My Story As Told By Houses -- Part 3: The Old Frame Housecomments (10) December 3rd, 2010 in Blogs
“Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?” — Blind Alfred Reed, 1929
Behind where my wife and I live near the beautiful Oregon coast, there is a new house, some say a starter castle, that has five fireplaces and seven bathrooms. One granddaughter says it looks bigger than her middle school. I understand it has adequate rooms and sufficient space for the couple and their dog. Increasingly, we live in a society that builds big houses and fills them with more and more. Does this leave us, our children, and our earth with less and less? Is this sustainable? Is this what life is about? Please let me know.
I was born in a wood-frame house with less than 1000 square feet of floor space in the small town of Harrisburg, Neb., (pop. 85). As Barbara Kingsolver says, it was right close “to the center of the middle of nowhere.” The nearest doctor was 30 miles away, so a midwife caught me as I came into life from my mother.
The town was populated by many more chickens than people. My mother told me that she was happy I was born in May, the time when the meadowlarks perch on the fence posts and sing their beautiful courting song. This was her signal that the long, often bitter, winter was finally coming to an end. Blessed are the meadowlarks, for they bring sunshine!
In 1930, my parents bought this house, built in the 1890s, for $900 with money borrowed from the Kimball County Bank. The house came with about four acres of land and several small, deteriorating outbuildings. There were few trees on the property or in the town, other than the Russian olive, which some say is more of a weed than a tree. What was most valuable was that the house came with a good well powered by a Dempster windmill.
The water below this town was not an easily tapped reservoir. Rather, it flowed in underground streams that even a water witcher could not always locate.
The construction of this house was much like that of one of the first houses I helped frame in 1950 in Los Angeles. A 2x6 sill was placed directly on the foundation to support the 2x6 floor joists. No foundation bolts were used to hold it securely in place. Our floor was bouncy because the floor joists were undersized for the distance they spanned. This was true also of the 2x4 ceiling joists, which caused the plastered ceiling to sag like a swaybacked horse. Thankfully, we really don’t build them like we used to.
The joists in our home were nailed in place 16 in. on center with machine-made, rectangular-shaped, cut nails using a 16 oz., curved-claw hammer like the one I had as a child. The floor was then sheathed with 1x12 pine boards that I could see from down in the cellar. These boards were placed diagonally across the floor to help strengthen the frame. All the wood members had to be cut by a handsaw. Sheathing diagonally meant that both ends of every board had to be cut at a 45-degree angle to fit on the joists — lots of sawing for apprentice carpenters. Once the house was framed and finished, the floor was covered with straight-grained, tongue-and-groove, 1x4-in., Douglas-fir boards. Most likely, this beautiful flooring material had made the long journey to western Nebraska from the Oregon coast.
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