It was nine kinds of a mess. The roof had big holes in it, which let snow, rainwater, bats, red squirrels, flying squirrels, regular old squirrels, and assorted hornets into the house. The holes were big enough to let in a burglar, now that I think of it, but they’re not known for carting forty-foot ladders to the job, so they passed us by, I guess. That could explain it, and also the fact that their are no burglars in Maine. Even if there were, there was nothing to steal. They could have stolen the whole house. The bank that owned it certainly would have looked the other way. They did when we sorta stole it.
You can make out the ghosts of leaks past trailing their way down the siding. There are three boarded up windows on display, if that’s the right term for something that’s not there anymore, a boarded up shed door, and two big, boarded up barn door openings. Some former owner was inordinately fond of boarding things up, I gather.
The house is only two storeys tall in the front, but the ground slopes precipitously, so the window you see on the second floor out back is actually the basement of the house. Underneath that at ground level is what we called the basement basement. That’s where we’ll be working.
If you don’t have a hangover, and haven’t had a greasy breakfast, you can probably stand to look at a picture of the other side of the basement basement wall. Send any small children and anyone prone to fainting out of the room, and scroll down, if you dare.
First, everyone who’s lived in my house for the last 50 years or so was crazy. I mean, even crazier than me for buying the place. They did everything and anything they could think of to the house, except something useful.
Secondly, instead of fixing anything properly, they just added stuff, crazy stuff. The roof wasn’t just leaking, it was an impromptu planetarium. Twenty-five percent of the foundation was missing in action. Most of the electricity in the house was run on bare wire knob and tube circuits from 1901. What would a sensible homeowner do? That’s right, they installed a tanning bed and a hot tub, and ceiling fans in all the rooms.
I knew that because I discovered two huge circuits in the house devoted to a tanning bed and a hot tub. But hey, fixing the roof is a drag. You can’t get your friends to come over to your house to sit waist deep in your roof, even though at this house it was actually possible, but maybe they’ll sit waist deep in your hot tub, after a tanning session. The funny thing is, you could also probably get a tan if you just stood next to the breaker panel with the tanning bed and the hot tub both turned on. I bet it hummed like the Crash Test Dummies when it really got going.
That plywood you see down at floor level is where the foundation belonged. It was completely gone, so they laid an I-beam on the ground, at right angles to the wall, which you can see sticking out of the back of the house. Here’s a picture of my son trying to free the I-beam from its plywood tomb. When we finally got it open, we found out the whole thing was empty, no structure whatsover, just stuffed full of insulation. A raccoon eventually sauntered out of the hole and off into the woods to live in peace.
What they thought they were accomplishing with that maneuver is beyond my unimaginative intellect to puzzle out. I can’t think of any way it could have helped. The only thing I can come up with to explain it was that they were necromancers, and knew by astral projection that I was going to buy the house eventually, and they didn’t like me. Few people do, so it wouldn’t take much black magic to figure that out. Anyway, I figure they wanted me to crack my ankle on that thing in the dark, over and over, and intone their names and several other Anglo Saxon oaths every time. A lamebrain form of yelling “Beetlejuice!”
Then they tried a perpendicular steel maneuver. Interestingly, Perpendicular Steel Maneuver is the name of my Stone Temple Pilots tribute band. But I digress. The jutting-out-ground-steel didn’t work, so they put a smaller steel beam in place under the main carrying beam of the house. That stopped the bleeding somewhat, and allowed them to go back to irradiating and boiling themselves in peace.
The main carrying beam was charred like the last hamburger at a vegan barbecue, because they’d had a few fires down there in the mists of antiquity, but it was still pretty solid. Civilians don’t understand the concept very well, but charred wood framing is about as strong as it was before you started playing with matches. If 10 percent of the wood burns away, the beam is still 90 percent as strong as it was before you lit that last doobie next to the pile of oily rags. Steel framing is generally a total loss after a fire, even if it looks as solid as it did before the fire. The heat weakens it. It’s not consumed by the fire, it just fails catastrophically from the heat, no matter what fat female comedians say about it on Twitter.
Further into the nether regions of the basement basement, they tried some more props. The built an ersatz beam out of 2 x 6 lumber, and put two steel posts underneath it. As you can observe, the floor framing above was laid out using a long jumper’s tape measure. That floor was bouncy, to say the least. We’ll fix that while we fix everything else.
As you can also observe, the concrete is strong faction was well represented in the committee to fix the basement. They figured a steel post sitting on a two-inch thick concrete dust cap could hold up one quarter of the weight of the back of the house, because concrete be strong, yo. As you can see from the condition of the floor, they figured wrong.
There was lots more fun down there. Whenever anything got in their way, for the most trivial thing they were trying to accomplish, they’d just hack away at it and leave it. Floor joist in the way? Cut it out, and stick a prop under the remainder!
So we’ve been having a whole lot of fun surveying the problem. But now it’s time for me to share a secret. We’d been living in the house for a couple of years already. We were broke, and unable to address lots of problems like the fabulous collapsing basement in a timely fashion. What got me to finally start this project, you wonder. Here it is:
I went to the dump. What’s that, you don’t have a dump? You have a recycling transfer station or some other euphemism? We’ve got a good, old fashioned dump. You can chuck out just regular old trash there, of course, and they pick it up once a week, too. But they’ve also got places to dump metal, and plastic, and lordy lordy, wood. And look what I found in the wood pile. That’s fifteen ten-foot long 2x4s, and some other assorted stuff. They were trash from something that got demolished, and they were bristling with nails, but they were free, baby. It was hardly enough wood to do more than make a start, but it was a start indeed.
[to be continued]