Michigan Trip DIY Blitz

Part of my recent trip to Michigan to spend time with my parents resulted in a mini-blitz of small projects around their home. I absolutely loved the opportunity to help my folks and work on the house I grew up in. This isn't much of a step-by-step, how-to post, since I didn't shoot nearly enough pictures, but you might pick up some nuggets along the way.

As an old cottage, the home is a Frankenstein blend of decades and decades of expansions, renovations, and repairs done well before my parents bought the place in the mid 1970's. Like my own home, it's still full of surprises.

It was a challenge to use someone else's tools. I enjoyed the game of figuring out what to use from my Dad's collection, and where he stored it. He had everything I needed and if I asked, he' d send me to the right location, but I really enjoyed poking around in his workshop and using different tools than I am accustomed to. It was fun.

The mighty Craftsman 7.2 volt drill

This particular species surfaced just after the extinction of the dinosaurs. (Craftsman-icus Seven-point two volt-us)

I started the blitz with a florescent, four-tube light in the kitchen. My brother had already been by and replaced the lamps, but it still wasn't working. It turned out ballast needed to be replaced.

The wiring conditions were scary.Through the small metal mounting strip for a globe style fixture poked the hot and neutral wires, with no insulation.

The original wiring was so old that the insulation had simply disintegrated, leaving those two wires within a quarter inch of each other. In electrical terms, I call that "not good."

Knob and tube wiring madness

"Not good"

After my Dad and I grabbed a new ballast and a few supplies he didn't have in stock at the home center, I pulled the whole fixture down to clean up the wiring. I trimmed it back a little and wrapped the remaining insulation with electrical tape to prevent further decline before adding brand-new wire to extend it safely into the fixture.

Oh yeah, remember friends, before you play with electricity, be sure to visit...

Rather than unnecessarily work overhead, I replaced the ballast while the fixture was still on the ground. Yes, my folks do cook on that stove. I'd learned to fry potatoes and make omelettes on that ancient, gas powered beast as a teen.

1800's Detroit Jewel Stove

The old Detroit Jewel

I zapped the fixture back up onto the ceiling with fresh toggle bolts and wired it in again.

Next, I replaced the broken hanger wire on a mirror / coat rack that my little nephew had pulled down. He'd yanked on an apron a couple nights earlier and narrowly missed being cracked on the head. Luckily the mirror didn't break.

That was a super easy fix. Hung and done.

The light switches in the basement stairwell were next. My mom wanted them replaced with fresh white switches.

Unfortunately, the local handyman had cut the opening too big to mount the switches properly. The ears wouldn't reach the edge of the drywall for support.

I used these neat little outlet spacers. They slip behind the mounting yoke of a plug or switch so they can be supported properly against the box.

Ideal Outlet Spacers

You just cut off what you need and fold them, accordion style, snapping them together like Legos. They slip right around the 6/32 mounting screw.

Ideal Outlet Spacers

Decent wiring here at least.

With the switches in and working, I moved down the stairwell to replace a dark brown receptacle, halfway down. It was old school, with no grounding prong. If there was no grounding wire in the box, I'd have to install a GFCI to be legal. You cannot simply install a standard three prong outlet where there's nothing to attache that third prong to. 

It was the same messed up wiring I'd found in the kitchen. It was a mess. The conductors were entering from opposite sides of the box and they were seriously worn out. There was no grounding wire either. I think it's old knob and tube wiring

Rather than replacing the receptacle I removed it. I cleaned up the wiring, taped it up good with fresh wire nuts and sealed the box with a single-gang blank cover. With an outlet at the top and the bottom of the stairs, there's no point in having on halfway, plus an extension cord from there is just a trip hazard.

Continuing down to the basement, I worked on a wall where the paint keeps peeling off. Apparently there had been some sort of water softener discharge issue years ago that had leeched salty water against the outside wall and eventually caused the paint to peel. Subsequent paintings were unsuccessful.  

I took a wire brush to it and cleaned off everything I could, tasting saltiness in the dust, There was a slight sparkle in the block and grout, probably salt, not a good sign for success.

The wall had been sealed / primed at some point. It didn't stick though. Rather than repeat the same thing, we decided to experiment with a flexible rubber coating. I've seen similar stuff on TV turn a screen door into a watertight boat, surely it would stick to this salty wall,.. right?

I put the stuff on initially in a thin coat and let it dry. After that, I blasted it on fairly thick. It ran a little bit, but nothing too noticeable for a basement wall,

Arrr,... take that ye' salty wall.

                           - AZ Pirate Guy

The fumes were staggering in that enclosed space, so I had to open up some windows and set up a box fan to exhaust that foulness outside. I closed the upstairs doors to keep the nastiness away from my Dad's lungs.  

It looked great!

The next morning, it was already peeling slightly. This one is a fail.

The last big project was a falling run of duct work, in the basement ceiling. I think the run had been stretched out a bit, back when they'd had the kitchen remodeled about  20 years ago. It finally started to drop in recent years.

My brother Jim and I pushed it back together and wired it up again. We wrapped the loose joints with foil faced tape and ran a few new screws into place. 

On one end it was actually hanging from a wire twisted around a drain pipe. We lifted it up with a fresh new piece of hanger wire, screwed into the framing. 

The ole drain-pipe hanging trick eh?

It was fun working alongside Jim and his legendary sideburns again.

There were plenty of other little things that got tackled before the trip was over. A tripped breaker that knocked out a kitchen receptacle got reset, the water softener was reloaded with salt, and the snow blower was put away, just a handful of little things 3,000 miles of continental United States normally prevents me from helping my parents with. 

Jim and I ran into town to pick up some supplies for one last project...

Tube-steak heaven.

That's right, honest to God, authentic, Detroit-style coney dogs. 





That's how it's done.

A Visit Home and the Old Stump

I took a quick trip back to Michigan recently. I left Sweetie and the kids behind in Arizona and crashed on my parent's couch for a week.

This is where I grew up, an spectacular place to be a kid. Plenty of adventures were had at this peninsula house, surrounded by a lake. This was the  location for the neighborhood kid's countless hours of army battles, Star Wars adventures, fort construction, swimming, fishing, and boating.

The trip really wasn't a vacation thing. It was a trip to hang out with my Dad and give him a boost of support, since he's just been wholloped with a serious health challenge. It's cancer, some serious shit too.

The old man is a tough dude; he's going to fight this with gusto and humor. His attitude remains absolutely incredible, even as the battle saps at his strength. We had a really good time together, talking, joking, eating, and zipping around town in his sporty convertible. We hadn't spent this much time together, just the two of us, since I left Michigan nearly 17 years ago. Since he's slowing down a bit and focusing on his health, I got a chance to bring some DIY skills to bear and help my folks with a mini-blitz of home repair projects while I was there.

The house is an old cottage with with God knows how many additions over the years. My folks have been working on it for about 40 years. I remember "helping" my dad on his projects, from munchkin age, well into my teen years. I'd mowed this lawn for hours and raked tons and tons of leaves here, as well as getting my first taste of home renovation by my Dad's side.

I still have a vivid memory of my dad working on the lower deck. He'd managed to catch a horrible case of body-wide poison ivy. The Doc had given him a healthy dose steroids to fight it. I recall looking out and seeing him with two, extra long 2 x 6's on his shoulder, literally sprinting past the window. He was so amped up on steroids that I swear I remember him building that deck in an hour, with no nail-gun. I don't even think he used a hammer;  just punched the nails into place with his raw 'roid power. 

The deck facing the "beach" It's a beautiful piece of land the old house sits on, with beautiful water, reflecting the trees on all three sides. 

It was absolutely teaming with wildlife, bugs, fish, birds, muskrats, frogs, and this little sweetheart:

Muskrats, ice storms, and strong winds have done their worst to the beautiful trees over the years. Although the loss of a tree is sad, at least it opens more views of the lake. Unfortunately, it leaves ugly stumps like this one, smack-dab in the middle of the front yard, a cedar lost in the winter. 

A fun little project to help out with, eh? You know I don't saw up trees back in Phoenix, just the occasional giant sugurao cactus.

My brother Jim took the day off and joined me, with his trusty, red handled, macho-man ax from home. I found a matching pair of sweet, wee electric chainsaws and a mismatched pair of gloves in the basement (The Indiana Jones, Fortune and Glory T-shirt was all mine, 'cause that's how I roll when I'm choppin' wood).

Top men for a serious job.

We decided to lop it down to size with the chainsaws first. We thought, maybe we could cut it down, just below ground level, perhaps drill some big holes in what was left, and let it rot away. 

We topped both of the lil' saws up with oil to keep the chains in good order and got to work.

We took turns with the diminutive chain saws. There was no point in overheating their motors when we had two on hand. Just like with unlicensed nuclear accelerators, we carefully kept our distance from each other,.. 

... because crossing them would be bad.

Dr. Peter Venkman:I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?

Dr. Egon Spengler:Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

 Dr Ray Stantz:Total protonic reversal.

Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip.

                                      - Dr. Peter Venkman

After a while, we decided the chainsaws just weren't cutting the mustard (or the stump). Jim brought his mighty ax into the fray. 

We switched our focus to the roots. This whole tree had tipped over at one time after all. Surely there wasn't a beefy tap root to contend with. We'd chop all the surrounding tendrils and hopefully rip this entire monstrosity from the ground. 

Chopping like a warrior poet.

We took turns swinging that ax, cleaving root after root and prying   Needless to say. It wore us the hell out.

Yes. I'm wearing steel toe work boots

No, he's not wearing steel toe work boots.

Expletives deleted.

In the end, we ripped that tenacious beast from the grasping clutches of the moist, root-filled earth and wrestled it into the wheelbarrow.  The initial victory was very sweet, but the following three days of aching muscles, dulled the feeling.

My dad came out to join us for the victory lap as we wheeled the beast to its final resting place in the woods. 

I simply must get a dual-wheeled barrow like this. 

Good riddance, Beast. 

I'll share more of the DIY blitz projects Jim and I fiddled with at the old homestead soon. 

I'll close by sharing the ride that replaced my truck for the week. It's been a long time since I drove a small car or a stick shift. Heck, I don't think I'd ever driven a convertible before. It sure was fun sprinting about town with my old man, our hair blowing in the wind as I slalomed round Michigan's never-ending minefield of bottomless pot-holes.

Join us next time for the thrilling conclusion of the Michigan DIY blitz! There will be a much better view of Jim's legendary sideburns. Promise.

UPDATE: Here it is:

Michigan Trip DIY Blitz

Disneyland with the DIY Guy's Eye

No, I didn't finish remodeling the house to look like a pink castle.

We took a long weekend and headed for Disneyland. As always, it was a great time. Nobody does it better when it comes to detail, service, and providing an enjoyable experience, for 10 bazillion people.

If you haven't been, I'm going to let you in on a little secret, to prepare you,... you are going to wait in line. Seriously. You are going to wait in some serious, godawful lines. Sure, it's worth it in the end; the attractions are pure joy for young and old. In fact, the lines are not so bad at first. They're generally theme decorated and everyone is anticipating a day of awesomeness. Early on, the lines are pretty fun...

Cars Land is like stepping into a cartoon! ...but later, as energy wanes and the heat of the day starts wearing you down, the lines are not quite as fun.

"Staaaaar Waaaarssss....better be worth it" (It is!)

When your's truly wasn't in kid consoling mode or fetching drinks, I was peaking at the details, figuring out how stuff was put together. Check out at this bow-tie / dovetail joinery holding the timbers together at the

Peter Pan line. I imagine, it was probably built in the 1950's.

A " bow-tie / dovetail" (?) Over at the newly-renovated, Thunder Mountain Railroad, the fence was made from some sort of weird resin or acrylic, but it was nicely done.

Dino-mite!!!! There was some seriously rustic timber fit in place with meaty shims.

In the Toy Story -  Midway Mania line I was mesmerized by their plank ceiling. I never even thought about setting ours at an angle. Look at all that molding!

We clamored around in Tarzan's house for a while. It truly feels like a massive, vine filled tree...

... especially with this weather tight, flexible electrical conduit, growing from the jungle floor.

Finally, my keen eye spotted this incredibly realistic horse. I couldn't believe the attention to detail the designers had put into this fine piece of animatronic wizardry. I marveled at the heap of steaming Disney magic it deposited on the street, just like a real horse.

Obviously hand crafted realism!

A walk in the park

We took some time off from home projects to go for a family hike in the largest city park in the country. Nope, we didn't fly to New York, we practically stayed in our back yard, South Mountain Park in Phoenix.

For those of you outside the desert southwest, a half mile from the urban metropolis, it can be like an alien landscape. It's somewhere you wouldn't be surprised to see armed guerillas from Planet of the Apes ride up on horseback. I thought I'd show some photos, to help share the Arizona in AZ DIY Guy.

The trail started out easy. It was well maintained.

It was a nice day, but it got pretty hot during our excursion. We probably should have left a little earlier, but a hefty coat of sunblock and a bunch of water made it bearable as we set off down the trail.

Frodo and Sam?
Behind us we could see the high rises in Downtown Phoenix in the distance.

The landscape was covered with giant Saguaro Cactus. We do have a few in our yard, but it was cool to see so many in the wild. Many were easily 20 feet tall with several arms.

This one's in rough shape.

Saguaro down.

We passed a couple dams, built in the 30's, from what we understand. There's not a drop of water up there now.
Dam again!

We managed to find a couple of the ancient Hohokam petroglyphs. We missed plenty in the rest of the park, but that's for other days

An original AZ DIY project from long, long ago

Can you spot this one?
A spiral, just left of center frame.
On the way back, going got rough. Gracie took a spill and scratched up her hands. Luckily, Jack packed some Band-Aids. Big brother washed her up and took care of the damage.

She was dog tired and scared of tripping again. Daddy had to carry her...

... and it really started getting hot, 92º at this point.

Then, tragedy of tragedies, one of my oldest friends succumbed to the harsh, rocky environment. If you are squeamish about horrendously graphic and fatal damage to finely crafted, rugged footwear, you may not want to look at the photo below: 

One of my trusty Red Wing work boots lost its sole. These tough-as-nails soldiers have served me on the front lines for over 10 years. You've probably even seen them in several of my posts. They'd been glued up once before, but there just wasn't much rubber left in the old boys. They got me within a quarter mile of the truck, past the worst part of the trail, before finally gasping their last. Luckily, I had a Red Wing, heavy-duty insole with just enough liner holding it in, to limp back on.

Beloved Red Wing work boots
2003 - 2013
Rest in peace

I guess I'm down to athletic shoes for the next project.