Nesting

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.

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.