Lookie who got their “Tech” license last weekend!
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Lookie who got their “Tech” license last weekend!
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It’s been almost six years since I met Wayne Ringer at the coffee shop in downtown Portsmouth (Virginia) for our first date.
Six delightful years.
At that first date, he handed me his business card, which affirmed that (just as he’d told me on that first phone call), he really was an attorney.
An impressive man with an impressive title and an impressive career.
I could hardly believe that anyone as wonderful as Wayne Ringer thought that I was the Cat’s Meow and the Bee’s Knees.
But he did.
We were engaged three months after that first date, and married four months after our engagement.
Then, and now, two thoughts have remained with me. First, I thank God for the gift of this man’s love. And secondly, I’ve often thought about that wonderful line from the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun.”
Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game. It’s such a surprise.
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Those last two weeks, when I knew that my father was getting close to the end, I’d visit him every morning and every evening. He was sleeping 22+ hours a day at this point, only awakening for a few minutes when someone was speaking to him.
In the morning, I’d arrive early and sit with him and talk to him for a few minutes. I’d put my arm around his shoulder and tell him that everything was going to be okay. He was a little agitated at times, and worried about so many things. I told him that I was taking care of everything, and that there was nothing he needed to worry about.
He’d frequently tell me, “I don’t know what I’d do without you and Wayne.”
In the evenings, I’d arrive around 7 pm and sit by the bed and turn on a night light and fix his blankets and turn up the heat (per his request). Our evening ritual could best be described as me “tucking him into bed.” Tuesday evening, four days before he passed on, I visited him and he was very worried.
The first words out of his mouth were, “Where’s my little shoe?”
I knew exactly what he was talking about. About three months earlier, he’d sent me to the store to get him a tape dispenser. At Office Depot, I was looking for a boring old beige dispenser when my eyes lighted upon a bright red high-heel shoe tape dispenser. The moment I showed it to him, his eyes lit up and he laughed out loud.
“Oh that’s great!” he exclaimed. “I like that.”
For the rest of his days, he kept it right beside him. And when the nurses came into his room to clean up and put things away, he’d always dig out that little red shoe and put it back on his favorite end table, beside his favorite chair.
At the end, he was bedridden and it was Tuesday night that he asked about his “little shoe.”
“Dad,” I told him, “it’s in a small box under the end table where the nurse put it. I can see it right now. Do you want me to put it on your dresser so you can see it?”
“No,” he replied. “As long as I know where it is.”
Throughout Wednesday, I stayed with him, leaving at 6:30 pm when a freshly hired private duty nurse came in to sit with him. It was not a good day for him. Thursday, I was with him throughout the day. He was more comfortable and happy, but no longer in his right mind. He lost consciousness Thursday evening and passed Friday morning at 2:25 am.
Monday night, as I was cleaning out his apartment, I happened upon that little red shoe and tears filled my eyes.
Even though I have plenty of tape dispensers, I couldn’t bear to put his “little shoe” in the give-away pile. I dropped it into a box and brought it home with me. And I’m not even sure why.
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I love Elkins, WV. It’s a beautiful place and a lovely city. And I love the people of Elkins, too. Especially this guy (pictured below), sitting on the rock.
His name is Wayne Ringer and he’s from Elkins, West Virginia.
He graduated from Davis and Elkins College in 1977, and Washington and Lee (School of Law) in 1980. Last summer, we drove from Norfolk to Elkins to attend his cousin’s 30th Wedding Anniversary party (part of the Skidmore clan). It was a happy, happy time. Surprisingly, I found quite a few Sears Homes. (Story continues below photo of cutie-pie husband)
What is a Sears Home? These were true kits sold out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. The houses were shipped via rail and contained 30,000 pieces of house. Each kit came with a 75-page instruction manual and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could have one assembled and ready for occupancy in about 90 days. Today, there are about 70,000 Sears kit homes in America. Incredibly, about 90% of the people living in these homes don’t realize what they have! The purpose of this website is to help people learn more about this fascinating piece of America’s history.
Here are a few of the houses I found within the city limits of Elkins, West Virginia.
And there’s even a Lustron Prefabricated post-WW2 home in Elkins. Lustron Homes were made of 20-gage 2×2 metal tiles, covered with a porcelain enamel finish (just like the top of a high-dollar washing machines!). These houses were all metal - inside and out - and hanging a picture required sticking magnets to the walls! Nails and other fasteners would damage the porcelain enamel finish. Lustron was based in Columbus, Ohio and less than 3000 Lustron Homes were sold in this country. They were remarkable, strong and long-lasting houses - definitely ahead of their time. Finding this three-bedroom model in Elkins was a special treat, as the three-bedroom Lustrons were very rare.
To learn more about Lustrons, click here.
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My pink house is now green. Green - as in - environmentally friendly.
Well, let me restate that. It’s as environmentally friendly as an old house can be.
On March 10, 2011, we assassinated our old cast-iron, oil-fired boiler. It wasn’t pretty, but it had to be done.
The old behemoth wasn’t really that old. It was born in Utica, New York in early 2002, and was, in fact, a Utica (brand-name) boiler. When we purchased this cold house in March 2007, we were told that the Utica was a higher end boiler, and should provide good service for years to come. It was rated at 200,000 BTUs, which is a lot of heating power for 2,300 square feet.
What we didn’t realize is that we’d spend several billion dollars on heating oil trying desperately to stave off Old Man Winter (a natural enemy of old houses).
And then came Winter 2010, one of the coldest winters we’ve had in a long time. And then oil prices started up (again). In three months’ time, we burned more than $1,600 in fuel oil. In January 2011, when Mr. Oil Fill-Man appeared in my back yard (a scant 27 days after his last visit), I ran outside to chat with him.
“We’re taking 160 - 170 gallons of fuel oil each time you come by,” I told him, trying hard to be charming. “Is that normal for this area?”
His answer was not a comfort.
“Yes M’am,” he replied. “In this neighborhood, every house I visit is taking between 150-200 gallons of heating oil.”
This told me that my neighbors were probably apoplectic over their heating bills, as well.
Talking with two of my neighbors, I’d found that they’d converted from old oil boilers (about the same age as mine), to high-efficiency tankless gas-fired boilers. Both neighbors told me that their heating bills had dropped from $500 - $600 a month to about $125 - $150 a month. Both were delighted with the new system and the new savings.
I was not that surprised to hear that two neighbors had just had not-so-old oil boilers ripped right out and replaced with this fancy new system. I suspected that most people were NOT going to tolerate paying $500+ a month - every month - to heat their homes. It was an outrageous sum of money. And I knew that we’d done everything in our power to “button-up” the old house. Since purchasing the house in March 2007, we’d added four high-dollar storm doors to the previously naked (and drafty) primary doors, and we’d installed 12 super-dooper high efficiency replacement windows (on the rear and side), and we’d repaired and re-caulked old storm windows on the remaining windows. We’d also used up 40 tubes of caulk (yes, 40), in Summer 2010, closing up every little crack and crevice on the old house.
Frankly, I’ve always felt it was a bit nutty to use oil for home heating - for several reasons.
1) Our oil reserves are dwindling. Peak Oil, according to the smart people, arrived in 2007 or 2008. I’m of the opinion that remaining reserves should be devoted to transportation, with an eye toward (quickly) developing energy alternatives for our little cars.
2) Many of our “oil dollars” go to a foreign country, and some of these oil-rich countries in faraway lands have a history of treating women with little or no respect. I find that reprehensible, and I don’t want my dollars funding such egregious behavior. Sharia law is a glimpse of hell on earth for women.
3) BP oil spill. ‘Nuff said.
4) Hugo Chavez. ‘Nuff said.
5) Every dollar I spend on oil is a dollar that leaves America and right now, we need to buy local. Natural gas supplies are abundant in North America. Having watched “Gasland,” I’m horrified at the fracking process currently in use (which is destroying our water supply), but for now, Natural Gas seems to be a better alternative than #2 Heating Oil, and the lesser of two evils.
6) Heating oil is messy and smelly. I’ve got the blessing (or curse) of a hypersensitive sense of smell, and every 27 days when we get an oil delivery, the smell has been powerful throughout my home. Our 275-gallon tank is in the basement and often when I open the basement door, I get a whiff of #2 heating oil. Not pleasant.
7) Heating oil is dirty. It’s recommended that oil-fired appliances (furnaces and boilers) be cleaned once each year. Cost: $150 or more.
When it was time to get estimates for the new work, I had many choices, but the big two were: Gas-fired boiler or Heat Pump?
The benefits of a heat pump were simple: It’d give us the chance to add central air. We had a central air system for the upstairs, but wouldn’t it be dreamy to have it on the first floor, too?
Yes and no.
The central air unit on the second floor had been oversized (by my request), with a major trunk line and vent directly over the top of our large, open staircase. In the summertime,when the A/C was running, great wafts of deliciously cool air came galloping down the stairs. Due to design of the staircase, probably 50% of the cold air ended up on the first floor. I’d also positioned the return in such a way that it’d naturally draft the hot air from the first floor. In other words, the 3-ton unit for the second floor effectively cooled much of the first floor.
Secondly, adding all new ductwork for the first floor heat pump (and A/C) would have made our basement well-nigh unusable. With no garage at our home, we rely heavily on the basement for storage. And I like having a big basement.
The other factor was, I love my radiators. They’re old and funky and they rattle and pop in the winter. I was not ready to abandon the old charm of the 1920s cast-iron radiators. Plus, it’s true what they say: Radiant heat is the most comfortable, even heating in the world.
So that left us with one more set of choices: Cheap it out with a regular, average efficiency gas-fired boiler, or go ahead and spend the extra dough and go with a high-efficiency (90%+) unit.
The lower end gas boilers were $3,000 and up (for 80% efficiency), but would require that we’d re-line the old chimney. That’d add another $2000 to our costs, so we were at $5000. For $7,500, we could get a super-high efficiency gas-fired boiler, rated at 94% efficient, which used a pvc snorkel, and abandon the old chimney, and get our heating bills down under $200 a month. And, we’d get a $500 rebate from our local gas company, making the price difference between the two options a scant $2,000 (or the cost of 100 days of fuel oil).
We opted for the high efficiency tankless gas-fired unit.
Several things went wrong along the way. The high-efficiency gas boiler was ordered, but didn’t arrive. That’s okay, we were told, they’d upgrade us to a better system, no extra cost. Sounded good. Oopsie, more trouble. The better system had a lag time too, so we’d have to wait three weeks for unit to arrive. But then, the company had located the unit we’d contracted for and we went forward with the installation.
Next, Virginia Natural Gas had to drive us nuts. They would not set a meter for us until the boiler was in place. That’s funny, because the contractor didn’t want to set up the new boiler until we had a meter in place.
In the end, Virginia Natural Gas won. No meter would be installed until the boiler was in place and complete. Dealing with VNG was an enormous hassle. For a time, I really missed dealing with Miller Oil. They were so friendly and accommodating.
Once the boiler work was mostly done (and we knew it would soon be ready to be turned on), we called Virginia Natural Gas for the 3,492nd time. It was a Thursday afternoon.
“The next available date on our calendar is Friday afternoon,” the operator told me.
Friday, as in eight days away. We’d already been two days with no heat or hot water. We were already greasy and cold. A bad combination.
After I made a few screeching noises, she moved the date up to Saturday, between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm.
Friday evening, we got an automated call from Virginia Natural Gas. It said that our meter would be set on Saturday morning, between 1:15 am and 1:15 am, and that we were to make sure someone would be home at that time.
Watching television in our living room, wrapped up in blankets, we listened to the voice mail and laughed out loud through chattering teeth.
Saturday morning, my optimistic husband got up and went outside to check for the meter.
“They didn’t come at 1:15 am,” he said with a bit of disappointment.
About 2 pm, Mr. Meterman showed up. He looked at the gas line poking out from the house, and said serenely, “I can’t hook this up. They ran the line in the wrong place.”
I fell on my knees and begged. From my close-to-the-ground position, I hugged his legs and told him that we were making mortgage payments on a cave, and that I’d lost feeling in my fingers the day before, and could he please, please, please give us a little heat?
Surreptitiously, I rubbed my greasy hair against his pants leg. He scrunched up his face, groaned and took a step back.
Moved by my impassioned pleas, he forced the modernistic, bright yellow piping this way and that, and managed to get the gas meter set in place.
Virginia Natural Gas had told us that Mr. Meterman would fire up our appliances. Mr. Meterman said he was not permitted to fire up our appliances.
Fortunately, Mr. Brandy-New Boiler sprang right to life when turned on, and for the first time in 72 hours, we had hot water again.
Monday morning, the contractor re-appeared and got the boiler going, and Monday afternoon, our radiators were once again filled with hot water, making their trademark snap, crackle and pop noises.
My house is warm again. And it’s a good, comfortable warmth. And best of all, it’s a high efficiency warmth.
To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.
To buy Rose’s book, click here.
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From 2002-2006, I gave about 200 lectures in 24 states and the #1 most frequently asked question I received was, “Do you live in a Sears Home?”
No, I don’t, but I do live amongst them.
In January 2007, I was married to a Norfolk resident and in February 2007, we moved into a 1925 center-hallway Colonial Revival in Colonial Place.
It’s not a kit house, but there are several here in Colonial Place and Park Place (and one in Riverview). Most of the kit homes in Norfolk are not from Sears, but Aladdin. Based in Bay City, Michigan, this was another mail-order kit house company. They had a large mill in Wilmington, North Carolina, so it’s not surprising to find so many Aladdin kit homes in our area.
Enjoy the photos!
An interesting aside: The Pungo Grill in Virginia Beach is also an Aladdin Plaza. Click here to learn more.
This is the only Wardway House I know of in Colonial Place. Like Sears, Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes. To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.
And onto the kit homes in Park Place…
Like Colonial Place, Park Place also has several kit homes. This house (see picture below) was from Gordon Van Tine, a kit home company based in Davenport, Iowa. As you can see from the original catalog picture, it was a fine and spacious home.
To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.
To read about the Sears Homes in Hampton Roads, click here.
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Writing about Sears Homes has been a fun gig, but my income from this career has been quite modest. Modest, as in less than $12,000 on my best year - which included a lot of lectures and traveling and working long, long days. But, there are other means of compensation beyond dollars.
My co-author Dale and I have just finished a new book on the kit homes of Montgomery Ward. As part of this research, I pored over old Wardway Homes catalogs, reading the many testimonials from happy customers. And I saw an especially interesting testimonial from a man named “Ringer” in Quinter, Kansas.
“We are well pleased with our Ohio which bought of you,” wrote Mathias Ringer in the 1919 Wardway Homes catalog. “Everybody is welcome on the Ringer Ranch. Everything is modern and is from Montgomery Ward, furniture and all. We want to build two more of these later on” (page 44).
Thanks to Google, I quickly found that Quinter, Kansas is not a very big place so I took a gamble and sent a letter to all the Ringers in Quinter, Kansas. I sent a copy of the testimonial with my letter and told them about my project. Within 30 days, I had a letter from a Gail Ringer, telling me that Mathias Ringer was his grandfather and that Mathias had relocated to Quinter from Somerset County, Pennsylvania to get away from the coal mines. Then 19 years old, Mathias was told that he had the early stages of black lung, and that if he got out of the coal mines and into a better climate, he might live many more years.
And that’s how Mathias Ringer landed in Quinter, Kansas.
Gail Ringer invited me to come out to Quinter and stay with him for a few days and see the Wardway Ohio (a spacious cross-gabled kit home) that his grandfather had built. I readily accepted the invitation.
I flew into Hayes, Kansas, a wee tiny airport. Gail and his son met me at the airport and drove me back to Quinter. After all the traveling (from Norfolk!) I saw the Wardway Ohio that Mathias Ringer had built in 1919. The Ringers treated me like family and it was a very happy few days. Gail Ringer regaled me with stories of his grandfather and father. He shared his memories of growing up in the Wardway Ohio (pictured below). This trip reminded of the significant perks of being a writer. I had the time of my life, and it was a delight to find people who had such a clear and strong sense of family and integrity.
Several weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail that my friend Gail Ringer had passed on. It had been my hope that he’d see a copy of this new book on Wardway Homes before he died (with his interview inside), but it didn’t work out that way.
In the letter from Gail’s son, he wrote, “His anticipation of your 2007 visit was like a spring tonic for him. When the plans for your arrival began to materialize, he perked up immensely. Thanks so much for your part in reviving his spirit.”
As I said, sometimes the best recompense comes in non-pecuniary forms.
And sometimes, there’s a little bit of fame, too!
To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.
To learn more about Wardway homes, click here.
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