unfinished backdrop.

Oh, and one last addition. Katie and I found a new rocket powered kitty to keep the mature cats on their toes.

His name is Max.