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.


Trick or Treat

Halloween has come and gone and I’m proud to say that we hosted our first batch of trick or treators. Since purchasing the hotel, Katie and I have watched the place on Halloween just in case of any mischief but we’ve never seen any children before. It was a pleasant surprise and we sincerely hope that the first sighting of costumed creatures on the doorstep is a good omen for things to come in the Dayton downtown area. Once the children were properly sweetened up with Snickers and Reese’s Peanut butter Cups, Katie and I went back to our card game with the new neighbors.

Along with our bony companions, the table and chairs are a new/old addition to the hotel. They are 1800s originals from Virginia City which have, most assuredly, witnessed  many an intense poker game and much boozing. Katie fell in love with them at the local antique mall and they have become a perfect addition to the saloon.

You’ll note that under the table, the floor has made a miraculous transformation. Katie and I decided to get some help from a flooring contractor to sand and top coat the floors that we nailed down. Of course, between sanding and top coat, it was our job to apply the stain.

This turned out to be a tedious and messy process that required us to be on hands and knees for hours doing the Karate Kid bit of “wax on, wax off” with the only difference being that we were using stain instead of wax. As for our new pairs of his and hers knee pads, they’re now worn out but the end result is pretty spectacular.

The look is really close to what the original floor looked like and has the added benefit of not having the pet urine smells that were present when we bought the place. But, to reassure the historical purist, we still encounter small reminders of the stench that was. When we sand the bottom of the door jambs, the delicate fragrance still gently wafts from the wood fibers. We plan on heavy coats of primer to encapsulate the experience for those who wish to sniff out historical clues in the future.

Another spectacular creation was the vanity for the first floor bath. Katie and I had been scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do with the space. We had been looking for an old piece of furniture to repurpose but to no avail. We could not find anything that was both attractive and the right size.

In desperation, I descended upon my prized stash of redwood church paneling that had been given to us by our friends Gail and Tom. Most of the panels were huge but there were a few smaller scraps that worked out pretty well.

I added antique ice box hinges, a cherry butcher block top and a talavera sink from Mexico. Now, it needs knobs for the doors and I’m thinking of Victorian brass filigree to complement the hinges. The mirror frame above is something that I made years ago and it will be perfect once I put the mirror back in.

Stay tuned for more fun additions. We are getting closer to receiving our Certificate of Occupancy and this requires more of the creative finishing touches that I’ve been looking forward to.

Hunch Back of Pike and Main

Since my last post, Katie and I have been pushing forward on the wood floors. We finished up all of the second floor except for the walk in closet. As the stacks of flooring dwindled, my Chicken Little self kept envisioning the saloon floor with an unfinished closet sized patch where we ran out of flooring. But when the saloon floor was complete we still had enough wood to do both the first and second floor closets. That was a big relief.

There were, of course, challenges on the way. The first of which was where to put all the stuff. 75% of the hotel has wood floors and they all had to be completely clear of stuff before the flooring could go down. This led to ridiculous looking conditions like a kitchen with a piano and bar in it.

Also, several of the doors had to be removed for trimming because they would not open with the new and thicker flooring. This led to conversations like:

“Honey, Where’s the bathroom door?”

“I think it’s in the pantry.”

“What’s it doing there?”

“Leaning against the wall, I think.”

Meanwhile, the act of installing the flooring was troublesome on it’s own. The top of the stairs was probably the hardest part.

The stairs were level  but the floor of the upstairs living room had a dramatic slope to the East. The entire second floor does this and it’s been that way since it was built in 1870. As evidence to support this, all of the original East to West base boards were carefully tapered so that their top edges were level while their bottom edges were flush with the floor. As you can see from the photo, the top riser was far from even.

To make matters worse, there was a dip in the floor joists at the landing.

It was subtle so I didn’t notice it until after I had glued and nailed down a plywood patch replacing all the original floor boards that were too decayed to support the new landing. This was a problem since the new flooring was flat and would not bend sufficiently to accommodate the unevenness.  The best solution was to devise some tapered shims that allowed the new flooring to transition from the straight riser at the top of the stairs to the curved floor beyond.

After that hard bit was sorted out, it was just a matter of nailing the new flooring down with what I like to call “The Beast”.

This clever gizmo connects to an air compressor and drives a serrated steel cleat at a 45 degree angle through the edge of the floor board thus rendering the cleat invisible when the next board is set in place. The way it works is that one sets the nail gun with the yellow arrow on the edge of the plank and hits the big black button with a heavy rubber mallet. The mallet blow causes the plank to snug up tightly to a previously nailed plank while the cleat is driven by compressed air thus securing the plank to the sub floor. The handle on top is for moving the nail gun. The handle; however, is so short that one would have to be 4’6″ to feel comfortable using it and after nailing 1500 square feet of flooring, I’m now shuffling about with a hunched back and wondering where the nearest bell tower is.

The next step will be applying stain and finish which I’ll address in the next post. But for now, it’s off to finish the closets and practice a French accent for Halloween.




The Old Soft Shoe

We’ve been at this project for quite a long time now and wearing things out is inevitable. My shoes for instance.

I bought these for a fabulous trip to visit friends in the UK where these shoes have strolled through many sheep pastures, ancient castles and picturesque graveyards. Now, they have fallen victim to too much kneeling on wooden floors.

The wooden floors; however, are in great shape. The Doug Fir planking is going down fairly easily despite none of the rooms being truly square. The last plank in each room always requires a tapering cut which I do freehand on the table saw. This seems tricky at first but it’s no worse than using a Skillsaw and my cuts are quite straight.

My real concern is how well the old plank floors under the new ones will hold up. They took a considerable amount of water damage last fall when the roof was off and they developed quite a bit of cupping that had to be flattened out.  A ton of galvanized ring shank nails took out most of the cupping and a bit of heavy sanding knocked down the really bad stuff. It seems to have worked so far in that none of the new planking squeaks but it might in the future. Of course, since our look is “ghost town revival” a few squeaks won’t be a bad thing.

Besides the boots, the only other casualty of floor laying was my rubber mallet.

When I first got it, I noted how cool the wood grain was but that; in fact, turned out to be its own downfall. Instead of the grain being straight and strong through the mallet head, it curved at a 45 degree angle making it very weak and after 800 square feet of flooring, it neatly snapped while whacking a particularly unrepentant plank.

On a more successful note, our color pallet has been working out nicely. Katie chose a green hue for the master bedroom and it serendipitously turned out to be a color that was used downstairs in the original saloon.

You can see the similarity in the photo above. The green floorboards were salvaged from a saloon wall to repair the bedroom floor. The wall color is just a darker version of the original.

The front door also received its new color.

The ocher color is the same that we are using on the windows and the trim color to come, is a deep brown which you may recognize from earlier posts. The front facade is hardly complete but the new brick threshold is in and all of the glass is now 1/4″ tempered to make it safe for the public. As for the porch lamp, it’s just a placeholder until we can find an antique that more suits the look.


When we started this project, we were warned that there would be the occasional hiccough. One of these was the coughing toilet. For weeks after installation, air kept leaking into the water lines which caused much chugging and hacking each time the tank refilled. Eventually, the plumber figured out that this was air escaping from the empty hot water heater. The chugging ceased once the water heater was full so that story ended happily enough.

Another hiccough was one of my own creation which I really should just leave unstated but it does make a good story. When cutting the butcher block counter tops for the kitchen, I was a little concerned because cherry is a rather dense hard wood that sometimes offers challenges. My first attempt lived up to this concern quite satisfactorily.

With great clouds of blue smoke, the Skilsaw blade burned through most of the first cut until it just stalled before completing the task. Of course, the new smoke detectors didn’t notice anything in the saloon as Katie ran to open all the windows in an attempt to clear the haze. It seems that their job is to go off randomly to report when the air is clear and real smoke is beyond their interest. In any case, neither the saw nor the smoke detectors were working correctly.

In a vain hope at fixing the situation, I ran off to the hardware store to buy another blade. The new blade, however, gave the same results as the first one which led to some panicked head scratching.  Then, I noticed the direction of the saw teeth. The blade was on backwards! That’s what I get for buying second hand tools with no manual. To make matters worse, a backwards blade cuts through soft woods just fine so I never noticed before. Feeling really stupid, I flipped the blade and completed cutting the counters with no further issue.

Well, enough of my silliness and on to something of real importance. The last item of the seismic retrofit has been completed! The beam that adds rigidity to the staircase wall has been successfully installed and signed off by the building inspector.

As originally designed, the beam was supposed to be a 28′ long iron box beam that weighed around two tons. It was an okay design for strength but getting it into place proved to be impossible without a crane and the crane was impossible because of power lines in front of the hotel blocking access. As a result, our contractor got his own engineer to design a wood option which the county approved. It is actually several wooden beams that were hoisted into place separately and bolted together to become one thus providing required rigidity without needing a crane.

The final addition for today’s post is the upgrade on the front door. Previously, it was held shut with a padlock that could only be secured from the outside. This caused a problem of curious people entering the saloon while we were working upstairs. We expected this to happen when the front door was open but folks were letting themselves in even when the door was closed. So…..

there is now a deadbolt on the front door. Originally, I’d intended to put a new lock cylinder in the original mortise lock but it was so much easier just to leave it alone and add a modern deadbolt above it.

I think the next addition will be a doorbell since we do still enjoy guests. We just don’t want them wandering around downstairs unattended.


Gurl Stuff

I’ve received comments that all my posts, so far, have been focused on boy stuff. Well, until now, there really has not been too much going on that wasn’t simply dust covered and basically grimy prep work for greater things to come. Now, however, the greater things are starting to happen.

Currently, the kitchen is taking shape.

Katie and I selected porcelain floor tiles from Italy. They suggest the age and wear one might find in Pompei or other fine examples of vintage Roman real estate and our intent was to simulate an old look in keeping with the age of the hotel. We found these tiles last year and in the time it took us to decide to actually buy them, the tiles went on clearance and we saved quite a bit of money as a reward for our procrastination.

The cabinets were also on sale at Home Depot and we purchased them with installation included. We selected higher quality cabinets with all plywood construction instead of particle board and for the installation, I was quite surprised at how good the contractors were. I’d had a bad experience before with Home Depot contractors in CA which clouded my expectations but the results here in NV, were very much the opposite.

We chose not to have hardware included with the cabinets because the options offered from the manufacturer were very expensive and too modern looking for the age of the hotel. Instead, we provided our own, more period products, for far less money.

These drawer pulls were made in China based on original patterns and they are surprisingly accurate in historic design.

The cabinet pulls are antique glass from the 20s. When I rummaged around in the hardware that I’d collected years ago, I found enough of these for the lower cabinets. For the upper cabinets, Katie found a batch of them at a local antique mall which we scooped up and pressed into service.

Upstairs, there are more aesthetic things happening. Katie started wallpapering her office.

This led to the realization that hanging wallpaper looks really easy in Youtube videos but this, in fact, is an illusion. I can’t say that I learned any new four letter words during the process but I did hear some combinations that proved to be original.

While Katie was aligning paper seams and hurling invectives, I busied myself with sash painting and hurling a few of my own.

After twenty eight sashes with a wet paintbrush, I’m now pretty good at it. Notice the cutting blade and putty knife on the table. These are used in lieu of taping off each pane of glass before painting. Just lay the blade on the glass next to the wood and paint. Lift the blade quickly at just the right angle and bingo! You have a perfectly straight painted edge. Well, it’s not really that easy. It just keeps most of the paint from slopping on the glass and there’s always a bit of cleanup with the razor blade once the paint is dry. Now, do this process three times per sash, one coat of primer and two coats of color. Then, bang head on wall and move on to the next sash.

Now, I’m off to Reno to pick up tempered glass to finish the front door…. which will also need one coat of primer and two coats of color.



Fan Club

The hotel has seen several upgrades in the past two weeks with the most dramatic being the new ceiling fans.

I bought six of these Hunter fans that I found on sale for 60% off. They look fairly accurate for the period design so they will be installed in all of the bedrooms and the living room upstairs as well as the saloon which is shown above. Pay no attention to those light fixtures. They are temporary and will be replaced by a set of antique fixtures when I get time to rewire them.

The saloon is definitely more comfortable with the fans going which inspired one of the locals to drop in for a chance to cool off.

I found this little guy swimming around in a bucket of water that I had for mixing mortar. He was unable to fly out in his waterlogged state but was able to use his cute little turned up nose as a snorkel while awaiting rescue. When I fished him out, he was barely moving but he perked right up when Katie toweled him off. We set him outside in a box and he was on his way as soon as his fur was dry.

Well, our bat friend is gone and another thing that is gone is the porti potty.  You see, it’s Katie’s and my second wedding anniversary and although, it’s supposed to be a cotton gift, I opted for porcelain by installing a much needed toilet.

I found that it wasn’t as hard as I’d feared and when I turned on the valve allowing water to rush into all the new plumbing, there were no unintended fountains, just a calmly filling toilet tank. It even flushes correctly! The big hurdle is getting used to indoor plumbing again.

Of course, a properly flushing toilet demands a proper sink so I wrestled the vanity out of the garage and got to work. Katie and I purchased an old English buffet last year and when we got it home, we discovered that it was made up of parts from a couple of different pieces of furniture and had several instances of wood beetle damage. This actually worked better for me since I didn’t need to feel guilty when I removed the top and ripped the guts out. As for the beetles, they seem to be long gone with no new sawdust sifting out of the cabinet. Fingers are crossed.

The granite counter top is new and the sink bowl will be a white rectangular porcelain model that looks similar to the toilet. We made a point of buying the tub, toilet and sink from the same manufacturer to make sure that the white glazes would all be the same.

The cabinet itself posed a few problems like remounting the drawer fronts permanently after removing the drawer boxes. As you’ll also note, the column on the left is missing. It was pretty banged up on the bottom so Papa Geppetto will have to do a little repair work on it but it should look fabulous once done. Despite its flaws, the whole thing looks rather extraordinary and with a coat of wax, it will look even better.

By the next post, the vanity will have the sink bowl installed and all the plumbing hitched up.


Under Foot

It’s hard to imagine that we’d ever get this far but we are now in the process of laying the floors. The push for this began with an effort to get rid of the portable outhouse. The $120 a month rental fees have been a thorn in our side for nearly a year as project delays have held up the completion of the indoor plumbing but that’s another story. So, what does this have to do with floors? Well, we couldn’t install a toilet without having the tile work done first. So, I finally unboxed the unused Harbor Freight tile saw that’s been collecting dust for months. This model rated really well with users and with a 20% off coupon, it was half the price of the similar Home Depot model.

Now, I’ve tiled a couple of shower stalls in the past with 12″ square tiles but only a small part of that experience translated to setting a bathroom floor with antique style hex tiles.

Trying to keep these guys straight was quite a challenge particularly in the hot weather with the mortar drying too quickly. Once set in place, the tiles were pretty much stuck with little chance to adjust placement which led to moments of panic and frenzied cursing. In the end; however, the results were pretty impressive.

Meanwhile, we took a brief break to receive the wood flooring we had ordered.

We were originally looking at yellow pine but we stumble across a mill that had a large quantity of mixed grain fir from a canceled order. This was fortuitous because the fir looks more like the original hotel floors than the pine would have. Of course, nothing is every easy around here. There is a high curb at the front of the hotel which prevented the delivery driver from wheeling the wood in on a pallet jack. Instead, he dropped the pallets in the street and Katie, I and a friend, lugged it all in by hand. The wood is now stacked in the saloon where it will stay for another week or two. It has to acclimate to the local humidity and the straps you see are to keep it from warping before we can nail it down.

On the matter of warping, there was another concern we had to deal with. Some of the original plank floors upstairs had taken so much water damage over the years that they had become badly cupped. The worst of it was in Katie’s future office so I set about nailing down the existing planks with 2″ galvanized nails to stop any squeaking or bouncing. I normally would have used screws for this purpose but the pine floor joists were so soft that the screws weren’t getting a strong bite. On the other hand, galvanized nails are known for their ability to grip which they did well in this case.

After nailing everything down, I then used the belt sander to knock down the high edges of the cupped boards. The new floor boards will be run perpendicular to the old ones so with luck, it will be pretty flat and solid.

We have our work cut out for us in the next couple of weeks but in the meantime, I’d like to ask if there are any locals who have the ability to make metal caps for our three abandoned chimneys? I made heavy wooden ones to cover the chimneys temporarily but mother nature keeps blowing them off on a regular basis. We need a permanent solution that I can attach with masonry anchors.

Last Ditch Effort

Previously, our neighbor Ken filled in the old privy pit with his tractor and leveled quite a bit of the back yard. This was in preparation for the addition of a water line from the meter at the street to the back of the hotel.

The next week, Ken returned and dug the trench for us. This was not the easiest thing to do because the soil type is “Alluvial Fan” which is simply all of the silt and rocks that have washed out of Gold Canyon for thousands of years.  Being that it’s mostly rocks, Alluvial Fan is quite stable stuff and makes for a great foundation in earthquake country but the rock needs to be broken loose to be removed from the trench and this causes the sides of the trench to fall back in leaving me with the task of picking them out of the trench with a shovel in the hot sun. When I graduated from college, they promised me that I would never have to do this sort of work. I wonder where I went wrong.

All was not sweat soaked drudgery though. Katie and I had a bit of fun picking around for more interesting stuff.

Toward the back of the yard, there was evidence of several burn pits which yielded lots of broken pieces; however, we only found one complete bottle  in the entire trench. It’s becoming evident that bottle diggers have already dug up the good stuff.

After the trench was dug, I busied myself with the back door threshold.

The wood threshold was shaped to fit from an old window jamb I salvaged from upstairs. It’s old growth pine and should last longer than any new wood that I can buy. The bricks are inch thick pavers and, sad to say, they are new. The reason for this is that new bricks are much harder than the old ones and should last longer than I do. The inch thick size also made installing them a lot easier. If I’d used the old bricks, I would have had to split them on the tile saw which I wasn’t too excited about.

With that job well done, Katie and I rewarded ourselves with a short vacation with our rocket friends.

Katie flew her tiger striped rocket to six thousand feet several times and my rockets crashed for the most part which is why the hotel has a dedicated rocket building room in the back. This little setback is the perfect excuse to have fun building more rockets.

While we were out launching things, the plumbers showed up to lay the water pipe without the benefit of my baleful eye watching over them.

Despite this, they did a pretty good job but I didn’t get the yard hydrant that was in the plans. They’ll be back in a week so I’ll be able to get that sorted out as well.

In ending, I’d like to thank Ken and his tractor for all the work that he’s done for us including both the sewer and water trenches. I also suggest visiting his nursery behind the hotel on Silver Street. Ken provides both plants and tractor services at lower prices than the dealers up in Reno and we are looking forward to planting our yard with his stock.