Some of you might be wondering when I’m getting to the ‘homesteading’ part – patience, patience.
We spent the first night in our house – late late into the middle of the night, gutting the place. Anything and everything that was not nailed down, and some things that were, got tossed, hauled, grunted out through the leaking back porch and out into the back yard.
Bruce (I can use his name now that I’ve managed to convinve him that no one is going to figure out where he is and show up at the gate on his days off wanting him to fix their car…. :D), finally got into the spirit of things – what man let loose with a splitting maul for deliberate destruction wouldn’t?
Of course the more we tossed out, the more he realized how much work he was going to have to do – he tried, briefly, to convince me to keep the counter/sink unit – after all, it had drawers, doors and a flat surface to put things on. I opened one of the drawers – found myself staring at a pile of abandoned utensils, mouse nests and all that comes with a mouse infestation – and stood back to let him decide for himself.
‘I thought she said those cats were good mousers?’he mumbled, slamming the drawer shut and yarding the whole unit away from the wall with a prybar. Outside it went. Finally – the place empty excepting for the cook stove and the wall furnace which was still hooked up to the gas – we hauled the bed in, dropped it into the middle of the main room where it wouldn’t be touching any of the walls and gave it up for the night.
The following morning we drove into town and made our first purchase for our new house – a gallon of cleaning disenfectant, a commercial mop bucket and mop, and a big wet/dry shop vac. Had to start somewhere.
We decided the best option for the mountain of debris in our yard, was to burn it. We hauled a starter pile to the gravel driveway and lit it up. We burnt for days. And days. And days. There was no end of things to set fire to – the melting snow revealed several piles of trash about the property – that got burned too. I couldn’t decide if there wasn’t a nearby landfill or the people had simply been too lazy to haul the stuff away. Two things I discovered while burning – first off, we were scaring the neighbors. Despite the fact that they are fifteen acres away on the South side, and five acres away on the North side, they were ever at the ready to call the fire department. Apparently the previous owners had on more than one occasion nearly managed to anhialate the whole area with accidental fires.
One neighbor who finally came over and introduced himself, wandered about the property pointing out one spot after another – ‘Used to be a little cabin there. Burnt to the ground. Think this is where the pig shed was. Burnt to the ground. They had their wood shed over here – burnt to the ground. That grass in your field is pretty dry…..wouldn’t want it going up in flames….’
We got the point – reassured the man that we weren’t intending to carpet bomb the area with napalm, and pointed out that we had several barrels of water and buckets on stand-by ‘just in case’. Everybody, and I mean everybody knew we had no water system.
The second thing I discovered, was that my mixed breed knucklehead dog, had a thing for heat. To look at the dog he seemed in possession of all his dog faculties and plenty of fur to keep himself warm – but the minute we started burning, he would lurk about waiting, waiting, until just as the coals died down, he would curl up as absolutely close to the pile as he could get and fall asleep. The was no straightening that dog out – as the night progressed and the temp dropped lower, he would inch his way further into the coals until by morning he would be flat out in the center of the mess, smouldering slightly, snoring away happily because he was warm. It became a ritual every morning – get up, grab a cup of coffee, go outside and shoe the dog out of the fire pit, snuff out any parts of him that looked in danger of flaring up, shake your head at the melted matts of fur and carry on with your day. It occured to me I might bring him in the house at night – but the smell of burnt dog hair kept me from following through on that plan – besides – the goofy thing seemed capable of surviving it.
The first project we tackled – had to tackle, was a water system of sorts. Both working in garages all day, there was no skipping the showers or the laundry. I made arrangements with a campground to use their showers and laundry until we got our mess straightened out. It took a month – building a water system from scratch isn’t the simplest of things to do. You need a cistern, you need someone to deliver water to fill it, a pump, a pressure tank, a hot water tank, a tub/shower, at leas one tap, yards of pvc for drains and yards of copper for getting the water to and from everything. And of course you need somewhere for everything to drain to – another cistern we could then pump out. Home Depot came to love us. But wait – turned out the floor in the ‘bathroom’ was as rotten as the rest of the house – had to back up and start there. Back to Home Depot for a reciprocating saw and a box of demolition blades.
A month later, new floor in the bathroom (floor joists and plywood anyway), everything in place (no toilet – that’s another story), on the home stretch with the soldering and maybe six hours to go before we can turn a tap on, I’m done and in bed – which is now in the kitchen area. ‘Give it up Bruce – you can finish it tomorrow.’ ‘Nope – almost done.’ he says. I wake up an hour or so later – ‘Finish the soldering tomorrow!’ ‘Nearly done!’ Another few hours and I wake up to the stench of melting lead and copper pipe. ‘Seriously – I think you should call it a night – at least open the window!’ ‘Yep – window open – oh! I can see now – thought I might be going blind or something – didn’t realize I was making so much smoke!’
The following morning as were sitting outside with our coffee, Bruce – who is really not feeling all that well, gives me an odd look. ‘Funny – all I can taste is lead.’
‘Ya think?!?!’ I roll my eyes and decide the man is nothing if not committed to the project. We have running water. We can shower. I can stop paying the guy at the campground to use his facilities!
Up until this point we had been pretty much on our own – both of my kids (grown and long out of the house) were maybe not the most thrilled that I had moved so far away, but figured ‘well you know Mom…..she gets this idea in her head…’ My son in particular, had been hearing rumors, and rumors of rumors that maybe this place I had bought was not all that I had led them to believe it was – and began to think perhaps I’d really been kidnapped by a redneck hillbilly and was spending my spare time fashioning a still and making moonshine. Unable to stand it any longer he recruited his best friend for backup, left the girlfriends behind and headed on up to see for himself that I hadn’t lost my mind or didn’t need to be kidnapped back.
In the meantime, the weather had warmed, and with warm weather – one expects a few flies. A few. We were suddenly inundated seemingly overnight with literally thousands. Baffled, we bought fly strips – dozens of them – we’d hang them up, come home from work to find them full and sagging with the weight of so many flies, tear them down, toss them in the trash and hang up more. I began to suspect there might be something dead around – maybe even under the house. Problem was, there wasn’t really an ‘under the house’ to check out – the cement foundation had settled into the clay over the years and the floor itself was only a foot or so above ground level. Tearing out the bathroom floor and replacing the joists, I hadn’t seen anything other than clay and a few misplaced cat toys. Still – the flies were beyond tolerance level – even mine. Down at the corner store one day, purchasing yet more fly strips – I asked the owner – very casually mind you, ‘more flies than usual around here this year?’. The man shrugged. ‘Seems like.’ he answered. No help there.
My son Jim and his buddy Dean arrived while I was at work. I came home to find the two of them parked on the couch, drinking beer, just having returned from a second trip to the store for a large can of Raid.
‘Hey mom – what’s with the flies – something dead under the house?’
‘Been wondering that myself.’ I replied.
‘What’s with the dog – he catch fire?’
The two of them sat there, looked around for a few more minutes. ‘You at least got electricity right?’
He studied the two fixtures in the main room as if they might be for show.
‘And gas!’ I tried to be enthusiastic – but even for me, things were starting to wear a little thin.
Having the two boys around definitely lightened my mood. They hauled out their tents – and after an explanation on my part that they couldn’t set up on the ground without waking up under six inches of dew in the morning and catching pneumonia – decided to set them up in the only sort of functional out-building on the property – a huge canvass coverall shed that still had most of it’s canvass intact. They wisely threw down some pallets first, to stay off the ground and pitched the rest of their belongings under cover.
The thing about youth – endless energy and a can-do attitude. After tackling the biggest issue in the house – that being the large hole that extended from the main room into the future bedroom – we discovered that there was no tackling it at all – until we stood the West wall of the house back up. What had originally looked like a sagging Southwest corner, on closer inspection turned out to be an entirely rotten footing altogether. The roof line I had thought was sagging for the weight of the snow load and big icicles, was actually sagging for real – at least six inches below where it belonged. We found a guy who owned a sawmill up the road about an hour and purchased a load of rough-cut beams. Bruce and the two boys hammered together a post and beam style wall that would hold up an oil tanker and along with two jack-alls, a lot of sweat and swearing and no small amount of beer, managed to park the bottom of it on the cement foundation and jimmy it under the eave and literally jack the roof back into place. Quite the feat – mind you, the entrance door on the East side no longer shut – but it mattered little. Progress. Up next – now that we had something to attach it to, the rest of the floor – at least the part that didn’t exist.
You might be wondering by now, why on earth we just didn’t get in a D-9 and push the place over and light it up. Actually, we were beginning to wonder ourselves. The thing is – you kind of reach a point of no return – we had plumbing in, of sorts – at least a third of the house now had a solid floor, we’d managed to use up several gallons of Martha Stewart’s finest barn red and lumber wrap along with several gallons of white for the several coats on the ceiling. The furniture was in – ish – the pictures were hung – the place was kind of – sort of, liveable. The wall furnace had been shut off right from the start, the cook stove kept the small place warm, cooked our food and when the summer weather hit, we were outside most of the time anyway. Other things began to take precedence, after all, this was the North and my being raised in the far far North, I knew that as a rule, summer was for getting ready for winter. We purchased an entire logging truck load of logs to cut into firewood – there was no time or point to driving into the mountains to cut it ourselves, with a pine beetle epidemic razing the forests faster than they could recover, the logging companies were hauling trees out faster than they could die and the glut made the firewood very cheap. I took one look at the size of the pile, another at the size of Bruce’s thirty year old chain saw and promptly went into town to buy another bigger saw. I stopped short of the logger’s special, but figured the next size down would do. Made the guy throw a skip chain on it – less teeth to sharpen and faster cutting. Of course I’d never used a chain saw in my life – but fear and common sense has never stopped me from doing anything. I got it home, Bruce took a look at it, fired it up, sat it down, watched it idle and vibrate it’s way across the driveway. ‘Yeah I’ve been using a chain saw all my life – even for me that’s a pretty intimidating saw. Well lets see if you can start it.’ He shuts it off and hands it over.
Well with a tank full of fuel it seemed a tad heavier than it had in the store, and the tried and true technique of pulling the cord and throwing the saw away from you at the same time seemed to elude me. I settled for jamming a boot in the handle and hauling on the cord with both hands. It started. I picked it up, revved it a couple of times and tackled a log. First cut made, I stood and shut it off, looked over at Bruce as he reached for the saw. ‘Yeah try not to dirt the chain honey – you’re only cutting the log, not all the way to China.’
Jim, when he caught sight of my new purchase, promptly ran out to his truck and returned with a pair of bucking pants, an order to buy some cork boots and a fifteen minute lesson on the only way ‘pay attention Mom’ to sharpen a saw. Needless to say, I let it go at that. Truth be known, it’s a damn heavy saw, I like all of my limbs where they are at the moment and I’m happy to settle for the fact that should I be stranded in the bush with nothing more than a very large chain saw and I absolutely have to cut a tree down to save myself – I could do it.
The dualling outhouse. There was no escaping the fact that it needed to be dealt with – yes, the contents had thawed and settled enough we could empty our campa potti into it (nobody in their right mind was willing to actually use it), but as the days passed we began to notice a definite rearward list to the thing – no doubt about it, it was going to fall over. Not to mention, the odor was getting a little high. I drew the line at dumping the potti, so Bruce dealt with the chore. The boys avoided dumping theirs until they had no choice but to do so as it was at maximum capacity. I think they solved the dilemma of who was going to have to dump theirs by flipping a coin – Jim lost. I watched with no small amount of hilarity as he wraps a t-shirt around his head in order to secure a stick of deodorant under his nose, fogs himself with Raid and gamely heads for the outhouse to dump the thing. Next day I come home to find the two of them neck deep in a large hole they’d spent the day digging for the new outhouse. The day after – with much banging and sawing and lifting, I stepped into my empty, clean, smelled like fresh cut lumber facility. Felt like I’d won the lottery.
Knowing that the boys were going to have to head home sooner or later, I figured I’d get one last project out of them – the tear down of a collapsing shed partially obscured by the bush – a quick look inside told me it had likely been used as a chicken shed a lifetime ago. My next trip home from work found no boys and a trail of demolition tools scattered down the driveway – the axe, the splitting maul, the crowbar….and a still partially erect chicken shed. Turns out it had been home to a large hive of bees – many of which were still angrily swarming about the shed waiting to exact their revenge on the next hapless person armed with an axe.
Finally, boys gone back to civilization and real plumbing, Bruce and I decided it was time to disarm the old outhouse. Some thinking about it brought the idea of simply wrapping a chain around the thing, pulling it over with the truck and dragging it to the driveway to light it up. In no time flat we were sitting in our lawn chairs with our nearby barrels of water, watching with no small amount of satisfaction as it began to burn in earnest. Now I’m a careful person, one of those people who thinks about something, thinks about all the things that might go wrong and what I’m going to do if they do go wrong – this one caught me by surprise. The roof of the outhouse had, over it’s lifetime, been re-shingled several times – and as the flames found the tar soaked material they caught with ease and suddenly it was really really burning – next thing I know, the one thing I didn’t think of, the gasses being released from the shingles caught with a ‘whoomph!’ and we had a flash-over – the lawn beside the driveway was on fire and it was spreading unbelievably fast – heading for the field.
Bruce and I both were on our feet in a flash, running for the water barrels, the pails, frantically throwing gallons of water at a time on the flames until finally, we managed to put it out. Huffing and puffing and grimy with noxious tar soaked soot, I shot a wary glance over to our neighbor to the South. Nothing and no one. Whew! No sirens wailing in the distance. Apparently no one had been witness to our idiocy aside from ourselves.
We further doused the remainder of the building, hardly anything left of it after the conflagration – not even the seats, and called it a day. Heading back into the house, the door still ajar from the lifting of the roof, rounding up enough food to take back outside to cook over the campfire as it was too hot to use the cook stove inside the house – it occurred to me – the homesteading part of this adventure was going to have to wait.
Coming up – Part three: This house of mine: Frozen plumbing, a step-son, a daughter and a grandson.