Sunday, July 30, 2006

July 27th - Concrete, Foundations & Plumbs?

Dave Fabian has finished the excavating and now levels one of the banks near the existing log cabin into a ramp. This ramp will serve to get the backhoe in and out and allow the concrete guys easier access. We’ve had 3 loads of gravel delivered and dumped in the street at the front of the house. He fills the entire excavated area with 6” of gravel. It really is amazing to watch him at work and how close he can level grades just by eyeballing it.

Our scheduled concrete contractor has cancelled because of the upcoming Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Joe is on the phone immediately with another concrete man in Telluride. He arrives this afternoon to look at the job and says he can start right away. “We will have the foundation in next week” he explains. Their plan is to form the footings on Saturday, install the steel rebar and then pour the footing on Monday.

Willie the surveyor, one of Rico’s unique characters and also a real expert in his field, shows up in the afternoon to shoot the corners of the house and plot them on our bed of gravel. Once marked we will mark the inside and outside corners of the foundation with orange spray paint on the gravel.

We’ve encountered a problem with the new wall lining up with the northeast corner of the cabin and can’t figure out why. After checking dimensions, I find I’ve made an error on a dimension on the plan. As it turns out it won’t pose a problem. But where the new foundation wall joins the cabin, I find that this corner is out of plumb nearly 3”, plus the cabin is not square, level or plumb in any direction. Some of the log ends vary as much as 2 inches.

We will have to attach the new wall of the structure we are about to build in such a way that the new foundation will be perpendicular to the existing cabin. It will be a challenge to make the transition between the new and the old and it’s my desire that the new structure will appear to have always been joined to this old cabin.

For many people it’s not easy to picture how it will all come together, but I can very clearly see so many of the details in my head. Right now if you were to ask me about any room in the house, I can see it clearly in my head and tell you all the details of how it will look when completed.

Between 1994 - 1998, I had spent several weeks of my summers stabilizing the foundation. This particular corner of the cabin had originally sat 14” below its present position. It had settled into the hillside over the last century. All the way around the cabin, the bottom layer of logs had to be replaced as the original logs from 1881 had rotted away. Inside portions of the floor were covered with linoleum and when I went to remove it, the floor and floor joists had rotted into the earth and the linoleum was sitting on nothing but dirt. Floor joists that were still above ground level, were saved and will be used for replacing powder post beetle damaged logs.

I recall the process of trying to find something that I considered straight or level to determine what level to set the cabin corners. With hand hewn logs, there are not level flat tops or bottoms to gauge by. Whoever built the cabin was probably not all that concerned with how plumb or level floors or walls were, but probably more interested in getting it completed before winter! This cabin is one of the oldest structures in Rico and has quite a history behind it.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

July 26th - It All Begins with a Solid Foundation

Dangerous Dan, aka Double one of Joe’s helpers. Our first job today is moving some of the used lumber being stored inside the cabin up into the loft to make room for the tools still being stored in my truck. Next come the tools which take up more room in the cabin than the lumber did. At least it’s lockable.

More digging today and as Dave the excavator works his way up the hillside, he begins to encounter more rock as he digs deeper into the hillside. Dylan has been holding the transit stake shooting grades to get the ground somewhat level for us to begin footings tomorrow. The bank is 10’ high in places and the entire hole is much bigger than the footprint of the house so the bank won’t cave in around the foundation as it’s being formed.

I can hardly believe it, but no rain today. Monday, Dave had to go down the street and dig out a bank that had caved in on some forms that were ready to pour. What a mess and much of it had to be dug out by hand. I would rather dig a little more and make sure that doesn’t happen here.

At the east end of the hole, he encounters a rock face that is huge. Luckily we won’t have to dig any further as the hunk of limestone is at least 12’ long and 4’ high and who knows how far back into the bank. If it had been necessary to move it, dynamite would have been the only answer.

Originally I had planned to have a slab on the entire first floor, but when I began to see how much fill would be required to fill in the inside foundation walls, I decided it would be better to build the 4’ high walls for the ground floor and then construct a wood floor over the top. It will make everything much easier and hopefully go quicker.

Joe is researching Radon testing as well as lumber kilns. While my lumber is certainly dry and much of it 150 years old, I have encountered a problem with powder post beetles.One of the hand-hewn cabins, which I purchased 10 years ago from a friend in Iowa, is made from Aspen logs. The cabin was disassembled 15 years ago and originally came from Minnesota, somewhere up on the Canadian border. The 5 “ thick logs were stored in a horse barn for 5 years and then I moved them into my storage shed where they have been stored for a number of years. Powder post beetles which are common in the mid-west usually attack exposed bark sections. Once in the log, they can virtually destroy lumber by turning it into powder. Moist conditions add to the problem.

As I began moving the logs out of the shed in Iowa, readying them for shipment to Rico, I saw the tell-tell signs of active powder post beetles, small piles of fine sawdust. Some of the logs are completely gone and unusable for anything other than patterns. I have enough extra 5” hand hewn logs that we will use to construct duplicates to replace the damaged logs. Joe tells me that he has a contact who has the specialty niche of making replacement logs for old hand hewn log cabins, which generally need replacing on the lower courses of most old log homes. Remember most of these hand hewn cabins are well over 100 years old and it is truly amazing they have survived all these years. If you are interested in learning more about powder post beetles check out this website:

The entire set of logs are infested and have to be treated. Several products exist, including Timbor, which is a borate product mixed with water and sprayed on, a tedious and lengthy process. Since the structure is still bundled and stickered with air space in between each log, my friend Jim in Iowa-(and much of the time Taos) suggests we run the logs thru a lumber kiln. Heating the logs to 160 degrees or hotter takes care of the little guys and makes for an easier way to treat the problem. My logs are banded into bundles, each consisting of one side wall of the cabin. We just aren’t sure they can run the bundles thru the kiln. My trailer will be emptied next week from the load I hauled from Iowa, and hopefully the lumber kiln in Norwood will be able to handle the job.

Today is yet another log problem. On the southeast corner of the existing cabin, one of the short logs near the back door is rotted completely off at the end of the dovetail which is causing a settling problem on the corner of the cabin and making the rest of the logs sit uneven. It will have to be replaced. The east facing back wall of the cabin has no foundation yet and we have to construct a new foundation wall under the cabin in this area. The logs have to lay somewhat level before the concrete wall is poured up to the bottom log and right now they are nearly 3” lower than where they should be. I’ve devised a jacking system using a steel plate, channel iron and several pieces of lumber and an automotive bottle jack. The way the corners of the cabin are constructed, the entire cabin above the bad log must be raised 2” before this can be accomplished and the new section of log installed.

Three sides of the cabin had lower log rotting problems and a number of years ago I had jacked up the cabin was and these problem log were replaced. The dovetail has to be cut correctly and luckily I have the remains of one of the logs we replaced. It’s been stored inside the cabin. Using my chain saw and reciprocating saw I cut the new log and Dan and I install it. It fits great. Now it's time to jack up the center section of wall and get it so that the logs line up on either side of the door way.

Dan has drilled holes into the existing rock foundation wall and we tie in new rebar to strengthen the wall and ready it for pouring concrete. It's warm today and these few weeks are deer fly time. They will be gone soon. Digging is nearly complete and will be finished in the morning. Dylan is compacting the areas where footings will be installed using the whacker packer. Next comes a layer of gravel which will cover the floor of the crawl space as well. Closing the front door I have to reposition the hasp on the front door as the entire cabin has shifted somewhat when being jacked up.

Tonight Kathy and Joe fixed a great dinner and Jack and Lynn are up from Priest Gulch. Great way to end a productive day with some old and new friends. Kathy and Joe are the best…what a great couple they are… Jack and Lynn are thinking about buying a place here. It would be great having them as neighbors. Lynn (of Dave and Lynn) will be arriving in a week and hopefully we will get some pictures up then. It will be great to have her here in Rico and no more Chiggers!

More to come......

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July 25th - Finally, the Weather Cooperates

We made some real headway today and Sue, who drives the Kenworth has hauled at least 35 loads of rock and dirt off site to a storage area nearby where we will hold the material for backfilling once the foundation is done.

It’s difficult to lay a building out on a fairly steep hillside until the hole is dug. My plan is fairly complicated as we are adding 2 old hand hewn log cabins onto the site with all 3 joined by an addition.

Two weeks ago we hauled 2 semi-loads of reclaimed lumber from Iowa. It took me nearly a month to prepare it. Soon we will begin using it.

More bottles turned up in the digging today, but nothing as old as what we found before. Three amber Clorox bottles, a jelly jar and 2 other small bottles and some rusty metal parts that we haven’t a clue as to what they are. Dylan found 2 old marbles to add to his collection of over 150. He grew up here and has been collecting since a kid. All of his marbles were found in Rico.

I met a few more neighbors today - 2 older gentleman who are interested in the project. Duane was born and raised in Rico and is now retired. He loves old stuff just like I do and is enthusiastic about my job and seeing the bottles. There is an old outhouse that sits on the property line between my house and Annie's. Duane would love to move it and excavate the hole. The neighbor just down the street did one a few years ago and pulled out 80 nice old bottles. It's been there a while.
Mark, from the Colorado Dept of Public Health, paid a visit today and asked me about lead cleanup. Arco-(now BP) owns all the mineral rights in the valley and has, for several years now, been involved in cleaning up mine tailings all over Rico. High lead content is scattered throughout Rico and to prevent lawsuits, BP has volunteered to clean up mine tailings and put new soil on many yards. They test for lead and if the level exceeds the limits of 1100 ppm, then they come in and remove all the top soil and replace it with new soil hauled from down the river. Past tests on my property show 886-1060 ppm. It’s close enough that I will have it tested again once we are thru excavating and back filling. You can imagine what it might cost BP for the clean up here….but what the heck they can afford it…and gee we end up paying for it at the pump…

Just up the hill a block or so you can see the tailings from the Van Winkle mine and one of the old buildings now weathered dark brown by the Colorado sun. Mike is surprised that the contaminants aren’t much higher being this close to the mine. He tells me that one spot in Rico tested out at 90,000 ppm. Now that's not a place you would want to spend much time at. Two months ago when I was here tearing off the addition (pictures coming soon) on the back of the cabin, local residents were being tested for lead poisoning. So far, so good, as everyone came out fine from what I have heard.

There is a town meeting tonite about future low income housing as prices in Rico have gone sky high in the last 2 years based on speculation of what will happen in Rico once the sewer system is installed. Not having a sewer systems has crippled the growth of the downtown area. Many Rico residents are against any kind of growth, while others support it. No easy answer to any of it.

The Enterprise Bar & Grill is one of the few places open for meals in the evening and their food is great. I was at the bar with Joe and Kathy earlier this evening and it was packed with locals and out of towners as well. It reminded me of a scene from Star Wars. Kathy has talked about how many unique characters live in Rico and this nightprovided a good sampling.

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July 24th - Rain Slows Progress

It rained most of the day and it's a muddy mess everywhere. Nearly impossible to get much done and hoping for some sunshine tomorrow so we can continue digging.

In our little apartment, I installed a countertop made from an old plank, planed it down and now we at least have some counterspace.

Praying for sunshine.........

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Monday, July 24, 2006

July 23rd - Day Off - Burrito Wreaks Havoc

Today is my day off. Sunny this morning but rain is also expected later this morning.

Time to get caught up on computer work, laundry and install some cabinets Joe has given me. Hopefully this will increase the storage space in our 12' x15' 1-room apartment that will be our home for the next 3 months. Lynn will be arriving in 2 weeks.

My granddaughters, Chloe and Alison will be paying a visit in a week or so. Just as well having a day off today as the green chile burrito I ate last night at the concert finds its way down my intestinal tract…glad to be at home.

Tonight I do my best to download some pictures, so everyone can see what we’re up to here…what a drag I manage to lose the photos I’ve taken over the last month….bummer!! To say the least I am upset with myself and wish I was better with computers.

Raining again tonite, hope it won’t last long, we surely need some progress this week.

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July 22nd - Lyle Lovett in Concert

Everyone off today but I can’t stay away. I move some of the concrete forms outside as we will be needing them soon.

Willy the surveyor shows up to mark the property lines and shoot the existing corners of the old cabin so we can plot them on a site map. I run a dry line along the side of the cabin and hopefully prepare some stakes for where the digging needs to begin on Monday. I need to know too how close the building will be to the property line and after carefully measuring, I find that the bay window will have to be narrowed toward the foundation by 2”. It’s that close.

The back door of the cabin has never closed right and using a screw drill I adjust the back door so it can be locked from inside. Hopefully I can get my tools inside soon and out of the back of my truck. Watching Willy at work is a pleasure as well; he knows the town’s layout better than anyone. He’s a character too and you have to listen to his whispering voice from the tracheotomy he had a while back. Nice guy…

I dropped off some of my old photos for my neighbor Carol and her mother to see. They have been coming here for over 50 years and knew my great Uncle Hartley Lee. Nice folks too.

Tonight I went to Telluride to a Lyle Lovett concert. What a great location, absolutely beautiful and they pack 'em into the ball field where the stage is. Lyle is great especially with his entire band. Donna, my landlord knows him personally, is a great musician herself and gives me a free ticket as her guest. She often takes cares of visiting musicians who play in this area.

People are friendly in Rico.

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July 21st - Hidden Treasures Found As Excavation Begins!

Work started at 8 this morning when Dave Fabian showed up with his big excavator to start peeling away the top soil so we can begin digging and setting grades for our footings. Since I am late in arriving in Rico, time is of utmost importance as a month of summer is already gone. It's our goal to have it dried in (roof on) before the first snow fall.

10 years ago when my neighbor Annie’s water line had to be replaced, we threw an extra chunk of copper pipe in the same trench down to the meter pit and brought it up into a very small room attached at the back of the cabin. Late May of this year we tore off the back addition, (which wouldn’t have made it thru another winter, the north wall having nearly collapsed.) The small room was removed as well and the only thing remaining was the water line sticking out of the ground. Because of the close tolerances to property lines, once the small room was removed, it couldn’t be rebuilt as it’s too close to the property line and now the water line has to be dug down and pulled into a new location within the new house foot print.

Phone man arrived today and because of some former sloppy installation work, the phone company will be required to move the post sitting in the middle of the alley over to a new location at the back corner of the lot. Someone in the past decided to run a phone line to my neighbor Carol’s house and just ran it across the property with part of the line exposed above the surface. The phone company is running a new line to the house at the property line as we have cut the line in two with the excavator.

It’s always exciting to see ground broken and even more exciting to see what the excavator might uncover. Up near the alley are some dumped ash pits from long ago and broken glass begins to surface. It will be great if we find some good bottles or who knows what other goodies may surface. First find is a nice old green ink bottle and then 2 milk glass facial crème jars, then an old vinyl doll, still intact with movable joints, guessing about 1940 or 50. Even her hair is intact…although it could use a good washing! Next a miner’s pick axe and a marble.

The real find is yet to come when Dave is digging the trench to bury the new phone line. Every scoop yields a new discovery. First a beer bottle with a perfect silver dollar hole broke in the side of the bottle. How it didn’t break is amazing. Next another green beer bottle with just the top of the neck missing. Next scoop- 2 nice beer bottles, both intact, fall out of the bucket as Dave is moving dirt. Next scoop I spot it in the excavator bucket…I yell for Dave to stop…what a prize, a perfect amber whiskey bottle with a patent date of 1886 on the base. The side has some nice embossing and with the added neck the bottle dates around the turn of the century. Joe who is the general contractor on the job finds another perfume bottle and then I spot a large white “knob and tube” insulator ½. Now another marble and the last find of the day is spotted by Dave on the excavator. It has landed in the dirt pile in the back of the big Kenworth dump truck. It’s an oval shaped whiskey bottle, but newer, guessing the 20s or 30s?

Rob, Dave’s son has been on the backhoe digging the hole for the waterline to come into the house. My next door neighbor in Rico, Dylan, is down in the hole with a shovel carefully preparing the ground to lay the new 60’ length of copper into the hole so it won’t be affected or damaged by rocks either below or above it. It starts to rain, a little harder now and now the sky lets loose for the typical high mountain afternoon thunderstorm and hailstorm. A bolt of lightning and Dave comes bolting out of the excavator cab. Like a huge lighting rod with steel track, it's not a place you want to be in the middle of a thunderstorm. Dylan is scrambling to finish and has forgotten his rain suit and is now soaking wet. A run home-2 blocks and he is back in a flash with his bright yellow suit. Susan has hauled off numerous loads of nice black dirt to their storage lot and will hold it for the future when we need it.

Dave’s excavator bucket is equipped with an extra toothed jaw and I see why now as he picks up rocks some as big as 3’ across. He dumps them in a pile out of the way. These will come in handy later for building a stone retaining wall down near the street. The rain has created a slick greasy surface on the hillside where Susan has been backing in and now her back tires spin as she tries to back up for a final load. Dave helps her along by extending the arm of the excavator and hooking the bucket over the huge tailgate of the truck and helping it back up the hill. These guys are experts and it’s a pleasure to watch them in action. Raining like hell and we call it a day. Hopefully it will dry out by Monday.

I drive down the canyon tonite to see my friends Jack and Lynn who are camped out at the Priest Gulch campground. Sloppy Joes with them and Lynn’s sister’s family and what a great visit. They have been here for 3 weeks awaiting my arrival. Late before I get home, glad to have a warm dry bed as it's down in the 40’s tonite.

July 20th - I have arrived!

I arrived in Rico tonite and Donna my landlord has our place to live all ready for us. What a relief after having been on the road for 4 days. What a rainstorm in Delta Colorado, not raining at all at both edges of Delta, but oh man, I never saw it rain like that before. Most everyone pulled over as you couldn’t see a thing.

My trailer is still heavily loaded with 2 large pallets of foam board for insulation, a large crate of wood corbels, a heavy crate of antique 6” glass blocks and a large steel basket with a multitude of heavy iron objects all destined for the house. Camper shell on my truck is loaded with all my tools.

On the way out I made a stop in Paxico, Kansas, and spent the day with a friend, Bud Hund, owner of Mill Creek Antiques, one of my favorite stores. Out back is the stove restoration shop. I delivered 2 of my antique stoves to him for rebuild; one is an Acorn gas cook stove - quite a piece and very complete. I found this stove in Fairfield, Iowa and it took 4 of us to drag it out of the National Guard Armory basement. The stove is 52” long, has 6 burners, 3 ovens, a warming oven and a really neat hood that stands nearly 7’ high. Bud had a restored Acorn in the shop, awaiting delivery, but it was smaller and without the hood. He hadn’t seen one with a hood before. The other stove is one I found in Ottumwa, Iowa and is called a “Todd” Stove. Oval in shape at each end, there were a number of manufacturers who made this style stove. The cast iron is quite decorative and it will be a beauty when finished. The brand name is a “Prairie Queen”. Some of the parts are missing, but Bud assures me we will be able to find or make the missing parts. A year from now they will be finished and ready to install…as long as the house is done.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Welcome to our Project

I purchased this cabin about 15 years ago. It's quite a story & I will tell it soon in another post. The cabin had originally belonged to my great grandfather.

Not much has happened in Rico for quite some time but with the recent passing of a public water/sewer system, development is bound to occur. Located just 25 miles from Telluride, this little place is the last undeveloped town in the San Juan Mountains.

I initially did some foundation work on the place when I first acquired it but haven't done anything in years. Finally, the time has come....

The cabin will get a major renovation with the addition of several other old log cabins and a whole lot of reclaimed materials. I was in Rico in late May & did some demo of an old addition that was nearly falling down.

Today I loaded up two flatbed trucks with a large quantity of materials I have been collecting for some time now. I will head out from my home in Iowa on Monday or Tuesday. By the time of my arrival in Rico, excavation should already be underway.

Check back often for updates & photos of the project. This promises to be one of the most unique houses you've ever seen.