The House Story

 About that house that God helped us build.

“Our little house on the Wabash” as it appeared in the summer of 2004

“Our little house on the Wabash” as it appeared in the summer of 2004

Elias, Rogier, Sara and Ellen Donker, Christmas 2004

Elias, Rogier, Sara and Ellen Donker, Christmas 2004

In January 2005 the Wabash River rose to an almost unprecedented height. Levies to the North and levies to the South of the hamlet of Riverview gave way and had it not been for that all the houses in Riverview would have fallen prey to the rising waters. As it was, the floodwaters surrounded the studio buildings and wrecked the house that we had called home for 28 years.

The house started out as our summer cabin in 1978, but when we moved to the country in 1981 we remodeled the structure into a cozy little home. Elias grew up in the house, which was just comfortable and big enough for the three of us. “Our little house on the Wabash”, a take-off on the television show of the seventies “Little house on the prairie.”As a result of the flood we moved into the guesthouse, which stood empty at the time.

Plans to build a new house were initially shelved, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “FEMA”, did not come up with money to finance a new home. Initially they had said we would receive one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, but when everything was said and done FEMA’s contribution amounted to nine thousand one hundred dollars, just a bit shy of what was promised…  Friends and family started a building fund and thanks to some major donations, we were able to start building the new house in May of 2005, four months after the flood. We stayed in the guesthouse until mid April 2007 when we moved into the new house.

Our little guesthouse…emphasis on LITTLE!

Our little guesthouse…emphasis on LITTLE!

And the model of the house to be

And the model of the house to be

In order to help maintain my sanity I designed and built a model of a simple, nothing fancy, gambrel roof type house and figured out most of the material cost.  The first few months after the flood were rather confusing as one minute FEMA offered lots of money, next minute they retracted it and then, finally gave us a fraction of what had been promised.

All along our friend and Ellen’s fishing buddy Earl convinced me that we could indeed build a new house. Earl, who as a contractor had built many houses from scratch, offered to be our “building inspector” and would in that capacity make sure we did everything correctly. Having done plenty of remodeling jobs Ellen and I jumped right in and started building a house.

My health (bum leg and silicosis) would prevent me from being up on a ladder or scaffolding, so Ellen would have to do all the “upstairs” work.. Right from the outset Ellen did most of the hard physical labor, while I did the stuff I could handle.  Planning, thinking things out and making “pieces” in the cabinet shop.  We had received estimates for the foundation and the foundation wall that hovered around fourteen thousand dollars. Earl convinced me that I could build the forms myself and then later use the forming material for floor joists. Careful planning resulted in only having to cut up three two by twelve’s and even those parts found a use.

Ellen and Caleb digging the footer ditch

Ellen and Caleb digging the footer ditch

Foundation wall form

Foundation wall form

While Ellen did most of the hard, manual labor, I got to figure out the material lists and plan the day’s activities. To help us do a lot of the heavy manual labor we hired a couple of strapping fourteen year olds who carried all  the heavy “stuff”.  Once the foundation walls were up a row of blocks was built up around the perimeter to support the stone that would later cover the exterior of the house.

While my masonry skill are nothing to write home about the laying of the blocks did not take all that long. Thanks mostly to Caleb who carried all the blocks and mixed all the hod while I sat on my duff and placed/ cemented the blocks. When we were done with the foundation, foundation walls and block laying the price tag was a mere 2300 dollars and that included Caleb’s wages! A far cry from the fourteen thousand dollar estimate!

One foundation wall poured!

One foundation wall poured!

And there’s the block we were looking for!

And there’s the block we were looking for!

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On a very nice Sunday in May 2005 “JT” and I built the center support  beam  and once that was done it did not take long or Ellen and I were screwing the floor joists in place. Once that part was done the floor ply was installed and then the walls went up. Rather then nailing the wall studs etc. we elected to use three inch screws instead and when it was all over we had gone through a five gallon pail of screws and then some… But it does make for a rather solid structure!

It’s really happening!

It’s really happening!

And in spite of it all we’re STILL married!

And in spite of it all we’re STILL married!

As per Earl’s suggestion all the door and window headers are made up out of two by tens so that all around the tops of doors and windows line up in a horizontal line. This would prove especially nice since the windows were all salvaged from the old house and the guesthouse and were all different heights. In the end it worked out beautifully.

By necessity Ellen did all the brace installation while crawling “up there” in the rafters. With me yelling instructions from down below it is a wonder that we did not wind up in divorce court! Me being temporarily on prednisone to give me the energy needed to do the tasks at hand, did not help much as one of the side effects of that prescribed drug were horrible mood swings…  No fun for all concerned!

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The Massey sure came in handy to move materials and place the scaffolding where it was needed. While it is true that Ellen and I basically built the house by ourselves, it is equally true that the Good Lord provided us with help whenever there was a need.  We cannot thank our friends (and some strangers) enough for giving us a helping hand when it was most needed.

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Once the house was under roof we wrapped it in Typar, a weather resistant wrap that will protect the structure from the elements until such time that it is stoned. We will salvage stone from the old house and also use the foundation rocks from the old Riverview school house that are laying in a pile right next to the new house! Using Earl’s metal brake I made the aluminum fascia board covers that Ellen installed. The old house provided all the guttering and down spouts needed and by September 15th, three months after we broke ground and started building, our new dwelling was under roof and “out of the weather”! Not bad for a couple of aging (and at times hurting) individuals!

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In late December  2005 I happened to walk in the lumberyard and noticed a stack of slightly damaged drywall. A sign on the stack proclaimed that the cost per sheet was $1.00… I could not believe it, since the normal price of a sheet of drywall hovers around NINE dollars. So I asked the clerk several times if the sign was correct and the price was really one dollar per sheet. “Yes” was the answer to my repeated inquiry. “Load them up!”, I said… A couple of days later the lumberyard delivered the equivalent of 96 4×8 sheets, in both 4×8 and 4×12 sheets.

A few days later when I was back in the lumberyard I learned that the salesman had made a mistake and that the whole stack of dry wall was supposed to have been on sale for HALF PRICE… You do the math…. 🙂 Another miracle as far as I’m concerned! Thank you Lord!  Installing all that dry wall was relatively easy until it came to the gambrel wall and the ceiling.

Fortunately our neighbor Don lended “ a few hands” since I was not allowed on the scaffolding. While Ellen and Don were up high, I would hand them the sheets or operate the rented duct lift to get the drywall up where it needed to be. When all the drywall was installed Ellen spent more than six weeks on getting the gambrel wall smooth while I was installing kitchen cabinets, making light fixtures or installing tile in the kitchen and bathroom.

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The kitchen in the old house…

The kitchen in the old house…

the “eternal” gambrel wall finishing

the “eternal” gambrel wall finishing                                  

just re-arranging parts ma’am!

just re-arranging parts ma’am!

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The first week of July 2006 saw all kinds of progress.  The red oak T&G flooring as well as the cedar for the walls arrived. The gambrel wall spackling had been pronounced finished and Ellen was busy stoning the chimney and spackling the ceiling.

In October 2006 Ellen constructed the form for the ramp foundation wall footer while I could not do much as I was recuperating from a bad case of pneumonia. The pneumonia almost killed me and it was during this time that the doctor found out that I suffered from silicosis. Silicosis is an occupational hazard reserved just for potters. It is a form of emphysema that makes it difficult to breathe and thereby robs the body of energy. Henceforth I will sleep with oxygen and have it near me and available at all times. While the silicosis restricts me from doing certain things there are still plenty of things I CAN do, so I work in the shop making spindles or lay flooring in the house.

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No sooner was the flooring in the living room down or we moved in our recliners and claimed our new “digs”.  It was April 2007. Sleeping in one of the unfinished bedrooms upstairs we finished off the down stairs as time and money allowed. As weather permitted we worked on the outside ramps and started to backfill especially the riverside of the house in preparation of the re-building of the screened-in porch.

Work inside progressed nicely and while there was still plenty to do before we could call the house finished it was a time that we could definitely breathe a little easier. When we started the biggest project of our lives the building fund balance was just over  thirty-two thousand dollars  and by now ( Spring 2008) the balance was around two thousand, just enough to finance the finishing off of the master bedroom. The rest of the finishing will be financed on a “nickel-dime-pay-as-you-go” basis.

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The interior (at least the down stairs is shaping up) and so are the ramps!

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During the summer and fall of 2008 demolition of the guesthouse took place. A lot of the salvageable building materials would later be used to finish the upstairs of the new house. As time allowed (we still had to make a living!) more interior finishing took place and the upstairs too started looking like the owners had a program!

Since we don’t own a carpet stretcher but are known to find ingenious solutions to problems we fashioned a carpet stretcher out of one of the “Third Hands” that were used to install the beams in the kitchen. It worked like a charm and by Saturday night the carpet was stretched and the room was almost ready for occupancy! First however that old carpet needed a good shampooing so Ellen went off to Janice to borrow the latter’s shampooing machine.  In the spring of 2009 the ramp fill as well as the porch fill had settled enough that we thought it safe to pour the slabs.

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During the spring and summer of 2009 demolition of the old house took place. Prior to the demolition I carefully took apart the screened-in porch and rebuilt it in its new location. Four and a half years of doing without our favorite living space was over! Ellen continued the stoning of the front wall as well as the steps leading up to what will be the covered ramp slab while Johnny and I continued the demolition of the old house.

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After waiting more than a year for the delivery the cedar shake for the front wall finally arrived. The installation thereof had held up the construction of the front portico roof.

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On September 24th 2011, six and a half years after the flood the new house can be called “almost finished”, the stoning has to be completed, here and there the proverbial piece of quarter round still needs to be installed, but we basically have our “normal” life back. Finishing touches include making new storm doors for the entry doors and careful placement of the stones around the electrical riser.

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Thank You Lord!