The summer is more than halfway done and lots of work still remains to be done here at the Neebor Lee house. I admit that I started the summer slowly, in large part due to a rotator cuff injury which was slow to heal. It was an old injury, a result of a fall down the Neebor Lee’s spiral staircase a year ago (never walk down a spiral staircase in the dark!). It had largely healed but was recently aggravated during the removal of old wallpaper from one of the Neebor Lee’s rooms. The original injury involved a small tear and, after aggravating it, I tried mend it through physical therapy. Unfortunately, I was a bad patient and kept setting myself back by working on home construction projects on the weekends while attending therapy sessions on weekdays. My physical therapist was not pleased. I solved his dilemma by ending my therapy sessions after about three weeks and thereafter conducting my therapy exercises, which largely involved stretching, on my own at home. Over time my shoulder began to feel better and I was able to take on more and more construction projects. I’m not yet fully recovered, but have been able to focus attention on repairs to the Lodge.
WINDOWS, SCREENS AND SHUTTERS
Restoration of the Lodge is continuing with the current focus on windows, screens and shutters. It’s been tedious work at times but not without surprises. Among the difficulties encountered was the act of removing the windows and shutters from the building itself. In almost all cases, the windows and shutters were attached to the Lodge with old and very rusted hinges that were covered in 100 plus years of paint. Exposing the heads of the hinge screws and then gouging the old paint out of the grooves in the screw heads turned out to be a knuckle buster. After much effort, however, I managed to unscrew the hinges and get several of the windows and shutters removed from the building. In some rare instances, the screws just popped right out; dry rot didn’t leave much for the threads to hang on to.
Removal was followed by paint stripping. The shutters themselves each had four layers of old paint, tracing the colorful history of the Lodge (literally!). To strip these layers of paint I used Franmar’s Blue Bear Soy Gel Paint and Urethane remover. This is a fairly good, although expensive, paint stripper derived from soybeans. It is thus biodegradable, non-caustic and has low vapor emissions which meant that I could work with it safely inside the Workshop. In addition, it comes in the form of a gel which you can easily apply with a paint brush. Although the stripper is advertised to cut through as many as 4 layers of paint, I found that 2 layers of paint was closer to its limit after letting gel sit on the wood for 3 to 4 hours. Scraping the softened paint off the wood was a messy process with the gooey paint initially becoming a waste handling problem since the gel dissolved any plastic container in which the waste was placed. The solution to this problem was to use paper coffee cups that I got from the local WaWa convenience store. The most difficult and tedious part of the paint removal was scraping the paint from the routed grooves along the edges of the shutter and from the window rails and muntins. This involved quite a bit of gouging in the grooves with a flat head screwdriver to remove the loosened but thick layers of paint.
Paint removal was followed by sanding and then repairs to damaged or dry-rotted wood. The wood repairs involved a combination of a wood hardener, PC Woody epoxy to fill in large gaps and wooden dowels to fill in old drill holes. This was followed by painting. For the shutters and old wood-framed window screens, we matched the existing color of the shutters on the main house. In this manner, the Lodge, which is positioned next to the main house, would at least have a similar color scheme and look like it was part of the same property.
One of the last elements addressed in the restoration of each window and shutter was the hardware. The hinges on the stained glass windows that I was restoring were ornate brass and which had the manufacturer’s name, “Branford Lock Works”, clearly marked on them. A little research revealed that this manufacturer operated in Branford, Connecticut from the 1850s until 1910, thereby indicating that the stained glass windows and the hinges were likely original to the building and, thus, worth keeping.
I couldn’t say the same for the hinges on the shutters, which were severely rusted and barely functional. I replaced them with new hinges. I did retain all other hardware on the shutters, including the latches and pull rings. They were in fair shape and largely functional, but nonetheless still needed to be sanded to remove rust. Once cleaned of rust, I used a black Rust-Oleum® spray paint to cover and protect them.
Re-installation of the shutters, like their removal, was more difficult than it seemed. For one thing, the screw holes for the new hinges did not match up with the holes from the old hinges, which I had to seal up with wood dowels and then re-drill. In the end, installation required the efforts of myself and my two sons to make sure that the shudders were seated property so that they would remain functional. Functionality meant that they would need to close over the windows. This is different from the shutters that are found in new construction today, which are strictly ornamental and are intended to remain in an open position at all times. Shutters in old homes were intended to “shut” and lock in order to provide light control, privacy, security and protection from the elements. To provide these benefits they have to be fitted properly, and the “fit” in the Lodge’s window opening was tight. After some time and some trial and error, we managed to line them up properly to allow them to work as intended.
The other window accessory, which I mentioned earlier only briefly but did not describe, were the window screens. These were large (almost the size of a small wooden door), vintage wood-framed Victorian-era window screens. Like the windows and the shutters, these too had to be stripped of paint and the wood repaired. In addition the old metal screening material which covered them were old and tattered and had to be replaced. Holding the screens in place, unlike modern metal-framed window screens which use a rubber cord pressed into a groove, were thin strips of wood. I replaced these wood strips with thin wood molding purchased as at the nearby Lowes and used a brad nailer to hold the new screen in place behind the molding. Two window screens have so far been restored and installed. The large Lodge windows can now be opened to allow a cross-breeze through the interior of the building. Combined with the two ceiling fans that I had installed inside the Lodge earlier along with Lodge’s ridge vent, the interior Lodge remains relatively cool even on hot days.
One last word on the Lodge restoration: In the latter part of this past Spring, my daughter-in-law had found on the Internet a vintage 1940 Art Deco-style bar for sale at a nearby furniture re-seller at a very reasonable price. We had been looking for a vintage bar to place in the Lodge for some time, and even considered retrofitting an old church alter we had seen for sale. The vintage Art-Deco bar looked to be good shape in the re-seller’s photos and, not wanting it get away from us, my wife and I immediately hopped in the car and drove the 50-minute distance to the re-seller to buy it. We did so in the nick of time, because about ten minutes after I took out my credit card another purchaser walked into the shop with intent of buying it. And the other prospective buyer was clearly not happy about losing it. However, as my wife often says, “If you snooze, you lose”. We were quick and we were lucky. Although the Art Deco style may be a little out-of-place inside the Lodge, it was the perfect size for the Lodge and has a pleasant appearance. It only needed a small amount of work, including a bit of re-wiring, replacement of a light fixture and the replacement of an old built-in electric outlet with a light switch so that it was easier to turn the light on and off. We followed up this purchase with the purchase of bar stools that were made using retrofitted tractor seats. Although stylistically very different from the bar itself, we ended up choosing these stools because they are much easier on the butt than the flat wood stools we going to purchase.
If you have read my past posts, then you would have come across several stories about our local animal encounters here at the Neebor Lee. These included an incident involving a family of squirrels that decided move into my ceiling above the home’s family room. They were very resistant to eviction, and went as far as eating eating through the cables that powered my Internet and computer in order to get back into the house. Then there were the times when bats took a liking to flying around the main floor of our house, causing my wife and daughter to dive under tables for protection. This spring and summer have been no different. Beginning in April, for example, a robin spent a good part if a month attacking the windows in both my house and my cars, all the while defecating on everything it could land on. It was embarrassing to just take our cars out for a ride to the local supermarket.
The next incident involved a much larger creature. This latest incident began with a phone call from my wife, who insisted that a bird had flown into the house. She did not see it fly in but she could hear it occasionally chirping. I was busy at the time in the Workshop and did not rush right over to investigate the situation. Instead, I finished what I was doing and eventually moseyed over to the main house. I entered the house but heard nothing. My wife, however, continued to insist that she heard a bird chirping and told me to look behind the washer, which is located near the rear door of the house. I climbed on top of the washer and peered behind it. To my shock and surprise, I did not find a bird. What I found was a very frightened groundhog.
Two questions then popped into my mind. The first was how did a groundhog get in my house and the second was how do I get it out of my house. We surmised that it got into the house after my daughter and her boyfriend had propped the rear door open so that they could move their “stuff” into the house (she is moving back home). At this point into the story I need to put the setting into better perspective: We experienced a population explosion of sorts this past summer, with rabbits, groundhogs and squirrels overpopulating our backyard. We have been able to count at any one time grazing in the yard up to five rabbits, three groundhogs, an uncountable number of squirrels. And, as I discovered whenever I would go out into the yard to walk my dog, when groundhogs are frightened, they run. They will run to any nearby opening they could find in order to reach safety, whether it is into a hole in the ground, a space under the shed or front porch, or an open door to a house. The opening that afternoon, and the path to safety in the eyes of this groundhog, was the propped-open rear door of the Neebor Lee house. And once inside the house, it bee-lined for the space behind the washer where it tried to hide. And then came the chirping. It turns out that groundhogs make chirping sounds that sound just like birds.
The second question was how to get a frightened groundhog out of the house. That required the setting up of gates and other barriers to keep it isolated in a small part of the house while I tried to coax it toward the rear door. Coaxing it from its safe zone behind the washer required the use of a broom. Sitting on top of the washer, I was able to get the broom behind the frightened groundhog and then gently pushed it along, getting it out from behind the washer and then the dryer. Once out from behind the dryer, it saw the opened doorway, but in reverse from what it experienced earlier in the day, and ran right toward it and out of the house. We learned a new lesson that day: Keep the exterior doors closed as all times.