Monday, December 20, 2010

Working in a winter wonderland...

It’s cold outside. It’s really cold inside. As I type, I am sitting huddled in my chair at the computer with my electric heater blasting and my sneakers sitting on top of it drying out. I don’t know if this is a fire hazard and quite frankly, I would welcome some flames just to thaw out the top portion of each of my toes. I know what you’re thinking – it’s winter, there’s snow on the ground, why are you wearing sneakers? If you must know I have no boots. There I said it. My name is Mary, I live in upstate New York, it is winter time, and I don’t own a pair of boots (not unless you count my bright yellow and blue rain boots which I do not because they offer no traction in the snow). Maybe some of you haven’t seen the video I made recently for Historic Cherry Hill’s End-of-Times, wait that was a typo, End-Of-Year Appeal on facebook. If you haven’t, let me just say my lack of winter boots is the least of my family’s worries.

If you watched the video, then you may be feeling sufficiently sympathetic towards me to not hold the “no snow boots” thing against me. By this time you must be able to tell that I’m not the brightest light bulb on the Christmas tree (I’m more along the lines of the one that blinks on and off randomly, you know, the one that you tighten, and it seems to light up nicely, but the next time you come into the room it’s off again), and maybe you’ll forgive me for lacking wintertime essentials. Any who – I was taking a long time to explain that it is cold. Period. Whether you are outside or inside the museum.

And because it is cold, I may have taken a perverse delight in the meeting that was held here at the museum last Wednesday. It was a meeting attended by the architectural team, Western Building, and Cherry Hill. Here’s where the perverse delight comes in – it was very cold that day, and all of the foreign dignitaries at the site had to suffer in the cold while they inspected the work. I acknowledge that at the end of the day they got to go back to their heated offices and wait for the feeling to return to their fingers, so it was really only a temporary discomfort to them, but still - they suffered. If I wanted to be fair I should say that the only heated place The Hammer gets to go on his workday is his car and that he is the only one who actually has to work outdoors and in the unheated section of the house, but I don’t feel like being fair. I bet his car is a lot warmer than my cave with its electric heater that even a caveman would turn his nose up at.

But where was I? I’m sorry, I’ve noticed that my memory is not what it used to be since the sensory receptors in my brain have frozen solid. Ah yes, the meeting at the Arctic Circle. I was not present for it (much to the relief of all involved as they knew: a) they wouldn’t have to repeat things in a slow and distinct voice; and b) they wouldn’t fear that any of their comments would appear in the blog) - I relied instead on the stellar recall of the Director and the Curator. Let’s just say that the basement windows aren’t the only thing affected by dry rot. (That’s just a little restoration humor – I know the architectural team and Joe the Hammer totally got that joke!) For all of you lay people, I was making a humorous comparison, implying that the recall ability of the Director and the Curator has been affected by dry rot as have the museum’s basement windows…but I kid. They were able to recall in stunning detail how cold it was outside.

A meeting of the Polar Bear Club...just without the water

And some other things.

First things first – the architectural team approved all of the work that had been done thus far. Joe the Hammer received praise for the quality of his workmanship.  (If only poor Joe could have heard their compliments but alas, the exposure to the elements had frozen his ear drums rendering him deaf.) The options for heating the inside of the house for work purposes was brought up. I may not have mentioned this but it’s cold in the house and cold outside. For the mason to put the nogging back in place requires mortar, which requires above-freezing temperatures to spread properly. Western will be using a 110-amp electric heater inside the house to provide heat in the North Parlor while work is done on the nogging and also for the window painting that needs to take place inside the house. There is still some talk about needing higher heat temps on the outside of the house to continue restoration work. The idea of a tent and a blower using 220 amps for heat was tossed around making the Director a little nervous as she considered that just running the vacuum cleaner inside the house tends to trip the breakers. Western will be bringing an electrician by to evaluate the museum’s electrical capacity before using the blower.

110-amp heater in the north parlor whose sole purpose is to keep the room warm enough for mortar work to be done.
Mortar work done in the north parlor, courtesy of the heating power of the 110-amp heater.
Mortar work waiting to be done.  You can see the original nogging in this picture, waiting patiently for its turn.

Both the architectural team and the restoration workers were in agreement that exterior painting would have to be postponed until the spring. We will now have to approach the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) with the plea to allow us to run two EPF grants at the same time because if we push back the painting to spring, and if Parks does not allow us to use two grants simultaneously, then we’re going to be sitting back looking pretty and incidentally looking at a nice long delay in the restoration project as we wait for the spring thaw.

But put a check mark in the good news column because it sounds like (try and follow this) the south post in the north parlor located to the right of the front door (if you're facing the house), may not be in the terrible condition it was previously believed to be in. Yes it is floating in air - definitely not good, but the architectural team was pleasantly surprised to learn that the damage didn’t extend too far upwards in the post. Because of this the post may not need a dutchman repair with the white oak. It may be able to scrape by with an epoxy repair, specifically a structural epoxy, which when dry will be as strong as the beam of wood. The bonus with the epoxy repair would be less of a loss (say that five times fast) of the original wood. The group looked at the southwest corner post of the house. Once again there was hope that that post is not in as bad shape as was previously thought. Western and the architectural team will be looking at the report from the bore testing that was done previous to the start of the restoration project to reevaluate that particular post.

The Director is hoping that by having been a good girl all year, Santa might give her a southwest post in better shape than previousy thought.

Taking a break from the bitter cold outside, the group sought refuge in the bitter cold inside and inspected interior work. On their journey through the house they stopped to discuss a couple of windows that showed a serious degree of wood rot caused by water entry. As professionals are wont to do, they stood and discussed the various causes for the wood rot including the possibility that wind-driven rain may be responsible or that the way the window sill was constructed may be to blame ultimately concluding that they didn’t know the answer. After that illuminating conversation, the architectural team and Western teased the hopeful heart of the Director by mentioning once again that the south side of the east sill may be in better shape than previously expected.  (Wow, that feels like déjà vu – I have the feeling that I have written a sentence like that before - about structural elements being in better shape than previously thought.) Work in the north parlor is still continuing. The mason has mortared some of the nogging back in place. Once the nogging work is finished, and The Hammer gets some lath nails he is waiting on, he will be able to finish the work on the interior wall in the north parlor.

As exciting as inspecting work in the bitter cold can be, the group then got in their warm vehicles and took a trip to Western’s workshop where the window restoration work is being done. The Director and the Curator met the Window Fellows who are carrying out the restoration work on our windows. We know that the basement windows of the house are in pretty terrible shape due to dry rot, and it is questionable as to whether or not it is advisable to try and restore them. A decision must be made whether to restore them or not. If the decision is to not restore but build new ones it might seem obvious that we would restore them to be as authentic as possible – basically new exact copies of the original. While that is the obvious option there is still another option which we have to take into account when making this decision. The option behind door number 2 is to document and retain the existing window and construct a window that is authentic in the elements that will actually be exposed – but is not operable and thus has no pockets (which would not be visible once the window was installed).

It wasn’t all blissful heat and thawing out of the extremities for The Director and the Curator. They were faced with some tough questions concerning the exterior window hardware. You tell me if you could answer, on the spot, what color to make the hinge attached to the shutter, the hinge attached to the window frame and the shutter dogs. Not so easy is it? But like true Jeopardy champions, the Director and the Curator were able to pull it off under pressure and answer in the form of a question - What are three examples of the type of detail one must consider during a window restoration project? This is not an easy question to answer. First of all, the Director and the Curator were actually aware of this question as it was emailed to them a couple of weeks ago and they had been discussing it for some time, so I guess that although that makes them Jeopardy Cheaters, it also makes them responsible museum staff. Ideally a paint analysis would be undertaken to verify the historically accurate paint color; however the cost of the paint analysis is prohibitive for the museum at this point. The Curator and the Director had to decide on a different course that would be a responsible alternative. The Window Fellows verified that the existing paint on the hardware was stable enough to prevent the destruction of the original fabric of the hardware, thus preserving the historical evidence for future paint analysis. In the meantime, the hardware would retain its current colors. The hinge attached to the shutter will remain the same color as the shutter, the hinge attached to the window frame will remain the same color as the frame and the shutter dogs will remain black.

Original windows from Cherry Hill awaiting work.

Pieces of original framingfrom some of the museum's windows.
Example of restored shutter
Box o' hinges - parts of window hinges
Piece of sash lock with model no. stamped in it. 

Other side of sash lock.

That is a brief summary of the meeting that took place last Wednesday. Oh I forgot, Western has provided us with some new benchmarks.  (I stopped listening to the Director after I heard the word February.)  I don’t much care about benchmarks anymore, I just want to stay warm while at work – and judging from the smell of burning rubber wafting from the location of my sneakers laying on the electric heater, I just might get that fire I was hoping for.
Sneakerss roasting on an open fire caused by an electric heater, jack frost nipping at my finger tips, nose, toes, ears....

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