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.



Pit of Doom

At one time, the Union Hotel was outfitted with the latest in modern plumbing technology, a two story outhouse. It was accessed by both ground level doors for the first floor seats and a catwalk from the second floor of the hotel to the second floor seats. This facilitated the travel of fragrant thunder mugs and desperate hotel guest directly from the second floor to the outhouse without having to travel down the stairs, through the saloon, and through the public dining room. Phew!

The upstairs seats were most likely connected to clay sewer pipes that routed the effluent past the guests sitting below so there was no need for umbrellas. I have a section of sewer pipe that I suspect was from the outhouse. I can’t prove that it was from the outhouse but it will make a good prop when I’m old and cranky, tellin the youngins about how hard life used to be.

After many years of hard service the outhouse was removed in the 50s for safety concerns. Some say it was knocked down because it was falling over on it’s own accord and others claim that it was put on a truck and hauled to Hollywood with a big red ribbon attached as a practical joke. Neither story has been confirmed beyond doubt but in any case, what was left behind was a great big hole.

Which was filled with trash in subsequent years.

When Katie and I bought the hotel, we both shared dreams of digging the pit for bottles but upon further inspection, we began to realize that it was not such a good idea. Originally, the pit was 25′ deep but the trash filled it up about half way and the nature of the trash was going to make removing it quite a challenge. Imagine a huge ice cream Sunday of soggy rolled up wall to wall carpet  with the carcass of a Barcalounger as the topping cherry. If that was not enough to discourage us, we then made friends with a local bottle digger who assured us that the pit had already been dug to the bottom back in the 80s.

It was becoming apparent that our best option was to fill the thing up. We had played with the notion of building a shed over it and having a basement but the rock work looked a little dodgy and we had this huge pile of dirt from other places in the yard and well, it just made sense.

Yes, it seems like a shame to do it but the stone walls will be preserved better over time and if anyone wants to dig it out in the future, carpet and all, the pit will still be there awaiting their shovel.

It still needs a few more yards of dirt but I’m sure we’ll have no problem coming up with it when we level the yard.

Hive Mind

It’s been a very busy week and the bees have been buzzing in and out without ceasing. The guys mudding the drywall started on Monday which was a challenge because they were supposed to start the previous Thursday and be done with the kitchen for the cabinet installers who were going to show up on Tuesday. Katie was able to delay the cabinet installers until Wednesday so they were able to hang cabinets only moments after the plaster and paint had dried. The mud guys were still around, of course, getting plaster dust on the new cabinets and there were a few tense moments of impromptu diplomacy but in the end, the result was pretty impressive.

Meanwhile, the gas company made a surprise visit with an excavator in tow. They proceeded to dig up the yard and lay the new gas line to the main on Silver Street behind the hotel. Actually, this was probably the easiest task of the week in that no other contractors were claiming dibs on the back yard at that moment and their work progressed smoothly.

In order to stay out of the way, I busied myself with rescuing my treasure hoard from storage. Every six months, the storage facility has been raising the rent by 20 bucks but this time, they decided to raise it by 50 bucks so we are making the effort to clear it out before the end of the month. My first task is to bring over all the boxed items that will fit into the basement which is out of the way of work that is still occurring in the living spaces of the hotel.

When I moved out of my townhouse in San Jose, I did not have the ability to have a garage sale so I was forced to pack almost everything. I gave away a lot of stuff but I still have all these boxes whose contents are of questionable use. The picture above is boxes of books which I’ve accumulated over the years. After two years of storage; though, I don’t feel like I’m missing most of them so the real question is, is it time to get rid of them? Perhaps there will be a garage sale in the future.

There are other things that are unquestionable keepers just waiting for a moment like this. When I was in Junior High school, I started dreaming about building my own house and collected elements that I could use. I even went so far as to buy acreage in Grass Valley for the purpose but life didn’t take me in that direction. Instead, I fell in love with a Carson City gal and found this cool old hotel. Now, the hard question is which room gets which light fixture?




White Out

The wall boards are up and the look of the hotel interior is quite shocking.

In the saloon, the transformation is amazing. Gone is all of the junk and grunge that went with it. Also, the dog smell is a thing of the past.

What we have now is bright new walls and ceiling which we will adorn with period colors and trim. It looks a bit like a new clothing boutique at the moment but you will note that there are no can lights or other modern details to spoil the vintage mood.

For the purist, the rustic charm is almost completely gone which is a shame. We didn’t have much choice in the matter because the engineering plans required us to remove all of the interior finishes to allow access for the blocking, steel straps and shear walls. The upstairs faired a little better. The walls had to be stripped of their lath and plaster but most of the original walls stayed the same and the original doors remain despite the fact that they are a bit shorter than the current standard.

As for our concerns about the drywall guys not liking my framing, it was much worrying over nothing. The thing that they complained about was our insulation in the living room which was not tucked into the ceiling beams far enough. This was the first room we insulated so our technique was not yet worked out. We only had the instructions on the side of the insulation bales to go by and they were very basic.

Now that the building inspector has been by to approve the drywall nailing, the taping and joint compound can be applied which will make the place look even better. Also, the kitchen cabinets arrive next week and the new gas line will be trenched in the back yard. We are finally on the upswing and our move in date comes ever closer.