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Old Tennessee House: A House in a Small Town - More of the Story

A House in a Small Town: Chapter Two—Living in it

When we moved into our old frame house we put our oak pedestal dining table right on top of the big hump in the kitchen floor. The kitchen had sunk down all around on the sides but, years ago, someone had propped up the center of the floor with a pile of rocks under the house. So the table was on top of the "floor mountain" because that was the only place it would set level. You had to be careful though, not to tip over backwards when you sat in one of our ladder back chairs because they were all around the table and heading uphill. When we mentioned to Helen Mays, our next-door neighbor, about the hump in the floor, she mentioned it to Mrs. Willie Loveless (the former owner) and reported back that Willie said that floor was perfectly level. Just goes to show you people don't notice things changing if they change gradually over many years. After a couple years, when I got around to starting to ripping out the kitchen floor, I saw the sills were rotten and the walls were rotten partway up as well. Combine that with the fact that the walls were half gone where the non-original windows had been installed and I soon figured there wasn't enough of the kitchen area to fix. So I said I would take it down and build it back on a new foundation where the old nearly non-existent foundation had been. Remind me to tell you how I had the water heater perched on concrete blocks on the dirt where the floor had once been, and I was tearing down the walls. One of the walls came down a little bit prematurely, when I hadn't thought to move the water heater. It was one of those "counter-high" water heaters and it was still connected to the pipes and the wiring ... and working. Well, the wall pulled the trick of dropping right right around the water heater so that there it was sticking up through the window opening. Seems like one of the silent movie stars pulled that trick one time, was it Charlie Chaplin or Harold Loyd? On second thought it might have been Buster Keaton.

Speaking of hot water, it was right around that time that I had to disconnect and re-connect the toilet and I found that I had inadvertently put the hot water line on the toilet. Talk about comfort, flush it for a nice warm refill and "set a spell".

To make a long story short I managed to get a new foundation made. I dug it, poured concrete and laid the blocks myself. I had done it once before and I'll have to admit I wasn't very good at it. I don't seem to have a picture of the hole in the ground but I had pictures starting with the construction of the new floor system. I had taken down the kitchen, and the back porches area. I laid out the new construction on the same footprint as the old. I made a kitchen and three bathrooms while I was at it. While we were bathroom-less we went to live in our small rental house down the road about two blocks. But that house is another story.

I borrowed some money from dad to get materials for the reconstruction of the kitchen and back porch area. He willingly helped us out. I made a floor system of 2 by 10 with five eighths inch tongue in groove plywood sub-floor. Later I would wish I had used a heavier sub-floor material to provide better nailing for the hardwood flooring I would be putting down, but I could not always see ahead what I would need to have done. Anyway, I used 2 by 6 studs on 24 inch centers so I would have room for more insulation. I followed the same general outside lines of the original rooms but I made it different inside than it was before. The kitchen was about sixteen by sixteen feet with a porch beside it of about eight by sixteen. They had opened up the area in the old construction but it was not engineered before. In the new I used a nice big built-up beam of nice old heavy old pine 2 by 12.

I always kept a lookout for good used lumber and at the time there was an old man who kept a used materials yard near downtown Nashville. He was near Rutledge Hill on or near Fourth Avenue South, I believe. He used to buy bricks, lumber and all manner of resaleable things from (mostly black) wrecking crews who worked in or near the central city. Howe'er it was he always seemed to be on site, staying in an old bus fitted out with gas heat for the winter. Once, when I was in the bus paying him for some lumber I commented on his unvented gas heaters, saying they might be a health risk, he said, well, they use unvented gas heaters in New Orleans all the time. I didn't say anything, but I suppose the buildings in New Orleans were leaky enough not to be dangerous. Anyway, by now the old man has sold out and gone on to meet his maker. I did learn a lot about old lumber and stuff from him.

Sometimes I would see a wrecking crew working on a building as I was just driving along. I used to go up to the boss and see what I could buy off him that I could use. Down on Third Avenue South I bought some big ole heavy 2 by 14 inch floor joists. I asked the guy how long they were and he had the exact dimension in his head: Twenty-five, five, he said. That is, 25 feet, 5 inches. I couldn't carry them home that long and only needed them to be 16 feet long, so I pulled out a hand saw (that wasn't really very sharp) and, after paying for them, cut them by hand. Boy, did my arm get sore. I still had a time transporting them—had to make two trips. I used them to reinforce the upstairs floor joist system—maybe overkill, but hey, that's what I did. I took the nine foot off cuts and, with what I didn't use in construction I made benches out of. Around Christmas time 2005 my cousin Richard Perry mentioned that he still had the bench I gave him at that time. I had forgotten all about it. Another time I paid about 75 bucks for a two or three pickup loads of stuff from an old Italianate town house in Pulaski Tennessee. I got a bunch of moldings and such from them. I figured out a way to use most all the used materials I got during those days, although sometimes I didn't use them in a historically correct fashion. Here is a picture of the framing for the kitchen/porch area. You can see the darker-colored used lumber making up the structural beam, the higher-ceilinged part that is modelled after the kitchen and the lower-ceilinged area that imitates the original porch area.

After we moved to Centerville we learned that an old friend, Larry Maxwell was building a house in the area also. His property was way out in the western part of the county in the Coble community. So Larry and I got reacquainted and we started swapping work with each other. I helped Larry with his house and he helped with mine. Later we worked together on remodeling jobs, cabinet jobs and all kinds of things, really. Here's a picture of Larry and me painting the inside of the Methodist church in Centerville. Larry has a cabinet shop now aand does real nice work. He has a web site at WildWoodTn.com.

Another person who helped was Leon Fuller. I helped him some on the house he and Clarissa were building and he helped me in turn. He is now big into puppets and puppet theatre. You can see their web site here: Wood and Strings Theatre. I remember him and me hefting up the big old two by twelve pine beams that I was using to assist our old bouncy upstairs floor system.

On to chapter three
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