Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cloudy, with a chance of snow....

I can’t think of a better winter season to undergo a massive restoration project – can you? What are the delays in work that massive amounts of snow, sleet, freezing rain and subzero temperatures cause compared to the satisfaction of conquering a challenge (or in the case of this past month, the multiple challenges) Mother Nature has thrown our way? Sure it’s cold at the house and we find ourselves making ridiculous excuses to sit in the bathroom (which just happens to be the warmest room in the house at this point – no kidding it’s sauna-like), but that doesn’t mean we aren’t enjoying ourselves.

But those delays are annoying. The meeting that was supposed to take place last Wednesday amongst the Director, Curator, Western Building Restoration, the architectural team, our Parks (New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites) contact and Shade Lady did not happen. Bad weather to the south forced the cancellation of the meeting and clearly there hasn’t been an opportunity to reschedule given the combined hysteria of local and national weather forecasters when there is any precipitation headed our way. So structural work is pretty much at a standstill.

The last time I checked in with Joe the Hammer, about a week and a half ago, I was surprised to find out how busy he had been. For starters he had removed the front porch stairs from the house in order to access the sill located under the front door.

The Great Divide

A Close-up of the Great Divide
At some point in the museum’s past, sill repair had been made at this section (under the front door) but unfortunately those previous repairs were not well done. There was no overlap between the boards used for the previous sill (meaning that the sections of wood used for the sill had gaps in between), and none of the exterior posts were sitting on the sill, they were hanging in the air.

Warning - This is an photo of the old sill that has already been replaced on the northern side of the east facade.  I'm using it to illustrate what a sill with some overlap looks like - as you can see there are gaps in between the pieces of timber where there is no overlap.  Now imagine an old sill with no overlap at all and that is apparently what the sill looked like under the front door before The Hammer replaced it.
The Hammer replaced the old sill with 3ft and 4ft sections of wood to create the new sill.

Partial view of the new wood used to replace the old sill under the front door.
He also had been busy constructing scaffolding at the southern end of the front of the house, including inserting the needle beams into the house (anchored to lally columns on the ground), all in preparation for sill work on the southern end. The meeting that never happened, once it does happen, will be critical to determining how to move forward with sill work on the south end. The sill looks bad to me, like it would take buckets of epoxy to make it structurally sound again – but then again, mine is the untrained eye. I think a crack in the plaster wall in my bedroom portends a disaster of epic proportions in the making, but my husband tells me to stop wearing his hockey helmet to bed and accept that it is just a side effect of the settling of the house. Clearly I’m not the right person to decide what looks bad or not.

Although no work can go forward on the sill, The Hammer made Dutchman repairs to the exterior posts with an eye towards the impending sill work to come, meaning that although the sill may have to be replaced, his repairs are removable in order to accommodate the future sill work. The Dutchman repairs can be unbolted and removed if necessary. The Dutchman repair has a tenon, or projection at the end of the wood post, for insertion into a mortise joint. A mortise is a cavity cut into wood to receive a tenon. If the sill needs to be replaced, a mortise joint will be cut into the new sill timber for each tenon on the repaired posts to sit in.

Picture shows some of the exterior post repairs that Joe the Hammer has completed.

Joe the Hammer is holding wood pieces that will be used in the Dutchman repair of one of the original posts.  The tenon is the piece that extends at the bottom. 
In addition to the work Joe the Hammer has done on the exterior of the house, he also was able to put the lath back up on the wall in the north parlor. All that remains is for the walls to be plastered and then the interior work in the north parlor will be done. Since he has done all of the sill work that can be done at the present, The Hammer has turned his sights to removing more windows from the house to take to Western’s workshop for restoration work.

The lath is back!!

Beyond that – the restoration work awaits a lull in the storm systems to hold that much anticipated meeting which will decide the fate of the sill on the southern side of the east façade. Until then, the staff plans to stock up on carbs to outlast the bitter cold. Luckily we have a ready supply of carbs at Uncle Dan’s Diner located down the block from the museum. It’s not an easy job, shoveling food into our mouths as if we’re preparing for hibernation, but it is necessary if we want to make it through the cold weather to the spring. Of course, with the types of carbs we’re ingesting, we don’t have any idea what we’re going to look like when springtime rolls around (mmm, rolls…) - but as my favorite hoop-skirted southern belle Scarlett O’Hara said, “I can’t think about this now. I’ll go crazy if I do. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!  Especially if my carbs are smothered in cheese.

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