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.

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.