The Hole Story

If you’ve driven up Silver Street Lately, you may have noticed a big hole in the ground behind the hotel. This was due to a chance meeting of one of our neighbors. John, a bottle digger of many years, won my confidence and we agreed to take on the challenge of finding a privy hole together. So, with visions of buried treasure right in our own back yard, we sank our shovels.

Previously, I had used the 1890 insurance map to locate a privy at the far southwest corner of the wood extension behind the hotel. The foundation blocks were still there but they were not telling the full story. I was digging in the wrong place and this was apparent when the pick hit solid river rocks and 18” and my fillings dropped out from the impact.  John took a closer look at the map and figured out that the foundation that I was measuring from was not the same as the map and that the privy was actually 10’ farther south from my hole.

Digging commenced in John’s new location but we soon discovered that the old sewer line from the 80s cut through the corner of our privy. It showed signs of being dug previously but undaunted, we kept digging in the hope that whoever dug it before missed the corners or never made it to the bottom. As it turned out, it was not completely dug out but it was quite apparent that the original owners kept their privy well scooped out so there was very little to find in the way of bottles or other trash/relics.

What the earlier bottle diggers did not discover is that our pit adjoined two other privy pits which we tunneled into. We still didn’t find much but in the end, we had two complete champagne bottles, a couple square medicines, a hand made toy pistol and one bottle marked “Job Moses”.

The Job Moses bottle was of particular interest because it turned out to be an abortion pill from the late 1800s and suggested a shady occupation that may have been practiced in the hotel back then.

At the end of the day, the take wasn’t much but we did have one more surprise in store. While filling the pit back in, Katie was picking at a few dish fragments in the side of the pit and discovered yet another privy hole adjacent to three that we had already dug out. Well, that’s an adventure for another weekend.

 

Nothing To See Here

In our last episode, the backyard was doing its best to look like the Grand Canyon but since then, the scene has changed quite a bit. The plumber laid the sewer pipe and I, Katie and Ken, the neighbor with the tractor, bedded the pipe with sand and back filled the trench.

One would think our work was done but no. It turned out that the trench was not wide enough to accommodate both the sewer and water lines so we will have to dig another trench parallel to the first one for water. But wait. There’s more. The gas company wants to dig a trench as well and it will be parallel to the trench for the water line.  Argh!

While all this was going on, the contractors have been making some progress inside. The shotcrete was applied to the end walls of the second floor; however, we’re still waiting for shotcrete on the first floor.

This wall is in the master bedroom and the 4″ of added depth to the window sill lends quite a bit of drama. On the first floor, the shotcrete will be twice the depth so the arches at the front of the saloon will be very substantial looking.

First floor framing has also progressed. The stair closet and basement entrance closet have been framed out. The wall at the stairs has also been b0lted to the staircase so it does not bounce anymore. As for the ghosts, you can see two large orbs in the picture. I was using a flash to take the picture so the orbs are probably just floating dust but who knows?

Another exciting bit is that we now have plumbing to the second floor and heater ducts.

You may have noticed the red and blue pipes. Those are flexible PEX water pipes which have become a standard alternative to copper. PEX will not corrode like copper in Dayton’s alkaline soil and it will resist splitting if it freezes. Of course, the real reason to use it is that it’s much cheaper.

I Can Dig It

In the past week, the backyard has become the focus of attention. The stars finally aligned and our neighbor, Ken, was able to find a bit of free time to dig our new sewer line with his backhoe.

The challenge was that the county sewer line is in the middle of Silver Street and we had to get there without digging up the pavement. As luck would have it, we ran into a couple of generations of old sewer line while trenching toward Silver Street and this helped us confirm the best path through the yard.

The clay pipe was probably installed in the 1920s when the hotel got plumbing for the first time. It was later abandoned and replaced by a more modern plastic pipe that ran along side of it. We stumbled across the plastic pipe about half way to Silver Street and we removed most of it. Where we got lucky was at the edge of Silver Street. The plastic pipe continued out under the street to connect with the county sewer and it had a nice slip coupling right on the property line. This will allow us to neatly connect our new sewer line to the county with less digging than expected.

Now, you would think that with all the digging, we would have found a bottle or two. We didn’t, of course. It was obvious that when the ground had been trenched for the earlier sewer lines, anything of interest had already been removed. This was disappointing but there was another project that proved to be more interesting.

There used to be a brick path in back of the hotel and from this, I was harvesting period bricks to use as thresholds at the front of the saloon.

While pulling the bricks loose from the ground, I noticed a lot of green glass fragments in the soil. These turned out to be from several dozen blown glass wine bottles that were inserted neck down all along the edge of the path.

They were all broken, of course, but still fun to rescue and speculate about what they were doing there. I suspect that it was a decorative touch from the late 1800s.

Now, they will be cleaned up and strung together as fence ornamentation like I’ve seen in Gold Hill and Virginia City.

 

Side Trip

The new roof is finally getting installed and Katie and I are proceeding with prep work for the new windows. This includes removing the old rotted windows which uncovered a new challenge. The brick work around the windows has suffered quite a bit of damage over the years and there is nothing in the budget for repair; as a result, I’ve now become a budding mason.

Almost every window has seen quite a bit of water infiltration over the years and this would not have been a problem if the brick work was more modern. These old bricks, however, were not fired as evenly as newer ones and they vary in hardness by quite a bit. Some are hard enough to daunt a concrete drill while others crumble with the least bit of stress. The mortar is also quite antiquated in that it is probably just lime and sand which looses its bonding ability after many years. Many of the bricks just lifted right out or their mortar bed as if they were just sitting in dry sand.

Now, it’s important to note that when restoring old brick masonry, modern mortars are too hard for the old soft bricks and can cause them to disintegrate over time. With this in mind, the mix that I use is similar to the old lime and sand but it also has a dash of Portland cement. This creates a mortar that is soft enough for the old bricks but has added durability from the Portland cement.

The repaired sills are probably good for another hundred years and maybe longer.

Another part of the window that suffered over time is the nailing blocks. These are wooden bricks embedded into the window opening so that the window jambs have something to attach too. Most of the originals were just loose and had to be pulled out leaving a pocket.

With a bit of mortar, it was easy enough to put the nailing blocks back in for securing the new windows.

As a beginning mason, all my handiwork will be covered by the window jambs and casings. Perhaps this is a good thing since I’m still working on making the work look pretty. In the meantime, I’m learning about mortar consistency, differing types of sand and protecting my hands from undue wear and tear.

On this last point, I discovered the hard way that the lime used in mortar likes to eat skin. It’s quite irritating and where the skin cracks from dryness, the mortar goes subcutaneous and leaves little gray scabs that hurt for about a week. I now wear surgical latex gloves under rubberized cotton work gloves. This provides suitable protection without rendering my hands too clumsy for handling the mortar.

With luck, the next post will have the new roof completed and walls installed on the first floor. Keep your fingers crossed.

It’s Green

While we are waiting for the seismic retrofit work to be completed on the first floor interior, my wife Katie and I have been experimenting with exterior colors.

Kelly Moore paints has a nice palette of historic colors and from this, we’ve selected green with brown trim for the wood structure adjacent to the hotel. The door was originally supposed to be brown but we had a quart of the yellow that we planned to use on the balcony so we gave it a go. It looked so good that we plan to use it on the double doors as well and this will help tie in the wood structure to the hotel which will be brick read with yellow windows and doors.

We are delaying the paint on the front of the hotel itself because of a current tenant whom we hope will learn to fly soon.

Meanwhile, our new windows have been delivered to a warehouse in Reno and they are also waiting for the seismic retrofits to be completed as well as the new roof. This has put us in a bind since we are running out of good weather and we can’t install anything until the roof is weather tight.

The window openings also need a bit of attention before the windows can be installed.

The gap in the bricks is for a wooden nailing block which has broken loose which is typical for at least three of the Western windows. Also, several of the bricks on the sill are just sitting loose in disintegrated mortar. Since this will all be hidden by window jambs and wood casings, I’m going to repair these myself. I don’t need to make them look pretty, just functional.

On The Map

It has been a busy week and now that the contractors are finished upstairs, my wife and I have gotten back to framing. The bathroom is the most difficult bit with a combination of water damaged sub floor and dodgy 1870s wall studs.

It was obvious that in 1870, the carpenters were running out of the best lumber and the bathroom walls were made of whatever they had left which had more in common with soft pretzels than anything else. It was actually 2″x 4″ in size but it was soft pine that can’t hold a screw and large knots caused it to bend and twist in the most agravating ways. This was okay in 1870 when the walls were covered in lath and plaster which could handle the irregularities. Modern drywall; however, requires a more consistent substrate which some of these old walls could not provide.

In the picture, I’ve used a mix of 1870s lumber, 1920s lumber recycled from the first floor and new lumber. I have to say the the new and 1920s lumber is much easier to use since the size is consistent and there is very little of the pretzel thing going on.

While I was wrestling with the walls, my wife worked on the pilasters at the front of the saloon. The pilasters were wood instead of the typical iron that one would see up in Virginia City and that cast some doubt on their originality.

Then last week, we were shown a photo that was run in the papers last year.

It shows the hotel without the pilasters and a large gas lantern to the left of the front door. At one point in time, the balcony was removed and the pilasters were added for decoration in its absence. Once the balcony was rebuilt, the pilasters remained but were inappropriate to the original design. Based on this hypothesis and the photo, we’ve gotten approval from the Historic Commission to remove the pilasters.

What we found underneath was really interesting too.

The brick wall underneath the pilasters was “penciled” which means that it had been painted brick color with the mortar penciled in with gray paint. Is this part of the original 1800s finish?

And if that wasn’t good enough, the far left pilaster was hiding a survey marker!

Now, I have to figure out when the markers was placed.

Moon Shadow

The eclipse happened yesterday and while the sky dimmed, our fearless contractors kept working despite the waning light inside the hotel. The plumbers kept plumbing and the framers hid in the basement with a huge wood girder that they were securing to the bottom of a shear wall. Not wanting to disturb their fun, I went outside to witness the solar spectacle. As the project manager and chief check writer, it’s my privilege to goof off now and again.

I didn’t have the proper filter to take sun shots so I simply photographed the shadows which were easily as dramatic as the sun itself. The crescents you see are the image of the crescent sun projected through tree branches.

Once the two minute break was over and the sun was back to full sunburn mode, I went back to the never ending task of cleaning out the back yard.  This time, it was in anticipation of the digging the new sewer line but, of course, I was met by ardent objections from the local wildlife.

These guys have been plaguing us all summer and upon reflection, it seems that their meanness is probably their own downfall. If they weren’t so aggressive, I wouldn’t be chasing them with a can of wasp spray.

Now that the yard is debugged for the moment, I’m happy to report that we finally have a few walls going up instead of the coming down. On the first floor, we have the afore mentioned shear wall which is currently a sheer wall until we get some plywood on it.

Upstairs, I’ve installed the sole plates in the bathroom so that the plumbers will know where to put their pipes. The tub will be on the right and the toilet on the left near the window with the wonderful view of the neighbor’s roof. The plan is to install a cafe curtain at the bottom of the window to hide the roof and provide a nice view of blue sky and the mountains beyond while one sits and ponders.

You can also see the green floor boards in the lower left. I used some of the planking from the original saloon partition wall to repair holes in the floor. As it turned out, it was the same thickness as the original floor boards and had a very similar profile so the tongue and groove parts of it fit the original floor pretty closely. Of course, the biggest win is that I didn’t have to buy new lumber for the job.

Pipe Dreams

We now have plumbing going in but it entailed a bit of prep work before the guys with the pipes showed up. The first order of business was to get rid of the iron bathtub on the second floor. The original plan was to haul it downstairs and place it on the sidewalk with a “FREE” sign. We were assured by a neighbor that the tub would vanish within 24 hours and reappear as a horse watering trough somewhere else. This was a really nice idea but the tub was so heavy that moving it 6″ just earned me a sprained hand.

To make things easier, I decided to tip the tub on its side so I could finish removing the iron drain pipe thus making the tub lighter by twenty pounds. In a moment of brilliance, I used a 2×4 as a lever to get the tub on its side but as the tub tipped, the drain pipe fell out on its own saving me the trouble of prying it loose. This was great except that it fell through the floor and bounced off the bar in the saloon below leaving a humongous dent in the wooden bar top. In the future, I’ll just have to explain this away as the result of a wild west brawl where someone broke a whiskey bottle. It sounds much more adventurous that way.

So, on to plan B. The sledge hammer was twenty bucks and the trip to the chiropractor was forty but seeing the pile of manageable pieces, priceless.

After that, it was fairly easy to pry out the stinky rotting floorboards and replace them with a plywood sub floor.

On top will go cement board and period white tiles for a twenties look.

Meanwhile, the plumbers started their work on the first floor.

We decided to go with PEX for the hot and cold water. Copper was out because of the expense and it was a close match between CPVC which is a hard walled product and PEX. The PEX won because of its ability to freeze without bursting.

 

R & R

R & R does not mean we that are taking a well deserved rest. In this case it means rebar and roofing.

The rebar is being woven on the front and rear walls of the hotel in order the strengthen the shotecrete.

It’s a bit complex and has to be entirely contained within 4″ of shotcrete which has led to a bit of vocabulary I can’t repeat. The result; however, will be magnificent and, sad to say, totally invisible.

As for the roof, it has to come off completely including the layer of brick that is on top of the sheathing. The good news is that the mortar used on the brick is the consistency of dried mud and comes off with a good swift kick or perhaps a shovel for the more genteel.

On a final note, the greatest news of all is that our interior remodel permit has been granted complete with a bill for school tax, road tax and park tax. It could have been worse though. I hear that California taxes are about ten times those of Nevada.

Concrete and Doors

It’s been a busy week. On Tuesday, the contractors poured the footings at the north and south ends of the hotel.

These will not only support the shotcrete on the walls above but also provide additional support to the wood floor. I would have liked to witness the pour but I was off picking up some doors that we found in Amador City. My wife and I had been exploring the gold country the previous weekend and ran across an estate sale that just happened to have three half lite exterior doors of the proper vintage.

These look like they were leftovers from another restoration project because they were already stripped of paint. The joinery; however, was in pretty bad shape so I’ll have to glue and clamp the stiles to make them more solid.

A little patching and priming will make them look good again and we’ll use them to replace the exterior doors at the front and back of the building where the originals had rotted away.

Oh BTW, if you’re interested in becoming a neighbor, one of our friends is selling a house around the corner on River Street.

The seller’s description reads:

Potential abounds in this turn-of-the-century home, constructed in Virginia City and relocated to historic old-town Dayton by horse and wagon.  Established in 1900 and currently surrounded by period correct construction, this charming home is replete with opportunity, affording a chance to own a quintessential piece of Dayton and Virginia City history. This home resides in close walking proximity to restaurants, parks, and shops, including the old Union Hotel currently undergoing a substantial residential makeover. This listed River Street property is being sold as is; interested parties are strongly encouraged to seek professional guidance before presenting an offer to purchase this unique home and restoration project.

Or, if you are more ambitious, the Odeon Hall is for sale as well. If you’re an old movie buff, this is one of the places where Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift were filmed in the movie “The Misfits”.