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.



Time to Get Plastered

There was a strange hush in the saloon today as all stands in readiness for the next giant leap forward. Katie and I have swept the floors, picked up the flotsam, retrieved all the tools and sprayed copious amounts of expanding foam anywhere we could imagine cold air sneaking in.  And the reason? Drywall installation will commence at 10am May 2nd!

Katie and I have been driving ourselves mad with the last details, making sure that the ceiling insulation is done and that the HVAC contractors, electricians and plumbers have all finished their prep work for the momentous occasion. As a case in point I realized, at the last minute, that the HVAC guys had not installed wiring for the thermostats so I quickly Googled thermostat placement and made my best guess as to where the wires should go. Now that I’ve completed the fire drill, the contractors will probably install some sort of wireless setup just to spite me.

We also have other creature features that we’ve completed. Both of our offices have the latest data cable from our tiny telco room under the stairs. We’ve also run cables to two possible TV locations upstairs and there is an additional cable from the living room to the kitchen to wire up a pair of old hand crank telephones as an intercom system.

Of course, my biggest worry is about how the drywall guys will take to my framing. On the first floor, it’s all new walls so that’s not an issue but upstairs is a mix of existing walls that were built for lath and plaster and new framing which is carefully mated to the old. Blending the old and the new has been a big challenge for me because I’ve never framed walls before and I had to make up a lot of it as I went along. Thankfully, the building inspector has already seen my work and deemed it to be good enough, even the ugly bits. Besides, all my sins will soon be covered in drywall not to be seen again until after I’m gone and some new owner decides that they just can’t live with the old walls.

So, I guess it’s time to take a bit of a break as the drywall guys do their thing. Now that I’m not stuffing fiberglass insulation into ceilings anymore, the terminal itchiness will subside and my tendinitis may ease up some allowing me to refocus on flooring. Kneepads will be a must.

Ghost Stories

In the last post, we shared quite a bit of backstory about Iva Gruber who was the granddaughter of Carolyne and Charley Gruber, the original builders of the Union Hotel. Iva’s story was so fascinating to us that it inspired Katie and me to do a little more otherworldly investigating on our own. This started with binge watching two seasons of Ghost Adventures and when our heads were full of unexplained sounds and floating spirit orbs, it was time to have some fun on our own.

Katie and I booked a ghost hunting tour at the Gold Hill Hotel which is a famously haunted venue. The event was interesting in that it was led by a group of paranormal investigators who showed us how to use dowsing rods, digital recorders and a gizmo called a spirit box which is simply a high speed radio scanner. Apparently, ghosts can communicate in certain FM radio frequencies. We had quite a bit of luck with the spirit box picking up voices and we ostensibly made contact with half a dozen different personalities all with differing voices. Was it legitimate? It seemed so in that the voices on the spirit box were answering our questions in an intelligent manner.

So, how does this relate to the Union? Well, it doesn’t yet since we’ve not used the spirit box there. There are; however, indicators that we may have some luck. When we first purchased the Union, it was my job to wade through all the old furniture and junk to measure the floors and create a floor plan for the county. While doing this, I always had the feeling of being watched which was just plain spooky. Then, when we began to clean the place up, the mood changed completely. The spookiness went away and the general atmosphere became rather welcoming as if our efforts were really appreciated.

As for spirits appearing, there was not much to mention early on. Occasionally, I would see a black and white dog out the corner of my eye and at some point, one of the neighbors mentioned that there used to be a dog of that description living at the Union but It was nothing really convincing.

This picture is an example of “nothing convincing”. It’s the result of a very slow shutter speed and an unsteady camera.

More recently; however, Katie and I have experienced a few things that raise an eyebrow. Katie has heard muffled voices from the new kitchen which used to be the Hotel’s dining hall. Also, Katie and I have both experienced fragrances in the saloon. If you’ve been reading the blog from the beginning, you will know that the only fragrance the saloon had to offer when we bought the place was that of well aged dog pee. Now that the doggie pew is gone, the only thing that should be there is the scent of fresh lumber but Katie smelled a strong rose perfume that followed her up the stairs. I was later treated to baking pie smells near the door to the old kitchen. I checked all the windows and doors to see if it was coming from outside but it wasn’t. I even thought that it might have come from J’s Bistro across the street but their only scent is that of sautéed onions and garlic in preparation for the evening meal. It’s a lovely smell but not apple pie.

So, what can we conclude from this? I think that if the place is truly haunted, the spirits are very happy with us sharing their space. There’s also the prospect of some of the best Halloween parties ever in a real old west saloon!

Oh, and for those who prefer plain solid evidence over the ethereal variety, here is Charley Gruber’s signature from 1870.

This is an old window casing that I scraped the paint off of. Since his signature was on more than one casing, I speculate that he went to the lumber yard and put his name on each window that he wanted delivered to the hotel.

New Old History

We were honored to be contacted by Tai Long who is the great great great granddaughter of the original Union owners Charlie and Carolyne Gruber. She shared with us quite a bit of information handed down from Iva Gruber, who was Carolyne’s granddaughter.

There is a lot of information but I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing to simply address the physical arrangement of the hotel for this post. More will come later. I promise.

The Union Hotel consisted of two sections. The brick portion remains today and is the part that we are renovating. There also was a wooden building attached to the rear of the brick building that no longer exists other than a few foundation stones buried in the yard. The Sanborn map from 1890 confirms the location of this structure. It’s the yellow building marked CL.

The hotel had 14 small bedrooms upstairs, 10 in the brick part and 4 in the wooden part. The brick building also had a suite across the front which consisted of a bedroom and elaborately furnished parlor with a wood coal stove. Each bedroom had a bed, dresser, marble top wash stand with pitcher and bowl set, thunder jar (pee pot) and soap dish. There were also hooks on the door to hang cloths on. The rooms on one side of the hall were double beds and the other side of the hall were single beds. It’s interesting to note that there was only one closet on the entire second floor. It was attached to the suite and doubled as a separate entrance to the suite’s bedroom.

Necessary functions were carried out manually. As there was no running water, it had to be carried upstairs to fill the pitchers and the slops were emptied down the 2 story outhouse which served upstairs and downstairs. The second floor of the outhouse was accessed by a bridge from the back of the wooden part of the hotel which, of course, no longer remains.

The outhouse itself was a bit of a marvel. Upstairs, there were 2 rooms for patrons, each had 2 holes and a lock on the door for privacy and believe it or not, catalogues were placed on the seats for use as toilet paper. Downstairs, the Gruber family had 2 holes on one side. On the other side, beyond a wall and a privacy fence, there was a public room with 2 holes. Apparently, the outhouse was torn down in 1950 for safety reasons. This conflicts with the other legends we’ve heard about the structure being strapped to a flatbed truck and shipped to Hollywood as a gag gift with a large red ribbon on it.

The main floor of the hotel had a huge barroom. It consisted of a long bar and a glass cabinet hung on the wall. It had rock specimens and 2 baby crocodiles preserved in a bottle of alcohol. A pot belly stove stood 10 ft from the corner. Along the wall, were 3 marble top wash basins with running cold water. There was always a tea kettle on the pot belly for shaving purposes for roomers. A large square piano was also in this room with 4 legs and made out of rosewood. It played rinky tink sounds and it’s still in the hotel today.

In the back half of the brick building, there was a huge dining room. This was served from a huge kitchen with a large range with double ovens and warming ovens. There were also two large pantries. It is my guess that this kitchen was on the first floor of the wooden building in back.

Oh, and for those who are interested in how the renovation is coming along, we’ve made quite a bit of progress on the little details required before the drywall can go on. In particular, the stove flue has been boxed out on its way to the roof and the data cable to bring internet to Katie’s and my office has been run. The coolest bit though, is that Katie finished cleaning the exposed brick in her office and hit it with a coat of dust sealer. You can see how beautiful the brick becomes with verses the dusty original on the left.


A Door Able

We are now getting the plumbing completed and the electrical started so the hotel has become a busy place. Over the weekend; however, the contractors were not there so Katie and I were able to finish hanging the doors in the Kitchen. The hardest part of it was hauling them downstairs since they were quite heavy.

The double 9′ doors, on the left, were the originals connecting the kitchen to the saloon and they survived several months of storage while the seismic retrofits were being completed. They used to open into the saloon but we flipped them around so they now open into the kitchen were they tuck against the wall without impeding traffic. The other door is to the new bathroom and it was one of the heavy ones recycled from the second floor.

Upon reinstallation of the double doors, we discovered that the top of the doors were 1 1/2″ wider than they were at the bottom. This may have been an accident but then again, it may have been a brilliant intentional feature. As a case in point, the Greeks made columns wider at the top in order to counteract the perspective problems of looking up at a tall detail. The end result was a column that looked less tapered when viewed up from the bottom. Maybe this is what Mr. Gruber had in mind when he had these doors made.

As for the transom in the double door, it was missing when we bought the place but it really is a blessing in disguise. Both Katie and I are stained glass artists so we have a wonderful opportunity to create something new.

The back door of the kitchen was also recycled from the second floor. The white door to the left is to the new pantry and it used to be to the old first floor bathroom before we rebuilt the walls. It is from the 20s which explains why it’s a different style from the 1870s doors with the transoms. It was also a lot lighter and easier to move than the 1870s behemoths.

Along with the doors, Katie and I roughed out the banister at the new landing. Once it is covered in drywall, We’ll put a cap on the railing and newel post to dress it up a bit. The window shelf will also get a wood deck so that the cats will have a nice place to relax while observing the passing traffic.

Granted, this look is a bit plain but it is our intention to create something more elegant once we are living there. We need to find the right architectural elements to reuse or build them from scratch both of which will take time. It’s all part of the wonderful journey which we hope will never end.


Cold Stair

Greetings my friends. It’s been cold inside the hotel for the last couple of days but that has not stopped Katie and Me from making progress on the staircase.

As expected, the concrete seismic work at the bottom of the stairs reduced the ground level landing size to the point where it was no longer code compliant. To remedy this, we removed the last three steps to make way for a plan so clever that it would make a weasel proud.

With the bottom three steps removed, it was an excellent opportunity to shore up the original stringers. I built a short wall which I firmly attached to both the stringers and the floor below which removed much of the original wobble which had been there since 1870.

Now here’s the clever bit. We moved the landing up three steps and turned the bottom of the stair 90 degrees to land in the saloon in a much more dramatic fashion.

This entailed making short stringers for the new steps. Yes, they are a little awkward in design but it was just a matter of having a limited selection of tools. I have the perfect saw to make a standard stringer to match the originals but it’s in storage and dog help me in finding it. Sigh.

The completed landing looks fine and I was even able to salvage the old stair treads to keep that wild west look. The one hitch is that the existing window seen here will now have to be replaced with tempered glass so that anyone running down the stairs after a couple of beers is not likely to run through the window and be impaled on the glass shards. It’s not likely to happen but better safe than sorry.

The next task, was the underside of the stairs. In order to make way for the drywall, the interior of the closet and the underside of the stairs outside the closet had to be framed out.

The inside of the closet was easy since everything was within reach. The sloped ceiling outside the closet; however, was a bit more dodgy. It was accomplished by me balancing on an eight foot ladder with Katie cutting lumber and handing it up to me. If this isn’t romance, I don’t know what is.

Finally, we gave ourselves a chance to do something more fun. Katie and I bolted the historic marker on the front of post office.

And the neighbors up the street approved.

What Success Hinges On

Now that we have windows, we’ve moved on to doors. Several of the doors that we’ve gathered are antiques that we rescued from a barn in Amador City CA.

They’re very nice but they didn’t come with jambs or hinges so we had to buy a few new tools and learn a new skill.

The router and hinge jig allows the perfect dado for hinges once one gets the hang of it. The learning curve was not too steep and our first attempts were pretty close although there were a few goof ups which lead to much head scratching on how to fix it. In the end; however, we made all the mistakes disappear and we were happy with the result.

The real trick is making the hinge dados on both the jamb and the door align perfectly. This was tricky but doable.

On a side note, the new jambs were fabricated from old base boards salvaged from the hotel guest rooms. It’s old growth pine and is better than anything we could have purchased. More importantly, it was already paid for over a hundred years ago.

Another salvaged resource is the door hardware. The vintage iron is incredibly durable and can be taken apart, lubed and reinstalled without a problem. The only challenge is that most of it is coated in several thick layers of oil based paint. This can be overcome with a little help from Grandma’s crock pot which we found at the thrift store for eight bucks.

We learned this trick from a PBS show long ago and it’s simply a matter of submerging the hardware in water with a dash of dish detergent and cooking it for eight hours. The old paint to falls right off! After that, the hardware gets a coat of gloss black spray paint to imitate the original finish.