St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Cleaning (and Building) the Cellar

The Olsen oil furnace has been smelling like kerosene when it runs for the past week or so.  Time for maintenance call.  I called a few months ago, and the man didn't show up, but the oil smell then disappeared, so didn't really mind.  
The way-too-steep basement stairway.  Mrs. John Nelson fell down it one time (she had 21 kids in the house her husband built for her),  Originally, a tip-up floor tipped back so it covered the stairway and made this area under the stairway going up to the upstairs sort of a walk in closet.  But it was unreliable (I think that was how Mrs. Nelson fell) and never used by the Hansons. 
With Margo somewhat delicate from the back surgery (she is doing good, starting to walk without walker or cane some of the time), and the smell coming back, called again.  The furnace man apologized and said he would be out this afternoon.  

As it is mild outside and raining, I opened up the outside basement stairway door and started hauling out some of the junk.   Got about 1/4 of the basement cleaned. Mostly old dishes, magazines, newspapers, bank statements, clothes that mice had rummaged through.  

 Full of cobwebs and signs of the red squirrel who had moved in this summer -- chewing on black walnuts and messing up some of the insulation.   Two days ago, I shot the 3rd red squirrel that came up by the house.  I am hopeful I have got them all -- I think they made about 4 different entrances into the basement and then up an interior wall, across the ceiling between downstairs ceiling and upstairs floor and into the living room wall.  Trapping failed, but I pinged them with 22 shorts from my single shot Western Field, $14 from Wards in 1960.

As I was cleaning (about 1/4 down), I noticed the east wall had a water leak, the cement wall cracked here and there, and lots of junk to get rid of.  In her younger days, Mom had the basement in great order, but as she got older she let it slide -- too steep of stairs to get down and so sent her grandson's with what should have been tossed or recycled or junked and stored it in the basement. 
Digging a basement--not Hanson farm

Scraper to move dirt
Emil Nelson was a kid when the house foundation and basement was dug (1917).  He said he "helped."  One team pulled a walking plow with a man to make furrows and loosen the hard red clay and another pulled a scraper to drag out the loose clay.  Emil rode the horse that pulled the scraper.  

Too loosen the dirt in the hole for the scraper, a walking plow cut furrows.  (This is not at the Hanson Farm!)

The old concrete walls show the imprint of the board forms.  Dad put in glass block windows and Mom had it whitewashed in the 1950s.  Sort of cracked and crumbly after the 1st 100 years, probably only last for another 100. 
To dig a basement this way made a much larger hole than needed, but it was "mechanized" better than digging it all by hand.   The concrete basement walls were poured with board forms, leaving their imprint on the walls.  In one corner is the charred ceiling where Ole Olsen's moonshine still blew up and burned the joists and ceiling boards.    Mom, disliking dark rooms, had Dad whitewash the whole basement making it brilliant white for a time.  
The basement was where all the canned good were stored on wall shelves.  A colder area kept potatoes, apples, and other root crops.  In the fall, 2/3 of the basement was filled with split firewood to feed the massive round furnace.  Dad put a copper line inside the furnace that ran to a metal water tank (like a hot water heater tank) so we got free hot water from the furnace heat coil.  The water was gravity feed from a 100 gallon water tank in the upstairs filled with an overhead pipe running from well house to the house.  
Dad did his own plumbing and never let looks get in the way of a straight shot for his plumbing.  Here the sewer line went in front of the canning shelves.  They are filled with junk!  Originally all cast iron with lead poured joints, one section is replaced with plastic line now.  Old lantern on the floor.  
Also in the basement was the small wood water heater, used in summer when the furnace was cold.  On washing day, we fired it up and heated 20 gallons of hot water for the Maytag washer--sometimes kept in the basement too.  

Originally, when Dad moved here in 1941 (married 1942), the basement had a dirt floor.  In the 1950s, we borrowed Grandpa's cement mixer, a few wheel barrows, hauled gravel from the Gullickson pit, and with a crew of Dad's brother's poured a complete concrete floor in a day.   Sometimes I got to mix--think it was 3 scoops of gravel for 1 scoop of cement mix, add water until it was soupy.  Quite fun for kids.

In the late 1940s, Harvey Olsen of Cushing ran electrical wires across the basement and up the walls to have 4 circuits in the big house.  In the 1950s Dad add indoor plumbing adding pipes and sewer lines here and there.  The wood furnace was replaced a couple of times and finally about 15 years ago the oil furnace replaced wood.  We tried to get Mom to go for a cheaper running propane furnace, but she was sure it would blow up, so the oil furnace is in.  I think fuel oil (#1) costs about 3-4 times as much as propane this year and requires much more furnace maintenance too. 

The brick chimney seems sound. Dad had a stainless steel square liner put in when he began to worry about chimney fires.  We did have chimney fires occasionally when I was young.  Dad would scramble up a ladder onto the top of the roof and sprinkle snow down the chimney as we shut off the furnace draft.   Never called the fire department for something like that.  They might pour water down it and crack the blocks -- sprinkled snow worked much better.

A wet spot today on the east wall near the north window--today's rain must be leaking in.  I have to do some landscaping around the house to slant the water away next summer.

Carrying beam north-south -- squared logs

Looks like Jed Hanson did some patching for Grandpa and Grandma!

The old Maytag.  Note the electric motor is gone.  Any spare electric motor went to run a grinder or other tool in the workshop!  Brother Ev has a genuine Maytag 1 cylinder gas engine I maybe could put on here to go off the grid!  Piled in with junk around it.

Old kerosene heater or two burner stove?  Update:  the furnace repair man took this home with him.  His grandmother had one for the summer kitchen, and he felt the urge to rescue this rusty two burner stove.  Note the green kerosene jug on the left!   New Perfection wick burners with isinglass. 

Do it yourself plumbing when you try to save money on pipes and copper is often cobbled up as they say in the country. 

This was once lath and plaster on one side (fartherest in) where paneling went over it and wainscoting on the other torn off to access the sink drain.  The lumber in this house was much from recycling an old log house and another old frame house.  

Cleaning out a basement is not all drudgery -- it is a good rainy day job and a little bit of a treasure hunt wondering if anything you find is actually worth saving.  In one corner is a walled in 6x5 sort of closet that was originally our photo darkroom, but got converted to the cold storage room for spuds, canned goods, and so on.  It still has canned goods from the 1990s that I have to take out and dump and clean the jars including about 20 quarts of a bad tasting batch of maple syrup from 1996 that we bottled, but never cared to use!   I opened one and tasted it, and age has not improved the flavor. 

Update:  The furnace repair man showed up, replaced the nozzle, cleaned here and there, cast a few spells and said call me if it still has problems.   Possible problem:  solenoid that shuts off the fuel line when the furnace stops might drip a little and that could cause some oil smell when starting. Otherwise it is a relatively new furnace with all the parts replaceable.   He admired the New Perfection two burner stove so much, even with the layers of rust and neglect, that I sent it home with him.  My brother's didn't want it -- I bet they missed out on a real treasure!   At least I think it will get repaired and used now!