Thursday, February 16, 2006
The House We Built
The house we built at 425 Main Street, Point Arena - still standing over fifty years later.
(It looked bigger then - it does have a full-size basement)
Our family bought three acres at the corner of Main and Lake Streets, Point Arena, California, that went down over the sidehill behind to border Windy Hollow Road. I think we bought it in 1954, and the whole family pitched in to buy it. Ronald and I chipped in money from our savings accounts we had built up delivering the Santa Rosa Press Democrat for several years.
The first thing we did was help Pop dig a well by hand. He started digging with a pick and shovel at the base of the hill near the most northerly part of our property near Windy Hollow Road. Ron and I pulled the buckets of dirt out of the hole and dumped them.Pop struck water at about four feet (the well was very close to a wet, marshy area). Pop knew before he started digging that we weren’t going to have any trouble finding water.As Pop kept digging, the water poured in faster. He had to keep a pump running constantly, or stop digging. The well was five feet wide, and when Pop dug down about sixteen feet, he said it was time to quit.
Pop built a wooden form, and we used a cement mixer to pour a concrete casing with holes in the sides near the bottom to let the water flow in.
Next, we drew up plans for the house. Pop roughed out the dimensions on a piece of typewriter paper, then gave me (12 years old then) a piece of poster paper about two by three feet. Pop’s instructions to me were simple. Measure everything carefully to scale, draw sharp right angles, and be very neat. I took the poster paper, my No. 2 pencil and sharpener, gum eraser, protractor and compass, and steel edged fifteen-inch ruler, and in a couple of days completed the drawing. Anyway, I thought the drawing was complete. Unfortunately, Pop found I made a side dimension wrong, so I flipped the poster paper over and did a corrected drawing on the other side. The second time it passed review, so Pop tacked it onto a piece of plywood, and we started building.
We began by digging a full-sized basement. No other house built on flat land in Point Arena had a basement, but we were going to have one. Pop borrowed a plow horse, harness, and clam-shell scraper (it looks like a wheel barrow without a wheel, is pulled by the horse, and also is known as a Fresno Scraper) from a local rancher and saw mill worker, Johnny Remstedt. Johnny lived with his wife, son, and some very lovely daughters about a mile north of us on Windy Hollow Road. I think Donna, the youngest of the pretty Remstedt daughters, had named the horse Prince.
By the by, Windy Hollow is well named. The hollow runs due north from our old property to the Pacific Ocean, and the wind comes unimpeded all the way from the Arctic across the Pacific, and it builds up speed as it funnels down the ever narrowing hollow until it reaches full force as it hits the exterior wall of the bedroom Ron and I shared.
Ron and I spent quite a bit of the summer of 1954 digging the basement, with the horse doing most of the work. Ron and I would alternate, one working the horse and clam-shell scraper, while the other used a mattock to loosen the dirt. Working the horse was fun. We looped the reins behind our neck, grasped a handle with each hand, and tilted the handles up enough to get the scraper to bite into the dirt. When the scraper was full of dirt, we dropped the handles and used the reins to guide the horse to the dirt pile. To dump the dirt, we just lifted the handles up high and flipped them forward to turn the scraper upside down. We then stopped the horse, righted the scraper, guided the horse back down the ramp into the basement, and repeated the process.
After a couple of weeks of good digging, Pop started checking the depth each day when he got home from the saw mill. One day he spent quite a bit of time checking all around the hole, then told Ron and I that it was deep enough, we could stop digging.
That was a very happy, sad moment. It had been fun working Prince, and it was kind of sad to realize that the part of the project we had been so useful on was done. The next phase would be done mostly by Pop and a skilled carpenter named Henry Eddy. Ron and I would be working as unskilled helpers. But the house, our home, was becoming more real each day.
Ron and I were still valuable workers. We were good at mixing concrete in the cement mixer, and we poured a lot of concrete – the floor of the basement, the basement walls, the foundation – all concrete, all mixed by us in the cement mixer. It wasn’t until many years later that premixed concrete trucks replaced portable cement mixers in the Point Arena/Gualala area.
When the foundation was poured, the next really important project we helped on was putting down the wooden floor. As soon as the floor was finished, we moved into the basement and lived there, because the floor also served as a roof for the basement. Now we could live in the basement while completing the house above.