This Old Farmhouse

We bought this old farmhouse about 25 years ago. It was our second house, and second effort at renovation (the first was an old Craftsman style house in the city). I started out very “purist” when we moved here, but I think that was probably a wasted good intention. As we went deeper into the innards of the house, it became apparent that this was a house that grew organically over time, and it had started out quite generically at the beginning anyway. Sometimes pragmatism will get the better of you.

I had many reservations going into this project, and looking back, it is too bad my husbands dreamy optimism swept away my naturally gloomy, but realistic assessment. We have both said, at this much later date, that we would never attempt such a folly again. Don’t get me wrong… I will always love an old house, but this one was only a few years away from being condemned, and we have just about rebuilt it. It has taken too much of our lives and efforts to the detriment of hospitality and other important things. I would not do it again, and my advice is to those who are thinking about it for themselves is to realistically view your resources, your expected outcome from the house, and the basics of the house itself. Not just your romantic imagination of “old-time” living.

Not the comments you expected, I daresay.

Here is a bit more along the positive: we now have a very nice home to live in, we have quite a few memories, of the frustrated part somewhat, but some are funny, and not a few are happy and all gave us some expertise in the remaking of the home. My husband is pretty accomplished.

Our particular house is the type they slapped up all over this part of the country, back when it was built. Clapboard, with a two over two as the main part, with a side L room which I imagine originally was one story ( although I could be wrong about that). We found a date marked on an old piece of lath when we renovated the kitchen- it showed 1898, so my guess is that is when it was built in its original parts. It has seen a good deal of remodeling over the ensuing time- not all of it good, and that created our own story. The kitchen is a post in itself. This area was settled quite late as far as Ohio history goes, and my house was next in line after an old wood cabin which used to be down the road. It was moved lock, stock, and barrel a few years back, and subsequently replaced with a modern house, I am not sure where the original cabin ended up, although I had known the people who last lived there and seen its insides and construction- quite fancy as log cabins go.

Sometime at the turn of the century the Amish farmers arrived. One of their families bought this house and its farm, and when I was first here I met and talked with a number of the former inhabitants and guest of this old house. In fact, I talked quite a bit with the elderly lady who first moved here when she was fifteen, they were the second Amish family to own it. Her father had a choice of this or the farm next to it, and she had no little pride in the fact that he made a successful farming business out of something that the previous owner had adamantly argued was unproductive, before he moved out west to Iowa. This was formerly a soggy wet prairie, and it took time, patience and drainage ditches before it became productive farmland…Some say the best in the world. Black dirt loam. Kokomo soils to be precise.

Anyway, those farmers could certainly farm, but they were not all the renowned carpenters of today’s Amish. Far from it, and some of the makeshift work gets my husband to muttering. It gives us the topics for uttered remarks upon attempted constructions of just what were those guys thinking when they did this or that. Like the wall joist that stood in the wall- pretending to have purpose, but not really connected to anything or holding anything up…Just there for show, I guess.

We saw where the old center chimney was removed. Where there once was only a root cellar before the basement was excavated ( always, always the bane of our house!) and was proudly marked with the date of the cement pour in 1921. That was when the side addition grew upwards in a old Pennsylvania Dutch proportion. Big Blocky and the roof now higher in an odd conformation to the old two over two portion. It also grew out to the back with odd additions of what was once separate wash house and summer kitchen work places. My present kitchen appears to have been the old back porch and I imagine in times past the women used to do their evening sewing there. The old kitchen is now our dining room, a part of the original old house.

Well, this is the bare bones of the story and enough to describe the place. It had been sadly neglected and parts of it torn out by the former owner who seemed to like best tearing stuff down and cutting all the old trees. It was pretty bare and rundown around here when we arrived. What were we thinking? The answer for that is for another time.

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The Mushroom Factor

It doesn’t take long into most projects to become acquainted with what DIY ers call the mushroom factor. A term originating in 1986 from Clem Labine, an author in The Old-House Journal, describing the unpredictabilty of renovation work, or as Anita of Anita’s ‘Book of Days’ says “Because of the mushroom factor(“Since we are doing this, we might as well do that at the same time.”)”

Yes, my husband and I know this all too well. It comes from the logic of doing what needs to be done since you are there doing whatever it is anyway….only it gets away from you. It mushrooms, in time, money, and effort. And that, friends, is why we have movies such as ‘The Money Pit’- classic example of the mushroom factor gone amuck.The Money Pit

I think this post is in danger of mushrooming, as I have the very bad habit of either digressing or going on and on…. I now have this as a definition to refer back to when I will inevitably be referring to …da tadata….~The Mushromm F-a-c–t-o-rfadeout

I think our most representative situation of it was the kitchen renovation. It was renovation in name only, what actually happened was that all was torn out to the open air, and my husband started from scratch. I will be devoting at least an entire post to that project… it has many funny moments, well, maybe not all funny, telling is a better word.
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The DIY Crowd

My husband and I are do-it-yourself-ers… I always have been, my husband became one after marrying me. My dad was one and he trained my husband who then far surpassed him. My husband does quality work, and I have a beautiful kitchen to prove it. Of course the story behind that is its own tale. But we DIY people are a breed with our own magazines and our own insiders jokes. Just say “mushroom factor”. Yep…. a DIY knows exactly what that means and could probably regale you with a few incidents where we all sit around nodding our collective heads.

There are men who cannot fathom how to follow this path, even though they try. One brother in law and my husbands father are representative of this sad estate. They try, and you have to feel sorry for them, because for some reason their stain stays tacky indefinitely or their attempts to put up a cabinet always ends up saying “call the professionals…please“. I think I might have clued in to why this is: they finish the job in no time at all. People who are DIY’ers tend to take their sweet time getting the job done. They aren’t experts usually, and they have to research, plan, ask questions… and borrow books… then get it just right, as they make repeated trips to the nearest Home Depot or Lowes. See that word “repeated”? I’m not kidding. My husband is on first name basis and good buddies with the employees of the three main stores he frequents. And I like to go to those stores as much as he does… I just don’t hobnob with the help as much. That is because I hand the how-to over to my husband on most of these jobs ( he’s better at it ,that’s why). Plus I rely on my own research more. Not a better way of doing things- just different in style.

My sons are a mixed batch- some can do a better job than their dad, some…well, they need to call their brothers if they expect to work on their own place in some far off future time. Each to his own ability and talent. But as Red Green says, it’s a good thing to be “handy”. We’re just one big handy family- we fight but we get the job done. Eventually.

It does have its drawbacks, though… say, like too many duct tape experiments. The latest of those was an attempt to fix the muffler, exhaust pipe of the tractor so I could mow. After the heat made it shift and wobble again, I put in the final call, ” You have to buy a new pipe, ok? Please?!”. No more duct tape on the tractor pipe, I now have a new part firmly in place and will mow come the first unrainy day.

I do all the mowing unless the kids help, my husbands time is better spent on doing trim work, fixing bathrooms, putting up screen doors and all that sort of thing. We all work at something around here; part of that is the large family, part is the DIY self sufficiency.

Good ol’ Yankee can-do attitude. There is the mentality of the quintessential DIY crowd, “mend it, fix it, make-do”. These are the preservationists and conservators many times, as there is a whole sub-segment of the DIY-ers. I used to be one of those, but many times it is hard to live a modern lifestyle without making changes that are anathema to the purists. I still admire those who do keep historically correct renovations. And you can learn alot even if you don’t fully follow all the rules. In Old House Journal is a feature, “Remuddling” which documents do-it-yourself gone wrong. Lord, preserve us from the DIY gone wrong.

I hope you enjoy the coming posts and essays on my life in old houses. Oh,and which are you? The veteran renovator? The amateur remodeler? The curious bystander? The general handyman? Or the hysterical Help me! man?
Or (eyebrows bouncing) the lady version of said categories?

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