Friday, August 7, 2009

Fixin' Up the Old Place

Many of you know that we built a new house two years ago on an old farm property. We moved out of a tiny little white farm house into a bigger newer house that allows more room for pets, kids, and family gatherings. Although our house is new, we really wanted to preserve as much of the old farmstead as possible, and kept the original silo, outhouse, and shed standing. We used the limestone from the old barn foundation to build our retaining wall and to border our flower beds, and we have plans for preserving and re-purposing some of the other structures in the yard. I've always wanted to own a charming old farm house. Unfortunately, I have little appreciation for the dust, bugs, and lack of closet-space of the old places. Those little details make the old places just a bit less charming. So, when we set up to build a new place, we wanted to make it as charming as an old place, yet make it work with the way we live today. It had to be functional, roomy, and have a lot of storage space. The yard, had to look like we didn't change a thing. We're still working on the landscape. Our fruit trees have to grow a few more feet before they will resemble an old farmyard orchard. We still need to replace the windmill that collapsed under the weight of the wild vines that climbed its legs. We have to paint and trim up the old shed and maybe even add a couple of cupolas. We plan to add a charming dormer-style "entrance" to the poured concrete silo. We tackled one of the smallest of these projects recently... one we figured we could get done in a weekend or two and could do with an 8-month old in tow.
We spent the last couple of weekends repairing the old outhouse on the end of the shed. The wood-shingle roof needed to be completely removed and was replaced with plywood sheeting covered with corrugated tin. The end of the outhouse needed to be jacked up a few inches and reinforced. Some of the missing and broken 'siding' needed to be replaced with "new" weathered, worn wood, and the whole outhouse needed to be stained. Last, but not least, the door needed a moon. We used boards from the shed doors to replace the missing or broken siding, since we wanted to maintain the weathered look. We'll be painting the whole shed, so the look of the boards on the shed is less important. The outhouse is receiving a coat of a semi-transparent deck stain that we hope will allow the "oldness" to show through, yet will still preserve the wood and will make the outhouse stand out a little more. More than a few people who have been to our house more than a few times didn't even know we had an outhouse, so we knew we needed to do something to draw attention to it. It's one of my favorite historic little leftovers from the farm that once operated where our yard now sits. The wildflower garden that we planted infront of the outhouse is such a happy little garden. It all makes me smile.

Here is the outhouse before we began working on it. It's the smaller building on the end of the shed, not the shed itself. The outhouse is a two-seater. Imagine that. It's rough enough to sit out in the cold or the heat in a small room that smells like the inside of a toilet to do your business. I'm not sure that sitting there with another person makes it any easier. I could be wrong though!

See how the whole outhouse is leaning just a little? The left hand side is sagging by about 4 inches. The bottom of the front left corner post is rotted away and the siding boards are all buckled and broken at the bottom.

There is something pleasantly nostalgic about an outhouse. Something that does take you back to simpler times.

An Exerpt from Jim Hobbs' poem, "Little House"

One of my by gone recollections,
As I recall the days of yore
Is the little house, behind the house,
With the crescent over the door.

'Twas a place to sit and ponder
With your head bowed down low;
Knowing that you wouldn't be there,
If you didn't have to go.

Ours was a three-holer,
With a size for every one.
You left there feeling better,
After your usual job was done.

You had to make these frequent trips
Whether snow, rain, sleet, or fog--
To the little house where you usually
Found the Sears-Roebuck catalog.

Oft' times in dead of winter,
The seat was covered with snow.
'Twas then with much reluctance,
To the little house you'd go.


Now that's the end of the story,
With memories of long ago,
Of the little house, behind the house
Where we went cause we had to go.

Here is the roof tear-off and replacement. This picture is just before Cliff smashed his thumb. I decided not to include that photo. You may have been able to read his lips and I wouldn't want to offend anyone with such language. : )

Here is what came off the roof. The rope was not on the roof, but look at those boards. They're as soft as the moss that was growing on them!

Cliff cut new boards for the roof. We didn't use recycled wood for the roof since we wanted to be sure that part was strong and sturdy.

After the roof was removed, we jacked up the left side of the outhouse and put some footings under it to keep it straight. We replaced the rotten, broken "siding" and put some old corrugated tin on the roof. It's not the same as the wood shingles that were originally on there, but still true to form. Old, rusty, corrugated tin is as close as we could get to original while ensuring the integrity of the structure. We didn't want more wood shingles that would just rot away again. Cliff also added a "lock" to hold the door closed. Before jacking the end of the outhouse up and squaring it again, the door wouldn't close. Now that the building is level, the door actually closes. The lock on the outside will hold the door closed to keep the critters out.

Once the building was structurally sound again, it was time to stain. We chose a semi-transparent brick red color. I had hoped for just a hint of red, but the wood was so dry and thirsty, it sucked the stain right up. I could only stain about a 6" square section at a time before I had to re-dip my paintbrush. The red is a bit bolder than I had hoped - I sure liked the graying of the old wood. However, I think that soon enough the red will fade and in just a few years, it will probably look perfect!

I wore one of my favorite old t-shirts for this project. The collar is just barely attached and there are more holes in the shirt than not. This t-shirt was a thank you gift from my parents' neighbor. When I was about 12 years old, they went on vacation and my sister and I took care of their German Shepherd while they were gone. That was one of the strongest, most spirited dogs I have ever known and caring for her was really a lot of work for a ten-year old and a twelve- year old girl. When our neighbor came back from vacation, he gave my sister and me each a Yale t-shirt. The white one didn't survive, but the gray one is still holding on. It has been through two of my sisters plus me. My oldest sister had it most recently and I asked her if I could please have it back, holes and all. It is the softest, most comfortable T-shirt I own. I wear it to paint and I wear it to bed. It's best for wearing with your favorite comfy sweatpants on a Saturday morning while you sit by the window with a hot cup of coffee. Sorry, I'm getting off track here...

Once the majority of the outhouse was painted, we were ready for one of the most important parts of any outhouse. The moon. In another poem about outhouses, the moon is said to "let the poop smell out". Our outhouse has no poop smell, but nothin' says privy like a moon in the door. We struggled a bit with the moon. Where should it go? How high or how low? On the wall or in the door? How far off of the floor? Straight up and down, like a smile or like a frown? At an angle just so slight? How does the real moon look at night?

We settled on a perfect crescent, angled slightly a few degrees clockwise. I think it's perfect. Once everything but the door and the roof trim were stained, I stood back and took a look-see. I wasn't sure that I wanted to stain the door. I liked how the door stood out. I liked the way it looked. Unfortunately I had already stained the part of it under the "lock". We decided to stain it and then we could re-paint it light if we decided we wanted to. I want to. I can barely wait. I want to give it a nice transparent grayish white-wash. So that it looks just like it did before I stained it red.

Such a happy little garden. It makes me smile.


Big Sis said...

It looks great! I totally agree with making the door lighter. It really makes it more noticeable. I love your achievable projects!

Dreams and Designs said...

Wow, looks like a lot of work!