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Posts Tagged ‘american carpenter’

“This Old House Has Good Bones” - Please DON’T.

September 17th, 2017 Sears Homes 3 comments

If you want to have a meaningful conversation with an architectural historian, never ever never let this phrase pass your lips: “This house has good bones.”

It’s nonsensical, and frankly, I’m not sure what it’s even intended to express.

Sometimes, when I’m trapped in a doctor’s office, and I’m forced to watch a whole lot of HGTV (Houses Getting Totally Vandalized), I hear this dreaded phrase.

If we’re going forward with the “houses as living creatures” analogy, houses are probably more exoskeletal. In other words, they wear their skeletons on the outside, like roaches and ants and bedbugs, and I really don’t like comparing houses to roaches and ants and bedbugs.

Houses might be “structurally sound” and they might be “exceptionally well built” and they might have “dimensional framing lumber” or perhaps they’re “solid and strong” and maybe the framing members are of exceptionally good quality, but houses do not have good bones.

Next time you feel compelled to tell someone, “That house has good bones,” please bite your tongue, take a deep breath and instead say, “This house has an astonishingly sturdy exoskeletal structure.”

Or maybe, best of all, just say, “This is a fine old solid house.”

All of us old house lovers will thank you.

Read about the “open floor plan” and the downfall of society here.

If you enjoy this blog and want to make Rosemary smile, please leave a comment below!
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Good bones

If we're going to drag this analogy on down the road, it would have to be said that houses are exoskeletal, which means that they can not possibly have "good bones."

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meaning

Here is a student with "good bones" but will he excel in class? Probably not.

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Good

This house probably has "a good exoskeletal structure" but I would highly recommend against its purchase, because it's got a bit of a tilt.

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This

Although a classic example of balloon framing, this house does not have "good bones." It has vertical framing members that appear to be sturdy and strong. And it's going to need some stainless steel appliances. And ceiling fans. And other stuff.

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Read about the “open floor plan” and the downfall of society here.

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Asbestos Lumber: Two Great Ideas Together!

May 12th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

It’s two great ideas together in one - asbestos lumber!

According to the ad in the 1915 American Carpenter and Builder (trade magazine), this “lumber” was made with Portland Cement and asbestos, and the final product could be sawed, drilled or screwed - just like regular lumber.

I’d love to know more about this product!  :)

Asbestos Lumber: Its two great products in one!

Asbestos Lumber: It's two great products in one!

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Inter

And in 2012, the EPA considers asbestos one of the "great disasters."

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More

Picture of a school gymnasium in New York with this radical new product.

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To see pictures of Sears Homes (which were built with non-asbestos lumber), click here.

To see pictures of happy Sears Homes, click here.

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“You Will Like the Josephine The Longer You Live In It…”

May 4th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

So promised the catalog advertisement for the “Honor Bilt” house, The Josephine.

This diminutive 840-square-foot house provides a nice example of the difference between “Honor Bilt, Already Cut” houses and the “Lighter Bilt, Not Cut or Fitted” houses.

The Honor-Bilt Josephine was offered for $1,470 while its cheaper cousin (Lighter Bilt) was $1,052. In today’s economic clime, that may not seem like a big difference but imagine a Realtor showing you two houses that appear to be the same, and both with 840 square feet. One is selling for $105,000 and the other is selling for $147,000. Which one would you choose?

And yet, the Honor Bilt really was the far better value.  These homes utilized traditional construction standards, such as double headers over the doors and windows, double floors (primary floors over subfloors), exterior sheathing under clapboard or cedar shingles and wall studs on 16-inch centers.

Lighter Bilt” was another kettle of fish. These homes were really not intended for cold-weather climates. Wall studs were on 24-inch centers, and there were single headers over doors and windows, no subfloor and no underlying exterior sheathing. Those things make a big difference.

And then there was the whole pre-cut vs. non-cut lumber. You’d have to be taking some heavy doses of laudanum to think that non-precut lumber was a good plan.

To appreciate the value of precut lumber, think back to the early 1900s. Electricity was in its infancy, and in many cities, electricity was turned off each night at 11 p.m. for six hours of repairs and maintenance! In 1910, only 10% of homes had electricity. By 1930, that number had jumped to 70%. (Source:  Electrifying America:  Social Meanings of  a New Technology, David E. Nye.)  As late as December 1917, American Carpenter and Builder Magazine was still describing electric lights as a luxury that a builder should incorporate into a modern city home.

To cut a piece of lumber with a handsaw required time, strength and a degree of expertise (for a good square cut). Electric saws and the heavy duty wiring to handle the amperage draw were a thing of the future. In fact, the electric handsaw (a portable circular saw) wasn’t widely available until 1925. A fascinating news item in the February 1925 American Carpenter and Builder heralded the “new invention” with this commentary:  “The portable circular saw does the sawing for 15 carpenters.”

In 1921, Sears conducted an “experiment’ building two Rodessas (small frame homes) side by side at the site of the Sears mill in Cairo, Illinois. One house was erected using Sears’ precut lumber. The second house was built using traditional construction techniques; no precut lumber. The precut house was fully assembled in 352 carpenter hours and the non-precut home was completed in 583 carpenter hours.

In short, the fellow building his own Sears kit home would probably be doing his sawing with an old-fashioned, man-powered saw. The 1927 Wardway Homes catalog estimated that the average two-bedroom stick-built home required about 4,000 cuts with a saw.

That’s a whole lot of sawing that could be spared by purchasing an “Already Cut” Sears Home.

To learn more about Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt houses, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book on Sears kit homes, click here.

The Josephine, as shown in the 1921 catalog.

The Josephine, as shown in the 1921 catalog.

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Look in the difference in price between Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt.

Look in the difference in price between Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt.

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This 840-square foot house was just the right size for many families in the early 1920s.

This 840-square foot house was just the right size for many families in the early 1920s. And the living room has space for a piano and a bench!

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Heres a Josephine in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Here's a Josephine in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Cincinnatti, Ohio.

This little cutie - discovered and photographed by Donna Bakke - is in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Effingham, Illinois

Yellow seems like an appropriate color for the happy little Josephine.

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Also in Mt. Healthy, OH

Donna found this Josephine in Mt. Healthy, OH. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Cincinnatti, OH

Another one in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mt. Healthy

This is my favorite - and it's in stunningly original condition. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mt. Healthy

Look at the details around the front porch! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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My favorite one in Mt. Healthy

Close-up on the porch details.

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Awesome

And the house in Mt. Healthy is a perfect match! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more pretty pictures of old houses, click here.

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Married By Commerce; Divorced By The Interstate

January 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1900s, the Sears Mill at Cairo, Illinois was an impressive operation, covering 40 acres and employing about 80 full-time workers. About 20 acres were “under roof.” In other words, the site had 20 acres of buildings.

That’s a lot of buildings.

Each day, the railroad cars brought enormous quantities of yellow pine and cypress into the mill, right out of the virgin forests in Louisiana and Mississippi. The 80 employees turned those logs into 10-12 kit homes per day, and each pre-cut home had 12,000 pieces of lumber. That’s a lot of lumber and a lot of work.

The mill (actually in a tiny town just outside of Cairo) was in Urbandale, Illinois. It was located on “Sears and Roebuck Road.” When the interstate came through in the 1970s, it cut a wide swath right through Sears and Roebuck Road, creating two stretches of dead end street on either side of I-57.

On one side, it’s now known as Sears Road. On the other, it’s Roebuck Road.

And on Roebuck Road, there’s another bonus: The Sears Wexford.

A Sears House on Roebuck Road. Or maybe it’s a Roebuck house on Roebuck Road?

Either way, Garmin apparently never got the memo that Sears Roebuck Road had been sliced into two pieces.

And to hear the song that inspired blog’s title, click here:  Married By The Bible, Divorced By The Law.

Special thanks to long-time Cairo resident Richard Kearney, who gave up a day of his life to be my tour guide throughout this area.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Garmin never got the memo about the divorce of Sears and Roebuck Road.

Garmin never got the memo about the divorce of Sears and Roebuck Road.

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Sears

Sears Road is right off of State Highway 37 in Urbandale, IL.

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And Roebuck Road is on the other side, accessible by Seven Mile Road. Note the little Sears Wexford, waving merrily from the background!

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Close up of the Sears Wexford (also known as the Bridgeford) on Roebuck Road.

Close up of the Sears Wexford (also known as the "Bridgeford) on "Roebuck Road."

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Original catalog image of the Sears (and Roebuck) Wexford (from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

Original catalog image of the Sears (and Roebuck) Wexford (from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog). The house in Urbandale is a spot-on match!

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Comparison of the two houses.

Comparison of the two images.

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This item appeared in the February 1912 issue of American Carpenter and Builder, annoucing the opening of the new mill at Cairo.

This item appeared in the February 1912 issue of American Carpenter and Builder, announcing the opening of the new mill at Cairo.

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Close up of the text.

Close up of the text.

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The only thing that remains at the site of the old Sears Mill are these two Rodessas, built about 1918, to demonstrate the superiority of Sears pre-cut homes. One house was built using traditional methods (stick built, with all pieces cut by hand), and the other Rodessa was a pre-cut Sears Home.

The only remnant of the old 40-acre Sears Mill in Cairo/Urbandale are these two Rodessas, built in 1918, to demonstrate the superiority of Sears pre-cut homes. One house was built using traditional methods (stick built, with all pieces cut by hand), and the other Rodessa was a pre-cut Sears Home.

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The Rodessa, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

The Rodessa, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

To read about Addie Hoyt, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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“Coming Out of the Mud”

January 26th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

If you could spend a day in the early 1900s, you might have a little trouble understanding what people were saying! Some words had radically different meanings.

For instance, there’s the word “slacker.”  A slacker was any able-bodied young man who did not volunteer to serve in the military (and subsequently become part of the American Expeditionary Force).

Wanting to learn more about this time period in American history, I also studied World War 1. It wasn’t called WW1 until the late 1930s, when WW2 broke out. In the late 1910s, it was known as “The Great War.” It’s other name was also a political promise that we - the American people - were given sold to engender our support. We were told it was “The War to End All Wars.”

One of the most chilling definitions I learned was the true meaning of “basket-case.” During the The Great War, when a soldier lost his limbs in battle, a wicker basket was used to carry the limbless figure off the battlefield. One can only imagine the mental state of such a soldier. The fellow soldiers described him as “a real basketcase.”

“Smut” was another interesting term. It was a disease of the wheat crop, and in the early 1900s, smut damaged so much wheat that it caused a nation-wide shortage of wheat.

An article in the 1920 Stanolind Record (employee newsletter of Standard Oil) said that soon Carlinville residents would be “coming out of the mud.” (Carlinville’s “Standard Addition” neighborhood has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. Carlinville is in central Illinois.)  For several months, I asked every smart person I knew what this meant. No one had a guess. Finally, I found a clipping that said a neighborhood had just “come out of the mud.” It showed freshly paved streets and sidewalks. “Coming out of the mud” meant the subdivision now had proper sidewalks and city streets.

yyrr

Vintage photo of Carlinville's Standard Addition before they "came out of the mud." This photo was taken sometime in 1919.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book on Sears Homes, click here.

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Sears Modern Homes and The Mill in Cairo, Illinois

August 2nd, 2010 Sears Homes 4 comments

In May 1911, Sears opened up a mill in Cairo, Illinois. Cairo’s location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers made it a natural for shipping and distribution. At the turn of the last century, Cairo (pronounced “Care-Roe”) could boast of having four major rail lines, enabling it to become a centralized shipping point for lumber harvested from the South and sent to the North.

The Sears Roebuck Mill, also known as the Illinois Lumber Company, got its start when Sears Roebuck paid $12,500 for a 40-acre tract in North Cairo.

On May 21, 1911, The Chicago Tribune reported that Sears intended to build a $250,000 plant. A few weeks later, The Cairo Evening Citizen had doubled that figure and reported “Half a million to be cost of new Sears Roebuck Plant” (July 29, 1911).

In November 1911, Sears ran a two-page advertisement in American Carpenter and Builder Magazine headlined “Great News for Builders.” The advertisement (see below) said,

Shipments have begun from our second and newest great lumber plant in Illinois. We can deliver you bright, fresh, clean lumber at manufacturer’s prices almost as quickly as you can haul makeshift sizes and weatherworn stock from a high priced neighboring lumber yard. Our mill work is sheltered from rain, sun, soot and wind. Our new Illinois plant is located on two of the largest and fastest railroads in the North with direct connections to over 20 different railroads. (Weatherworn stock was a reference to the fact that, unlike Sears, many mills did not keep their lumber under roof.)

In March 1912, F. E. Van Alstine, Superintendent of the Sears mill was quoted in The Cairo Evening Citizen as saying that Sears had chosen Cairo because of “their low freight rates, superior shipping facilities and other natural and commercial advantages, (which) made the city more desirable than St. Louis, East St. Louis, Paducah (Kentucky) or Memphis” (Tennessee).

But later that month, the rains came and the floodwaters rose, nearly destroying the brand new mill in Northern Cairo. On April 5th, The Cairo Evening Citizen reported that the “main building of the new Sears Roebuck factory was hurled off its foundation and is leaning toward the east. Just what damage was done to these buildings could not be ascertained, as there was no way to reach them except by skiff.”

In mid-April, the paper said that all seven lumber sheds had been torn from their foundations and much of the lumber inside the sheds had simply floated away.

By August, The Cairo Evening Citizen happily reported that despite the hard times and high waters, Sears Roebuck had decided to remain in Cairo. It also reported that about half the lumber sheds had been rebuilt and some of that floating lumber had been recovered. The same article reported that the folks at Sears corporate headquarters in Chicago were so pleased with Van Alstine’s post-flood restoration work that they presented him with a brand new automobile.

The mill produced everything for the Ready-Cut (precut) Sears homes except for millwork. The Sears mill located in Norwood, Ohio, supplied millwork; windows, doors and interior trim and moldings.

By the early 1930s, sales of Ready-Cut homes had plummeted and the mill began looking for other ways to generate income. They began building crating material for tractors and other large equipment, including Frigidaire refrigerators and appliances sold by Sears. In the late 30s, the mill produced prefabricated buildings for the camps which housed workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Wheeler relates that a typical CCC camp (which included several different buildings) required 400,000 feet of lumber and about 35 of these camps were milled and shipped by the Cairo plant.

In 1940, Sears closed the plant and sold it to the employees. Shortly after the employees purchased the plant, they obtained a contract to build massive crates for shipping B-17 and B-29 bombers overseas for the war effort.

After World War II ended, the former Sears Mill - now called Illinois Lumber Company - drafted and published their own book of house plans and tried to sell Ready-Cut homes again, but without success. The Cairo Evening Citizen relates that the plant was liquidated and closed in November 1955. The article adds this interesting aside: “Like several other Cairo lumber industries, it slowly died because the wood articles it manufactured were supplanted by iron and steel.”

All that remains today at the site of the Cairo mill are two Sears kit homes - two Rodessas - which were built as part of an experiment in 1921, to prove the superiority of Ready-Cut homes over traditional stick built homes.

Not surprisingly, Cairo has a significant collection of Sears Homes, such as this “Hollywood” (see below).

From the 1919 catalog, a Sears Hollywood

From the 1919 catalog, a Sears Hollywood

Sears Hollywood in Cairo, Illinois

Sears Hollywood in Cairo, Illinois

Below is an advertisement from the 1911 American Carpenter and Builder Magazine.

To see pictures of Cairo today, click here.

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