Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Mystery of the White Oak

The guys are still working inside. Even though the Noah’s ark-like deluge we suffered the past couple of weeks is over.  So I said to myself, says I, what are a couple of big, tough restoration workers doing inside during these last sunny, pleasant days of fall?  Why aren’t they taking advantage of the “warm” weather and working like crazy outside?  The anticipated completion date for this phase and a half of the restoration work is sometime in November.  I smelled a mystery…well, it was either a mystery or the forgotten tuna salad sandwich I found shoved into the bottom of my bag.  Either way – something smelled fishy.  I did what any curious Communications Coordinator would do-- picked up my magnifying glass, dusted off my copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and went straight to the Director to get the answer to my question.

The following is a dramatized version of the conversation that ensued:

CC - “Why aren’t the guys working outside?”

D - “They’re waiting on lumber.”

CC - “Oh.”

D - “They need wood with a certain moisture content.”

CC - “What exactly does that mean?”

D - Silence

CC – Silence

D – More Silence

CC – Throat clearing.

D – “Oh are you still there?”

CC – “Yes.”

D – “That’s a good question for our architects. Why don’t you email them with it?”

Clearly the Director wasn’t talking.  There was obviously more to this mystery than she was willing (or able) to fill me in on.  It became painfully obvious to me that I needed to (actually) do some work.  So I composed an email and sent it off to the Preservation Assistant at Tilly Architects, I’ll call her Agent L (L stands for Laura, I’ve mentioned her once before in the blog – I can’t believe I just told you that! It’s because I am the Communications Coordinator, and I just feel a need to communicate information all the time. Curse this gift of gab!).  I sent her a deceptively innocent email, basically asking what moisture content was and why it was an important factor for the type of lumber used in our restoration.  The truth is, I felt I was on to a much bigger plot – a planned sabotage, if you would, of the restoration project.  I had a hunch (my mother never made me walk with a stack of books on my head like the other moms did – hence the hunch).  I also had a suspicion something more nefarious was afoot at the Hill and I was determined to get to the bottom of it.

Agent L tried to pull the wool over my eyes by giving me some “legitimate” answer to my questions:  “To answer your questions, Western is working to locate the specified lumber, White Oak, No. 2 with 19% moisture content.  Finding lumber with the right moisture content for restoration projects is extremely important.  Wood with too high or too low moisture content can be either too wet or too dry, causing the wood to shrink or swell.  Since we are repairing the structural posts and studs and eventually the sill, we want to avoid a large amount of movement (swelling or shrinking) of the wood elements.”  Sure it sounded believable and apparently is technically true, but I didn’t buy it.  Especially not when I read her next line:  “Because the required lumber sizes are big (8.5x8.5, 4x4), finding certified white oak with the necessary moisture content has proven tricky.”  Right there!  Did you read it?  Finding the right kind of wood has proven tricky.  My spider senses were tingling, something seemed a little off here…her answer was too smooth, too professional, too factual to take at face value.  So I began to look deeper.

Who would benefit by extending the length of time it took to complete the first phase of work and part of the second?  Would the architects?  Would Western?  Then it occurred to me, what if this was an inside job?  What if one of our own was behind this scheme?  Could it be the Director or the Curator?  Maybe they had taken a sudden liking to being at the house by 7am in the morning, maybe they discovered how much more work they accomplished after having seven cups of coffee in a three hour time period instead of their regular four.  Or was it the Education Director?  She hasn’t made an appearance yet in this blog which is already suspicious.  Maybe she was enjoying the break from all of those fourth and fifth grade classes whose yearly pilgrimages to the museum have been suspended due to the restoration work – maybe enjoying it a little too much.  That made much more sense.  But as I know from having read a mystery tale or two in the past, sometimes the suspect is someone who appears to be above reproach, who seems to have an unassailable, airtight alibi.  Who would that be in this case?......

The List of Suspects:

Western - is their absence a sign of guilt?
This question mark symbolizes Agent L and her cohorts at Stephen Tilly, Architect - nameless, faceless - guilty? 

Maybe a certain Director has been hitting the mug a little too frequently and thinks a delay in restoration work will fuel her habit?

The classic signs of a coffee junkie are evident in this picture - but does it mean the Curator is guilty?
Perhaps someone doesn't want to interrupt her beauty sleep with real work - is the Education Director the likely culprit?

OMG, it’s me!  I’m the sinister, scheming suspect; the dastardly, daring dilettante; the maniacal, menacing….mom. 
Public Enemy Number 1

Of course, it all makes sense now.  Who would benefit the most if this restoration project was delayed?  ME!!  Because I am the blogger.  I’m the one basking in the adoration of my readers, I’m the one with all of the fame and glory. It’s so simple, and uncomplicated and genius…just….like…me!!  How did I not see this before?  And what do I do about it now that I know the truth?  Stash myself in some tiny little cell as punishment? – oh wait, already in one-- it’s called my office.  Put myself at the mercy of some warden? – that position’s filled, she’s called the Director.  No, I’ll just sit at my computer and bide my time – let the rest of the staff, the architects, and Western think all is well, I won’t clue them in to the discovery I made about me.  Then when the opportunity presents itself – I’ll flee this little popsicle stand I call Albany, cut the husband and kids loose, and head someplace where nobody will ever find me.  Someplace where the sun is always shining…I’m thinking Vegas baby, I’ve always had a hankering for sequins and slot machines.
Nooooo!  The Director just received word from Agent L – Hey (Jude) has located some reclaimed white oak just the size we need.  The moisture content of this wood is on the low side of what we need, between 7 and 8%, but by wetting the wood, Western will be able to raise the moisture content.  The architects will accept anything within a range of 15 to 24%.  Drat!!  My scheme to delay the restoration has been foiled!  So long Vegas dreams, at least until another underhanded plot is conceived and carried out.  Hopefully I will be smart enough to catch my next double-cross - as a wise president once said, ‘Fool me once...shame on...shame on fool me, you can't get fooled again.’

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A River Runs Through It

You know what’s no fun? Bulk mailings. Bulk mailings are no fun, as I learned this past week. Especially when you have to mail out 1700 pieces of mail. Maybe some of you out there think that that’s small potatoes, and maybe you’re right. Or maybe you’re being a little judgmental and should take some time to reevaluate how you view the world. All I know is that stuffing 1700 flyers into 1700 envelopes, stamping 1700 envelopes 1700 times with the museum’s permit number, printing out 1700 return address labels, and 1700 address labels, and then putting those 1700 return address labels and 1700 address labels onto the 1700 envelopes, and gluing 1700 envelopes shut and putting 1700 envelopes into zip code order seemed like a lot of work to me. I say seemed because I approached the bulk mailing less as the person who physically was doing the work and more as the person coordinating other people who did the work (including a bunch of volunteers and pretty much all of the staff) - I’m not doing that work by myself, that’s just crazy! But from my vantage point (the floor underneath my desk where I hid so no one could find me) it seemed like a lot of work.

You know what else is a lot of work and absolutely no fun? Cleaning up after Mother Nature. In case any of you have missed the rain that poured down outside your window almost every day this past week, we at Historic Cherry Hill can tell you all about it. We can tell you that restoration workers don’t work outside in the rain. (Talk about a bunch of sissies). Luckily Joe The Hammer was able to spend a day inside measuring the windows, but unsurprisingly not a lot of exterior work can be done in a downpour. We can also tell you the sound water makes when it flows along a needle beam right into the north parlor of the house. It sounds like water coming from a low-running faucet, and it looks like water coming from a low-running faucet, and it leaves a mess behind like water coming from a low-running faucet would when it is running into a historic house and onto the historic wood floors. In case I haven’t been clear enough, earlier this week some rain decided to take a journey following the route provided by a downward-angled needle beam (downward meaning the exterior end of the needle beam was higher than the interior end of the needle beam) right into our north parlor. Now a situation like this is already the stuff of nightmares but what gave this mini-disaster a particularly Wes Craven-Freddy Krueger-Nightmare on Elm Street type of feel was the way in which the running water was discovered –

By the Director…

while conducting….

a special tour…

to a group of graduate students from SUNY’s Public History Program.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the way they react in a crisis. When the Director discovered during her tour that HCH had its very own Niagara Falls, she tried to pretend that it wasn’t really happening while she continued the tour, and then at her first opportunity she went back to plug up the leak. Interesting approach. Probably better than what mine would have been – acting the part of the little Dutch Boy with my finger in the dam (except instead of using my finger I would have been using my cupped palms to try to catch the water) while I laughed nervously and turned fifteen shades of red.

The Director was able to temporarily stop the influx of rain water into the parlor. Towels and a fan were used to clean up the mess and there was no lasting damage done to the floor. The next day the Director purchased a large amount of plastic sheeting and attempted to temporarily correct the problem on the outside of the house until the project manager from Western, named Jude (I like to call him Hey), arrived to deal with the problem permanently. The permanent solution also involved rerouting the gutter that previously was dumping water right onto the naughty needle beam to instead dump its water in a more appropriate place, namely the ground.

There you have it, straight from the Communications Coordinator’s mouth – bulk mailings and downward-angled needle beams are a lot of work and no, I repeat, no fun.

(And to Big D and The Hammer, in case you guys are reading this, I was totally joking about the whole “sissies” comment. No disrespect meant. Really, please believe me. You guys are very strong, and your nicknames make you sound like a couple of hit men or bald-headed bouncers at a biker bar, or pro-wrestlers, and I just want to make sure you understand that I do NOT think you are sissies. I’m very attached to my knee caps, and I don’t like swimming with amphibians of any kind. Just so we’re clear.)

The river ran through here.

Between the red arrows you may notice a section of the gutter missing which contributed to the amount of water that flowed into the house. 
This view better shows the Director's temporary fix until reinforcements could arrive.  She may be no Bob the Builder, but she got the job done.

The professionals came and fixed the problem.  The shiny metal you see in the picture filled the gap in the gutter.  Also notice the absence of the plastic sheeting.  A nicer look all around.

This picture may be difficult to view, but if you can look past the chain link fencing in the foreground you will see the bottom of the gutter where, thanks to the shiny metal piece shown in the previous picture, the water can now flow to the ground...instead of into the north parlor.