The Red House 1973

Red House and Barns 1972

This is how the house looked in the spring of 1972. You can see that the roof needs repair and that there is a wonky power pole. Inside there were only a few walls and only a few doors and a jar of peanut butter with a knife in it on the kitchen floor.
Maybe you can understand why a kid of 12 years used to suburban life might find this a bit distressing.

My parents purchased the above isolated farm house in the spring of 1972 for a measly $8,000.00 after a scouting trip to see real estate for sale in the area. They only purchased the house and the half acre that it sat on – a local farmer owned the fields surrounding the house and the outbuildings; we had access from the road via the lane.

We didn’t move into the Red House until January 1973. The house had been abandoned for quite a few years so in the intervening months, while we were getting our papers ready to move to Canada, my uncle Lorne took over making the house liveable. He had new power lines run in and a party line telephone hooked up. He hired some local guys to put a new roof on (one of whom was Teddy who teased me mercilessly on the school bus and even set fire to my hair once with his lighter).

He also had a new oil burning furnace installed and an oil burning kitchen stove with a hot water heater attached (both of which never worked – more on that later). A very basic bathroom was jerry-rigged downstairs – it had a sink, a toilet and a small tub (it was too small to lie down in, and anyway, could not be filled due to lack of hot water) and some fake tile pressed board put in around watery areas. Only a couple of rooms had doors – so my uncle made some out of 6″ x half inch boards nailed together – they kind of fit. The roof of the house had numerous lightning rods on it – and we eventually found out why during our first big storm – it being situated on top of a bare hill with a few big trees on either side.

Old abandoned farmhouse showing plaster and lathe

This is not a picture from our house – but it looks enough like our house did for you to get the picture. You can see the lathing and old plaster with animal hair and the wrecked everything.

There were four rooms upstairs in the main part of the house. Only one of these had complete walls while the other three had broken and rotting plaster and old wallpaper and exposed lathing.

To say that the wind blew through the house is not an exaggeration – even after fixing the walls the wind still moved the curtains in the windows in and out on a good breezy day. And it was cold. Maybe the house had a new furnace but it couldn’t keep up with that cold outside and those airy walls.

Antique oak flooring

The floors upstairs had big thick boards like this, and were a mess with paint and wear – we tried to clean them up and then stained them dark and waxed them a bit.

The flooring in the house was original and consisted of very thick old boards upstairs (probably oak) – they were about 2 inches thick and about 12″ wide. And down the middle of the upstairs hall was a mend about 2 feet wide – all the other flooring met up with this seam. It apparently hearkened from the time that the house had been moved across the lake in the winter with draft horses or oxen – and when they pulled it up the hill the flooring split in the middle upstairs. That was the story anyway – and it made sense – it wasn’t very elegant and it did look like a repair job.

Moving House with Oxen

In 1845, Elizabeth Prince Peabody described a house moving she witnessed in Danvers, Massachusetts. “The building came along slowly, drawn by yokes of oxen. Every yoke had a driver beside it with goads, hurrying them with a ‘Hush-whoa’. It seemed as though there were 20 or 40 yoke of oxen.”

Moving House with Horses

Moving House with Horses

As soon as we moved in in January, the first order of the day was to fix the upstairs walls. First we had to remove the old plaster; then put up insulation; then dry board; then patch and tape the drywall; and finally paint. This included dry walling the ceilings too, not just the walls, and none of us had any experience doing any of this.

Removing the old plaster was dirty but very interesting. It was original to the house and consisted of plaster and what looked like cow hair (but I’ve read now that horse hair or hog hair is more common) – usually a reddish brown color. Underneath the plaster we found old pages from books and newspapers – none of them could be recovered but scraps showed the house dated from the mid 1860’s. We also found old boots, and bits of fabric and clothes that people had stuffed into the gap between the plaster and the lathing strips. None of this was saved much to my regret now.

The lathing strips were often just rough wood cut into as evenly made strips as possible – many still had bark on them. The nails from the shingles outside were distinctly poking through.

Drywall finishing how to

Its So Easy to Drywall! NOT…
Our dry walling team consisted of my parents who were reasonably strong and us two teenage girls with measly arms – that’s it. And we didn’t have safety gear like masks for the dust or hardhats or work boots – its amazing we did this ourselves without some medical crisis.

If anyone has ever done dry walling you know how heavy and awkward those boards are – and here we were trying to install these boards up on the walls and ceilings – it was back breaking work trying to hold the boards up while my father screwed them into place.

Even worse was the endless sanding that was necessary – we did a really bad job on the plastering and taping and sanding to be honest and left big lumps and screw heads visible – but at least there were walls afterwards. No one was complaining about quality.

Shrew SGaspensis

There are several zillion type of shrews apparently in North America – this one looks a lot like my little roommates and is actually located in New Brunswick.
Credit: painting by Nancy Halliday from Kays and Wilson’s Mammals of North America, © Princeton University Press (2002)

At night the house came alive with creaking like an old boat. There were various critters living there too- in the walls and in the attic were bats and mice and other things. We had a regular crew of shrews – animals so small but fierce that our big old killer tabby cat left them alone. I once woke up to find a shrew sitting on my pillow next to my face.

And so we had a lot of scratching in the walls, and “someone” was up in the attic above my room rolling moth balls back and forth all night.

I was kept home in the beginning for a couple of months to help with all the work and probably to help me get used to the new life we were leading. It wasn’t til early spring before the road went liquid that I started school. But that’s another story.


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