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.

Little Hangups

Katie was upstairs hanging wallpaper the last few days and I worked on the Pony Express yard to keep from being underfoot. This is a plus for me since I like working with wood a lot more than trying to line up wallpaper with perfect seams. I really don’t know how she does it.

The first Pony project was the back doors which came out very well considering the difficulty I had finding the right wood. The problem was that all of the tongue and groove lumber that I could find was 3/4″ thick and quite expensive. No matter how I designed the door, it seemed apparent that I would have a door that would be good for about ten years and then I’d be building a new one. Then, I stumbled upon 1.5″ thick planks at Home Depot that would provide a much stronger door that was actually less expensive than the thinner wood that I’d been looking at.

Home Depot wasn’t going to fess up about the species of the wood but I suspect it was spruce and it went together fairly easily.

Once the doors were hung, I needed to make them look old. The product that I used was a water based aging stain that makes everything it touches look old, including my hands and clothing. Yes, the stuff was really sloppy but the end result is pretty cool.

This is the inside view showing the bracing and the final door color. The wood columns on the sides are a little lighter because the aging of that wood was real. The wood was recycled from the old carport we knocked down.

For a little added color we got a potted tree that contrasts with the dark stone wall and door. It is a Japanese maple from the nursery across the street. It is a shade loving tree and should be happy in the southwest corner of the yard since it gets little direct sunlight.

The next item on the agenda was something to hang our towels on. For this, I dove into the salvage pile again and found a redwood 4×4 as a central post. Then, I went into my coveted supply of telephone insulators and the wooden pins they mount on. The look was funky as expected and the insulators catch the light very nicely.

Essentially, it’s just a coat rack.

The insulators have seen years of service but the pins were new old stock having been in storage for many years.

Now, to change directions completely, I will be focusing on window and door casings inside the hotel.

Counting Sheep

In our last episode, we were prepping for the paver installation inside the Pony Express building walls. It seemed like all would go without a hitch but it turned out that we did not have enough gravel bedding for the pavers. We had ordered 14 yards which had already been delivered but we needed another 4 yards to complete the job. The problem was that there were no available deliveries from Cinderlite on short notice so, it was up to me to get three pickup loads of gravel on my own and unload it one shovel full at a time. And I thought retirement was going to make life easier.

Meanwhile, the paving contractors started the installation without further incident. They did a great job and finished in time for the hot tub delivery the next day.

The next project will be doors and some sort of window treatment for the back wall of the Pony Express yard.

To be honest, I don’t look great in a bathing suit anymore and I don’t want to advertise this fact to the neighbors with beams of light reflected off of my fosforescent untanned torso.

Another recent addition to the hotel is the prefab shed.

This one is a 10′ x 12′ which is the maximum size that can be installed on a commercially zoned lot without a permit. Residential zoning allows a larger shed without a permit and we do have the residential special use permit but I decided not to push my luck in this legal grey area. In most instances, I like to comply with the strictest requirements to cover my bets.

Now, it’s time to relax in the new tub and enjoy the Dayton’s version of big city life.

Yes, even Dayton has traffic problems.

Break’s Over

It’s been awhile since the last post and in that time, Katie and I took a long deserved break to attend a tailgater in Fresno. Of course, this was no regular tailgater with hamburgers, tater salad and lots of beer bottles. The tailgater was for insulator collectors and for those of you too young to know what insulators are, they are those things found on telephone and power poles of years gone by.

Gosh, aren’t they pretty? Of course, now that we’ve sated our glass hunting urges, it’s back to work on paving the Pony Express yard.

The first thing was to finish the metal siding on the old post office wall.

It was pretty easy to apply the metal but the window proved to be beyond repair. So, with a little plywood, I stopped up the opening and gave it a promise of better things to come. Since Katie and I both work with stained glass, it seems like a perfect opportunity to create something just for the space.

The next thing on the to do list was repairing the Pony Express wall. The black locust trees, that were in the Pony Express yard when we bought the place, had done a very good job of eroding the stones at the footing of the wall. This left a big scary hole that I had to fill somehow. As it turned out, I learned a lot watching the mason repair the window and it was pretty easy to duplicate his method.

Granted, my work is not as pretty as his but it will be hidden behind a raised planter bed so it won’t be a big deal.

While working on this, the supplies arrived and we, yet again, have a backyard that is packed with stuff.

The color of the pavers is called “Comstock” which we thought was an appropriate name considering that Dayton is in the Comstock historic district. The color itself is reminiscent of the colors in the tailing piles that scatter the hills from Dayton to Virginia City.

They’re a little bold in how they look but I think it will look great once they are laid down.

Now, the most important bit, at least according to the cats, is the magic flower pot from the old house.

It contains the kitty’s personal supply of high grade catnip which is destined to become a centerpiece in the Pony Express yard, as soon as the dust settles.

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.