Sunday, July 31, 2011

Positive Attitudes!

Kathleen Wilham dropped by for a visit at a time when I was having trouble with birds building nests in the brackets located under the roof overhang.  A nest that looked large enough to host a couple of bald eagles was particularly irritating to me.  Kathleen suggested that I use a long pole to pull the nesting material out of the nich.  My response was that the nest must be 38 feet above the ground and there were no poles available that would reach that high.  I have long fishing rods, but the very longest is 18' and that would leave me about 20' short of my goal.  Kathleen said that she had some poles that could be tied or taped together.  With my best "Man-atude" I replied that there was no way, like it was a rule of physics.  Kathleen, ever positive, said maybe.  She left, but returned in a few minutes with poles of metal, wood, and pvc.  Her positive attitude spurred me to get a roll of tape even if I did not believe that we would reach the nest.  Some pieces screwed together while others slid into the hollow pvc and needed the tape to keep it extended.  Finally, the poles were all connected and I was sure that it would not hold together or that it would bend to the breaking point.  Still, Kathleen and Marilyn were looking, so I gave it a try.  Carefully I raised the pole and reached up by resting the tip against the wall of the house.  Then I reached even higher by extending my arms.  We did it!!!!  Carefully I pryed the nest from its perch 38' above the ground with a pole of misfit pieces and a friend's positive attitude.  If Kathleen ever tells you that she has a rooster that can pull a freight train, then go get the log chain. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Former residents return!

I heard voices outside and wondered about the source.  A couple came to the back porch and the husband said that he had lived in the house from 1956 to 1960 and asked if they might tour the house.  I was quite excited to meet Mr & Mrs Paul (Chuck) Todd and welcomed them into the restoration.  Chuck had moved away from the house at age 13, but had great memories of the home.  One great mystery that he solved, was," when did the ceiling fall in the southwest bedroom upstairs".  It has been the boys room for many years and had been such for Chuck and his brother Mike during their years.  Chuck told of the day that he went into the room and lay down on his bed.  After a few minutes, he got back up and left the room.  Moments later the ceiling and plaster medallion fell.  The weight would have been tremendous and injury would have certainly resulted had he stayed on his bed.  Chuck's father had the ceiling rebuilt with sheetrock and lowered to the top of the window trim.  This was the giveaway that the ceiling had fallen and a search through a hole revealed the missing plaster and cornice.  It required a lot of work from professionals, but the ceiling, cornice, and walls have returned to 12' height.    Chuck also told of the fun they had on a wheelchair ramp built onto the west side of the house by Mr and Mrs Long when they had plans for senior housing in the mansion. 
     We walked upstairs and through rooms of his past.  It was funny as he said "oh, that was the girls room", much as a 13 year old might have dismissed his sisters.  The same room hosted the Crist "girls" for a number of years.  At the kitchen, he related how he once squirmed through the passthrough window to unlock a door and let his parents into the house when a key had been forgotten.  "I would never make it today", brought laughter from all of us.  Even an old soda cap removal tool brought back memories to Chuck.  Colors were discussed to the best of a 13 year old's memory and he told of his father having the basement fireplace built along with other work by Mr Ratliff and how much they enjoyed the large room for meetings.  His father worked for State Farm Insurance and had an office at the back of the house just where Judge Christ  presided for so many years.  It was Paul Todd's work that led to the famous home swap between the Crists and Todds as Paul Sr was promoted and the family moved to Texas.  Today this is a more common event and even expected, but in 1960 it was tramatic for the family.  Mrs Todd was working on a needlepoint of the Benjamin House in her last year and it was finished by Chuck's sister.  The Benjamin House has a way of growing on a person.  When I have spoken with Eddie Jo Johns, Chuck, Mike Todd, or the Crists, it is clear that the home has stayed an important part of their life.  Marilyn and I have feelings for the home that have grown from admiration for architecture to a sense of being a part of something important to the area.  It is so great to hear from others who care and have experience with the home.  Just this week Mike Rash related a story to me of how he helped paint on the curly steel lentils above the windows of the house when he was about 19.  Being up a long ladder on a windy day spurred him to climb down and suggest a different job on that day! 

 For the Benjamin House to survive, the home will always need community support and interest.

Mother Nature and the Mansion

Mother Nature is around us so much, that sometimes we take it for granted.  Sure, this year it rained a ton this spring and disrupted outdoor work, but the flowers loved it.  Crocus came first, then daffodils brighten the yard.  Normal enough, but then the honey bees moved into the window lintels again.  We have caulked, used expanding foam, and even provided two bee hives courtesy of a nice keeper named Clayton Armstrong from near Paris (MO).  He has been more than helpful and very informative.  Alas, the bees have ignored the hives and multiplied in the  windows.  Clayton even used his best phernom attractant to no avail.  It appears they are able to eat through the caulk to get back to their stored honey in the lentils.  The cast metal lentels are hollow, so they creat a storage area that they like.  Sometimes, when the weather is in the 90's, the bees move outside the lentil to cool off and the swarm can be seen in a cluster fanning their wings to creat a cooling breeze.  We like them, but for over 60 years the bees have been making honey in the house and it has even seeped into the wallpaper on occasion.  While steaming off the wallpaper in the receiving room, the oder of the ancient honey was evident.  Previous owners from the 50's and 60's had warned me of the bee's  persistance.

The next outdoor adventure started when I was looking out a second story window.  A large oak tree on the south side of the house seemed to have light, tan colored spots on it.  Upon finishing my chore, I went down to take a look.  Cicadas, were making the trip up the tree.  They would climb in their crusty body armor until it stiffened, then with a great push, they split the back of the armor and begin to climb out.  It was interesting to see the cream colored insect arch backward out of the shell.  The wide set red eyes give me the creaps, but the internet says that they do not bite.  Still, they look like they could!  While sending a text and photo to my daughter in Texas, one of the cicadas landed on my hand and the text message finished up %btze.  The next day one had unknowingly landed on my back.  Since their instinct is to climb, this one reached my neck later (while I was in the house).  It had to be funny watching me jump and try to brush off my attacker.   The trees were full of the climbers and the ground full of pencil sized holes.  Fortunetly, I hear that it will be 13 years before the event recurs.  Unfortunately, I probably cannot remember anything for 13 more years.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Just what every good renovation needs....

During June of 2011, there were a lot of "Severe Storm Warnings".   Occasionally a bit of hail arrived or hard rains, flooding and lightning.  The end of the month was no different... the warnings continued but this time the storms looked like they would all drop north of Quincy.  As people and storms often do... this one changed it's mind and plowed right on through.  As they hit Quincy, IL the local news stations talked it up - Quincy, Quincy, Quincy!  With radio on and keeping the storms in mind I left Hannibal for the usual smooth trip to Shelbina.  What I would soon discover was that there had been two tornados hit the town!  The first clue hit when I realized both the Caseys and Ayerco were closed.  Then I noticed a few limbs down at the library, but thought... no big deal.   Turning west off Center Street twice and finding both streets closed, it dawned on me that there was a problem.  I managed to find an opening on College Street by going the wrong way through the bus dropoff road at the grade school.  Finally, at the corner of College and Shelby, I could see the Benjamin House!
From a distance the house looked intact, but the yard itself was a war zone of broken trees and hanging limbs.  One 50' tall sycamore tree had been transformed into a telephone pole with a few sprigs at the very top.  The driveway was blocked by several fallen limbs and the power line was down with limbs toppled over it.  The back yard mirrored the mahem.

The house itself had battled bravely, marred by three exploded windows in the belvedere, a toppled chimney, and broken ceiling joists (that the fallen chimney had taken with it).  In most homes a chimney repair would be pretty straight forward.  With the added challenge that it is 40' from the ground and 2' from the edge of the roof.... not as easy.  That said, the roof and I have spent some quality time together over the last couple years so I dutifully called the insurance agent in the hopes that I could quickly help the house recover.

When the agent arrived he dutifully climbed up several flights of narrow staircases and proceeded to take a picture of the fallen chimney from the confines of the belvedere.  When I suggested climbing out a window onto the roof to get a better picture, the agent quickly declined and started down the stairs with a pace that rivaled Mr. Benjamin's abrupt appearance in Shelbina.   Something akin to "get estimates" floated over his shoulder as he left the house and I was left with a little extra remodeling in my already busy house plans.

The clean up was hard, but made easier by help from C.W. Wood's crew from the lumber yard and a couple of South Shelby's baseball pitchers - Chase Gaines and Wyett Proper.  There were two interesting moments along the way though....

The first came when I tied a log chain to a big limb hanging from the south-side Oak tree.  The theory was to pull out at the bottom and the top (heavy end) would topple backwards toward the tree.  Good theory, but when I began to pull, I could see the guys looking quizzically at the huge limb then at the chain-pulling blazer.  I played a lot of baseball and basketball, so my team instinct quickly told me that something was falling toward someone on the ground... much as a fly ball or a rebound might.  Unfortunately that someone was ME and I did not want to "catch a tree".  Like a participant in the Indy 500 my foot hit the gas pedal in the Blazer.  As I pulled away, a thud sounded right behind me. Whew, it had missed the truck by only 3 feet!

The second moment that stands out involved the replacement of the chain on the chainsaw.  Given the near miss car/tree incident and knowing my limitations I left this task to the professionals.  Chase being mechanically inclined quickly had the chainsaw apart to replace the chain.  While he fed the chain around the drive sprocket, Wyett guided the chain onto the groove in the bar.  Watching this take place I felt as though I needed to provide my own talents to the mix so, in my loudest and best imitation, I spewed a BBRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.  Their youthful reaction time had them both recoiled back like the saw had come to life in their hands before the third "R" rolled out of my mouth.  Needless to say, they gave me "the look" when I started to "LOL".   Old "1" - Young "0".

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't learn something from this project... some days it's how to plaster this or repair that... but most often it's bigger than that.  This week perhaps my lesson is that life often throws you an unexpected mess - cleanup may be hard but along the way it reveals your talents in a new way and makes memories that you are not likely to forget.

Thanks to all who helped us through this unexpected mess!