In Like a Lion

We were on a roll and then March hit. We fared a bit better than our neighbors to the East but a series of four Noreasterns in three weeks blessed us with 20 inches of heavy snow and frigid temperatures. To make matters worse, gusty winds in the 40 plus mph range blew off all of our front end gable panels leaving the flanges bent and corners crumpled. Porcelain does not do well when it hits the ground from a mere inch – you can imagine how it might fare from a height of ten feet!

Apart from the weather, we also had some technical difficulties with the rebuild. The crew Keith hired to dismantle the frame failed to mark the location of the bolts they were taking out. Sections of the frame have a series of holes rather than a single option. We discovered that when we went to put in our first course of blue exterior panels (ones which set the elevation for the whole shebang) we ended up being 3/4″ out which is basically the distance between holes when there are multiples. Not only was the frame not square, it also was not level. It took us weeks to get these critical issues resolved, tweaking walls and moving trusses to get it right.

Now confident that the frame is square and level, we have made progress on the exterior. The panels go together relatively easily and a tad “faster” than dismantling as we are not dealing with rusted or stripped old screws. We opted to replace the original flat head screws with Phillips head ones which drive more easily.

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Last week was amazing! We were able to secure a crane, flatbed and crew of guys to take down the trusses and frame. On Monday Keith and I loaded up the last of the bits and pieces into the trailer.

The following day the house was down, loaded and transported to the building site by the end of the day. Everything arrived safely including the windows which we left in the wall sections.

Wednesday we worked in the rain and managed to get the walls, back roof gable and three trusses up.

Thursday it snowed but the remainder of the trusses were installed by lunch time.

We were pleased that the the house went back together pretty easily and fit on our foundation with a few modifications. We had to cut off a few misplaced anchor bolts within the concrete and increase the size of a some of the holes in the bottom of the framework to accommodate those that remained.

We did have one disappointing development though. The wind whipped up this morning and without roof panels installed, all the front gable porcelain pieces where blown off and subsequently damaged when they hit the ground. We believe we can salvage them but are disappointed by this setback.

Celebratory Pie!

As is often heard around these parts, “If you don’t like the weather, give it a moment and it will change”. Fortunately or unfortunately, Western New York has lived up to its reputation during our most challenging week of demo – removal of the roof.

Day one proved to be a typical winter day, twenty-something and partly cloudy. Keith was able to work on dismantling from the roof itself rather than off of a ladder. The first order of business was removing the ridge cap which runs the length of the house and is comprised of multiple segments with end caps at both peaks. We managed to get it off as well as two rows of roof sections. It was a good start to a stage of the demo that we were both apprehensive about, neither being particularly fond of heights nor climbing tall ladders.

On day two the temperature rose to nearly 50 balmy degrees but unfortunately it rained on and off making the roof exceedingly slippery and impossible to work from. Up and down the ladder all day it was, lowering panels with a nylon rope affixed with a bungee cord hooked through one of the screw hole in each panel. We did make quite a bit of progress despite the weather. Yesterday’s rain turned to snow overnight and we had to scrape away four inches of snow and ice to find the screws. Despite the uncomfortable working conditions one side of the roof removal was completed.

The goal for the following week was to put in five solid days in order to get the other side of the roof and remaining miscellaneous pieces off. Having stalked the weather forecast for the upcoming week, we realized that Monday’s 47 degree weather was the only break we might get so the plan was to work our butts off that day. We (and by “we” I mean Keith) were able to work from atop the roof again, taking down 8 out of 11 rows of panels. By the following morning the temp had dropped thirty four degrees from the previous day and six inches of snow had fallen, necessitating shoveling of the roof as well as the floor prior to doing any work. The remainder of the week proved challenging, 35 mile an hour whipping winds made working off a ladder treacherous and frostbit fingers a near reality, but we persisted and finished the job – all 244 roof panels, gutters, soffit and wall panels were removed and stacked in the trailer awaiting transport.

I am delighted to report no major injuries, to body nor frail egos of either party up until this point in the project. (knock on porcelain-coated steel). I credit part of the success on my ability to (eventually) differentiate the subtle differences in tone and in context between:

hang on (the ladder)

Hang on (I need a moment to gather my thoughts)

Hang On (don’t do anything)

HANG ON (hurry up and grab this before I drop it)

Twenty two months of antici…pation up until this moment. Our accomplishment called for Celebration Pie! Pro tip: if you ever find yourself driving through Westfield, NY do yourself a favor and stop by Portage Pie – best ever!

The coming week will be spent on R&D and hiring of a crew and crane to dismantle, ship and re-erect the framing on our new foundation.

It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Brrrrrrrrrrrr…

I’ve officially traded in my respirator and Tyvek suit for a fleece turtleneck and fuzzy flapped hat.

With the interior of the Lustron loaded and stacked in the trailer its time to work on dismantling the exterior. As luck would have it, a lake effect snow band dumped a foot plus of the fluffy white stuff on the homestead but mercifully spared the worksite (only a few inches on the ground). After a quick shovel around the perimeter we were ready to get to work.

We found that the exterior comes apart more easily than the interior – in three sessions we have dismantled more than half of it. Our hope is to work two days this coming week then take a little break to enjoy the upcoming holiday with friends and family.

Happy Holidays folks!

Crash, Boom, Bang!!!

After a three and a half month hiatus from disassembly we were finally able to get back at it. We are quickly running out of suitable weather so the plan to move the Lustron garage and use it to store interior panels got the kibosh momentarily.  We opted instead to rent a 53′ trailer and started to fill ‘er up. We took advantage of having a couple of helpers for a day, managing to load up about 3/4 of the interior parts and pieces.

ready for action!

first panel down – an interesting mess

Having cleared some floor space we decided to see what we were up against in terms of the ceiling panels. To be honest, this is the part of the job was not looking forward to and it did not disappoint. We were met with 8-10″ worth of dirty old rockwool blown in insulation, wall board, metal plenum and 68 years worth of noxious dust. In the end it took three weeks and approximately 80, 42-gallon contractors bags to properly dispose the C&D mess.

the delightful combination of rock wool and sixty eight years worth of filth

now that’s what I call an “open floor plan”
exposed metal roof and trusses

With the interior panels loaded in the trailer, it’s time to work on disassembly of the exterior (roof panels, trusses, siding panels and framing). The push is on to have the house down by the end of the month (December). With the holiday obligations quickly approaching and cold and snowy weather forecast for the end of this week, this is truly a monumental and overwhelming task but we are determined (and yes, a little crazy)!

Bitches Get Shit Done!

IMG_5006Please excuse the salty language, but a week of “womanual” labor got me feeling rather bad-assey, lol!

Luckily for us our 2-person team was a threesome for a few days.   An extra set of muscles was greatly appreciated as the week’s task was the installation of the flooring system.

The majority of Lustron homes were erected on concrete slabs but we decided to rebuild ours with a full basement instead. The original 1949 heating system was by way of a radiant ceiling unit located in the utility room off the kitchen.  Over the years most of these units were abandoned, homeowners opting for electric baseboard heat instead. Moving the furnace and hot water tank downstairs will allow us to install a forced air system as well as free up a bit of floorspace in the utility room which will be utilized for a staircase to the basement.

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The space to the right of the steel beam will become the utility room, the balance will be one big room. 

Our new basement consists of 9’ poured concrete walls which are 12” thick.  The foundation supports a flooring system comprised of 204lb LVL floor joists and 150lb LVLPW90 34’ long I-beams.  Two of us walked these bad boys over to the foundation and lowered them into place – strong like bull, lol!

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IMG_4251Once these were secured it was on to the task of installing the subfloor – haul, glue, nail, repeat. It end up being a two-day job as only half of the plywood needed had been delivered.  The estimated amount of sub-floor adhesive (8) was also woefully inadequate. Three trips to the hardware store and 23 additional tubes later (whoops!) we had enough to do the job.  Day two, we were in a race with the weather as the forecast called for rain in the evening. We managed to get the Tyvek down just as the rain started.

The following week our double basement doors were delivered and installed.  With the basement secured the next steps are gas, electric, water and septic tank installation.  Finally, we will be getting back to disassembly of the Lustron.

At Long Last…

What a week!

My studio work was put on hold last week, having agreed to do an antiques and household estate sale for a long-time friend. I’m pleased to report that after a whirlwind three days of unpacking, staging, researching, pricing, photographing etc., the three day sale came off without a hitch. Whew!

IMG_3965Disassembly of the Lustron came to an abrupt halt in July as we were awaiting drawings from the architect I had contracted with. After a few revisions, the design was agreed upon and the drawings taken to the code enforcement office. Now, we have been at this long enough to know that NOTHING we do comes off without a hitch so why should we expect this to be any different? SURPRISE! The building inspector retired and we now have a new fella in training, just when we had the previous one understanding what the Lustron actually is (not a double-wide, not a modular but a pre-fab). Ugggg… After more lengthy conversations, we were granted our building permit (with a few modifications that we will address as we go forward) but at a substantial cost because of our status as a “minor subdivision” (a story for another time).

After a long day of pricing Monday, I came home to this – excavation for the basement started and the driveway roughed in. IMG_4036IMG_4026
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Mid-week, garage slab location dug and stoned (as well as the driveway) and the footer was in place.  By Saturday, the forms were up and Monday concrete poured.

 

IMG_4083This hot and dry September weather is working in our favor. Hopefully the crew can get the house floor and the slab done as well as the backfilling by the close of the week, then we can get back to taking the house apart.

EDIT:  It’s Tuesday afternoon and the crew just left for the day – basement forms removed and ones put up for the garage slab. Whoop-whoop!IMG_4091

Opportunity Missed

With several million people coming out of the service at the close of WWII, Carl Strandlund was keenly aware of consumer needs for adequate housing. In the fall of 1946, Strandlund appealed to the Veterans Emergency Housing Program, asking them to release some of the government’s hoarded steel supply for the purpose of constructing his concept house. He worked diligently to promote his idea of a prefabricated home comprised of interlocking panels restricted by plastic gaskets to form continuous walls of porcelain steel fastened by bolts or screws to metal studs. 

Despite the fact that President Truman was a vigorous supporter of housing reform, the government loan that Strandlund sought was not forthcoming. The powers that be wanted to see the Lustron Corporation put up more of its own capital. Eventually, a deal was struck and Strandlund was offered one of two Curtis Aircraft War plants, one in Cincinnati the other in Columbus, Ohio. Strandlund chose the Columbus location and signed a lease for $428,000 a year. 

With both a manufacturing site and a Reconstruction Finance Corporation loan in place, Strandlund began promoting the Lustron home, pursuing as much media exposure as possible. He boasted that the plant would be up and running, producing Lustron homes in a mere 9 months at a cost of approximately $7,000. In actuality, the retooling of the former aircraft factory took 19 months and necessitated 6 more RFC loans to the tune of $37.5 million!  

Prospective homeowners were intrigued, so much so that Lustron had a 6,000 order backlog by January of 1947. By November of 1948, 320,00 inquiries had been received. The US armed forces also took notice of the Lustron home, placing them on bases in Alaska and more notably, Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. In 1949, The Strategic Air Command of the US Air Force ordered 2000 units, the largest order ever received. Later that same year, the order was cancelled. 

The parts for the Lustron weighed 35,000 pounds and if properly packed, could fit on a 35 ft tandem trailer. The Lustron Corp. approached the railroads, asking to piggy back their loaded trailers on train flatcars. They were unable to strike a deal which in turn, severely hurt Lustron’s ability to market and deliver its product to the West. In an attempt to overcome this obstacle, Lustron had 800 specially designed trailers manufactured by Fruehauf Trailer Co. at a cost of $4.5 million.  

A Lustron sold from the factory was priced at $7,500 but additional expenditures were necessary – approximately $3,000 in miscellaneous expenses including a lot and building, electrical and plumbing contractors if the prospective homeowner was not proficient in these skills. The average cost of a traditionally constructed frame home at the time was $6,500, so the $10,000 price tag for the Lustron was prohibitive to many.   

So began Lustron’s downward spiral of over spending, over promising and under delivering. Once production was up to speed, the market had dried up. Lustron missed the peak of the housing shortage and failed to produce a low cost home as promised. Inability to pay off multiple government loans would ultimately bankrupt the company and on Valentines Day of 1950, foreclosure proceedings began.  

According to 2002 statistics, approximately 2,200 of the 2,500 houses built remain but modern development in the name of progress has reduced this number significantly in recent years. 

It’s Almost August…gah!

Holy Moley. Wasn’t it April just a moment ago?  July 24th finds me wondering how time has flown by so fast.  I have been working in the studio, refinishing furniture, garage sailing and gardening at the homestead in between torrential downpours and a tornado which touched down five miles from my house which is more than out of the ordinary for Western New York!  Summer obligations and a week out of town find us mid-summer and feeling a bit discouraged that we are not further along in the project than we are.

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the space that used to be the master bedroom


We continued our counterclockwise disassembly through the bedrooms and hall and are presently half way through the bathroom however, the operation came to an abrupt halt last week because we didn’t have the proper tool to remove the bathtub faucets and spout without damaging them. It is my desire to re-install them as they are original to the Lustron.  Once we are finished in the bath, we will officially be at a standstill with the interior disassembly and can not proceed with removal of the metal studs nor the ceiling panels until we can clear some floor space.

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view into the guest bedroom and bathroom

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file under “what were they thinking” #1 – carpeting in the bathroom

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file under “what were they thinking” #2 – painting over porcelain panel and soap holder


Happily, I found a architect locally who is willing to help us with the basement plans.  Once we receive them, we will visit our building inspector yet again to apply for a building permit.

Once we get approval on our design the project should kick into high gear.  Our plan is to first lay a slab for the garage in preparation of moving it intact (that should be fun)!  Once the garage is situated, we can transport the wall panels for storage on the building site and proceed with dropping the ceiling.  Hopefully our basement will be being dug and concrete poured as we continue to take the Lustron apart!

Finally…


I think we have gotten over our latest hurdle in the zoning battle saga (((whoop-whoop)))! At the very least, I have a piece of paper from the Town stating as much. Building permit should be the next step. 


We took advantage of a break in the rainy weather to do a bit of preliminary surveying. One of my alter-egos is that of “Stick Girl” – she is responsible for making sure the prism doesn’t hit the ground. I schlep the stick around, drag the tape from point to point and put in flags while Keith takes readings with the transit – we make for a pretty good team! Today we established the setback, staked the property line and plotted the location of the house and garage – things are getting real!