Finally! A shower!

If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you know the trials and tribulations we’ve gone through whenever we’ve needed to do anything related to the plumbing at the farm.

The shower has been no different. IMG_20171207_173941.jpg

You see, there’s never been a shower at the farm. Only a bathtub. I know some folks love baths, but I’m not one of them. I have things to do. I want to get showered and move on with my day.

A couple of months ago (yes, MONTHS), I decided it’d be nice to have a shower at the farm. But I knew we weren’t ready for a major remodel, so I wanted something easy. I bought a new bath spout that had a riser with a shower head on it. One like this. Easy schmeasy. I told our youngest son to take care of installing it. I mean, unscrew the old spout, screw on the new one, put the riser with the showerhead on… instant shower. He’s earned the plumbing merit badge for Boy Scouts, I figured it’d be no problem.

Except the pipe protruding from the wall was too long. So the spout sat about an inch away from the wall. That wasn’t going to work. We repackaged the new one and returned it.

I kept looking. And found another one. A longer one. Which didn’t have the riser, but had an adapter to put a handheld shower on it. I figured that would work. Except it didn’t either. It ALSO wasn’t long enough. The problem wasn’t that I’m just terrible at measuring — it was that most of these spouts have few or no measurements of the interior of the spouts.

So, I bought a third one. And held few hopes that this one would work. But holy cow! It DID!!! Bri got it installed and hooked up the handheld shower and it worked great. We still need to install something to mount it to the wall, but we’ve got a plan for that.

So, now it was time to put up the shower curtains, and we were in business.

I’d brought two shower curtains and two shower rods (there’s a wood-framed window in the bathroom that we need to protect for now). The one covering the window went up no problem. The second one — one of those curved rods that give you a bit of extra room in the tub so the plastic shower curtain doesn’t stick to you while you’re showering — was not as easy.


Hello! So, yes. This hadn’t been my project until now. But when we discovered that this third diverter was going to be the ticket, we decided to plow ahead. Rear shower curtain up. Front shower curtain…doesn’t fit.

How could it not fit? Allow me to explain!

This rod is also a tension rod. But it’s isn’t one in the traditional way. You don’t unscrew it, set it to length, give a quick turn, and lock it in. Instead, there are a series of holes and a little ball toggle that will lock into one of those hole locations and then you can fine adjust by turning one of the ends of the rod. Problem with this was, of course, the holes available for the large adjustment didn’t give us the length we needed.


More holes required.

That meant going outside.

What Erin didn’t tell you all, at the beginning of this post, is that she had had “one of those weeks” at work.

On, I don’t know, Wednesday of that week, she said something to the effect, “Regardless of the weather and with or without you, I’m going to the farm this weekend.”

And so, regardless of the weather, we went. When we got to the farm Friday evening, it was -24. Actual temperature.

When I stood in the bathroom the next morning knowing that I’d have to go outside to make this work, it had warmed up to -18.

But. Knowing this was the third try on this shower thing, and knowing that Erin had been looking forward to it for months, I put on my boots, my parka, and my gloves, and headed out to the shop.


See how happy I am to be headed out when it’s -18??

Out to the shop I went. I knew there was a drill press out there, and that’s precisely what I needed.


I found the appropriate drill bit, the appropriate punch to indicate where I’d like to drill, and got the new hole done.


For good measure, I even added two of them. You know, to be sure.

I’d only been in the shop for about ten minutes, but I was freezing. Still, I put everything back where I found it, shut off the lights, and headed back in.


It might not be far from the house to the shop, but at -18, it’s far enough!

Got back in the house. Boots off, parka off, gloves off, took the rod into the bathroom and triumphantly put it in place.

That’s what I envisioned, anyway.

What really happened was, I extended the rod into the new holes and discovered it still didn’t fit.

I wasn’t…mad, per se. I was baffled. I don’t know how in the world we measured it wrong…but we clearly had!


Boots on, parka on, gloves on, back to the shop.


I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t nearly as precise with the third hole. It was not my finest work.


Totally off the line. I’m disappointed. But, I’m also cold. My eyelashes are frozen, my mustache is frozen, my nose hairs are frozen, I’m ready to be back inside with a cup of coffee.

So, back to the house. Boots off, parka off, gloves off.

Into the bathroom, put the rod together and discover that the hole I made is just enough off the line that the little ball doesn’t want to fit in it right. The curved rod doesn’t have as much side-to-side as a straight obviously would. So I do the only thing I’m willing to do, I try to use all my might to twist the curved rod enough to pop into place.

I’m straining, maybe grunting, I’m envisioning breaking one or both halves of this rod trying to get it turned enough to get it in place. I may have heard a tenative, “Bri?” from the other room as Erin’s hearing the weird noises of exertion I’m making in the bathroom when I hear


It’s in place!

And with that:


The shower was up.

And so, on that cold Saturday morning, somewhere around 94 years after the house was built, months after the project was first embarked upon, I enjoyed the very first shower in it.



Something on the side(table)

In a recent post, I mentioned my excitement over a pair of mid century nightstands I’d found in a thrift store right after Christmas.

I’ve developed a love for mid century design over the past 5 years or so and keep an eye out for nice pieces whenever I’m thrifting or browsing Craigslist. This pair is in great shape, solidly built, and just $20 each.

When my parents were over for dinner a couple days later, I had to show them off and my dad said that they were a mahogany veneer. Nearly all mid century furniture is veneered and some tables and dressers have a laminate top. While the laminate is handy when trying to avoid water stains from your drinks, I’m not a fan of the look and prefer to purchase those with the wood (veneered) surfaces.

IMG_20180107_113028.jpgOne of the tables was in worse shape than the other (though, again, great shape for a 60ish-year-old table) and kind of looked like some of the stain and lacquer had chipped off. There were also tiny paint spatters on both nightstands (from my own experience, I’d bet they were too close to a wall that was being painted with a roller). The paint came off easily with my thumbnail. The light spots, though, needed some attention.

I know some people would strip the wood and refinish it, but I love the rich color of the mid century finish and whenever I’ve seen a refinished piece, it just doesn’t look the same, so I’ve never done it on my furniture. My dad, who spent his career as an electrical engineer, but is a great woodworker among other things, suggested that I just sand the finish lightly with 0000 steel wool.

I dug through a box of painting supplies that I’d picked up this summer at a rummage sale. There was some 00 steel wool in the box, so I decided that was probably good enough. As you can see in the photo of the steel wool, the lower the number, the finer the finish (much like how sandpaper is rated so that the higher the number, the finer the grit). I’ve never used steel wool for sanding, but have read about it and it worked nicely. It just took a light layer of the finish off, smoothing out some of the minor imperfections.

After that, it was time for my go-to product for wood furniture and woodwork. Watco’s Danish Oil is a mixture of oil and varnish that comes in a number of different wood tones. It helps stain the small scratches (and chips, in this case), oils the dry wood and creates a finish that helps protect it in the future. It’s kind of greasy feeling when you first apply it, so I try to keep items off it for a few days after I apply it. After a couple days, the oil has generally soaked in and the finish “hardens.” I use it whenever my furniture looks like it’s a bit dull — probably 3-4 times a year.

IMG_20180110_140928.jpgDoes it make the furniture look like it’s brand new? Nope. But it’s 60-year-old furniture that is going to be used by our family. It doesn’t need to look like it came out of the showroom. But it looks better and is better protected against our use, so I’m just fine with that.

With the tables polished up, it was time to take them to the farm. I was SUPER excited to finally put the west bedroom together. The one I’ve been planning to use as the master since we took on this project.

We set up the bed (yet another of the $200ish memory foam mattresses from Amazon that we’ve put in all the bedrooms), got the sheets and comforter on the bed, and brought in the tables. And realized this:IMG_20180112_204256.jpg

Whomp whomp whomp… Though the room is large, it’s not wide enough to hold a king-size bed AND two 24″-wide  nightstands. *sigh* That’s what happens when I don’t measure.

So, I’m now on the hunt for a super skinny nightstand for the right side of the bed. It seems unlikely that the heavens will part a second time with ANOTHER pair of perfect nightstands. For now, one is living in the master and the other is in the little south bedroom, where I’d hoped to place a small dresser to use as a nightstand anyway.

And maybe, if we decide to remove a chair or two from the living room, they could be end tables.

Who knows? They’re still great tables and I’ll figure out the perfect spot for them. Just not quite where I’d hoped they’d be.



One Year Ago, Today.

One year ago, today, Erin and I and the kids were headed to visit Grandpa in the nursing home. He hadn’t been there long, not quite a week, and we were making our first visit. It wasn’t a long drive, probably 45 minutes was all, and we were all looking forward to another spirited visit. I’d even talked to my uncle along the way. Grandpa had been awake and visiting my cousins, uncles, and aunts, and was in good spirits. A little tired, maybe, but, just fine.

As we walked down the hallway to his room, my aunt came out, and right away, we knew something was wrong. She told us he had just taken his last breath and we should hurry. We, as a family, held his hands and said our goodbyes and a prayer.

That wasn’t the trip we expected, that day. But we were glad we made it, just the same.

I don’t know if you all, as readers, always feel the undercurrent of family, and the importance of family, as we share our stories of restoration. But the truth is, the main goal of this project is the preservation of family. Of the history and the memories of that place, and the people who passed through, making it what it is.

At his memorial service, with some difficulty, I shared this story:

Some years ago, my grandpa was considering what to do with the old car that was once his dad’s. 

It needed work. It needed more work than Grandpa knew. But I could tell that, when he talked about it, he hated the thought of letting it go or scrapping it. So, I did what any good grandson would. I bought it (for probably too much money). 

Over the next several years, many hours and a fair amount  of money was poured into that car. I’d like to tell you repairs were quick and easy, but that’d be a lie. 

As the months and then years went by, I’d visit Grandpa. He’d always ask, “Did you drive the green car?”

And for many visits, I’d have to answer, “Sorry, Grandpa. No.” His face would fall a little and we’d have to talk about what I’d done, what was wrong, and what I’d try next. Those conversations always ended with, “is it even worth the trouble?”

To which I’d always reply, “Yep. Yep, Grandpa, it is.”

And I’ll never forget the time I got to proudly tell him it was waiting outside. Nor will I forget the look of pleasure he had while driving it again.

That wasn’t the end of it. It didn’t just work after that.

One memorable time I brought it out just fine, but the battery died. Grandpa hopped out to push start it. There was my, almost 90 year old grandpa, pushing his dad’s car in the yard. We did get it going that day, but when we did, we were both mad and Grandpa turned to me and said, “I’m sorry I ever got you into all this. I never should’ve sold you this stupid car.”

To which I replied, “I’m not sorry. We’ll get it figured out. It’s worth it.”

For the record, the last couple time I drove the Chevy out to see Grandpa, it worked just fine both ways. 

But, now that Grandpa’s gone, I’m not sure what’s going to happen with that car and I. 

Because the truth is; every time he asked me if it was worth it, I wasn’t answering about the car.

To tell the truth, I’m not sure I even like that car.

But I really did love my Grandpa. 

That, is what this, is all about.

It’s about Grandma.


It’s about Grandpa.


It’s about my mom.


It’s about my brother.


It’s about family.




Recent additions

As I mentioned in my last post, we haven’t had a lot of time to get out to the farm recently. I went out a couple days in December (as Bri mentioned in his post about fixing the cuckoo clock) to get the baseboards done on the second floor and haul the final bed to the farm.

I’d been working on baseboards on the second floor, which were a miserable project I’ll detail later.

While I was there, though, I pulled together a few easier things that were more enjoyable.


I put up a small Christmas tree with decorations from the farm. I also hung a wreath on the antlers that Bri’s uncle had hung on one of the trees near the entrance to the farm.

IMG_20171207_131811.jpgI found a chair that’s very similar to some of those around the dining table at the farm.  It was driving me nuts that there were only 3 of the smaller chairs and two taller ones, so I snapped a photo of the smaller ones and put it on my thrifting wish list. Less than a week later, I ran across the one on the right for $10. The color is a bit darker and the seat is shaped a bit differently, but it’s very similar, sturdy, and the price was right.  And now the seating at the table will be symmetrical. Thank goodness!

IMG_20171126_094427.jpgJust before our post-Thanksgiving gathering, I painted the main floor bedroom and put down a coat of Minwax Floor Reviver on the floor (I’m hoping Brian will forget how awful the floor refinishing was so we can do this final room in the future, but for now, the Reviver helped shine it up a bit). I placed a few things to make it into an office/sewing room. I need to do some research on oiling sewing machines, but Bri’s grandma’s old Singer worked well enough for me to add some fabric to the bottom of the too-short curtains my mom gave me for the room. The rug is probably a bit modern for this house, but the $5 rummage sale price tag made it a good fit for now.

IMG_20171207_131857.jpgBrian also tried out the laundry situation for the first time recently. All of the septic and well issues this summer have made us a little gun-shy when it comes to the plumbing, but he decided it was time to try out the washer recently. It worked just fine, but he said he now knew why his grandma had a lamp in that little corner of the bathroom. He couldn’t see into the washer at all. So, I picked up an inexpensive clip lamp that works great in this dark nook. We hope to purchase a stacked all-in-one washer and dryer unit in the next year or two, but for now, this $6 fix will work.


IMG_20171228_202536_836.jpgAnd finally, I had a couple of days off right after Christmas and spent a bit of time thrifting. I found a great matching pair of mid century nightstands that I plan to use in the new master bedroom. They’re solidly built, the drawers glide nicely and a fresh coat of Danish Oil should get them looking really good again. I’m a huge fan of mid century furniture, so at $20 each, I’m thrilled with this find!




Pulling it all together

We haven’t had a lot of time to get out to the farm the past couple of months, but there has been some progress made.

We really saw a lot of our efforts come together the weekend of Thanksgiving. I had to work the Friday after Thanksgiving, so we didn’t spend the holiday there, but that Saturday, we invited all of the immediate family in the area to an “open house” of sorts. We all brought Thanksgiving leftovers, Bri made a big pot of turkey noodle soup, and we enjoyed visiting with Bri’s cousins, aunts and uncles.


The table is one that we brought from our house in town. The color happens to match the dining chairs at the farm almost perfectly.

With the floors nearly all redone, we laid down area rugs and brought a couple loads of furniture from our house in town out to the farm. The living room is pretty jam-packed with couches and chairs, but it was nice to have a lot of seating that evening as 16 of us chatted in the living and dining rooms.

This was the first chance that some of Brian’s cousins have had to see the changes we’ve made to the house. I know that it would be difficult for me to see things change so drastically in my own grandparents’ home, but Bri’s family has been so generous in their support of what we’ve been doing. I think they all understand that the changes that we’re making really are out of love for this place and the family history that it represents and our desire to keep this special home in the family for many more years to come.

As we sat and visited, we put on an old Disney movie for one of the younger members of the family, and someone remembered that there were still puzzles tucked away. The little one sat on the floor, repeatedly putting together the puzzles that held her grandfather’s and great-aunt’s names on them, smiling with pride each time she fit the last piece in place.

And as we sat with everyone there, recalling funny family stories and missing those who are no longer with us, it reinforced why Brian and I took on this crazy project. All of the hours of cleaning out septic pipes, sanding floors on our hands and knees, cleaning, painting and driving back and forth were absolutely worth it as we sat with family, sharing memories and creating new ones.

Brian and I hope you’ve had a happy holiday season and we wish you a very Happy New Year.



On Saturday, Erin drug me out to the farm to help her carry another bed upstairs. After that, she set to work installing more baseboards upstairs and I was left to my own devices.

I do have a list of smaller things to do around the house and near the top was this cuckoo clock. Dad gave this one to Grandma many years ago. I remember it cuckoo-ing, the axeman chopping wood, the waterwheel turning, and the dancers twirling while the music played.

More recently, it didn’t work that way. The dancers didn’t dance at all, the music didn’t play, and the cuckoo was…sickly. It seemed that instead of announcing the hour it announced…something, at about quarter past the hour. A halting cuck…………oo. Cuck…………oo. Never chiming enough times to actually tell you the hour, just chiming enough to let you know it was kinda, barely, still hanging on.

So, first thing first, it was time to get it off the wall and cleaned up. There was a thick coat of dust. Thick.

So I started with a damp cloth, just to reveal the wood beneath.

After the roof, it was some more detail work.

And, finally, it was time to break out the Watco oil and q-tips.

It took some time, but after that, the clock was in better shape, at least aesthetically.

That was the easy part. If nothing else, I thought, I could hang it back on the wall and it’d look good. Of course, I was hoping for more. So, off came the back:

Pretty good tangle of levers in there! Here’s a better image:

After a fair amount of investigating, I figured out the reason that the dancers no longer danced was because one of these levers had been bent so they couldn’t ever dance. Ever. I don’t know if Grandpa got tired of the dancers or what, but some careful bending and experimenting and the dancers danced again!

Then it was just a matter of oiling the clock up. I found some multipurpose oil in the junk drawer and had at it, oiling all the axle points on the gears.

That done, all there was left was to put it back together, wind it up, and see what happened.


All is well

I do enjoy leaving posts in something of a cliff-hanger. But I didn’t want you all to worry going into this long Thanksgiving weekend. All is well.

That same evening we showed up to find the furnace not working, we did track the trouble down. I went down and attempted to hit the reset same switch I described finding and pressing in this post, only to find that there was no power going to the control board. The switch wouldn’t do anything. I checked the breaker, that was fine, I checked the fuse on the furnace itself, that LOOKED fine, so I was at a loss. We went around the house, then, firing up space heaters and getting the oil-burning stove running upstairs.

Coming back downstairs, I found my aunt and uncle in the kitchen, chatting with Erin. We shared a frustrated chuckle about the furnace and my uncle and I wandered down to look at it again. Running through all the checks again, my uncle said, “should we just replace that fuse?”

And so, going over to the workbench, we found a box full of old fuses, bolts, nuts, screws, nails, an old snuff tin, and various other bits and baubles. Scrounging through, I found a fuse that’d fit the bill. We screwed the old one out, the new one in, I hit the power switch and *whoomp* the furnace sprang to life.

We spent a warm evening.

The next day, I borrowed the farm truck and made the 20 mile trip to the nearest town and found the alternator I needed at the O’Reilly’s, there. Changing an alternator shouldn’t be too big a project as long as you can get to it. On that van, it sits right up front. The only catch is, the tensioner pulley that you need to get a wrench on so you can get the belt on and off of the alternator is NOT easy to get to. I couldn’t get a wrench on it. So, instead, I had to muscle the belt off and on again. It wasn’t easy, and I’ll spare you the cursing that accompanied the path to success. But I did find success.

It’s been a long road to get to here, and we’re not done working on the farm, but we are looking forward to this Thanksgiving weekend out at the farm. We’re looking forward to seeing the family that’ll be around. To those that won’t be, we’ll be thinking of you. Rest assured, there will be more opportunities for family time coming up.

And so, with that, Erin and I would like to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving. Though things aren’t always easy, we know that we’ve definitely got plenty to be thankful for.


Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…

Late last week, Erin was on the road for work. In two days she’d done a whirlwind trip of Minnesota to make face-to-face meetings with some of her employees. Her old, 2006, Ford van performed admirably. It got her there and back again, narrowly missing a suicidal deer in the process. As she got back to town, however, her battery light came on. Moments later, it was off. Moments later it was on again. So when she got home, she informed me right away that there’d been trouble.

…A tale of a fateful trip.

So, knowing that she was hoping to head to the farm on Saturday for some putter-y projects, I took a look in the morning. The van fired right up and the battery light wasn’t on. I put a voltmeter on the battery terminals and found it was charging. A bit vigorously, even. I was seeing 15 volts. And so, I was prepared to write it off as a fluke.

That started from this “tropic” port,

We loaded up the van and hit the road. Shortly before hitting the interstate, the battery light came on again. We were idling at a stoplight at the time. I gave it a little gas and the light went back off. Huh

Aboard this tiny ship.

I accelerated onto the interstate, noted the light was off, and felt all was, well, not WELL, but not DIRE. Do I have a loose belt or something? I don’t hear any squealing…but anyway, the light is off.

The mate was a mighty sailin’ lad, the Skipper brave and sure. Five passengers set sail that day, for a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

So we’re cruising down the highway, radio is on, we’re singing along. As our exit comes up, about 35 miles from home, I turn off the cruise control and start to coast up the ramp. As soon as the cruise is off, the battery light is on again.

The weather started getting rough,

As I pull away from the stop sign, the battery light is off again, but a mile or so down the road I realize the radio isn’t playing anymore. I look back at our  youngest and ask, “did you turn the radio off?” He assured me that he hadn’t. I pressed the power button on the radio and the display read, “BATTERY LOW.”

“Oh, crap.” I muttered.

The tiny ship was tossed.

At that time, I looked up and realized that the external thermometer wasn’t displaying the temperature anymore, either.

“Ohhhh, crap.” I muttered again.

If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost. 

And so, even though it was dusk, I turned off our headlights. The temperature display came back. I turned them back on and the temperature display went away and the ABS light came on on the dash. We now didn’t have enough power in the system to even power the anti-lock brakes.

The Minnow would be lost.

Along the way to the farm, there’s a small town that we have to cruise through and make a turn in. The radio is off, the ABS light is on, our headlights are off, it’s getting darker and darker outside, and it’s time to make the turn. Out of habit, I click the blinker. It doesn’t engage, but the airbag light now comes on on the dash as well. Now we don’t have anti-lock brakes or airbags.

…So this is the tale of our castaways, they’re here for a long long time.

We’re 10 miles from the farm. I’ve got no headlights, an increasingly lit Christmas tree of lights on the dash from error indicators, and the occupants of the car are quiet and nervous.

They’ll have to make the best of things, It’s an uphill climb.

The nine miles until our turn-off are tense, but we do make them. When it’s time to turn again, I don’t attempt the blinker, we just roll through, taking the turn onto the gravel road a little quicker than we generally do. As we roll into the farmyard, there’s a collective sigh of relief. It’s dark, but we’re safe.

No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury. Like Robinson Crusoe it’s primitive as can be.

As we start to unload, Erin goes in and kicks the heat up. Except, the heat doesn’t kick on. The furnace is broken again. At least, if we can’t get the furnace running again, we have space heaters to keep us from freezing to death during another “relaxing” trip to the farm!

So join us here each week my friends,
You’re sure to get a smile,
From seven stranded castaways
Here on Gilligan’s Isle!


Taking out the chill

With our major projects done for the season, this past weekend we got the chance to go to the farm and start putting things back together. Erin actually spent several days and nights there, by herself, putting rooms back together and making things livable again. I’m going to let her write about that.

I’m going to tell you about my endeavor to get the heat working on the second floor of the house.

I’d explained earlier about the fuel oil furnace that heats the first floor of the house. That furnace also heats the south room upstairs. So, there are three rooms upstairs without any heat except what’s provided by this guy:


Sitting in the hallway, for as long as I can remember, is this fuel-burning, “Super-Flame” stove.

I’d vaguely remembered that stove from my childhood. We spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases in this house, so this stove has a place in my memory. My uncles remember it better, having grown up with it and relied on it for years. Nobody could really tell me, though, when the last time was that it was used.

That it had seen a period of disuse was evident earlier this summer when I’d done a little cleaning in this stove. I’d vacuumed some soot out of the bottom and removed a desiccated bird that had made a fateful trip down the chimney, but I hadn’t actually tried to fire the thing up.

On Saturday, knowing we were on our way, my uncle had turned on the furnace for us.  So, when we arrived, the main floor was toasty warm. The upstairs, however, had to have been in the 50-degree range. A bit chilly! So, knowing Erin was going to spend the night, and knowing that we all planned to spend some nights there this winter, I decided it was time to see if this old stove would light again.

Heating doesn’t get much simpler than this. There’s a fuel tank with an oil control valve. You put fuel in, turn on the valve, fuel starts flowing into the stove, you drop a match in, and voila! heat! It’s a three-step process!

So? Step 1, put fuel in!

This step is accomplished by heading down to the basement, grabbing a nearby jar, and filling it up directly off the fuel line to the furnace, diverted from the outside tank. Like so:

See the red knob in the upper right? Place handy jar under the tubing above the coffee can with plate on it (demonstrated below by my lovely wife), open the valve, and fill up your jar!

Then it’s up the stairs and you dump that jar into the tank. Easy!

Then, on to Step 2! You turn the dial from “off” to “low” and wait for fuel to start trickling into the stove. Easy!

And you wait for fuel to come out. And wait for fuel to come out. And maybe adjust the dial from “low” to “high” and wait for fuel to come out.

And then you sigh, turn the dial from “high” to “off” and get down on your hands and knees, to investigate. Once there, you see there’s some words on top of the oil control, but they’re mostly covered up by years of dust and dirt, so you dip your finger in the nearly empty fuel jar and use the fuel to “clean off” the top so you can see what you’ve missed and find this

Ah! A handy arrow instructing you to press the “lever” for operation. So, you press the lever, hear the click, again turn the control knob from “off” to “low” and look for, hey! Fuel!

On to Step 3! Grandpa had matches all over the house. We found numerous matchboxes and matchbooks. But some of them, MOST of them, were really old. Ever used really old matches? They don’t work well. Sometimes they light. Sometimes they don’t. So, you open your first matchbook and strike, strike, strike, nothing. Drop the match in the bottom of the stove. So you grab another match and strike, strike, strike, hey! It lit! Drop the match in and…watch it go out as it hits the bottom. So you grab another match, the last one in this book, and you strike, strike, strike…toss the unlit match into the stove, grab the next matchbook, wonder why you didn’t think to buy new matches, strike, strike, hey! drop that match in and hey! the soot at the bottom is kind of acting as a wick for the fuel feeding in…that’s not exactly what I was expect…oh, it’s out. Another match! Strike, strike, strike, ok! lit again! burning a little, oh it’s out.

Of course. So you sigh again, turn the oil off again, and step back to ponder.

Pondering becomes the unplanned Step 4

So we ponder. We have fuel, we have fire, but it won’t stay lit. That’s gotta be an air problem.

So, how do you check airflow?

Checking airflow becomes Step 5, so you look down into the stove. And, that’s what it looks like. It looks open…like there should be air, you know, flowing…so, get down on the floor again and looking for some sort of air intake somewhere. Anywhere? Nothing? Some plugged filter somewhere?

Huh. Nope. Nothing apparent.

Finally, you decide to move to Step 6 which turns out to be reaching down there inside to feel around

and find that it’s sooty and dirty down there. So, Step 7 is underway when you grab a putty knife and scrape some more soot off the insides and start cleaning it out with your hand.  Step 8 is explaining to your child that it’s dangerous, possibly stupid, to be Step 9 grabbing handfuls of still-warm and fuel-soaked soot from the bottom of the stove and dropping them in the plastic wastebasket next to the stove (which you do not leave there, btw), before it’s back to Step 2 which is really starting to feel like Step 10 where you turn the fuel back on, and now on your fourth book of matches manage to get another match lit, drop it in and hey! bigger flame! Hey! You might be in luc…oh, it’s out.

So, you step back again, clean up your hands and chastise yourself for being an idiot before moving to Step 11 which should’ve been Step 5 in which you lower your phone into the bottom of the stove and shoot this picture:


As you can see, Step 11 (or if you were smarter Step 5) has revealed the problem. So, a bit more scraping, some brushing of dust and such from the largely clogged air holes and:

With Step 12, I mean Step 3, you drop in a match from a box you managed to find in the basement after you’d already used every single other match that you knew existed in the whole house.

And you have success!!

All joking aside, when we finally did get it working, it burned itself out of fuel in about five hours. Erin put more fuel in later and had no trouble getting it to go again. I think that, with this working now, and possibly a space heater or two, we should be pretty comfortable for our winter nights on the farm.

Pane and suffering

I needed to use up some vacation time recently and took a five-day weekend to get some things around our house and the farm done.

With winter breathing down our necks, we knew we wouldn’t get to everything we’d hoped when we took on the farm house early this spring. But we felt that there were a few things that were in desperate need of attention. Namely, the windows.

We’re not sure how drafty the windows are, but we had similar ones in our first house, so we’re familiar with their challenges. We’d considered replacing all of the windows, but after reading some online sources, I found that if we get the originals and storms in decent working order, they could be nearly as energy efficient as new windows — without the larger expense or the potential for breaking up the plaster walls inside the house during replacement.

We knew that at least one window on the north side of the house was in dire need of help. The exterior sill is completely rotted and the rot had spread upwards into the side trim pieces of the window. It was really the project that intimidated me the most, so I decided to wait until Brian could come out to the farm with me so we could work through that mess together.

Instead, I decided to work on a couple of the other windows that needed attention, but weren’t in quite such dire condition.


A piece of glass glued over the hole in another piece of glass? That’s too frugal even for me.

If you’re not dealing with rot, fixing up a window isn’t very difficult, just a bit time-consuming. I began by removing the storm windows. One, you can see, had an unusual repair done to it. I’m all for frugality, but a piece of glass glued over the hole in another is pushing it for me. I would’ve tried to just replace the pane, but didn’t think I’d be able to replace the dried-up rubber that had held the glass in place. Amazingly, I was able to find storm windows in-stock at Menards that were the correct size for several of the windows on the first floor. They’re Larson brand with low-E glass and less than $70 each, which I thought was pretty reasonable, especially while on sale.

I tackled four of the 10 first-floor windows. After removing the storms, I scraped off all loose paint on the window frames and trim. I then scraped and chipped out as much of the window glazing as possible. Glazing is the putty-like material that holds the glass in the window, as well as seals it to keep air from passing through. On those without rot, I immediately cleaned them up (a vacuum works well for this), then used an oil-based exterior primer, as recommended by the window glazing packaging. I moved from window to window, working on each step so while one’s primer was drying, I could be working on preparing the next window.

After the primer dried, I made sure there were enough glazier’s points holding in the glass (these are just little metal clips that are pushed into the frame of each sash to hold the glass in place). You them take a glob of glazing from the tub and push it into place along the glass and window frame. After getting the glazing smashed into place (you want it to form a wedge of material that will shed any water that may get against the glass), you run your putty knife along the glazing at an angle to smooth it out. I found an angled tool that I’d never seen before (and then looked up some videos online to find out how to use it) for smoothing out the glazing. I’m still not certain whether it’s more useful than just using a plain putty knife, but I think with a little more practice, it will be handy.

I tried to give the glazing a bit of time to set up before going back to paint the frames and window trim. The glazing is supposed to have 7-14 days to firm up, then be painted with an oil-based paint to seal it, but we just didn’t have weather (or time in our schedules) for that to happen, so I focused on getting the wood sealed instead. After the paint dried, I caulked everything that I could (without risking sealing the windows shut), and when Brian was there with me that weekend, we placed the new storms caulked them in place (but not the bottom of the storm. NEVER the bottom of the storm! You need to leave the weep holes open to help avoid the rot we’re dealing with now.).

Now, the two windows that had the rotted sills posed some extra problems. That’s where the suffering came in. First, I thought the sills were in two pieces and only the exterior piece was rotted. Unfortunately, that was not the case. It was one piece of wood that had been milled with slight lip on it, and the rot extended further than we initially though. Then, after digging out all of the rot, we found that it extended into the framework inside the wall that holds the window up. This was particularly true on the north window. We finally came to the conclusion that we’ll try to deal with that in the spring and we’d just deal with the outside issues for now (honestly, there’s a good chance that the windows have been in this condition for decades, so one more winter probably won’t make much of a difference).

The north window also had a broken pane in the lower sash. I ordered a new piece of glass from our neighborhood hardware store, since there’s nothing close to the farm. Brian and our youngest were able to get the old glass out safely (it’s somewhat unnerving to remove a 100ish-year-old piece of glass; I imagined all sorts of horrendous things happening if it happened to break unexpectedly) and went to place it in the window. And OF COURSE there was a problem. I’d measured the opening perfectly. But on the lower sash of these windows, the glass actually slides up into a groove at the top of the sash. It isn’t glazed in that area. So, the piece of glass I’d had cut was 1/4-inch too short for the window. Argh! I’d brought my glass cutter with me, so I checked some of the storms we’d removed to see if one of them could be cut to the correct size, but none were quite large enough. *sigh* There’s always a setback. And not being near a hardware store is just so frustrating, when you’re used to having several options within 10-20 minutes’ drive in town.

We switched our attention to the window trim… which I’d purchased pieces of wood that were too thick. *fantastic* Luckily, we were able to get the sills in place. To fill in the rotted area, I’d purchased a wood epoxy. It’s a several-stop process, where you brush a hardener onto the remaining strong wood, then mix a two-part epoxy putty-like substance that you press into place to form new “wood.” After it dries, you can sand, paint and drill or nail into it. I’ve never used this before, but my dad said he had with good results, so we went for it. I’m not sure that I got quite enough epoxy into the voids, but it will be fine for the winter and we can revisit them next year.

Finally, that Sunday, in cold, cruddy weather, Brian and I went out to the farm for just a few hours to finish things up. We got the correct pieces of wood for the side trim of the windows (we had to use decking material to have the correct thickness and my dad ripped them to the correct width on his table saw), finished placing, sanding, priming and painting the sills and placed the last two storm windows.

They look SO much better!

And now, the snow has already arrived, so we likely won’t be doing any more fixes until spring, but we made some progress. I’ve also convinced Brian that, after working on the windows and trim and finding more and more soft, rotten spots in the siding, we just need to accept the idea of having the house re-sided next year. We’ll continue to do smaller, more affordable projects inside the house during the winter, get the roof paid off, and start putting away some funds for new siding.