• 7 Small Bathroom Layouts
    7 Small Bathroom Layouts
  • Install a Vinyl Privacy Fence
    Install a Vinyl Privacy Fence
  • Read FHB on Your iPad
    Read FHB on Your iPad
  • Tips & Techniques for Painting
    Tips & Techniques for Painting
  • Video Series: Tile a Bathroom
    Video Series: Tile a Bathroom
  • Remodeling Articles
    Remodeling Articles
  • 7 Trim Carpentry Secrets
    7 Trim Carpentry Secrets
  • Basement Remodeling Tips
    Basement Remodeling Tips
  • Clever daily tip in your inbox
    Clever daily tip in your inbox
  • 7 Smart Kitchen Solutions
    7 Smart Kitchen Solutions
  • All about Roofing
    All about Roofing
  • Design Inspiration
    Design Inspiration
  • Deck Design & Construction
    Deck Design & Construction
  • Master Carpenter Videos
    Master Carpenter Videos
  • 9 Concrete Countertop Ideas
    9 Concrete Countertop Ideas
  • Magazine Departments
    Magazine Departments
  • Energy-Smart Details
    Energy-Smart Details

A Carpenter's View

A Carpenter's View

My Story As Told By Houses -- Part 3: The Old Frame House

comments (10) December 3rd, 2010 in Blogs
redwing44 redwing44, Legendary author

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.
What was most valuable was that the house came with a good well powered by a Dempster windmill.
Snow wasn’t the only substance that entered into our house. In The Dirty 30s, or the dust bowl days, “black blizzards” rolled across the plains states from Texas to Nebraska.
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.Click To Enlarge

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.

1 | 2 | 3 > View all

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.

windmill - well pump

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.

1 | 2 | 3 > View all

posted in: Blogs

Comments (10)

iwobill iwobill writes: Thanks for the wonderful story. Like they say. Todays bad old days will become tomorrows good old days.
Posted: 12:30 pm on December 27th

Jimmy_Canuck Jimmy_Canuck writes: When we bought some land in northern British Columbia, we decided to build a small cabin to live in while we built our house. I wanted to do something different so I built an octagonal cabin, and wasn't too fussy about making sure the corners were tight. When the wind started blowing that winter, we had piles of flour-like snow inside alll the windward corners. The water glasses froze on the table. When I built the house, I built a rectangle.
Posted: 5:05 pm on December 14th

mattyh mattyh writes: Great piece Larry.

I really liked the way you worked in the framing stuff.

Can't wait to build my shack in the woods.

Posted: 9:21 pm on December 12th

genethehat genethehat writes: I also was botn & raized in a small (one room) house with a younger brother. My question has always been. "How much room do two people need"
Was going to build a 24 by 24 foot retirement home for myself, but stroke ended that thought. So my advice to all: Do it now tomorrow will be to late.
Larry, Great post. Helping bring back lost memories. Thanks
Posted: 12:41 pm on December 6th

Posted: 11:25 am on December 6th

ripstorm ripstorm writes: Talking with my wife’s cousin at her cousin’s reunion in Kansas a couple of years ago – one Kansas cousin told me they didn’t get electricity out on the farm till 1956. I told him that my girlfriend’s family back in Michigan had a color tv in late 1956. Great people out there in Kansas and Nebraska.
Posted: 10:54 am on December 6th

Paulie4 Paulie4 writes: Wonderful reading. Brings back so many memories. Had the world by the tail in those days. Thank you.
Posted: 8:50 am on December 6th

patrick_mccombe patrick_mccombe writes: Good stuff, Larry. Thanks for sharing.
Posted: 8:41 am on December 6th

Brentwood Brentwood writes: Hello, my friend.
Loved your story and the words of great wisdom!
That doesn't sound too different than the way and place I grew up: on a ranch in southeastern Idaho. When my parents move to Teton Valley and bought the farm (no, they didn't die)in 1947, the year I was born, we live in a 100 year old two room log cabin the first year. Before we could move into it, the neighbor had used it for a grainery for several years. It had a wood cook stove and a cistern with a hand pump outside. When I was a year old, we moved a couple of miles to the mouth of the canyon into another, larger 4 room log house. This one still had a well with a hand pump and an outhouse out back. We all took our baths in a galvanized steel tub in the middle of the living room in front of the oil heater. We had it good. I went to school with kids who live in a one room log house with a dirt floor and a sod roof. I don't ever remember thinking that we were poor or didn't have enough. We always had plenty of food and the necessities. Most of the food we grew or hunted. Up there, in the Teton country, it got down to 40 below most winters. I, also, know about wind driven snow and hard ice on the inside of window glass.
As you know, Larry, I have been a general contractor and home inspector for many years here on the Oregon Coast. I often tell my clients buying their new 4000 sq. ft. home (for 2 people) that I don't have a washer & dryer and never have owned a dish washer, a garbage disposal or a garage door opener. They look at me in disbelief like I am from another planet. Then when I tell them I haven't flushed my toilet for the last 8 years they think I'm either joking or crazy. I have a composting toilet inside my 900 sq.ft. house...much nicer than the composting outhouse built from salvage material I used for several years before. Now I don't have to go outside in the rain. My little house is built almost entirely with framing materials from my property and reclaimed lumber. I think I am at about $25 per sq. ft. or less at this point...Of course, not counting all my labor.
You made some very valid points in your article. Most Americans are spoiled and think that modern conveniences, like electricity and a TV in every room, are necessities. I will admit, electricity is really nice.
Oh, by the way, I know the huge mansion up on the hill you spoke of. I think it is a second home for the couple who built it. How many homes would that build in Haiti?
Thank you again for your wise words!
Posted: 3:45 am on December 6th

TheTimberTailor TheTimberTailor writes: Larry,

I hope you plan to keep the stories coming... vivid stories from your past cause me to reflect on a remarkably similar history from my childhood. Many stories of modern hardship pale in comparison to memories of sleeping in unheated spaces under a featherbed temporarily warmed by a stove-heated iron.

Looking forward to the next episode...

Posted: 1:09 am on December 4th

Log in or create a free account to post a comment.