A fresh coat of paint and floors rediscovered!

One of the things I’ve been looking forward to since we began this project was pulling up the carpet in the parlor. To refresh your memory:


Growing up, there wasn’t carpet in that room for the first, oh, decade of my life? Not sure exactly, but I know there’s hardwood in there. It’s been covered up with carpet for a long, long time now, waiting for me to show it the light of day. Had it not been for practicality, I’d have pulled it up the same weekend we pulled the linoleum off the dining room floor. But, as the parlor needed paint, may as well leave the built-in drop cloth, right? Our oldest son had gotten the ceiling painted in this room, so all that was left was the walls.

You’ve heard Erin mention her frugality before, right? You didn’t miss that? Well, she found a 5-gallon bucket of beige paint for, like, $20 and declared, “All the downstairs rooms will be this color now.” Which was fine with me. Beige doesn’t really do anything for me, but that’s the point, right? Beige doesn’t do anything for anyone. It’s just…there. Anyway, I’ve done enough painting with my wife to know that, even if it’s the plan, I should test a little area first, and let her see it, before painting the entire wall. So, I called her in to the parlor as I put the first paint up on the wall.


Can you see it? The new paint? No, I barely could, either. I turned back to my wife who had this mixed look of apprehension and enthusiasm. It was as if she KNEW how excited I was going to be repainting the whole room almost exactly the same color.


“Man, what a difference!” I declared, in my dry, sarcastic way. To which Erin responded something like, “At least we know we’ll like the color! Thanks, baby!” and scampered off to do more of what she was doing. Reminding myself that I couldn’t get the carpet up until this painting was done, I got to painting. Lighting can be a tricky thing. And so, while you can see a difference in the tint and sheen above, when the light was different, it was really hard to tell where I’d painted and where I hadn’t. Example:


See how you can JUST, maybe? barely? see? But, in the end, I got it done. It was time for the main event. I called Erin down again, and we set to work.


It was my job to cut and rip the carpet up, Erin took to removing the padding.


With, I kid you not, “We Are the Champions” playing on the radio in the background, Erin rolled back that padding to reveal, just like I remembered it, the parlor’s hardwood floors.


These, like the dining room, are really in good shape. Just going to need some refinishing. They’re not perfect, though. There is a patch, between the columns, between the parlor and dining room, where there used to be a grate for the old, radiant, basement furnace.


Erin and I are currently in discussions about how best to deal with that.

But! Painting the parlor the same color, aside, we walked away from this day, feeling good!


Are we seriously not done with these floors yet?

On Saturday, after Erin’s week of working on the farm, she convinced (read: guilted) me into heading to the farm for a day of work. And though I was really hoping for a day of lounging about, considering the work she’d done, I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on and off we went. I WAS looking forward to seeing the progress she’d made over the week. Knowing that she’d been able to get that coat of poly on the upstairs hallway meant that we were finally done with the floors up there.

Or so we thought!

You see, what I hadn’t told any of you, is the poly that she’d selected for the floors is, apparently, some really, really, really tricky stuff. Knowing that the glossier the finish, the more glaring the imperfections, Erin went with a satin finish poly. Which was fine. That’s not how I wanted/expected the poly to be, but, Erin got the west room done just fine and it looked good!


Clearly all sealed up, not too shiny. That’ll work just fine. So, I gave it a go:


No problem, poly went on lickety split. It was much glossier going on than what Erin had when it all dried, but I figured that was just the way it was and it’d dry with a satin finish.

Yeah….that’s not what happened at all.


Two days later and the poly was dry! And…all shiny! Well, doggone it. What about the south room, then?


Well, look at that! Part of it’s pretty shiny and part of it’s pretty satin-y. That’s not what we’re going for at all! Seeing all that, it made me realize that the thicker the coat, the glossier it’d dry. For whatever reason. That’s what happened. In the south room, here, the closer to the door, the closer to the end of the first can of poly. So, I put it on a bit lighter. Going back over the north room with a really, really, light coat, it did dry satin. Even over the really shiny:


Except right at the junction between the north room and the hall, that finish “satined” right up!

I did convey all of that to Erin. So it’s not like I purposely sabotaged her efforts in the hallway. Perhaps she was just overconfident with her success in the west room. Perhaps she was just too tired after the whole week of work. Regardless, when we got there on Saturday:


Look at that beautiful, shiny hallway!!

Honestly, I do like the shine. Erin, however, isn’t as impressed. Especially at the thresholds where the difference is evident:


Pretty stark difference there between the hallway and west room.

So, though frustrated, we decided to leave it. At least for now. There are other projects yet to work on. We can always tweak the hallway later.

First night at the farm

The same day Humphrey came home was to be our first night on the farm. The boys both worked that day, so Erin and I planned a day full of work getting ready for our first overnight there.

Having used the sander to rough up the rest of the upstairs floors, it was time for me to get some more staining done.


While I did that, Erin was busy working on the mop board in the east room. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but for some reason, none of the upstairs bedrooms or hallways had any mop board. The main floor has really tall, great, mop boards:


but there was never any upstairs. Time to change that!

Downstairs, the trim measures about 7″. So we decided to go big upstairs as well and bought a bunch of 1×6 pine. Since the rest of the upstairs woodwork has been white forever, rather than try to change all that, this trim’s going in white as well.


Done with my staining, Erin put me in charge of sanding while she carefully cut and installed trim.


The day went by pretty quickly and soon I found it was time to head back to town to pick up the boys. Being the weekend before the 4th, the boys and I decided that our first night on the farm should also have fireworks.


The good folks at Memory Fireworks set us up pretty well. It’d taken me longer to get the boys, the groceries, and the fireworks than I planned. By the time I was firing up the grill to cook dinner, the sun had begun to set. But we had a gorgeous sunset that evening.



And while I stood by the grill, appreciating the sunset, and the quiet, history and nostalgia started to set in. I remembered my childhood weekends on the farm with family members that are gone. I remembered my brother, my mother, Grandma and Grandpa. I sent both my uncles a text that we were feeling pretty fortunate to have such a great evening. I also really appreciated that tie to the past that I was feeling.

And so, after we’d set off all sorts of impressive fireworks, we ended the night sending up memory lanterns for all our family members who are no longer with us.


So, sure the mosquitoes were ferocious. Sure we were exhausted from another long day’s work on the farm. But in the end, I don’t know that we could’ve had a more meaningful, or memorable, first night back on the farm.



Never too late to learn

In our “about” page on this blog, one of the things I hoped was that we’ll inspire. This past week, I heard from a friend that we’d done just that. After seeing our posts on refinishing the hardwood, they were going to also take it on in their own home. So we sent some texts back and forth. I advised and encouraged and they went for it. I got some texts while they were in the process and all seemed to be going well. A day later, though, I got a text saying that the staining came out terribly and could feel the frustration and disappointment.

We’ve been in the position in (many) DIY projects where we’re over our heads and overwhelmed. In the past, Erin and I have been very fortunate to have our families’ experience to back us up. Erin’s folks and my dad have put in countless hours providing advice and labor on projects. It’s why we’re as confident as we are to take on the projects we are.

So, hearing that a friend of mine was in dire straits, after undertaking a project I assured him could be undertaken, gave me a sense of responsibility to try to help fix it.

A couple things had gone wrong in their project. First, they’d rented a drum sander (basically a big belt sander) to do the stripping, something I’ve never done because I’ve heard they can be tricky to use and that proved to be true in this case. The floors didn’t get an even sanding and that really shows when you stain. The second problem was that they’d been directed to use a really fast-drying stain (not by me) and that ended up causing streaks of darker stain where brushing overlapped.

So, they started over. This time, though, they rented an upright orbital sander. An orbital is going to give you a lot of coverage, but is much easier to use. Instead of that big drum/belt, the sander uses several five inch discs. I had read these worked really well but, again, had never used one. I had nothing to fear. Being overly cautious, we started out with a 50-grit sandpaper because I thought the 36-grit sounded scary. Soon, though, we could see that the 50 wasn’t cleaning up the chatter marks the drum sander had left. We needed to take more material off the floors. So, we loaded up the 36 and went to town. And boy did we! Soon we had the floors nearly stripped. 

 We ran the 50 and finished with the 80 as recommended. 

Good as new, these were ready, again, for stain. But, that was a project for another night. 

Inspired by that experience, the next weekend, we rented that sander, too.  

Seeing Erin’s success with just roughing up the surface rather than stripping it down to the bare wood, that’s what we did upstairs. I will say, the orbital works better on entirely level floors than the ones upstairs out at the farm. 

Downstairs, I made better progress on the maple:

But, alas, I ran out of sanding discs before the floor ran out of varnish and stains. That project will have to be on hold for a bit. But that sander is totally coming back out. Especially after I saw the photo my friend sent of his newly re-re-finished floor!

Here’s hoping ours turn out that well! Nice work! 

Humphrey Heads Home

We had several significant events at the farm this past weekend. One of them was this. The return of Grandpa’s 1951 Chevy.

I’ve been a tinkerer all my life. When I was young, I’d routinely take anything interesting apart to figure out how it worked. I almost always got things back together (and working) as well. So it might not surprise you all to know that as well as home improvement projects, I’m also not entirely afraid to take on a car project.

The green Chevy had been around the farm longer than I had. I don’t ever remember it being driven much, but I always knew it was important. See, it belonged to my Great-Grandfather. When he died, it passed to Grandpa and his brother, jointly. And when his brother died, it went to Grandpa.

Some years ago, Grandpa was deciding what to do with that car that had been his Dad’s. It hadn’t run for quite a while. The last evidence of it running, actually, was a parade sign in the front seat from the 80s declaring my Great-Grandmother the town’s “Oldest Resident.”


The car needed work. The motor was stuck, the brakes were frozen, the gas tank rotted out, the muffler rotted off. In truth, it reminded me JUST A LITTLE like the scene from “Ghostbusters” when Ray brings back the car that will become “Ecto1.”

But, it was easy to tell that, when Grandpa talked about it, he hated the thought of letting it go or scrapping it. So, I did what anybody would. I paid Grandpa too much money to buy his broken car.

Here are some shots of it from 2008 when Dad and my brother and I went out, with a U-Haul trailer, to pick it up.





Bit by bit, and with lots of help from my Dad and my excellent friends (and excellent mechanics), Kirt and Guy, we got the old car up and running and ready for its first trip back home. It did clean up pretty darn well.



Up and running, it needed a name. Every important car does. I’ve named several, though not all, of the cars I’ve owned. If they’ve earned a name, they’ve earned a place in my heart.

Naming is a difficult process. There’s a whole process to anthropomorphizing a vehicle. First, you need to decide if it’s a boy or a girl.

You gotta go with your gut on this. You have to considering the car, consider it’s condition, consider the life it led before it became yours. This isn’t some showroom beauty. It’s not flawless. It’s in really good shape, but it’s been driven. It’s been used as a tool. For me, my gut said, this car’s gotta be a boy.

So, thinking about the era, I immediately thought of famous actors from the time. I’m a huge fan of Humphrey Bogart. I love “Casablanca.” I love “The Maltese Falcon.” I love “The African Queen.” The list goes on. So I thought about it. My favorite characters Bogart played have been tough, experienced, both rugged and polished, and a bit sentimental.

Perfect. “Humphrey” it was.


Driving Humphrey out to see Grandpa the first time was a treat. Seeing Grandpa behind the wheel again made it all worth it.

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The car made it that day. But it didn’t always. In fact, driving the 60 miles from my house to the farm was always stressful. It’s broken down either on the way to or from the farm so many times I can’t even count them all.

At Grandpa’s funeral, I relayed the story of one memorable time that I got it out to the farm just fine, but, as Grandpa and I got in to drive it around, the battery died. So what does he do? He hops out to push start it. There was my, almost 90 year old Grandpa, pushing his Dad’s car in the yard.

And we did get it going that day, but when we did, we were both mad and Grandpa told me, “I’m sorry I ever got you into all this. I never should’ve sold you this stupid car” to which I replied, “Nah, Grandpa. We’re just not there yet. I’m not sorry. It’s worth it.”

For the record, the last time I drove the car out to see Grandpa before he died, it ran just fine both ways.

At the funeral I also explained that now that Grandpa was gone, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with that car and I.

Because the truth was; every time Grandpa asked me if it was worth it, I told him it was. But I wasn’t talking about the car. After everything that car has put me through, I wasn’t even sure I liked that car anymore. But I really did love my grandpa.

And so, Humphrey sat in storage all spring. I hadn’t been to the storage space to check on him or fire him up or drive him around. My heart wasn’t in it. But there’s been some talk about me driving that car in the hometown parade coming up in a couple weeks, so if that was going to happen, it was time to get him home.

I found him in the storage space, safe and sound. Even though I’d left him the whole winter with the battery cable connected, the car started right up. However, in the spirit of maintaining our love-hate relationship, before I could get through town and onto the Interstate, a screw hit the top of my foot and I suddenly found I could only shift into 3rd gear.


See that screw at the right? That’s the screw that holds the shifter onto the steering column. When that fell out, I couldn’t shift correctly.

But, I managed to limp it into a parking lot and reinstall the screw. A quick fix. Just a little reminder that neglecting the car does have a consequence. But this one was gentle.

And so, you guys, for the first time driving down the road in that car, I was confident it was going to be fine. For the first time I wasn’t worried that it was going to break down. For the first time, I just enjoyed the drive. It was a beautiful day, once I got off the Interstate, I had the road to myself. I imagined how many times this old car had been down this stretch of highway and I was glad to be on it.


Wheeling Humphrey into the farmyard for the first time, knowing Grandpa was gone, was emotional for me. But with everything else we’re doing with the farm, to have Humphrey home again brought a sense of closure. Of rightness.

I realize, now, that I do value the car. And I hope that, somehow, it brings Grandpa peace to know Humphrey’s home.








Sudden Death Overtime

With one win and one loss vs the septic system this contest was going to decide the series. At the end of this day I’d either raise my auger in triumph or throw in the towel and call the plumber. I REALLY didn’t want to lose this one and have to spend the money.

Having ruined my hand crank auger (if you’ll recall from the last post):

I needed to up my game and bring in some heavier artillery. Turns out my brother-in-law had an electric auger to lend.

Now we’re talking. Not only did we get the auger, we got some wicked looking attachments.

I sat the auger outside the house at approximately the location of the clean-out plug and ran the cable out to the septic cover. I needed some idea of  how much cable to run to ensure that I was through the entire main line. Marking my line with some masking tape, it was time.

I got things all set up and pulled the plug from the cleanout. If you’ll recall from Erin’s last post when she last loosened the plug, it was under water pressure again. I, however, started out better than that. I was very pleased to see that there wasn’t a bunch of water in the line. Wondering if that main line cleaner did finally work, I put the cap back on and told Erin to run a little water. She did and, with fingers crossed, I pulled the cap.

Water had pooled and wasn’t draining.


I encountered a bit of resistance but engaged the motor and powered straight through, all the way to my mark, twice.

Cautiously optimistic, I capped the line and had Erin run water again.

Fingers crossed again, I pulled the plug to find……water standing in the pipe.

Unsurprised and with an arsenal of bits, it was time for a higher caliber bit.

Easy, right? The bit was secured with a single screw. That screw, though, was fully committed to its duty and WOULD NOT come out. Concerned about stabbing the sewage covered screwdriver through my hand, (a very real possibility) it was time to rethink my strategy.

Finding a small bench vise in the basement, and with some tools my uncle brought in, we set to work, finally breaking that screw loose.

Always plenty of tools for the job on the farm

From that point on, I’d like to tell you all that this was an epic battle, but it really wasn’t. I did hit some points of resistance, but after engaging the motor, I pushed straight through. Each bit cleared a little larger path and, by the end of the sixth pass, water was draining freely!

If you don’t want to see the inside of the main stack pipe, don’t watch the following video.

Cannot be unseeen!


We ran the tub, flushed the toilet, ran the sink, left everything wide open until the well itself ran dry (yes, there’s a separate project), and the main line never backed up.

I’m going to boldly declare myself (again) VICTORIOUS!

Three stories.

After the walk around the yard admiring the roof and checking for damage, Erin and the boys set to unloading the van while I made a beeline for the bathroom. I flushed the toilet and listened intently for burbling. Nothing. So I ran the tub wide-open. It drained for about 20 seconds before the toilet started bubbling. I mumbled something like, “sonofa,” shut everything off, and headed downstairs. No water was running over or out anywhere, so it wasn’t as bad as it’d been previously, but it was going to be another day of snaking to see if I could open it back up.

I’m sure part of the problem is that there just isn’t that much water running, these days. When I first got it open, I should’ve run the well dry trying to flush it. But, I didn’t, and here we were. So I went up, and told everyone that after we got them squared away, I was going to need to spend some time in the basement again. But, today’s big goal was getting some work done refinishing the bedroom floors. In order to do that, we were going to need to first put in a couple new outlets. Every outlet upstairs was old, two-prong, and loose. Plug something in and it would, it seemed, just push it back out.

Tom Hanks Big GIF

Tom Hanks as our upstairs outlets

Did I wire the new outlet ensuring appropriate grounding? Let’s all assume I did, okay?


After getting that installed, it was time to give our oldest a quick lesson in belt-sanding. I told him if he didn’t want to hack up sawdust for the next couple days, it’d be a good idea to wear a mask, which he did. I also encouraged him to wear some earplugs. Not being able to find the ones I’d just bought, but able to find cotton balls, cotton balls got the call. IMG_6197.JPG

Then it was just a matter of “sand with the grain, start with the 50-grit, move to the 80, don’t let go of the sander. Observe!”


He was off and running.

Our youngest, in the meantime, was doing some touch up work on the paint.


Yes, that IS a paintbrush taped onto an extension pole…

And Erin was going to start sanding in another room. See how excited??


I’m not sure if our oldest made one of his infamous “dad-jokes” to elicit this expression from Erin or what was going on…

With those three hard at work, I accepted my fate and headed downstairs. To the basement!

With my gloves, pipe wrench, and snake right where I left them, I carefully pulled the plug from the clean-out again. And while it wasn’t under pressure and didn’t spray all over this time, it was full. I actually did take a picture, but I’ll spare you. Trust me. It was full. It LOOKED bad. It SMELLED bad. I was NOT in the mood. But, the plumbing kind of needs to work. So, in went the snake.

I’ll be honest. I was defeated in this venture before I started. I wanted no part of it. So when I hit the first resistance in the pipe, and wasn’t making any headway trying to auger through, and had to pull the wire back out, but in doing so managed to splash bits of used toilet paper and other…stuff…on myself…I was mad. But, with a fresh coat of sewage, I soldiered on. Back in went the snake, out came the snake, in, out, in, out. Finally I was making some good progress. I’d worked for about oh, 20 minutes when I hit a snag I just couldn’t push through. I tightened and augured and augured and finally pulled out the snake again to find…IMG_6210.JPG

Yeah, it kinked 90 degrees. If you’ve never used one of these before, this is bad. In fact, for me, this was the end of my attempt. I dropped the snake (as you see it), put the cap back on the clean-out, took off my gloves and laid them next to the pipe wrench again on the spare water softener


and went outside to hose myself off.

I walked upstairs and announced, “there’s no toilet today,” put on my own mask and earplugs, and demonstrated my desire to join in the sanding effort. With not enough sanders to go around, our oldest and I worked on the floor in one bedroom while our youngest and Erin went downstairs to make some progress putting the kitchen in order. All the dishes came out of the cabinets so Erin could wipe down and contact paper the shelves. Our 15-year-old got the honor of actually washing all the dishes.


See how excited he is to be doing dishes in a plastic tote because the plumbing doesn’t work right?

Back upstairs, the 18-year-old and I made pretty good progress in pretty short order. IMG_6204.JPG

Floor sanding on your hands and knees turns out to be a pretty decent anger outlet. Soon I was more tired than angry, and ready for some perspective photography of sanding.


I know, I’m a dork like that.


last one

But, that was about all we had in us for this day. And we did a pretty good job!


Figuring to go with a dark stain, these didn’t need to be perfect. Just needed to get enough off to really get that stain to take. Should be good to stain tomorrow! As for the sewer? Let’s not talk about that, yet…

One step forward, two steps back.

With graduation in our rear-view, Erin decided we needed another weekend at the farm. I was pretty sure that, after all the work that went into graduation weekend, a weekend of rest was in order. In fact, I was pretty ready for a weekend of lazing around the pool and maybe playing some video games.


Seems about right…

If it wasn’t for the fact that the roofers had come and gone and I hadn’t seen it yet (in person, my uncles both sent pics, thanks guys!), I might have resisted more.

But, as the roofers HAD gotten the job done, and as Erin had her sights set firmly on refinishing the upstairs floors, AND as she’d already told the boys we were doing that this weekend, what could I do but agree?

Friday night, as we prepped for the work on Saturday, the weather showed some severe thunderstorms going through the area. As we watched the radar, my eyes widened a little. The weatherman was talking about a band of significant hail that was going through an area south of the interstate. I’ll be darned if that band of significant hail didn’t look as if it might go right over our 8-day old roof

So, the next morning, I found myself anxious and a bit edgy (read: crabby). It’s not like we don’t have insurance if the roof gets/got ruined with the hail…but why in the world did we need the hail AFTER the new roof. Why not BEFORE? But, it wasn’t just the roof making me anxious. When Erin and our youngest were out to finish painting, she also informed me that my plumbing victory from weeks ago may not have been the victory I thought. Drains were burbling again. After everything I’d already done to clear that line, I wasn’t excited about tackling it, anew.

Wondering about the hail and disappointed about the drain, we pulled into the farmyard. And, for a moment, I found myself smiling. The roof looked great!


We did go with green!

We couldn’t be happier about the roof. The green looks great, and Barry and his team at Northstar Roofing in Enderlin did a great job. Thanks very much, guys!


Now, if only it didn’t get hailed on.

I started looking around, trying to see any damage in the yard. First thing I did was check the rain gauge. It wasn’t showing any rain, which I thought was odd. As I got closer, I found there were several plastic pieces in the collector itself. Turns out, they were from the bracket.


taken after I dumped the plastic pieces out

Which kind of, to me, looks as if it took a direct hit from something, say, golf-ball sized.

There were lots of little branches and bunches of leaves on the ground in the tree field. From the ground, I didn’t have any luck seeing hail damage on the roof. But my I did talk to my uncle that evening, then. He confirmed there was golf-ball sized hail that went through. The insurance adjuster is going to have to make the final call on roof damage.

Perhaps Northstar will get another chance?

With nothing more to be done with that, it was inside to get started on sanding and finding out what was going on with the sewer. *spoiler* nothing good.


Worth paying for

As we mentioned initially, aside from the cosmetic stuff inside, there are a couple bigger projects that have to get done on the outside of the house. Namely, shingles, windows, and paint. And while we (I) initially thought that we might do all of those projects ourselves, a second look at the pitch of the roof gave me pause about doing the shingling ourselves.


That’s really a lot steeper than I thought…

Erin and I really hate to pay to have stuff done. Especially if we CAN do something. She’s been concerned about doing the roof from the get-go. She feels, pretty confidently, that if I’m going to be up on that roof; it’s likely our 70 and 66-year old fathers might also feel compelled to be on that roof with me.  While I’m confident we’d survive, I really don’t want to spend a weekend on that roof either. So, we pulled the trigger, did some calling around, and we’re going to let a pro handle it.

I called the company in Fargo that my in-laws used for their roof, recently. We were really impressed with the speed at which they completed the project, as well as the craftsmanship. I was pleased to hear they’d be willing to drive the hour to do the project in Fingal. What I didn’t expect was, “it’ll be late-fall, early-winter before we could get out to do it, though.”


Considering the bunch of shingles missing, and considering it’s only May, AND considering we already repainted the upstairs (may have jumped the gun on that one), I didn’t feel like we could wait until late-fall, early-winter. So I went to my uncles for a recommendation. They each had a couple names for me and we ended up getting a quote from Northstar Roofing out of Enderlin. They won’t get it done right away either, but I didn’t hear “winter” as an estimate of the timeline either.

We asked for quotes on both asphalt and steel roofing. Erin has been seeing a lot of metal farmhouse roofs recently and is liking that look. Add to it the durability of that material, and it was definitely worth a quote.

Quotes came about a week later and I was pleased to see that the shingle quote actually came in a little under my expectation. The metal a bit above (but I really had no frame of reference for that one). We hemmed and hawed quite a bit over which one to go with. Ultimately, though, the steel roof was going to be 40% more expensive. The money we’d spend for that will easily fund all the replacement windows we need, so we went with asphalt.

Then it was just a question of color!


If you’ve never had to choose a shingle color, it’s actually quite a bit harder than you’d think. You certainly CAN just go with the same color that’s on the house now and not give it a second thought. But, this is a 30-year decision! It’s not like painting a room in your house, this is going to be up there for a LONG time. So we looked at the house, we talked about what we might want to do with trim, what we might want to do with landscaping. There’s talk of putting shutters on the house. If we do, what color would we want THEM to be? I was finding it really hard to visualize these shingle samples on the house. So I printed some black and white photos of the house and started doing some pastel shading on the roof. The main choices were: Moire Black, Cottage Red, Atlantic Blue, and Hunter Green. After about 20 minutes of work, I had some nice pastel-colored pictures that really didn’t reflect the accurate shades of those shingles at all. To Photoshop! Figuring it should be easy enough to take this photo of the farm:cropped-img_59991.jpg

and just re-color the roof. I was kind of right. I got everything booted up and found magic-wanded and filled and found out it wasn’t quite that simple at all. Again, color-matching was an issue. Sure, I could eye-drop one of those colors on any given swatch, but none of those samples are just one color. So that didn’t look right either.

Easily an hour into this decision, pondering trying to use the stamping tool in Photoshop next to get an actual texture, Erin looked on the shingle manufacturer’s website and found that they already HAD a tool to do exactly what we were trying to do on our own.

Of course they did.

So we jumped through the couple hoops, excited to really see what this was all going to look like. Let’s start with red!

Red RoofAh. So. No scale. In fairness…it would take a much more sophisticated system to accurately scale the shingles to the house…so while we’re not seeing the actual finished product, we do at least get accurate colors. Good enough.

Red? Mmmm…maybe.


Gray roof

Sure, black might work. Blue?

Blue roof

Blue’s not bad…least favorite so far. Green?

Green Roof

Oh, see…kinda like the green.

So, not red or blue. Black or green, though…hmmm…

The next day, we mailed off our choice and a down-payment. I wonder how long it’ll take for Northstar to get the job done so you can all know what color we picked? 😀

Trouble from below…pt. 2

The whole hour back to Fargo that day, I pondered the plumbing problem. If flushing the toilet made the other two drains burble, it had to mean that the vent wasn’t working. If I’d paused to ponder that before running all the water in the bathroom simultaneously, I could’ve avoided a black-water waterfall in the basement just then.

*mental note* bring some bleach and a spray bottle to the farm next time.

But, why isn’t the vent working? If I ponder that setup again:


The only way that vent pipe is plugged is if water is backed up all the way to the ceiling of all those drains, which would make sense. The worst seal for all those drains must be right at the floor, which is why I was getting water in the basement rather than sewage backing up into the tub. I had my fingers crossed that the lines would take advantage of the next 16 hours and get themselves drained so I could pull that clean-out plug in the morning and run the snake and get it all sorted. Of course running the snake (or auger, if you please) won’t work at all if the main line to the septic tank is collapsed…oh, I hope the main line to the septic tank isn’t collapsed…

I semi-worried about that thought the rest of the night, but I was beat and did manage to sleep. The next day was Erin’s birthday, as she said, and as she and the kids planned for a day of painting, I planned for a day of plumbing.

  • Plumbing toolbox? Check.
  • Snake? Check.
  • Work gloves I can burn later? Check.
  • Change of clothes for when I get sewage all over me? *shudder* Check.

Okie dokie. Ready to do this thing.

When we arrived at the farm that morning, my uncle was waiting for me. In fairness, I haven’t been giving my uncles much credit in these blog posts, but they’ve been around in the background, and sometimes the foreground, for most of this stuff, too. They’ve got an active concern and interest in the farm. So when I got there, it was clear that my uncle had been thinking about all this, too.

The first thing I wanted to do was pull that clean-out plug and see what we were dealing with. But when I put the pipe wrench on it and gave it a partial twist, it was immediately clear that it was under pressure and water started running out.

So much for crossing my fingers and hoping it’d drain.

Plan B, then.

As it turns out, Grandpa hadn’t had the septic tank pumped in…well, nobody knew when. In fact…it’d been so long that we needed to dig up the septic access.


At least it wasn’t buried too deep!

He did, however, frequently pump down the drain field. So that was going to be plan B. It seemed a stretch to me that pumping down the drain field was going to make this work. If it was the drain field’s fault, I had a bigger problem. If I needed to pump the drain field because it wasn’t draining that had to mean the septic tank was probably full and possibly also backing up into the house. And if THAT was the case…I wasn’t looking at just a little water that might come out in the basement. I might well be looking at tens of gallons before I could do anything with it. BUT. If draining the drain field could help the situation? All about giving it a shot. So, we got the sump pump all fitted up and ran extension cords and pumped the drain field for a while. Once that was done, it was back to the house to try the clean-out plug again.


This time I was more ready. 5 gallon bucket employed! Deployed? Placed? You get it.

I hadn’t won.

Disappointed but not surprised, I called my uncle and let him know. He managed to get a septic guy, willing to come on short notice on a Saturday, to come out to pump the tank. Working the problem backwards, this was the next logical step.

It was only about 20 minutes later before we saw the pump truck in the yard. A quick conversation and about 15 minutes after that, the truck was pulling back out.

Back to the clean-out plug!


Yes, it’s the same photo as above. But, as the result was the same, I don’t see why I can’t use this twice…

Still no joy. In fact, quite the opposite. With the drain field and the tank now drained, and the plumbing not drained, something was clearly wrong with the main line. Whether it was collapsed or just plugged, that clean-out plug was going to have to come off to find out. And so, that’s what happened. At least now I knew that there wasn’t going to be an infinite amount of sewage that could come out of these pipes. And, as it turned out, there was only about 8 gallons that came out of them before I could finally open the plug.

Lucky for you all, I didn’t take a picture of the contents of the clean-out pipe. Luckier still for you all, you can’t share in the smell. My sons were in the basement with me at the time and they both screwed up their faces and declared, “UGH!”

I agreed.

But, as it was the only path forward, I grabbed my snake and started trying to clear the pipe. I only got about 3 feet in before I had my first problem. So I tightened the cable and began twisting. And twisting, and twisting. Feeling a bit of give, I pulled the cable out. At the end of the cable were…bits of a dead bird. That didn’t surprise me, honestly. I wondered if that vent pipe may not have housed a surprise or two. It did, however, cause my oldest son to declare, “I’m out,” and head back upstairs. Back to it, I fed the cable further and further, twisting and pushing and twisting and pushing, making progress all the time. When I got to somewhere around, oh, 12 feet or so, my progress halted. That’d be somewhere outside the house in the main line. I twisted and applied as much pressure as I could, not going anywhere, so I pulled all the cable back out. Nothing new or gross came with the cable this time, and the water level was starting to go down! Not much. But some! So, back to it. I snaked and snaked for a good half hour. I didn’t get a satisfying whoosh of water at any point, but I definitely pushed through some clogs, and by the end of my 25 feet of snake, the pipe had cleared.


That’s 25 feet of auger cable extended. If that isn’t all the way to the septic tank, it’s darn close.

Time for the water test! My younger son had stuck with me the whole time and I asked him to head upstairs and run the bathroom sink for 20 seconds. He did so, and it drained just fine. “30 seconds!” I bellowed. He complied. It drained just fine. “Run the tub for 20 seconds!” He complied. THAT was a little scarier. I did get some water backing up my clean-out pipe. But it did drain. Feeling…cautious, I put the plug cap on before I hollered, “Flush the toilet!” And it was a good thing I did cap it. When I pulled the cap, there was water almost to the cap, slowly draining.

My shoulders drooped, I threw the cap on the ground, grabbed the snake, and repeated the snaking process for another 20-30 minutes. I got the snake all the way through, definitely pushed through some more clogs in the process, and repeated the test. This time, however, after the 20 second and 30 second tests on each the sink and tub, I hollered, “Leave the tub on and run the sink! Hot water!” My son complied and that drain just drained. I still wasn’t bold enough to leave the cap off when the toilet flushed. But it did flush, with the other water running, and when I pulled the cap back off, it still looked like this:


There’s a fair bit of rust in there, but that’s a cleared drain!

Victory was mine! I tossed the snake in the corner, grabbed the bucket of black-water and dumped it outside on the way to burn my gloves. It was time for a long shower, some clean clothes, and a trip home. Since the farm doesn’t HAVE a shower (yet), my uncle was kind enough to let me clean up there before the trip home.

I’m just so glad that we didn’t need to get a backhoe involved in this project. Just…so glad.

It’ll also be JUST fine with me if I don’t have to do that again!