Some years ago, I woke up one morning to find that the exterior doors of the house I’d recently moved into wouldn’t open. This place was located on a ranch in a rural area near Shingletown, California. The door frames where pressing on the top or the doors, pinning them shut.
There were few professionals whom you could call on in such a remote area, and fewer still who would agree to make the trek out there. This was a small unincorporated town. You could put a letter in the mail, with a proper stamp of course, and just write Bob on the envelope. It would be delivered. Even if there was more than one Bob, they’d know the Bob you were meaning to post a letter to. It was a magical place, but you had to figure out your own problems or call a neighbor.
Ten days later, while still pondering my predicament, we had a night of strong winds. When I woke up, the doors were working again. It was then that I remembered the big winds we’d had the night before the problem first started.
The house was situated in a shallow canyon, at about 2,000 feet elevation, in the watersheds below Mt. Lassen. Strong winds funneled up the canyon and had apparently racked my house over with the uphill flow, pinning the doors shut. When the winds returned, coming down-mountain this time, the house was pushed in the opposite direction, freeing the doors.
My house was on a country road that started just as the California Central Valley turned into the eastern foothills. The road was paved for about twenty-five miles and then it turned into dirt which would eventually reach Nevada if you choose to keep going. It didn’t connect to anything. At the end of it was this shitty half town that I’d fallen in love with (for a while).
If you were coming out to see me, here’s the directions I’d give you:
Take the 44 to the Old 44 until it ends. Turn up-hill and take note of your odometer otherwise you’re in for a long day. Drive for about 15 miles and start looking for a wrecked airplane nosed into a pasture at a 45 degree angle (I put it there. Actual airplane. You can get anything on ebay). Take the next gravel road and there you are.
I will never again be so fortunate to live in a place where those are the directions that you’d give to a potential visitor.
I had a truck with a winch. A local welder, having just welded on the truck for a spell, named it The Blue Pig. I still had an office in San Francisco at that time and had to take it there for some reason. I ordered a ‘Think Green’ bumper sticker from Amazon, slapped it on, and went. I’d only been in the city for 10 minutes before a muni-bus sideswiped the Pig and tore off the side mirror because it wasn’t fitting into the lane as well as I’d imagined. I’m just painting a picture for you about the big truck. Another time, I was driving the Pig to town one evening when I came upon a semi hitched to an empty logging trailer. The driver, who was headed up the mountain to pick up a load of Ponderosa Pines, had somehow got his rig stuck in the irrigation ditch that paralleled the road. We had rules out there. One of them was that you’d always stop if someone needed help. I backed Blue Pig up to an old oak, lashed it to the tree, hooked the winch to the semi and dragged the rig out of the ditch. I’m just painting a picture for you of Pig’s winching prowess.
Getting back to the door problem… my neighbor said that I didn’t need to wait around for the next wind storm to un-stick my stuck doors. In a tone you’d use to tell a child something obvious, he pointed out that a u-bolt run through the header beam on the side of my house, higher the better, would let me use Blue Pig’s winch to give it a tug.
Not only did this work, it also taught me something valuable about structures. They aren’t that mysterious. They work like you’d expect. They sway in the wind, stretch, expand and contract under load. Given enough leverage, you can shape them.
I was telling this story to JR at Going Queen last week. JR leads the framing crew for my contractor. I work best with people who are transparent and JR is this kind of person. People have a tendency to ‘soften the blow’. JR tells it like it is.
The day before, JR called me to meet him at the house and he pointed out how my roof was sagging, the floors were tilting, and the 2nd story exterior wall was leaning outwards. This was adding a lot of ‘character’ to the home.
About two years ago, I’d hired a different contractor to do the clean-up work and interior demolition work. After doing a walk-through, my architect told me he should have braced the house. He said that these older homes don’t have a lot of structural support in their framing and when you remove the interior finished surfaces there’s not enough left to hold the house up. I asked my first contractor about it and he said it wasn’t necessary.
Fast forwarding to now, my current contractor removed the deck that the turret was sitting on, as well as the entire third floor and all interior walls. It seemed like it was slowly sagging over the last couple years, and the recent removal of more walls, windows and the deck, caused all the weight of the turret corner of the house to pull the roof down and cause the wall to start pushing outwards and the the floor to tilt.
When my contractor started putting everything back together, the degree of the problem became more apparent. When you try to build level things in an unlevel world, it starts to show.
JR walked me through, pointed out where they’d had to make adjustments. It was significantly unstraight.
I went back later that evening after the tradespeople had left so I could process this in peace.
The next morning, I dropped by to tell JR the story of how Blue Pig winched my old house back to square. I asked if we could somehow push or pull the Going Queen back into shape. He explained the problem was that the new interior walls and floors had already been built and the sagging house was now baked into that equation. It was a done deal.
I don’t know if JR was moved by my inspirational story or not. All I can say is that he and Russ Bartels were in the yard the next day pointing up at the house where it was bulging out and talking through the problem again.
I went back later in the evening for my daily walk-through and found that they’d put a come-a-long on the second floor, attached to both sides of the house, and were pulling the walls together from the inside.
Wanting to get in on the action, I tried to crank on the ratchet some more but it was iron-bar tight. The house had no more slack to give. I then climbed up into the attic and saw they’d put hydraulic jacks under the ridge beam to try and push the roof back up, stretching it in concert with pulling the walls inward, one floor below.
I took a closer look at the framing work and saw where they’d disconnected everything to let the house shift.
They pulled the walls in two inches and were able to push the roof up 1 inch.
I’d say that’s perfect. The Going Queen hasn’t been this squared-up in decades.