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The Old Tenant House

Michael Hillman

Read Part 5

Part 6: Framing the Addition

While one of my earliest memories of my father was of him making a white picket fence for our home in Connecticut, I never associated him with carpentry. As a career naval officer during the cold war, my father was frequently at sea, so I saw little of him. When he was home, he spent his time playing with us, not his woodworking tools.

By the time my father retired, I was setting out on my own naval career, so I never had the opportunity to learn woodworking from him. My little brother Bill on the other hand, grew up in my father's carpentry shop. While he has no recollection of my father's navy days, he has mastered all my father's carpentry skills. So when Bill offered to frame the addition in exchange for all the times I covered for him when he was growing up, I jumped at the chance.


At nine o'clock, Bill and his crew, accompanied by my father, arrived. As his crew unloaded and set up their equipment, Bill quizzed Eric Jarvivan, our architect, on some of the details of his plan. It took less than twenty minutes to work out all the details.

"OK, Dad," Bill said, "remember your job is to keep Mike out of my way."

Soon the air was filled with the sound of saws. While one part of Bill's crew were busy building the frames of the walls, Bill and the other half of his crew began to lay the supports for the floor. Nail guns were going off so fast that at times it sounded like the area was a combat zone. My father and I pitched in where directed, and of course everything was inspected thoroughly by our dogs Nelix and Kira.

By four the floor joists were all installed and the flooring plywood laid, At five, the frames for the walls were lifted and secured into place. By seven, with the sun setting, it was time to call it a day.

Bill and his crew were treated to a classic Emmitsburg crab feast at the Ott House that night Exhausted by their hard day, Nelix and Kira didn't even bother to greet us when we retuned home.


Saturday morning came earlier then anticipated; the closing of truck doors woke even the birds. Kira and Nelix looked at me in disbelief. My brother wasted little time in giving each member of his crew the assignment for the day, and then picked up his own hammer.

As two out of three of the corners of the addition incorporated a 45 degree angle wall, some of the cuts for the walls and roof were rather intricate, but you would never have known, watching my brother as he cut. By noon most of the rafters for the roof for the western part of the addition were up. By two, the sheathing of the roof and walls had commenced.

By four, framing of the much-anticipated second story summer porch off the master bedroom had begun. At six, the last of the plywood for the addition's floor was nailed down. It was now possible to walk from the old kitchen into the addition.

That evening Bill and his crew were treated to a feast at the Carriage House. I seem to recall the crew sampling just about everything on the menu and loving it!


Before any more work on the addition could be undertaken, a steel I-beam, which would support the weight of the corner of the second floor of the house, had to be inserted. As it wasn't due to arrive till Monday, the day was spent leisurely cutting out and tearing down the existing first floor walls that would be open space in the new addition.

I have to admit, it was an odd feeling walking through the existing kitchen that night, through what was left of the walls and into the new addition. After eighteen years I could make my way around the old kitchen blindfolded. All the extra space was going to take some getting used to. What really impressed us, however, was the view.

For years my wife and I had bemoaned the fact we only had a small single window to look out and admire the view of the mountains. Now we had a whole wall of windows, and the view was better than we had expected. And with all those windows came a breeze through the house that would banish the need for air conditioners for all but the hottest of days.


Following the delivery of the I-beam, Joe Wivell took charge of the delicate operation of cutting out the beams that supported the back end of the second floor of the house. Once installed, the I-beam would support the full weight of the northwest corner of the house. Watching Joe's team work was like watching a transplant operation in a hospital. Every cut had to be thoughtfully planned. Unlike modern houses which are square, the back end of the house had settled unevenly over its ninety years, so everything was uneven. To say there was lot of griping and moaning going on would be an understatement.

At four, the last cuts were made. It took the combined effort of seven guys to lift the I-beam into place. We all sighed with relief when it slid into place like a hot knife through butter.


Tuesday morning was spent installing the support for the west side of the house, and like the I-beam, it too slid perfectly into space.

With the weight of the second floor of the house now carried by the I-beam, it was time to cut out the last of the studs of the old wall. As I was sure the house would fall down, I closed my eyes as Joe cut, waiting to hear the sound of crashing timbers all around me.

"You can open your eyes now, Mike," Joe said, grinning. "It's done."

I let out a big sigh. There was no going back now.

As Joe's crew worked on framing the summer porch, Joe and I worked to level out the kitchen floor. Free of having to support the weight of the walls, we were easily able to jack up the northwest corner of the floor the six inches it needed to be level, and with it, gone were the days of looking at tilting glasses of water on the kitchen table.


Wednesday was spent finishing the framing of the summer porch's roof, cutting the opening for the French doors that would connect our bedroom to the porch, and installing the metal roof for the addition and porch.

Less than ten days had passed since the permits had been issued and all the major construction had been completed. Insulation, drywall, and the installation of new windows would occupy me the remainder of the summer.

I would be amiss if I failed to mention that throughout the five days, Audrey managed to keep the keep the old kitchen working, and clean, which made working conditions easer for all. Of course, with all the openings in the walls, the house was filled with flies, but that was a small price to pay for what was to come.

As Joe Reckley and his crew began to replace the house's 70-year-old heating and water systems, Brian Reaver took his first measurements for the custom-made cabinetry that would be the addition's crowning jewel. But we'll save those stories for next month.

Read Part 7: Updating the heating & plumbing systems

Read other humor stories by Michael Hillman