Having lived for 32 years in the same small town in the same house and then moving 50 plus miles or so with my new family, it is hard not to think of what you are missing at “home”. You tend to mull over and over in your mind what people or events or stores you will never see again. Funny thing is as time passes these thoughts start to fade from your everyday thoughts. Then one day you realize, “home” has moved 50 miles right along with you.
Thirty years ago while working in rural upstate New York I was discussing with a co-worker the fact that my wife and I were looking for a new home. We had 2 children, a girl aged five and a boy aged two, and wanted to get away from what we saw as encroaching city life, drugs and the bad element it brings with it to our present home town. While reading the real estate ads, I saw an ad for what was described as a large center hall colonial on a lake on 2.5 acres and it was only $32000. Imagine that! Those days are long gone for sure. The fella I was with chuckled and said he knew the house as his wife’s uncle once lived there and did I want to see the house? The next day we took a ride together to see it handmade weed pipes.
The ride was perhaps a half hour away from work and the roads traveled were quite rural but were in fair condition and most of the areas were quite were heavily wooded. Since it was the middle of July of course trees were in full bloom, flowers were out and so on. We turned off the main road onto a partially paved road that at its widest point was about twelve feet wide. Passing another oncoming car was a trick but since the road was so rural, we never saw a single car. We drove two miles from the main road with the entire two miles being an uphill grade. No flat areas at all. Some sections had a gentle uphill slope, some parts were quite steep. Arriving at the house, my friend pulled to the side of the road and parked announcing “here we are”. I was to say the least dumbfounded at what I saw.
In front of me was this huge center hall colonial on a lot so overgrown with weeds and brush that access to house itself was next to impossible. The house was quite close to the road but the first strange thing I saw were metal fire escapes leading to the ground from the second floor on both ends of the house. Picking our way through the brush and thorns we saw that many of the myriad of windows were missing the storm windows and many had the glass smashed out of the sash. I was at a later date to count that the house had 59 full sized windows and several smaller accent windows. Several had stained glass in them. We could not gain access to the house which was obviously not lived in at the time as we had no tools to pry open doors and the like. Returning to the car we had a good laugh and said someone was going to have some job on their hands with this fixer-upper.
That evening upon returning home, I mentioned I had seen this “great” house that day and it even had lake frontage. I never saw the lake but the newspaper ad said it did have lake frontage. My wife asked if we could take a ride that next weekend to see the house. As a joke I said sure lets go see it. I called the Realtor and asked if we could enter the home to see it and they said sure no one lives there anyway. My wife, myself and my mother-in-law took the 65 plus mile ride to see this great house that next weekend. As I turned off the main road, I saw a little concern on their faces about being so out in the woods so to speak. Traveling two miles up the narrow partially paved road did not add to their confidence levels at all. However when I stopped the car in front of the house, my wife jumped from the car and yelled “We’ll take it!”. No lie. Just like that.
I have no idea what possessed me to bring tools with me but a little effort with a screwdriver and hammer and we managed to gain entry to the house. It was apparent no one had lived there for many years. Dust and dirt were everywhere but some great surprises were in store. Going from room to room we found not only were there three full floors in the house but there were 18 huge rooms in all. One bathroom was located on each floor but the biggest shock of all was everything was painted this horrible light and dark green. Walls, floors, ceilings, doors, cabinets, literally everything. One huge room had a full sized Hop Scotch field laid out in the middle of the room. Ceilings in some rooms had collapsed on the floor and evidence of animals living in the house was quite evident. Squirrels nests were pretty abundant. The kitchen had gutters, yes metal gutters, hanging from support wires under the pipes on the ceiling. The indoor plumbing had obviously been installed long after the house was built which gave some indication of the age of the house itself. The gutter lead to a huge stainless steel three bay sink in one corner of the room. Didn’t take much to figure out the gutters were carrying the dripping water from the leaking pipes to the open sink. Lovely. That is if there was water of course. With no electricity there was no way to tell if the water worked or not. Country home, private well. After a couple of hours of exploring, we took the long ride home but laughed about the house the whole time. The joke I was to find out later was on me.
Over the next couple of weeks my wife mentioned the house several times and asked if we could go back to see it again. I figured a real good look would cure her of any further interest so we planned a trip for that upcoming weekend. Myself and she, our two kids and both my in laws. I figured my father-in-law would be a good ally in saying “Are you Crazy?” That Saturday we packed everyone in the van and off we went to make a day of it. My wife packed a nice lunch and drinks as stores we were sure were at least hours away.
We arrived at the house at mid morning and after herding the kids inside so we could keep an eye on them, my FIL headed out to see the lake which is about 700 feet from the house through some pretty densely wooded area. We spent a couple of hours roaming the many rooms and closets the size of rooms in our old house and exploring all those great hiding places that exist in a house built mostly in the late 1700’s. We found out later that there were two additions to the house with the latest being about 1930 or so. The last addition was a 2 story wing that housed a kitchen and mud room on the first floor and a large bath and shower room on the second floor. An hour later my FIL returned from his walk with the statement “Wow this place is great! Hunting and fishing on your own property”. I knew then and there that moving day wasn’t far off.
Sometimes when yon play a joke on another, the joke ends up on you. Never forget that adage. Having shown my wife an 18 room 1750’s era abandoned house in the middle of nowhere as a joke, she decided she loved the house and wanted to move there to raise our two kids in the country. She negotiated the price down to $30,000 from $32,000 and talked the land holding company into taking a small deposit and holding a mortgage for five years. A short time later we now owned a house in the country.
Seeing that it was already August, moving quickly to the new house was necessary so the work needed to prepare it for the oncoming winter could be done as soon as possible. I owned a pickup truck at the time and also rented a large box truck as well for moving day. Several friends volunteered the vehicles to help with move..Seeing as the distance was too far to go back and forth, we decided to move everything all in one day. I called ahead to the local power company to assure the power was on before we got there. I located a source of propane gas for the kitchen stove and had that tank delivered as well the Friday before our moving day. Saturday moving day dawned bright and sunny and about 75 degrees as I remember. Everyone was packed and ready to go by 10 AM and off we went in a long rag tag train. I had written directions and had given each driver a copy as Mapquest did not even exist as yet. The journey went very well with one stop for bathroom breaks for the little ones in the parade and refill the cooler for breaks for the large ones in the parade. Arriving at the house around 1 PM we could hear the laughter coming from the cars as they pulled into what was going to be the future driveway. Right now it was a horse pasture.
Everyone piled out of their vehicles and could not wait to see this new house of ours. My MIL stood there in tears sure that she was never going to see us again. First thing I checked was the electric. There was none of course. Several calls later to the utility, it seems the guy didn’t make it to set the meter but was going to do it the next Monday. After some heated discussion they agreed to have a man come on Saturday and install the meter. We had power about 6 PM that evening. The water well that the seller swore worked of course didn’t work either. No problem I would fix that tomorrow on Sunday. I spent an hour or so checking the wiring in the house which was old style exposed knob and tube and found it actually was in pretty good condition. Of course with only one pull chain light bulb socket in each room and very few outlets, so not much wiring was needed. In the living room I found a knife switch located on a door jamb that turned the entire house power on and off. I did manage to get two or three inside lights lit that first night. Bathroom facilities were limited to using a bucket to flush the toilet and washing our hands in water from the nearby stream in the front yard. Kids didn’t seem to care and our later reflection on that first nights events, it didn’t seem to matter much to us ether.
We pitched our tent in the yard and while the others put together a supper for all of us, myself and a couple of the guys with me took a shot in cleaning out a couple of rooms for our junk on the trucks. We all ate and laughed about the house and what lay in store for us but having renovated many other customers homes in the past I knew full well that there were years of hard work ahead. of us. After supper we all helped unload our belongings and our friends said goodbye and headed for home. They were kind enough to take the rental truck back with them so I did not have that chore for Sunday as well. We put the kids to bed in their sleeping bags around nine or so with a campfire burning and passed out ourselves for a few hours rest. Sunday dawned again bright and sunny and the reality hit me that I didn’t even know where the closest store was to get a gallon of milk for the kids.. After my wife awoke and said she would rebuild the fire and get breakfast started, I took a quick ride to see what was in the area. Seven miles away I found a small convenience store for ice, milk, soda, bread and some ice cream for the kids for later on that day. Not bad. 10 minutes away was civilization. They had a gas pump too but with no name gas. Returning back to the house I felt a little better and knew we wouldn’t starve in the upcoming days. The first order of the day was checking out the water supply. problem.