Let's get this outta the way first: if you're not startin' your days off with a 3+ mile hike through the woods with 2 dogs, you're missin' out. There are lessons to be learned (or, at least reminded of) and fun to be had.
Roscoe, the elder statesman of the two, he's been on literally 1,000s of hikes and park excursions in his nearly 12 years of life, so it's all old news to him. He doesn't move as fast or nimbly as he once did, but he still gets the job done and he still enjoys doing it.
Freckles, who is 14 months old, she's learning how to navigate things without being leashed. She's done pretty well with it so far, although I have to be selective with where we go and what times we go there. She REALLY enjoys the hikes.
Taking the 2 out on hikes (or, "adventures") is very much like the real life version of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Roscoe moves at a solid, steady clip. He won't dazzle anybody with athleticism or daredevil shenanigans, but he's reliable, calm, and seems to always think of a way to overcome (go around, really) any obstacle he encounters. Freckles would sprint everywhere she goes if I let her, and she really likes being the frontrunner. She's not very big and doesn't always make great choices, but she ATTACKS life with a ridiculous level of fearlessness and excitement.
When it comes to the basement repointing effort, inspiration can be drawn from both dogs.
On the one hand, there's, like, 8 million stones that have to get repointed. If I think about it in those terms, it gets a little overwhelming and I have to remind myself that if I tackle the work in small, manageable chunks - slow and steady wins the race, right? - I'll eventually have it all knocked out.
On the other hand, because I can overthink just about anything to death, when I encounter a masonry situation I'm not real familiar with or know how to handle, I do my best to NOT think about it too much and, instead, just get after it. The hare didn't win the race, but it probably didn't get too hung up on any trivial details in its pursuit of victory.
I am not a mason, nor have I ever really done any repointing work. The exterior brick needs it pretty badly in several spots and rather than learn on the outside of the house, where all the world can see my work (and mistakes), I figured I'd cut my repointing teeth in the basement, where a few sections of wall could stand to be redone and if any of it turned out horribly, not too many people will ever see it.
So, what have I learned in the early stages of my basement repointing effort?
Before I started repointing anything, I watched about 3 dozen YouTube videos where I saw about 3 dozen different repointing methods employed, each one claiming to be the "right" way to repoint stone. Awesome.
Which mortar does one use? Type N? Type S? Type O? Type M? The differences between the mortar types boil down to their ratio of cement to lime to sand. In theory, different mortars are good in different situations, but for example, a lot of people will disagree about when and where to use Type N vs. Type S. In my case, I chose Type N; it's a good general purpose mortar and because my foundation stone is limestone, Type S's compressive strength is a little steep.
Am I supposed to prep the stone with a little water before slapping in the mortar, or do I apply the mortar to completely dry stone? I hit the cleaned out joints with a couple shots of water from a squirt bottle. Sure, it adds a miniscule amount of water to the mortar and potentially causes it to cure to a marginally lower strength than if I hadn't introduced the water, but the water 1, knocks down the dust on the stone, allowing the mortar to adhere to the stone better than if the stone were dry, and 2, it works as a bit of a lubricant, enabling me to really push the mortar waaaay back into the deeper spots I can't reasonably get to with any tools.
What tool(s) do I use to apply the mortar? A trowel? A jointer? A spoon? The palm of my hand? 99% of the time, I use a grout bag and a couple small jointers. Occasionally I may use a trowel to smooth out a mortar surface, or maybe apply the mortar by picking some up with the trowel and sliding it into a joint with one of the jointers, but mostly it's grout bag and jointer(s).
In my book, prep is just about as challenging as getting mortar back into the joints and looking good, but it's way more work and way less fun. However, there isn't any sense in trying to rake out perfectly good, rock-solid mortar, so if I hit a patch that doesn't want to budge, I leave it as is. For the mortar that's in bad shape, which is most of the original stuff - and some of it has legit turned to dust due to water infiltration - I use this thing, a chipping hammer that's intended to be used for knocking slag off of welds:
It works surprisingly well and is kinda like having 2 tools in 1, and the more tools I can wield with each hand the better. I use the pick end to beat on the old mortar and loosen it up, and I use the chisel-like end as sort of a scraper, running it through all the joints to really chew up the old mortar. For any little nooks and crannies this hammer is too big to get into, I use a crappy old flat blade screwdriver to clean things up. Then I shop vac the joints and suck up as many little crumbs and dust as I can.
What's really important is cleaning out the joints as deeply as I can; this obviously allows me to get more mortar in the joint and make for a stronger end result than if I only cleaned out the joints to a shallow depth. Likewise, having a really deep, cleaned out joint allows me to have a little room to work with the jointers and the more room I have to work, the better the end result looks. Plus, the more stone I can apply fresh mortar to, the stronger the wall becomes.
Shaping the fresh mortar once it's between the stones so that it looks decent is sort of an art. It doesn't seem like it'd be all that difficult, but there is a razor thin line between the amount of pressure required to flatten or shape the mortar without having it move in all sortsa unintended directions and the amount of pressure that will make the mortar an unsightly, swampy mess.
It can be frustrating work. Sometimes the stones' shapes don't allow for ideal jointer angles, or multi-directional tooling options. Sometimes I can get a spot flat and smooth, but in the process I pulled too much mortar out of the joint. Sometimes I feel like I'm about to apply the perfectly light amount of pressure for a final pass, only to pull a Lennie-and-his-puppy and totally demolish what I'd just worked really hard to get lookin' good. Sometimes I have 8-10 joints going, and I can't seem to get any of them lookin' right and I kinda feel crying wouldn't be inappropriate.
But patience - not my strength, if you know me in real life - is critical. The mortar will slowly start to cure and stiffen up a bit, it'll become easier to work with, and the joints will end up lookin' pretty decent. That is, as long as I take a deep breath, clear my head, focus on 1 joint at a time, get it as good as I can get it, and come back to it again a few minutes later if I'm not happy with it.
In my book, timing is everything when it comes to applying mortar to the stone joints and shaping it, and probably the thing that's most difficult to discern from all the YouTube videos out there. There is an optimal amount of time to let mortar sit in a joint before working it. There is an optimal amount of time to let a worked mortar joint sit before coming back to work it again. There is an optimal amount of time to let a final version mortar joint set up before hitting it with a brush to smooth everything out and clean off all the mortar boogers. And, there is an optimal time to let everything cure before using a little water to clean up any mortar slurry on the stone faces. Of course, this all varies depending on the depth of the mortar joints and how much mortar is being dealt with, but doing everything without waiting a little bit between steps, or waiting too long...bad news.
Timing is critical. Once I had that figured out, the work became a whole lot easier.
I still struggle with it sometimes, and I dunno that it's the kind of work that's ideally suited for an OCD perfectionist, but I definitely like seeing the end result.
A few nights ago I was laying in bed and heard some uncharacteristic noises.
Normally, Roscoe loses his shit when it's dark outside and he hears noises near - or in - the house. But this time, he didn't bark. At all.
Normally, Freckles equates noises to animal footsteps, and makes every possible attempt to catch and eat whatever she thinks she hears. But this time, she didn't budge. At all.
As a result, I didn't think much of it. But I knew it was a mouse. I mean, I didn't KNOW it was a mouse...I just had a feeling. That feeling may or may not have been based on finding a giant pile of fresh baby mouse poops in the basement about a week ago.
The following morning I found a mouse squashed in one of the traps.
So...I'm still sharing the house with rodents. Which is awesome.
Long story short, the basement foundation pointing work got back-burnered over the weekend so I could demo out the last little bit of finished ceiling in the basement's front room.
Those finished basement ceilings seem to serve as little mouse highways, and while getting rid of them doesn't eliminate their house access point, it does help prevent the mice from hanging out with us on the house's main floor.
Back when I gutted the basement's front room, I left the ceiling above the duct intact because to remove it the duct would have to get disassembled and removed, which I didn't want to get into at the time. It's not complicated work, but removing the rectangular duct from the front room meant also getting into the neighboring bathroom ceiling, which I really didn't want to do.
Mice have a funny way of changing one's priorities.
Once I got the first big section of duct on the floor I tore out what little ceiling, which was drywall on top of plaster on top of wood lath, I could get to.
Here you can see the underside of the marble fireplace hearth, and the bulked-up framing beneath the fireplace on the first floor. All those joints where joists run perpendicularly into other joists, they're all connected by mortises and (thru) tenons, which is kinda cool to see. No joist hangers (they didn't exist 142 years ago) and very few nails; can you imagine house framers today carrying an arsenal of chisels like the framers of the 19th century?!
That, as I was about to realize, was the easy section to deal with. The next section was half in the front room, half in the bathroom, with a bunch of newer wall framing snugged up tight to the duct. There was even less wiggle room than I had with the first big section.
So I started poking around the basement bathroom's ceiling to figure out just how much I was going to have to tear out to get at the next section of duct connections.
You know I hated tearing up that lovely wallpaper border.
Actually, what sucked about the demo was having lots of mouse poop rain down on me.
All the little black specks? You guessed it: poops.
However, I did get a little satisfaction out of the work; I found a couple little mouse tunnels in the insulation near the duct, which kinda confirmed my suspicion that the mice love that wall of the house.
Unfortunately, the more modern basement finishing was a total DIY job: a shit show of bad framing and terrible ideas. Needless to say, the sawzall made an appearance and I did what I could to surgically remove the bare minimum. With no dumpster on site, I didn't want to create any more trash than was absolutely necessary.
I ended up removing all the cleats and duct hangers, which should have allowed me to pull the big 8' long section through the bathroom wall, into the front room, and to the ground.
I yanked and pulled and wiggled and did everything I could think of, but the duct wouldn't budge. I did this for, like, 15 minutes before deciding to take a closer look.
Subsequently, I f-bombed the entire thing for the next 15 minutes. Why? Because somebody figured the best way to hold the duct in place was to drive a handful of screws into it through the framing.
So just back out the screws, right?
Here's the thing...when residential space is built, the order of operations typically goes something like this:
I know the pic makes it look like there's plenty of room, but I promise you, I own a pretty unhealthy quantity of tools and I couldn't find a single screwdriver, or combination of tools, that could bee-bop around that PVC pipe to back that screw out.
And there were screws like this one, where I couldn't even see the head of the screw, all I could see was the screw going through a 2x4 (that was covered up by other 2x4s) and into the side of the duct:
See the light shining between the duct and the nearest 2x4? And that little thing near the top of that light bridging the gap between the duct and the 2x4? That's a screw. And it has no business being there.
My sawzall could only do so much in tight quarters. I got out one of my little oscillating saws, but it didn't entirely reach all the screws either. So...out came the 1 chisel I reserve for beating the holy hell out of any and all materials. I ended up chiseling away enough material to remove the screws, but I wrestled with that nonsense for the better part of an hour and I'm pretty sure the dogs, hanging out on the first floor (they won't come down the basement stairs) thought I was engaged in some sort of fight-to-the-death with another human being.
Eventually, I removed the screws and then the duct came apart like it was supposed to.
Then it was back to the ceiling demo, which was a dusty, nasty, poopy affair. I ended up with this:
There was a stupid amount of work involved in getting to that little area of remaining ceiling, but now it's gone. I didn't put the ducts back because I first need to repoint the top section of the wall, so the house's living room isn't getting any hot air right now, but we'll be OK. I'll take no warm air to the front of the house in exchange for not having mice come up through the floor near that fireplace.
On the bright side, removing the ceiling revealed all the mortise and tenon joints, which haven't seen daylight in 142 years.
I'm also going to try to figure out what all is going on with the fireplace above this area; there are several purposely-put-there holes in the wall and ceiling that could have been old flus or cleanouts. I don't think they'll amount to anything, but I kinda dig trying to figure out what all this old stuff did or was used for.
So...that's that. Probably still have mice. Definitely don't have warm air getting to the living room. But now the mice have 1 less way to get upstairs and poop under my bag of hockey gear, and I'll call that a successful operation.
When I've had time lately to get rehab work done, I've been focused on the basement. The initial reason was to deal with the rodent infestation, but with that seemingly taken care of, the emphasis has now changed to getting structural stuff squared away.
In reality, structurally, the vast majority of the basement is just fine. The foundation is pretty much intact, and the posts and beams holding up the interior of the house are doing their job. If I wanted to leave all of it as is, it'd be a defensible decision.
However, the perfectionist in me, as well as the structural engineering education I received many years ago won't allow that to happen. The posts need a little help, and the longer of the two beams, it's sort of a disaster. Doing its job, yes, sort of, but a disaster nonetheless.
Let's start with the original setup, shown here:
The front of the house is at the bottom the pic; the rear of the house is at the top. Originally, the front of the house's interior was supported by one long wooden beam and three wooden posts beneath it. That's still the setup today, but with some amendments, a couple of which are shown here:
The front end of the beam must have rotted away at some point - due to water infiltration before the covered front porch was added - and about a 4' section of it got replaced with a few 2x8s. Rather than replace it from the foundation wall to the first original post, somebody added a lally column to support the joint where the replacement 2x8s meet up with the original 8x8.
Despite all the basement gutting I've done this setup is still intact, mostly because it appears to be a house of cards and until I'm ready to really make it go away, which will involve all sorts of beefy temp walls and jacks and dicey situations, it's probably best left alone. And even if I could live with the horrible aesthetics of the 2x8s and lally column, structurally, it's a legit failure:
Remember the basement floor demo at the front of the house? The floor was lauan on top of tile on top of tongue and groove pine on top of 2x4s, laid flat, on top of concrete. For that stupid lally column to be halfway structurally sound, it would need to be placed in line with (on top of) one of those 2x4s.
But in this case, it's not; it's placed between the 2x4s, which means there's a void between the metal lally column and the concrete floor. That's a no-no. And even if the thing had structure connecting it to the concrete floor, with no footing under that particular spot on the floor, it's still not a proper setup.
So there's that. Then there's the first/original post:
For all the rockstar craftsmanship that took place 100+ years ago, one thing the builders back then definitely didn't get correct was their understanding of how concrete and wood interact. Long story short, if you embed wood in concrete, sooner or later the wood will rot. This post is on top of a concrete footing, but the bottom couple inches were embedded in the concrete floor, and that's led to some bad things over the years. But there's no sense in trying to repair or replace a section of a post, you pretty much have to replace the whole thing, so this one's gotta go.
And this is the section - the front 1/2 of the post-and-beam setup - that isn't all that bad.
The rear 1/2...somebody did a "remodel" - my guess is to increase the headroom under the beam - many decades ago and essentially replaced the 8x8 beam with a 3x8, and replaced the two 8x8 posts with a few 2x4s slapped together. This was the original arrangement:
And this is all the stuff, in yellow, that was redone over the years:
It's all kind of a mess, and while it's done its job, I have doubts about how well it's accomplished its only mission in life. Why? Because the basement stairs are between the yellow section of beam and the foundation wall to the west, which means the floor joists in that area aren't supported by the foundation wall on that side of the house; they're supported by that dumb 3x8.
And I think it's sagged a little bit over the years.
Everywhere else, that beam is a "helper", located between the east and west foundation walls that support the floor joists. adjacent to the stairs, the floor joists are just supported by the 3x8 beam and one foundation wall, 15 or so feet away.
I still haven't entirely demo'd that section of basement, mainly because like the lally column, everything is so half-assed that I felt like I needed to add some temporary supports before taking anything apart further. As such...no good pics, so you'll just have to take my word on it.
As for the posts and beam in the back half of the basement, they're all still original, but in this case the foundation wall that separates the basement into halves is what's a mess. I'll discuss it down the road...when my pointing efforts reach that point in the basement. Until then, I'll keep plugging away with the pointing...
...and hoping that lumber prices come back down to earth sometime soon. Even if they don't, I'm gearing up for the insanity that will be replacing those front three posts and the entire beam within the next month or two, so I can get on with the big interior projects on the main floor with a solid, level(ish) set of joists underneath it. Wish me luck.
Let's not belabor the point: 2020 has been a pretty rotten year for everybody, all things considered. I fall in the category of people who shouldn't complain too much in that I'm still employed and to the best of my knowledge, the virus hasn't taken the life of anybody I know personally, but maaaaaaan...what a dumb year.
At my job I'm an hourly employee, and my income is typically determined by overtime opportunities. During non-virus time, I can count on a fair amount of OT to bolster the paycheck; with the virus, working from home, etc., those OT opportunities haven't existed until very recently. That hasn't really impacted me other than money I thought I'd have to get this rehab underway, it hasn't been there. As such, the project has gotten off to a slow start.
Then there's the mice infestation I wasn't entirely planning on. That's taken a crazy amount of time to rectify. And the yard, which will be a neverending project. And an umbilical hernia, which is more weird and gross than it is painful or dangerous. And a wonky knee, that nobody can figure out. And last week, while taking the dogs out to one of the local conservation areas, I was eaten alive by some sort of mutant chiggers, a fitting event for a chigger of a year.
But it hasn't been all bad, not by a long shot. And today, this little 50-something pound ball of energy and curiosity and athleticism and feistiness and stick-eating playfulness officially turned 1 year old.
Let's take a break from house talk for a minute, because not a whole lot of rehabbing has gotten accomplished these past few weeks (the upside of OT is bigger paychecks; the downside is having less free time), to talk about Freckles, who I adopted in December of 2019 and is the little sister Roscoe treats just like a little sister. They mix things up from time to time and Roscoe lets Freckles know - DAILY - that she is not, under any circumstances, to even sniff his food, but when we're out and about, if he thinks Freckles is in any kind of danger (legit or otherwise), he's all teeth and growls and big brothery.
So...December 17, 2019, that was Freckles' "gotcha day".
And, like, 2 days later, stuff got real. REAL real. When I got Freckles, Roscoe was 10-but-about-to-turn-11; it'd been a while since I lived through the craziness that comes with puppies.
For example, that first night, Freckles was so wiped out from the excitement of day #1 that she slept just fine in her kennel. When I tried to make that happen on the second night she wasn't havin' it. I know there's a school of thought that says you're just supposed to let the dog whine and cry and eventually they'll stop; there's also a school of thought - the one I follow - that says you have to pick and choose your battles, and I needed some sleep in the worst way. Night #2, Freckles slept in my bed.
She did that for a few more nights until deciding to commandeer Roscoe's bed - the first indication that this little girl was all alpha - where she slept every night until very recently deciding she wanted to sleep in my bed again. The difference between the early days and now is that now she jumps onto my bed, despite the mattress being many inches above her head.
For a few months, Freckles just sorta followed Roscoe around and did what Roscoe did.
From almost her first day at home with us Freckles was a fantastic eater, knew where to go potty, slept all the way through the night, and didn't seem to have any allergies. Between that - which was comparable to Roscoe's first few months with me aside from the potty thing, which wasn't really his fault - and how much Freckles seemed to mimic Roscoe, I figured Freckles was going to be, mostly, a smaller version of Roscoe.
And as is usually the case, I couldn't have been more incorrect.
Freckles is Freckles. She shares some habits and skills with Roscoe, but she's also got a bag of tricks that are all her own. She keeps things interesting, for sure, and while not being all that big, she is as fierce as the day is long.
Now she's officially got 1 full year of life under her belt...I hope she's enjoyed it.
The early stages of this rehab have me working in circles; I feel like I've been bouncing back and forth between yard work and basement cleanup, both of which have to get balanced with my wallet, my available time, and regular homeowner/life responsibilities (and some golf, and hiking with the dogs). But for now, big picture, the basement is what I'm focused on.
Why? In short, mice. This house was loaded with 'em. Like, over a dozen dead ones in the basement ceiling. As not exciting as basement rehab can be, what's indescribably less exciting is spending an evening on the computer in the bedroom (joined by the dogs, of course, because we're sorta like Bert and Ernie levels of inseperable), walking to the front of the house to turn off the lights and TV because it's time to go to sleep, and seeing a little squirmy rodent mousing its way across the floor, heading from where it just took a big mouse dump under my bag of hockey gear to the hole in the wall near a fireplace so it can retreat back to its little mouse kingdom in the basement.
Yada yada yada, sealing up the basement - where the mice are entering the house - became priorities 1 through 842. Unfortunately, that meant doing a little more basement demo so I could get to all the spots the mice may be entering. That meant getting another dumpster, and that, subsequently, meant filling 'er up. On the docket for that were the last plaster ceiling in the rear of the basement and the goofy wood floor in the basement's front room.
The plaster ceiling demo was pretty uneventful. So was the basement floor demo.
I knew the plaster ceiling was original, based on the square cut nails used to hang the lath. I wasn't sure about the basement floor, but I knew that it was lauan on top of peel and stick tile on top of some sort of sheet good (linoleum, most likely) on top of tongue and groove pine on top of 2x4 flat framing on top of concrete. None of it came up without a fight.
As it turns out, the wood floor in the basement was NOT original (again, based on the nails used to fasten the boards). Why was it installed? My best guess is that the dentist that lived here in the 20s, who presumably used the basement's front room for his dental practice, did some remodeling and had the wood floor installed as a means of formalizing the space. Otherwise, it makes zero sense; the concrete underneath it is in perfect condition.
During the floor demo, I was hoping to find something of interest.
I didn't, really. But in the midst of randomly picking up a handful of crap that was in the way of my pry bar I noticed a super small sliver of what appeared to be newspaper. I don't know how in the world I spotted it among all the debris, but I guess if you do this sort of nonsense enough your eyes get decent at quickly identifying the trash from the non-trash. Likewise, I don't have any idea how the newspaper got there or where it came from, but it was definitely underneath the wood floor.
Anyhow, this is what I found:
No date. No newspaper title (after doing some homework, I'm not even sure it's newspaper; it may be more like an old school version of the junk mail that comes with all the little ads in it, or maybe a page of a catalog).
As far as finds go, this isn't too remarkable. It's inconsequential, really.
The little portion of the ad that's still intact is headlined "Men's $4.95 Leatherette Sheeplined Coats", and the verbiage beneath the headline says "Sheeplined Coat with heavy pelt. Wombatine collar. Four-pocket style. Storm wristlets. All-around belted. Sizes 36-46. Nugent's-Basement". Apparently, the store had some sorta sale day and on the sale day, the coat was knocked down to $3.90.
As far as local department stores go, I'd never heard of "Nugent's", and based on the prices of things, I figured it had to be pretty old; that was enough for me to want to do a little learnin'.
I did my best to look through old newspapers to see if I could find that exact ad in one of the local papers of the time, but the search was fruitless. That was disappointing, but similar ads indicate that this one dates to around 1930.
So...who or what was "Nugent's"?!
Nugent's was a dry goods store founded in 1869 in Mount Vernon, IL by a Canadian immigrant named Byron Nugent. He and the store moved to St. Louis in 1873. As the business grew, Byron relocated the store a couple times before settling on the southeast corner of Broadway and Washington - prime real estate back in the day - in 1889, although business demands required him to annex a few neighboring buildings in later years due to continued success.
For reference, here's Broadway & Washington today:
Many, many years ago, this was the Nugent's building that stood on the corner of the intersection.
Per the 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, the image above shows the store's Broadway face.
One of the buildings that got annexed post-1909 was the 5-story structure south of the store, across St. Charles Street, which could be accessed both at street level and from the main store via a bridge across St. Charles.
What did the store's interior look like?
Believe it or not, at one time, St. Louis was a big deal in the mercantile and fashion industries; Byron Nugent's contribution was his forward-thinking business sense. In 1913, Nugent opened a branch store in "Uptown", which we now call "Midtown", at the time considered a suburban locale. This was, reportedly, the first instance in the entire United States of a downtown department store opening up a branch location. He would repeat the feat by opening a 3rd store in Wellston.
Byron Nugent must have done pretty well for himself; he lived in a mansion at 29 Westmoreland Place, a private street (whose neighboring street gained a little notoriety for some recent events, if you follow politics at all) in the city's Central West End neighborhood. He died in 1908 and is entombed in a mausoleum in Bellefontaine Cemetery, which is the final resting place of all sorts of famous St. Louisans.
The business would continue after his death, although it was purchased in 1923 by another department store and the doors were closed for good in 1933 thanks to The Great Depression. For the most part, the buildings that comprised his downtown department store, encompassing the better part of a full city block, are long gone as well.
So...a random find, that isn't directly connected to either myself or the house, other than perhaps being part of a catalog a previous owner looked through a time or two 90 years ago. I'd never heard of Nugents, and I suspect that it faded into obscurity because it closed its doors so long ago...but I kinda like being able to give the stories of these old, forgotten places a little bit of life. And who knows, maybe the Nugent's catalog is what people read when they hung out in the back yard dipping pool, or what sat out in the dentist's office while patients waited to get fitted for their wooden teeth...maybe it's more connected to the house than I'll ever know.