Nothing lasts forever, and I'm OK with that. But in doing some additional research into the original owner and/or use of the abandoned building Roscoe and I noticed yesterday, I wished that a couple things would have lasted just a hair longer than they did.
If you read yesterday's post, you might remember me talking about the giant dairy farm that used to operate, apparently, in the general vicinity of the abandoned building. Today I did some digging into the dairy farm's history, although not much exists on the internet. That said, there are a couple pictures out there indicating just how massive the place was; dairy barns, greenhouses, employee housing...the complex was sprawling. The dairy farm ceased operations prior to 1950, so the fact that nothing from it remains today isn't real surprising.
However, I discovered that up until very recently, several of the older and more prominent buildings still stood. I also discovered that the dairy farm family mansion may or may not still stand on the property - somewhere - as well.
I knew some addresses, but since the street layouts have changed with recent residential and golf course development in the area, they're no longer applicable. I found a couple pics of the mansion, but nothing super definitive. So...I knew a general area, and what the mansion generally looked like. It wasn't much, but I felt like if I could find some old aerial photographs, I might be able to spot the house. Maybe.
Modern aerial photography is light years better than it was even 5 or 10 years ago, let alone many decades ago, so the older aerials weren't much help. The dairy farm operation as a whole is easily discernible in the older images, but if any of the old buildings did in fact still stand, or stand recently, I'd have to hope to find them on the more recent aerials.
And I did.
In the 2014 aerial, see the structure in the very southwest corner? That was a giant dairy barn. The "L" shaped house north of the barn, that was the mansion. They existed in 2014 but were gone by 2016, having been razed to make way for new homes. That area is up on top of the bluffs overlooking the Meramec River; the second story windows in the mansion must have had a pretty amazing view of the river and everything else to the north.
Want to see some pics of the barn, taken before it was demolished? Check these out.
Want to see some pics of the mansion, taken before it was demolished? Check these out.
One of the things I found most interesting about the house's location is its proximity to the mysterious abandoned structure we saw yesterday; it's located in the northeast corner of the 2014 and 2016 aerials. I can't help but think it was related to the owners of the dairy farm in some capacity.
So...I still don't know who owned the abandoned building or what it was used for, but I've got a little more information today than I did yesterday. I just wish I wasn't 3 or 4 years too late to check out the other abandoned structures in the area.
But it is. Sort of. In a roundabout way.
I spent all week either in the shop, in front of the computer, or doing some amount of work-related scrambling. Sleep has been scarce, and the household coffee supply reflects this. I don't feel especially accomplished, but I knew that today was going to have to be a day off whether I deserved it or not.
When I woke up this morning I noticed how cold it was outside, and that it was raining, and that there was snow on the ground. It was miserable. And, perfect conditions for a lengthy park excursion with Roscoe.
Some of you may not be familiar with Roscoe, and that's OK, I'll fill you in. The short version is, he's my dog.
Roscoe turned 9 a couple weeks ago. By that math, he's been my buddy for almost 1/4 of my life, which seems a little bonkers when I think about it in those terms. I got him when he was 6 weeks old, and he's been a fiesty, adventurous, rock star of a dog from day 1.
He's seen a lot of things over the years, and that's not an exaggeration in any way. He's been to state parks, conservation areas, and just about every park in south city many, many times over. Like, the number of outings has a comma in it. He's swam in the Missouri, Mississippi, and Meramec Rivers (OK, this is an exaggeration; he's tried to **drink** the Missouri, Mississippi, and Meramec Rivers). Fields, woods, trails, creeks, lakes, urban, rural, you name it, he's done it.
But he's gettin' old. He's got a crinkled up ear, the result of a hematoma. He's got a couple giant fatty (benign) tumors on his chest. He still eats whatever I put in front of him with literally zero dietary or bodily repercussions, but he doesn't put away the quantity of food that he used to. His little legs have 10 lifetimes of mileage on 'em, and he doesn't get super excited, or excited at all, about going to the park anymore. Laying on the couch is more his game these days, but every now and then...he gets the urge to go exploring with me one more time.
Today was one of those days. For whatever reason, telling him there's snow on the ground always makes it a pretty easy sales pitch.
A quick trip to a city park wasn't going to cut it, so we jumped on HWY 44 and headed out to - for my money - the best place in the whole area to have hundreds of acres to yourself and let a dog have some fun. It's not exactly a secret park, but it's definitely off the beaten path (as I show you a pic of a pretty well-worn path).
At this particular park, as is the case with pretty much every place we've ever been more than a few times, I have Roscoe's routine pretty well memorized. I know where he's going to stop to sniff horse poop. I know which patches of grass he's going to roll in. I know which trees he's going to inspect. I know where he'll allow me to walk in front, and I know just how far in front I can get before he sprints past me to take his customary spot as the lead dog. Similarly, I know how far out in front he can get before he'll stop, look back at me disapprovingly, and wait for me to catch up. And, I know when he's ready to go find some water by any means necessary.
Today we did our usual thing. We followed the tree line for a while, then darted into the woods and headed to the river. After Roscoe drank about 14 gallons of water, we resumed our walk back out in the open, meandering through some fields and looking for anything interesting to explore. The park we were at is in a floodplain, surrounded by a river, woods, fields, train tracks, and bluffs, so there's always something to check out...especially if you have a dog that sniffs things like it's his job.
After walking about 2 miles, Roscoe was ready to head back to the car, and I figured our park outing was done for the day. We walked back to the car and when we were about 50 feet away from it, I realized I'd passed Roscoe. I turned around to see where he was, and he was 20 feet back, standing still, staring at me with his head cocked sideways just a little bit. Know what that look means? That's the "I changed my mind, I'm not ready to go home just yet, why are you still walking towards the car" look. 9 years, man, 9 years...you know exactly what all the looks mean after 9 years.
Here's where I'll segue into more traditional Pete Pagano blog subject matter.
This particular park, it's bisected by some train tracks (originally the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, I believe) that happen to run right in front of the park's parking lot. We'd never ventured south of the tracks, so it seemed like a good opportunity to change that, what with the boss wanting to continue our walk and whatnot.
So, we followed the path, crossed the tracks, and what jumped right out at me? An abandoned building. And an oddly-shaped one at that. I'd never noticed the building before because the train tracks sit on a hill that might be 10 feet tall, and the drive in is on the north side of them; you can't see what's on the south side of the tracks without crossing them.
It's not technically on park property, and the eleventeen "no trespassing" signs made things pretty clear, but still...I see an abandoned building, I turn into an 8-year-old: I want to go check it out.
I held off for a minute, just to make sure I had a good game plan for getting some quick pics and then getting back to the safety of park property, so Roscoe and I walked a little further up the park trail. As we walked, I noticed the old barbed wire fence clearly demarcating what I figured was a property line. A little further up the trail, on the non-park-property side of the fence, I could see the remnants of a very, very long, very, very short concrete wall. Could it have been a foundation of some sort? My interest in the building and property grew.
When we went about as far as the trail would reasonably allow without having to climb the bluffs - the trails in that area get pretty rocky, which tears up Roscoe's paws so I avoid them completely - we circled back and I got ready to take some pics of the old building. When we got closer to it, I could see holes in the fence and some paths pretty clearly worn around the place; curiosity had definitely gotten the best of plenty of people before me.
The building was super overgrown and I didn't want to get too close or turn into a full-blown 8-year-old and dig through vines and thorns and who knows what to get a closer look, but the more I looked at the building, the more intriguing it became to me.
Was it a house? A farm building? Something else? The windows were in weird spots, and there were a weird number of them (and, seemingly not enough for it to have ever been a house). But who goes to the time and trouble to build a curved wall for a farm building?! There were two big, old, concrete pillars that had served to designate a gated driveway at some point, but were those for a legit driveway, or just a means of holding up a gate that only tractors or livestock were allowed to pass through? I noticed the same style pillars waaaay - like a mile or more - down the road on our way out, so was this thing part of some huge chunk of property at one time?
The building had an electrical masthead, so it had power at some point. If you look closely in the above picture, you can see a concrete trough in between the trees. What's that about?! There are metal plates on the other side of the building (you can see them in a previous pic) typically found in super old brick buildings, used as nuts on either end of a huge metal rod used to tie one wall of a brick building to it's opposing wall...but this thing's made from block, or concrete, or something that isn't brick!
Given the nature of my work with reclaimed wood, pretty much all of which comes from structures that are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years old or older, it stands to reason that I have a decently high level of interest in history. Right? I mean, using the older material, it looks cool and all that, but it's the story of where it came from or what it was or who built something that really interests me.
I came home, and figured I could do some internet homework to figure out what this building was. I've done it enough, I generally feel like I have a pretty good handle on where to look to find information related to a building or land parcel's background...but in this case...I came up with next to nothing specific, and I still have no idea what this thing was or who it belonged to or when it came into existence. I couldn't even really find a picture of this thing with a Google image search. But, the more I dug, the more intrigued I became; there's a lot of history in this particular part of the world, and I really didn't know about any of it.
A long time ago, this area was heavily quarried for limestone. But the quarries and mines would come and go, leaving little tiny ghost towns and remnants of small communities in their wake. There were only a handful of (crazy wealthy) landowners (and I'm talking 150+ years ago) who owned everything out here, and they'd lease small plots to mining companies or saw mills or whoever wanted to send things back to the big city (St. Louis) by way of the railroad. I don't even know what municipality this area is technically, but I now know that it's been called about 4 dozen different things, either informally or quasi-formally, over the past 200 years, reflecting whatever mining operation was prevalent at the time. Cities were planned with high hopes and pretty much none of them ever took off, although if one looks hard enough, faint evidence of those big plans remain. The railroad made a lot of commerce possible, and the nearby river offered a lot of recreational opportunities a century ago, although their heyday has come and gone so again, the history of the place kind of has as well. During WWII and the Korean War, the government had a huge facility in the area, but it's long gone too.
Further research pointed to a giant dairy farm operation (anybody that's lived anywhere near St. Louis would know the name if I said it) that existed in this general part of the world. It's not around anymore either, but a golf course in its place bears it's name (there's the general location giveaway, if you're a golfer).
What I do know about the structure is who owns it (a subdivision HOA), that it shows up on aerial photographs from 1937, that it sits not even a stone's throw from some train tracks, that some kind of operation (mine, sawmill, etc.) existed up the hill just to the south, and that a lot of industry-driven "towns" popped up - and disappeared just as quickly - in the area many, many years ago. Was this a building owned by the dairy farm? Was it related to one of the towns no longer in existence? Did it have something to do with the railroad? Or did it belong to some random person who just wanted to live really weird house, in a floodplain, next to some train tracks?
I haven't figured it out yet.
But I will.
I've got a cabinet project that's been underway for a while now, and that probably won't be finished anytime soon; working on it one day out of every thirty (which is about all the work on it I can squeeze in) tends to have those sorts of consequences. Luckily, the client is pretty lenient on the schedule, so...it'll get finished when it gets finished.
The other part of the productivity challenge has been a complete and total lack of creativity on my part. It happens every now and then, and is generally a sign that I need to step away from the shop for a while (which I did, recently).
But, I was feeling like makin' a little sawdust (and sparks) recently, so I figured I'd try out an idea I had for the cabinet doors. It's a little out of the ordinary to build an entire cabinet and start, essentially, with the doors, but if that's what I need to do to find enough inspiration to get back into the swing of things, so be it.
Anyhow, I built some cabinet doors. The work started with this piece of oak, which came from a ninety-year-old barn somewhere near Warrenton.
See the saw blade marks from when it was originally milled? The flatter the lines, the bigger that saw blade; this thing was milled with something that had a forty inch diameter. That's a scary, scary saw blade. Like, cut-your-arm-right-off saw blade.
Once I had the lumber picked out, I did some pretty high-level planning to get the design and math all figured out.
Obviously, it's a pretty foolproof plan.
From there I was able to miter saw, table saw, jointer and planer my way into producing these rail and stile blanks:
Then there was some more table sawing with a variety of blades (dado stack, circular saw, etc.), and I came up with this:
That's my version of a bridle joint. It's not *technically* a bridle joint, but it's like 98% a bridle joint. It's a long, complicated reason why, but for all intents and purposes, it's a bridle joint. The piece (tenon) on the right fits into the slot (mortise) on the left. Glue and clamps complete that part of the job. That metal you see in the background, that's what's going to be the cabinet door panel; it was the roof of the barn that the lumber was salvaged from.
That glue-up took 15 minutes. The one before it took 18. In total, that's 33 minutes of glue-up, and not one ounce of fun was had.
But the post-glue results were promising.
Want to see how they turned out? You'll have to watch the video. ;)
My life at the moment.
Trying to film projects is a silly amount of work. It's sort of fun, but there is nothing fast or simple about trying to condense over two hours of video into a decently coherent ten minutes.
Here it is, watch me carve up some metal and make curvy stuff not so curvy.
I'm waiting on a video to upload to YouTube - always a scary process - and figured I'd kill some time by typing my usual brand of nonsense. Who doesn't watch the Olympics and blog at 12:20 AM?
Why is uploading a video to YouTube scary? It's like when you grab your phone, see that it has like 30% battery, you think to yourself "I should be OK for a little while", and then the first time you touch the screen the battery immediately dies and the phone is useless. Uploading videos to YouTube is like that; I upload straight from my video editing software - which doesn't allow me to fill in all the video information (description, keywords, thumbnail image, etc.) - and sometimes when it says there's 30 minutes of upload time left, it really means seconds and the video sits out there on the internet, looking extra amateur, until I realize that it's live and I can fill in some blanks. So...maybe not scary so much as a bit of a guessing game I never seem to win.
I'm only uploading a 5-minute video, but it was challenging to film nevertheless. I haven't put one together in maybe 6 months, so I was definitely a little rusty. I wanted to do a little bit of on-camera narration, but my beard whiskers are at a length where they're in the infancy of fro-ing out, and talking for any length of time above and beyond about 4 seconds means that a wayward whisker will invariably curl itself up into a nostril and tickle me like that's its job.
Uh oh. YouTube says it's received my video - not live yet - but that means I have an unknown amount of time to make it look like I've done this before. Hang on...
...that was close.
Anyhow, talking directly into a camera is already weird enough; trying to do it, and appear halfway normal, with a whisker - probably peanut butter flavored - dancing around inside my nose holes is a skill I just don't have. So...no narration.
That said, I cut some metal with a circular saw, it's a pretty self-explanatory deal. But, I learned some valuable lessons.
When I was making the initial cuts, I did those outside. It was like a full degree that day, and I was bundled up accordingly. I was impenetrable. When I made the final cuts indoors, I wasn't so bundled up. I had my sleeves pushed up to my elbows, and that was a mistake.
When the circular saw cuts the metal, it's not like the material chewed up by the 1/16" width saw blade just evaporates, it has to go somewhere. That somewhere is everywhere. A million little chunks of razor sharp, flaming hot metal shooting in, basically, all directions. Needless to say, the first indoor cut lasted all of about a second and a half before I sleeved myself and put on some gloves.
The other thing I learned was that cutting metal - and I sort of already knew this from my experience with cutting steel tube and angle - isn't like cutting wood in that you really can't count on being able to hold the workpiece with your hands while making a cut. That's a really, really bad idea. Like, scary stupid.
But I tried it.
Long story short...I got about halfway through an indoor cut before realizing that the piece of corrugated metal I was cutting had scooted to the right quite a bit and not only was I cutting through metal, but I was also cutting through my assembly table. With a circular saw with the blade on backwards (works well for cutting metal; wood, not so much). Good times.
After cleaning up - sanding, poly, etc. - the two pieces I needed, they turned out pretty well (I think). They've got kind of a leathery look. I'm still not sure if I'm going to like the final product or not, but after getting some things glued up today...it's growing on me.
Oh, and you get bonus points - you're going to be quizzed on my lessons-learned - if you can name the all-star employee of the company I'm proudly supporting with the t-shirt I'm wearing in the video.
Ok, so more like cutting up a piece of a roof.
I needed some material for the panels of a couple reclaimed wood cabinet doors, and it's too stinkin' cold outside to go hunting for something super ideal, so I figured I'd try to make something happen with the corrugated metal I've been hanging onto for the past year. The metal came from the roof of an old barn, and I haven't done anything with it...until now.
Cutting the metal went well. Making it decently flat went well. Clear-coating it went well.
I wish I'd have oriented the corrugation vertically instead of horizontally, but at the time I was laying things out I was mostly concerned with cutting the metal (with a circular saw) and not losing any fingers or having shrapnel bury itself in my face.
I think when the doors are done they'll look pretty unique. I'm not sure it's the look I thought it would be, but sometimes when everything's complete and polished up a bit my opinion changes. Regardless, the old rusty barn roof has texture and patina for days.
I've shipped smaller items, bar stools and whatnot, to both US coasts and plenty of places in between. Small tables, even. But I've never shipped a 200-pound wooden box, the contents of which can't so much as receive scratch. Anybody have any recommendations?!
Oh, the box has to get from here...to there: