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An Engineer in the Woods, Installment 10: Demolition Man, Part 1

Thursday, March 1, 2018


By the weekend of the Fourth of July of 2015 most of Mom and Dad’s big furniture had found new homes and what was left we had crammed wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling into the workshop and garage.  Every square inch of the house was going to be under construction at the same time- EXCEPT the garage and workshop which are my future “dream” projects.  It was time for full-scale demolition. 

I am painfully cheap because, 1. my parents grew-up during the Great Depression and; 2. I’m 25% Lowland Scottish from my Grandpa Hamilton.  There is also some Scot added from my mother’s family as my 15x Great-Grandfather on her mother’s side was King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, but after about 390 years in “melting-pot” America on both her mother’s and her father’s sides (there are about a dozen pilgrims in our family tree) I have no idea what percentage of me is Scot from that side.  For those of you that don’t know, Scots are typically VERY frugal, and proud of it – hence the brand name “Scotch” Tape. Scotch (one of my favorite beverages), however, is not cheap.  Go figure…but, once again, I have wandered away from the story…

To save money, we started the demolition ourselves. In June, I had bought a couple of Waste Management Bagsters from Home Depot and with Kristen and the kids had taken-up some carpet and paneling. Big stuff went in the Bagsters and was picked-up without any issues.  Small stuff went into the regular trash.  By Week 3 the trash company left a nasty sticker informing us that we had too much garbage.  There had been almost no trash for the several months that Mom was in and out of hospitals and rehab, and after 8 years of charging my widowed mother a ridiculous amount for her single ½ bag of weekly garbage when she was home, plus an additional exorbitant fee that was charged for 52 weeks a year for them to walk 50 feet from the street to get the trash from the garage on the weeks that she remembered to open the garage door (no refunds), the nasty sticker really ticked-me-off DAMMIT!  We were prepaid until October 1, but October 2 we would be getting a new trash company DAMMIT! [crap] I was turning into my mother… From the future trash company, we ordered the largest dumpster that would fit in our driveway thinking that it was probably bigger than we needed.  We soon filled it and another one like it- not to mention further abuse of the soon to be former trash company!

Although, we didn’t have time to be cheap with our Christmas deadline, picking away at the demo had allowed me to trace-out 50 years of plumbing and electrical and that enabled me to confirm my earlier decision that if it was a wire or a pipe, it had to be replaced!  It also allowed me to see into the walls to learn what work I hadn’t expected. 

The first surprise was a big one.  Typical spacing for wall studs is 16 inches.  We had double-studs at 48 inches!  There was a reason for it, the double studs were directly under the rafters and served as the posts for the post and beam roof (Installment 3, The Roof).  But, this spacing would make things difficult for the drywaller and the electrician, plus, it was not NORMAL!  One of my largest concerns was how the Will County Building Department would react to an unusual roof design not to mention multiple minor idiosyncrasies throughout the house that I will not enumerate in case they ever come back for another look… I told our carpenter John to add the missing studs – let me restate that, $TUD$$$$$$!

For the big tear-down on the fourth we had all three of our kids (Aileen, Sean, Ricky), Kristen’s dad, Aileen’s boyfriend Chris and my sister Helen’s oldest son Trent.

Chris was an incoming senior in Construction Engineering at Iowa State, and he is successfully employed in that profession today in DesMoines.  He is built like a lumber jack, is just over 9 feet tall, has hands like backhoe buckets and a reach of almost 20 feet. Unlike me, he keeps his tools organized and handy.  The only thing I can ever find is a dictionary of curse words, my credit card and car keys so that I can run to the hardware store and buy another tool that I know that I already have several of, somewhere…

Kristen’s dad built and maintained nuclear powerplants for most of his working life.  He can also fix anything and, like Chris, has the organized tools to do it.  For 33 years I’ve felt extremely inadequate whenever I tackled a car or small engine repair and, 1. Had to call Dad for help, then 2. Had him watch me dig unsuccessfully through a pile of tools only to find that half of them weren’t there – but I know that they have to be somewhere DAMMIT!

Trenton was a junior in Accounting at Indiana University, and today is a successful CPA for a large Chicago firm.  He had worked long hours in demolition of repossessed properties for the past couple summers. 

In our demolition team of eight, I was only ranked in the middle in terms of skill and experience…

Here is a pic of the demo-ed Great Room and a video of lumberjack Chris knocking down the last wall of the former kitchen.

                                                         The Stripped Great Room   

                                                       Chris Taking Down The Last Kitchen Wall

                   Here is a video of the Last Kitchen Wall Coming Down!!!       

                   More to Come....

                   Have a beautiful day!