Dawn’s to-do list, updated

In early April, I posted Dawn’s to-do list. Let’s review:

– Gut the Summer Kitchen — done!
– Clean out basement, dig out mud, and pour a concrete floor — done!
– Install cellar doors on mansion, Paymaster’s Office — temporary doors installed!
– Clean off vines, remove bushes — done!
– Trim Sycamore trees — done!
– Remove rust from basement grills
– Scrape adhesive from kitchen floor — done!
– Take down wallpaper from 6 rooms + hallway — done!
– Remove all loose paint, plaster — done!
– Clean up entire farm (in April she had already filled two twenty-yard dumpsters) — she has now filled six dumpsters!
– Periodic site cleanup — done!
– Scrape paint off stairs; stain and seal
– Strip paint off 42 windows and 24 shutters (with a blowtorch!) — done!
– Repair, sand, prime, and paint all 42 windows and 24 shutters — halfway there!
– Prime all exterior trim — done!
– Buy all fixtures, from faucets to mattresses — bathroom fixtures ordered!
– Demo back porch on mansion — done!
– Remove boiler and oil tanks from basement — done!
– Remove linoleum under carpets in Summer Kitchen — done!
– Demo all ceilings in Summer Kitchen — done!
– Remove trash, organize barn — done!
– Clean out trash in Tractor Shed — done!
– Clean out basement of Paymaster’s Office — done!
– Remove couch and all other trash from Paymaster’s — done!
– Clean out dirt and debris from Privy
– Re-roof privy
– Remove all items inside workshop — done!
– Dig out mud on the first level, pour cement floor if needed — dug out!
– Repair floor joists/floor in second story of workshop
– Re-roof workshop
– Fix drainage around workshop
– Rebuild outside stairs on Aquarius (greenhouse)
– Install drapes on ceiling of Aquarius — done!
– Rebuild Mom’s green house
– Build basement steps in Tenant house
– Build a rail fence around the back yard
Not bad for six months! Of course, she’s done such a great job, we gave her all the interior painting as well. That will realistically take about three months, depending of course on how many people she can get to help. (Just call her “Dawn Sawyer.”)

Both the boat and the metal wagon were found in the cornfield!

Both the boat and the metal wagon were found in the cornfield!


Dormer Series

The “skylight” you see is next to one of the dormers, where the whole roof has to be stripped off to replace a rafter that had failed. (It was replaced with an “LDL” which is basically a strips of wood laminated together, which is much stronger than regular wood but a lot easier to work with than steel.) The windows are downstairs, stripped and painted and waiting to be re-installed.


First reservation request

Got a call today from Mary of Maryland, wanting to know if the Paymaster’s Office was available for her 35th wedding anniversary in September. By the time I returned her call she had read enough of the website to know that it wasn’t, but it was heartening to know someone was interested. We’ve been so focused on the renovation, that we’ve lost track of the business!

Dawn had a chimney sweep out today, who is cleaning four of the six flues. Apparently chimney swallows are nesting in the other two, and they are federally protected, so we have to wait until they migrate in the fall to finish. (And then we’ll put mesh across the top so they don’t return.)

Similarly, one of the posts on the front porch is waiting for a small wren to move out so we can continue working on it. The wren isn’t protected but she had babies, and the chicks should be fully fledged in a couple of weeks. They tell me the hole in the post is about the size of my pinky.

And finally, I freaked Dawn out today. She was complaining that they had thrown away a bunch of siding for the dormers, because they had used an oil-based primer and then found you weren’t supposed to use oil on fiber-cement boards. Well, all I heard was ‘fiber-cement’ boards and I gave her a lecture on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation which states, in part, “Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement…the new feature shall match the old in…materials.” Needless to say, fiber-cement siding was not available in 1760.

Of course, I was ambivalent: fiber cement siding looks the same as wood but doesn’t rot, is impervious to insects, and (most importantly) only requires repainting every 15-20 years. It’s even touted as a ‘green’ building material because it doesn’t contain any toxins — just sand and cement and cellulose. But you know, I’m sure they said the same thing about vinyl siding, and asbestos siding before that.

But it turned out I was a tempest in a teapot: The contractor had discussed this months ago with our historical consultant. He wanted a low-maintenance product on the dormers (which of course were most likely to be neglected) and she had agreed, so that is the end of that. When it’s all done, nobody will be able to tell the difference.

SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2005

Picture of the roofers II

I had to pull the picture of Melvin the roofer because I found out he was, in fact, Amish. (The “Miller Lite” t-shirt confused me.) Dawn took this faceless photo, which should be safe enough.

lantz roofers

Lantz roofers


Sprinklers resolved

7:50pm Eastern – Augh…the suspense is killing me! The appeals board meeting started 45 minutes ago, and I still haven’t heard from Dawn. What could be taking so long?? That’s obviously not a good sign. If they make us install sprinklers, that’s a $50,000 expense, so you can appreciate why I am on pins and needles here. 🙁

I sent Dawn in with everything I could think of — pictures of the mansion; pictures of the mansion if they made us install all the fire code-related stuff; quotes for the sprinklers ranging from $35,000 to $95,000, not including ripping out all the ceilings and replacing them afterwards; letters of support from the state historic preservation office, Senator Arlen Specter, Representative Joseph Pitts, and State Senator Noah Wenger; and a write-up by another code official who thought sprinklers were ridiculous. The architect was going to be there as well. This should have been an open-and-shut case, ten minutes tops!

Dawn hates speaking in public, and has been a nervous wreck all day, but I’m sure she was fine once she got to the meeting. I suspect there were a lot of people there, given that this was the first appeal in the area. Ever. There’s only three people on the appeals board, but there are three “alternates” as well, and they were all going to be there. I had invited some county and state officials as well but they all declined, stating it was “a local matter.” 🙁

Crossing my fingers…

8:05pm Eastern – Dawn just called. The good news: no sprinklers. Hallelujah.

The bad news: we still have to put in illuminated exit signs, emergency fire pulls, and emergency lighting. While ugly, at least we don’t have to destroy anything to install them. (And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.)

So common sense won the day. We were cautiously optimistic that it would, but since there was no track record, we just couldn’t be sure. Dawn said she didn’t realize how stressed she had been, until after the meeting was over and the stress went away.

So here’s a big raspberry to the code inspector, as well as to our contractor who thought we would never succeed in this challenge. 🙂 And here’s another gesture to the folks at the PA Dept of Labor & Industry, who used to be responsible for code enforcement but then dumped it on the local townships with no training, no guidance, and no support whatsoever…

SUNDAY, JULY 24, 2005

research associate

Lauren is a “research associate” (i.e. apprentice) at Olde York Homes, who got the unfortunate task of stripping all of the shutters. She came for the This Old House interview, and Dawn immediately put her to work.

The “This Old House” article on the top 10 historic restoration contractors in the country, which includes Gary Geiselman of Olde York Homes, will be in their October issue. The photos of Gary were taken at Speedwell Forge, and at Gary’s insistence the magazine agreed to include a small sidebar about us! Too cool.

TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2005

Appeal scheduled

We submitted our appeal almost a month ago, and they were supposed to set a hearing date within 30 days. Well, we hadn’t heard anything so Dawn called this morning, and found out the appeal was scheduled for July 14th (two days from now) AND THEY FORGOT TO NOTIFY US.

In their defense, this is the first appeal they’ve handled. Ever. They were quite apologetic and offered to continue it. Dawn called the architect and the local township and the only date that would work was July 28, which means we have to wait another two weeks.

paymaster basement

If anybody knows why there would be a brick-filled pit in front of a chimney base in the basement, please call me. (Heck, if anyone knows the proper term for a chimney base, please call .)

I reminded Dawn that it’s not just the sprinklers but all the other variance requests that have to get approved — if they spare us the sprinklers but want us to replace the grand staircase instead, we haven’t accomplished anything. Dawn reminded me that she’s not an idiot, and if I wanted to make myself useful I should get my butt on a plane. We left it at that.

On the bright side, the phone company came by today and they were quite accomodating — they will let us run the phone lines where we want, and they will even get rid of the old telephone pole, all at no charge to us. Contrast that with the electric company, who is extorting $1,100 from us not to erect a new pole in our yard. Amazing.

Oh, and This Old House will be here on Friday. As we were told pointedly, they are interviewing our contractor, not us. Nevertheless, I told Dawn to walk around with a sandwich-board that had our name and web site, and some catchy phrase like “The end is near” or “Two night minimum on weekends.”


July visit

I just got back from a brief five-day visit. In addition to seeing the 1784 transfer agreement:

  • We gave two tours that were a lot of fun. On my next trip in September, I’m going to contact some of the local historic societies and see if they are interested. After September, they’ll be closing up the walls, so it will be the last opportunity to see the “guts” of the building.
  • We met with PP&L and they agreed (for $1,100) to give us a transformer on the ground rather than put a pole outside the mansion.
  • We spent three hours with the general contractor, who is concerned that Dawn is doing so much work, she is taking away his profit margin. 🙂 He showed us pictures of his house before he restored it and we realized (again) how lucky we are that the mansion is in such good condition.
  • We met with a former building inspector, who agreed that sprinklers in the mansion were ridiculous, and he’s going to give us some suggestions for our appeal. We should have a date for the appeal within two weeks.
  • Brian and Bob put stone in the basement of the Paymaster’s Office, getting ready to pour cement. There’s a strange pit down there in front of the chimney, about five feet square, filled with bricks, and topped with a thin layer of mortar. We have no idea what it was for or why it is there. (And no, it’s not a grave.) But, as always, we’re trying to be sensitive and not destroy anything, so Brian is trying to figure out how to pour the cement around around this.
  • With the rough framing of the bathrooms complete, we laid out our fixtures and realized that nothing was going to work! We’re regrouping and I’ll post new plans when they’re ready.

We also reviewed the schedule with the general contractor, and things are about to get very interesting:

  • Mike continues framing the mansion for the next 4-6 weeks
  • The arborist comes in mid-July
  • – The roofers start by the end of July.
  • – Adam Moyer (who is doing plumbing, heating, and cooling) runs pipes and ductwork starting mid-July
  • Joel Miller (electrician) runs his cables after Adam, starting mid-August
  • While the subcontractors are in the mansion, Mike starts working on the cottages
  • PP&L installs their new equipment in August
  • The mason re-points the walls in September
  • The septic field is built in September
  • Mike comes back to the mansion in mid-September to do finish carpentry
  • Jerry starts plastering by end of September. The plan is to go room-by-room, Mike first with carpentry, then Jerry with plaster, then Dawn with paint. This will go through next March.
  • The driveway is resurfaced next March
  • We get our occupancy permit, I move to PA, and we open the B&B. Woo-hoo!


This Old House

This Old House is apparently considering our contractor, Gary Geiselman of Olde York Homes, for their “top 10” list of historic restoration contractors. Very cool; we can’t recommend Gary and his team enough. (And we’re not saying that just to get mentioned in the This Old House article.)

Speaking of which, while Dawn was gone, they installed the new beam to straighten out the old dormer, so of course we have no video of them jacking up the roof. Mike was replacing the roof around the dormer so Dawn climbed out onto the roof — an old, steep, slate roof, I might add — in order to get a picture. Way to go, Dawn! Mike just shook his head and asked again if he could take out an insurance policy on her. As he said, “Not enough to get rich, but it is a guaranteed payout.”

Yesterday Dawn called the local gas company to drain the underground propane tank, and today they showed up and removed it. I guess that’s one less thing we have to deal with later, but now there’s a huge hole in the yard. Did I mention the blind horse? Not a good mix. Dawn assures me the hole will be filled in by tonight. She also took pictures of Brian lying in the hole with a flower on his chest. Very sick. I’ll post it as soon as I get it.

Finally, Dawn signed up with Verizon today. I’ve mentioned before that her T-Mobile service was so bad, people would ask her not to call them. Unfortunately, when Dawn called to complain, they were very rude to her. (Someone actually told her that since he could hear every third word, her coverage was adequate!) She’s got enough problems right now without having to deal with jerks, so I told her to switch and I’d take care of the contract.

SUNDAY, JUNE 19, 2005

Dawn’s home!

For the first time in three and a half months, Dawn came back to LA. For four days.

I certainly kept her busy visiting friends and family, and in between she kept herself busy taking care of the yard and the house. (In my defense, I did a lot of work before she got there, but when you’ve neglected everything for three and a half months, it’s hard to get everything.) I even set up the hot tub for her, but we were so busy she never had a chance to enjoy it.

She also spent a day at her old workplace (making a little money) and we went shopping for engagement rings (spending a lot of money).

We tried to take stock of the project, and realized world peace was a more achievable goal. Now that the basement is finished, Dawn is getting antsy to get the mechanicals in place. The first to go is the ductwork, because it’s the bulkiest, but we’re still working out the details on the (sigh) conventional heating and cooling systems. (With oil approaching $60/barrel, I know I’m going to regret not using geothermal in a few years.)

The roof is almost ready for the roofers, and Dawn has decided on the colors. My cousin’s son (my second cousin?) is coming in at the end of the month to help paint the exterior, and we’re also trying to get our god-children, nieces, nephews, and pretty much anyone who says “hi” to us, to come and help. (We scheduled the wedding in October, so there will be plenty for the family to do. 🙂

Dawn finally updated the furniture list, so we know what the good folks at The Restoration Clinic will be working on for the next six months. I understand they’re already re-stringing the chandeliers. I can’t believe we’ve had everything in storage for nine months and haven’t gotten anything done — out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

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