Saturday, June 21, 2008

Very Nasty, Dirty Job

Here’s the last of the flood photos I have to show you, and then it’s back to business.

Day before the expected crest.

Everything's a marina!

Big city-gal who cringes at the thought of getting dirt under her nails and walking on bare ground looking for masochistic worker who loves to wallow in sticky tar, be scraped over by a thousand nails and staples, and enjoys a meal of dust and sand.

This is the ad I should have taken out when we tackled the kitchen floor. Little wonder the house went unsold for so long, as the kitchen itself required a total redo.

We were to discover that the floor was covered with a layer of linoleum, two layers of vinyl flooring, and one layer of all-weather carpeting (in a kitchen? Yes.). The vinyl flooring could have been installed during the 60’s or 70’s. It was very shiny, very tacky, and psychedelic green and gold – Blecch!

That green vinyl floor is yet to be removed from the kitchen utility room. See the cool 1928 refrigerator? That will ultimately go into the Laura Hawkins house which we were to purchase some two years later. 1928 is the year Laura Hawkins died in that house, and we intend to "freeze" decor to this year.

So first things first – remove the ultra-cheap wall and sink cabinets – a fairly easy job due to their flimsiness. Here’s what the kitchen looked like after removing the wall cabinets, carpeting, and vinyl flooring.

The sink cabinet, once loosened from the wall and floor, collapsed and folded onto itself. This thing was constructed of 1/4-inch bonded slats and plastic brackets. How much could the original installer have paid for this? $20? We also removed a cheap plywood & formica countertop from what was originally a huge window.

Now for the fun part. After reading up on linoleum removal, I decided to use the heat gun (hair blower, in this case) and chisel method. In total, this job took two solid weeks (80 hours) to do. Here are a series of photos showing our progress...

A daunting job awaits us.

We removed the linoleum tiles pretty quickly with most of the tiles intact.

Closeup of our tar-removal efforts.

Next came removal of the remaining discoloration with TSP (trisodium phosphate heavy duty cleaner available at most hardware stores):

Here are our efforts in the area next to the steam register. This was not an easy area to remove floor tar.

Here's a view where the old cabinets use to stand. We ended up removing the piping from this area. Eventually, we'll install piping in the middle of the kitchen for the sink in our kitchen island.

Finally, this area was ready for a professional sander to take over.

We asked around among members of the local historical preservation society and were directed to a well-recommended sander from Qunicy, Illinois - a fairly hep city 20 miles north of Hannibal.

Just before the sander came over to do his work, we discovered by accident a wonderful brick wall behind the compacted sand & plaster one where the wall cabinets originally hung. We worked furiously to remove all of the plaster & sand to expose the brick wall before the sander came.

The sander worked on our floors for a week, giving it a stain to match the floors throughout the rest of the house and two coats of polyurethane finish. The result was heavenly. We then cleaned up what remained on the brick wall - messy, but after cleaning up most of the mess, we were very pleased with the exposed authentic brick and flooring together:

This floor would look better had we thoroughly wiped up our mess.

Standing back, here's the final result:

The photo shows the antique cabinets we will be installing. Our wonderful brick will need more cleaning. Please excuse the dust, "cough", "cough".

Wonderful and worth all the trouble, was it not?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Flood Update - Sunday

Hey, All
Here are the latest flood pictures from Hannibal. Things are changing course very quickly with the water heading up the levee and currents rushing by.

The photos below are courtesy of our wonderful neighbors and the hosts of Garden House B&B.

The "Historic District" side of a floodgate. It looks like sandbags are needed to clog up the leakage.

The other (river) side of that floodgate.

Here's a view looking northeast. Hannibal for now is unplagued by loud train whistles since all train tracks are underwater. The railroad bridge connecting Hannibal to the Illinois side will be several feet underwater soon if this keeps up.

Here's a view looking south. You are looking at Hannibal's Marina. Bubba's restaurant is the big brick building at the foot of the hills.

Between the berm, floodgates, and jersey barriers, sandbags are not necessarily needed to create the flood barrier itself. The jersey barriers are the extra two feet added to the floodgate. Once in place, they are covered with plastic sheeting and sandbags are used to weigh down and clog the areas between each barrier, as shown below.

The complete deal in now in place.

Amid all the excitement, we've ignored our restoration progress. We'll get back to business later this week.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Flood Update - Juneteenth (Saturday)

One can see the Mississippi rising each hour... it's unbelievable... and expected to get to the top of the levy in Hannibal in the next 4-7 days.

City officials are adding another 2 feet (sand bags) to the top of the berm just in case. The 100-year flood has taken only 15 years to re-appear since the last one in 1993.

Crews guide a floodgate into the levee Tuesday morning
(June 10, 2008). Photo by Hannibal Courier-Post

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hannibal Flood Warning

I received this urgent bulletin calling for all sand-baggers to report for sand-bagging duty and help save Hannibal from a possible 500-year flood. Click on the letter below...

Dear Ones, though my houses are close to downtown Hannibal and also the Mississippi River, I'm far enough away from the flood zone to not have to worry about this. I made a point of not buying in this area after peering into the basements of properties that have flooded many times. That so many of these 100 to 150-year old structures are still being used today is amazing.

I've experienced both the big 1973 and 1993 floods, so we'll see if this one is the record-breaker.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I spent my first night in the chateau a few months after I bought it. We had no furniture and I fashioned a makeshift bed out of several down comforters in the middle of the living room (the sleep was great the first night, but my back was killing me by the fourth night).

The living room as it looks today.


It was January 2006 and I was about to experience the most terrifying ghostly encounter of my life. I’ve lived in haunted houses many years earlier in Hannibal, so I was used to unexplained noises and movements, but this one topped any of my past experiences.

I spent the day opening packages and putting things in order – tasks that lasted into the night. I spent most of my time downstairs when around 9pm I heard a loud voice by the front door speaking gibberish. I shrugged it off to folks out on the sidewalk and later forgot about it.

I retired to my makeshift bed around 11pm. Shortly after, I was jolted out of a sound sleep. I didn’t know exactly what jolted me – a vibration or a noise -- but it caused me to sit straight up immediately. A few seconds later, I heard an unexplainable stomping sound coming from upstairs. It sounded as if someone was holding a heavy beam, and banging its end against the floor! I looked at my cellphone. It was midnight.

The noise continued every few seconds and hard as I may, I could make no logical sense of it. Anyone standing on the sidewalk outside the house could have heard the stomping from within; the vibration was enough to cause the radiators upstairs to shake. I sat in the dark for nearly 10 minutes listening with my heart pounding in my throat. Finally I got up and turned on the dining room lights. One more stomp, and it stopped. I left that light on all night long.

The dining room lights. The track lighting has since been taken down.

The following morning (after a mostly sleepless night) I ventured upstairs and found nothing amiss. Everything was in its place and there were no depressions in the carpet. I tried to mimic the noise by jumping up and down on the floor as hard as I could, but couldn’t make a fraction of the noise from the night before.

The 2nd floor hallway as viewed from my jumping spot. The bathroom is at the end of the hall to your right. This can be a spooky walk to make in the middle of the night.


I took chiding from friends on how the noise must have been the radiators (it was not), and I fully expected it to happen again the 2nd night. Around 9pm, I heard the same voice I heard the night before (the one I had almost forgotten about). This time it was an intelligible, loud baritone voice that cried in an urgent tone, “Call the Cops”. I immediately looked outside and saw two teenagers walking down the sidewalk. This was not the voice of some skinny teenager.

Upon retiring, I kept the dining room lights on. I expected to hear stomping again and couldn’t sleep. Sure enough I heard noises, but it wasn't stomping. What I heard was slow and deliberate footsteps treading the 2nd floor, going from the front to the back of the house. This went on for a few minutes, and then it stopped. Minutes later, it started again. This pacing continued on and off all night. Strange thing was, the floor upstairs was carpeted, yet the steps sounded like they were treading hardwood.

The next morning, I found nothing amiss upstairs.


Total silence. Nothing. Had the ghost reconciled my existence? Am I no longer considered an intruder in the house?


Same thing. Total silence.

Some Spiritual Advice

There’s nothing like having an enemy and a friend to cut you to the core – an enemy to conduct his deeds and a friend to defend his indiscretions to you. The two really do deserve each other. Better, they deserve to be together on a remote island far away from the rest of us who want to pursue better things.

If you've ever found yourself in this situation, you've no doubt dealt with resentment. Nothing is worse than living your days being resentful over a working relationship gone sour - particularly one where you put up $$$ in the deal.

So_Let_Go. Yes, it can be that simple. Believe me, you will meet other like-minded individuals while you are working on your dream home. Other out-of-towners AND locals doing the same thing you are doing will seek you out. You will be pursued by members of the local preservation society, art council, and other like-minded groups because they already see you as kindred spirit. Most of these folks will be every bit as cultured, educated, and self-sufficient as you.

You’ll soon wonder why you wasted your time with those who approached your project with "opportunistic" intentions.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


We’ve been doing the restoration thing for awhile so before I get into this part, there are things to know before renovating a house. The most important thing is…

In a town like Hannibal, you’d think it would be easy to learn who’s trustworthy and who’s not. It is, but if you are fairly new to an area, beware the contractor who targets out-of-towners. This contractor has burned his bridges with locals and is hoping you won’t learn of his reputation before he gets a sizable job from you. Some clues that you’ve come across this type:

-He will tell you from the very beginning how honest he is, and maybe even what a good Christian he is. Now really, does a good, honest Christian need to boast of this? And, particularly upon meeting someone initially?

-He will bad-mouth local competitors off the bat (“Local folks don’t know how to work. I wouldn’t hire any of them”). If you take him at his word, you’ve just dismissed potentially good contractors before you’ve given any of them a chance. In all likelihood, one of those competitors would have been a more cost-effective and a trustworthy source, and this contractor doesn’t want you to know that.

-He will want to start work immediately (before you find out about him). He may even go into all the things that are wrong with your home and the catastrophes that await you if you don’t have these things fixed right away.

-Upon seeing him on the premises, well-meaning friends and neighbors will come forward and WARN you about him.

Now, you may chuckle to yourself at how obvious these red flags are -- and they are obvious. Unfortunately, there can be one factor that will cause you to put these doubts on the back burner – the well-meaning, but clueless, good friend. All the bells and clangings can go off , but this friend will assure you that she’s used this contractor, he goes to her church, and he’s a friend of the family. OK, you want to appease her, so you do just that – hire her contractor/friend for a sizable job. After all, a friend wouldn’t steer you wrong, right? WRONG!

After accepting my friend’s offer, things went well – at first. Of course, the contractor was being watched by EVERYONE. He’s on his very best behavior, and my doubts about him slowly began to dissolve. At this time, the contractor was also getting more comfortable and began to let his real nature slip and come into focus…

I expressed some reservations about paying a large amount of money upfront and this contractor (in front of a witness) poo-poo’d my concern in a loud and intimidating manner. Where did that come from? Without first consulting me, he made a duplicate house key and gave it to a subcontractor. Hmmmm. He decided we needed an extra feature on the house. We soon realized this guy was only thinking of a bigger ($$) job he had in mind for us, based on the retrofits he was making.

After feeling really comfortable, this contractor performed a job without a contract from us and then surprised us with a sizable bill. CLANG, CLANG, CLANG. The bells went off big-time. My friend and I had an altercation over this, and in the end I pretended things were patched up. Now I was left pondering all the things I should have acted upon had I trusted my gut.

Soon after, the contractor began inundating me with e-mails pressing for another chance and other jobs. Shortly after that, my e-mail box began to fill up with huge files of unsolicited literature – something along the line that those who don’t believe and trust are to be pitied. Am I being made to be the bad guy? I ended the harrassment by blocking the e-mails, hence getting this contractor out of my neighborhood, off my projects, and out of my life for good.

My School-of-Hard-Knocks Advice:
Go to the experts for your contractor recommendations. This could be as simple as joining your local historical preservation society and asking around. They know the good contractors and they know the duds. They’ve been there, have experienced the the heartaches, and have heard all the stories.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Knew This Was The One!

I'll do a little backing up here.

After hunting Hannibal houses during the summer of 2005, we settled on two. I wanted the 2,500 square foot Chateau which was close to historic downtown Hannibal, and my husband wanted a 3,000 square foot Arts & Crafts house which was next door to Rockcliffe Mansion.

Rockcliffe Mansion, BTW, is a must-see for every tourist and local. It was bought by one of my future neighbors in the same year (2005). He turned this Hannibal monument (built by lumber baron John Cruikshank) into a retreat come alive with dance shows, mystery dinners, ghost tours and other special events:

Photo of Rockcliffe Mansion from the website:

Back to the selection of houses… we would have been happy with either choice, but we did have our preferences. The great thing about buying property in a smallish, Midwest town like Hannibal is the favorable price differential compared to similar property in Seattle. The two houses were selling for a little over $100K each. In a good Seattle neighborhood, these houses would have fetched over a million dollars. So here was property selling for a mere 10 cents on a Seattle dollar being handed to us on a platter. Even if we were to be lavish in our restoration efforts, we wouldn’t come close to paying Seattle prices. Interior features included…






Déjà vu took the better of us. I remembered the Chateau because I actually visited the house as a pubescent teenager in the 1970’s. A cousin and his children (my 2nd cousins) rented the house and I remembered my first tour. My cousin was an avid clock collector whose hundreds of working clocks graced every piece of furniture and every corner. I wonder to this day how anyone could have lived in the house with its incessant clanging, chiming, and tick-tocks day and night.

Another thing that played in our decision to choose this house was my history with Hannibal. Being the one who lived in the town at one time, I lay greater claim to Hannibal than my husband (who could only claim the Missouri city of Saint Louis). I walked past this house every weekend on my way downtown. I had former classmates who lived in the neighborhood at one time. The house melted away any remnant of hesitation I may have had about moving back to my hometown.

I knew this house, and I knew it was the one dagnabbit.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wonderful Chateauesque - Some Exterior Features

Our future Chateauesque is the only one of its kind in Hannibal, Missouri. It was built in 1895 by local architect and builder J.M. Patton. The first owner was J.O. Green, a saloon keeper and lumberman. Lumber was one of the principal industries in Hannibal at this time. The exterior of the house has some wonderful features.

The entryway...

Here's the top of the entryway. Such care in craftsmanship. Notice how the limestone molding is covered by the tin ceiling of the porch? The porch to the house was not built until two years later in 1887.

Here are the dormers. I'll bet at one time the roof tiling was actually slate instead of the asphalt shown here. Replacing these tiles with the real deal would be one of our projects in the future:

Here's a close-up of the stonework. The stone is teaming with fossils:

Here's the house at night:

New Beginnings

Do you believe that a house will attract and lure whom it wants to be its owners? Let me clarify this...

We are a couple of urbanites from Seattle, Washington. We loved our work, our house, and our lives there, yet events beyond our control brought us back to the Midwest and well on the path of becoming historic home restorers in the picturesque town of Hannibal, Missouri.

First it was 9-11 in 2001, an event that rendered many of us aerospace folks jobless for a year or even longer. This meant one of us taking an aerospace job in remote Tulsa, OK. Nice town, and it was just within driving distance (7 hours) of Hannibal, MO - my high school hometown. So on weekends, I'd do the long drive, catch up with former classmates, and rediscover the town I'd all but forgotten about.

Enter the opportunity to buy a Chateau that had been on the market for two years. Why hadn't anyone bought this gem? Could it be the unfinished kitchen? The smell of animal urine throughout the house? The neighborhood? The neighborhood at the turn of the century (1900) was dubbed "Millionaire's Row", but had long since been an enclave for low-paying renters. At one time, the house even got taken off the market for a few months due to lack of buyer interest.

Over the years, the house experienced numerous deals "fall through". Some folks thought the urine smell was orchestrated on purpose to cover up an illegal meth operation. The demographics of Missouri as a primary "meth" state is well known throughout the country. Alas, misguided would-be buyers wouldn't accept the explanation that the recently-evicted renters harbored large pets inside the house.

The kitchen itself required total renovation. Buyers often want a finished kitchen. More on this later.

Well, upon the recovery of the aerospace industry and wrapping up my Tulsa assignment, we had our offer of $100K accepted -- almost immediately. Whoohoo!