Posts Tagged ‘honor built homes’

Permanent Furniture IV: Window Seats

December 9th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

This is my fourth series on “Permanent Furniture,” a term I’d not heard until Bill Inge lent me his 1927 “Builders’ Woodwork” catalog.

And what a wonderful term it is. It defines the “built-ins” that make early 20th Century American architecture so enchanting and beautiful and practical.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images below appeared in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork catalog.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing these fun old architecture books!!

To read Part I, click here.

Click here to read Part II and Part III.

As always, please leave a comment below!



"Window seats and bookcases are very often used in combination, adding comfort to convenience."



"These niches are not intended to supplant bookcases..." In other words, we know that you're going to have a *lot* more books than this, because you're a typical intelligent American with an innate desire to learn and grow. Wow. If only they could have known that TV would soon arrive on the scene and turn us into a nation of marginally literate, non-reading, believe-anything-you-see-on-the-tv saps. (But I digress...)


window seat

Check out the fountain in the backyard. Now *that's* a view! I also love the little writing desk.



See the item in front of the pen with a rounded bottom? Now, I'm sure most of my highly intelligent, history loving readers already know this, but it was a blotter, and on its underside, it had a piece of absorbent paper or cloth. After signing your documents with a quill pen, the blotter was used to soak up excess ink.



Since they don't have a fountain in the backyard, they put up some draperies. But they do have a fine-looking Dutch Colonial out back. This is my favorite nook. Can you imagine curling up on this soft cushion, literally surrounded by all your favorite books? That lamp is in the wrong place, though.



Rather plain, but still a quaint idea.



If I still had a house with radiators, I'd install this design in a second. It's a radiator cover, plus window seat, plus book storage, plus drawer space. And it's not recessed (as many are).



Another pretty one, but still pretty. And good storage underneath that bench seat.


seats seats

The simplest of designs, and yet there's a lot of storage space in those seats.



This "permanent furniture" window seat and bookcase appeared in the 1927 Homebuilders' Catalog.


1571 HB 1923

This, unlike the above, is an actual photo which appeared in the 1923 Harris Brothers (kit homes) catalog. The house shown is Harris Brothers' Modern Home #1571. In addition to the window seat, it has the bookcase colonnades, built-in buffet and gorgeous beamed ceiling.


house house house

This was the only real-life example of a window seat I could find, and it's a poor example because it's really an "Inglenook" more than a window seat. And yet, it's still mighty pretty. The house shown is a Sears Magnolia, in northern West Virginia.


To read more about the Sears Magnolia in West Virginia, click here.

Read all about phone niches by clicking here.

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Help Me Find These Hidden Treasures in Chester, PA!

September 11th, 2013 Sears Homes 11 comments

Say what you will about Facebook, but it is a great boon for those of us who love history.

Recently, the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) History page on Facebook picked up an old blog I did about these lost houses built by Sun Ship Building Company in Chester, PA and their interest in this topic has given me renewed hope that we might yet find these houses.

It’s one thing for me to sit around studying grainy images in 93-year-old catalogs, but it gets a lot more exciting when the local history lovers start hunting around for these treasures!

And this was quite a large collection of Sears Homes.

The neighborhood seems to extend on for several blocks. It’s certainly possible that 90 years later, these houses have been torn down, but I doubt that every last one of them is gone. And thanks to these wonderful old vintage images, I think our chances of finding these houses are very good!

Please pass this blog along to anyone and everyone who may have some knowledge of Sun Ship and/or Chester.

And please take a moment to read the loquacious captions. That’s where the fun stuff is!

If you can provide more info about these houses are, please leave a comment below.

Oh boy, my first UPDATE! Sun Shipbuilding was located at Route 291 and Harrah’s Blvd in Chester, PA. These houses would have been close by!

To learn more about Rose’s upcoming visit to Louisa, VA click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

To join our group on Facebook, click here.

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In the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this front page featured several communities where large numbers of Sears House had been sold. The red arrow shows the houses built by Sun Ship. So that's our first clue: The houses were 100% finished by late 1918.


Zooming in a  bit, you can discern more detail.

Zooming in a bit, you can discern more detail. The neighborhood was three streets wide, but there's a large "green space" between the two rows on the left, and there appears to be another cluster of houses on the right, in the rear. So that's our second clue: The neighborhood was three streets wide, with one street some distance from the first.



If you zoom in on the center, you can count the houses in the middle row. I see 10 houses, two Rositas and two Arcadias (models of Sears Homes). More detail on these two models below. And that's our third clue. Look at the roofline for this row. Front-gabled with a shed dormer (#1), very small house with a hipped roof and a porch with a tiny shed room (houses #2 and #3), and approximately seven more front-gabled houses with a shed dormer pointing in the other direction (away from the camera).


More detail

There were six homes on the left side, and I do believe that's an outhouse at the end of the row. And I don't *think* the outhouse is there today. However, here's another clue. Side-gabled bungalow (first) with dormer facing the street, followed by four front-gabled bungalows with dormer facing the outhouse. Hipped-roof house with small shed roof on porch is at the end. And look at the placement of the sidwalks here, too. That probably hasn't changed TOO much.


house on the right

These houses on the right were really puzzling me, but I think I finally got them figured out. More on that in a moment.



The first house on the left side of the picture is easily identifiable as a Sears Arcadia. I believe the house next to it (and the subsequent four houses) are also the Sears Arcadia, turned 90 degrees. At the end, there's a small house with a hipped roof. Keep on scrolling down and all will become clear.


See what I mean?

The Sears "Arcadia." Except for the lady sitting on the front porch, it's a perfect match.


And now look at the middle row.

And now look at the middle row. That's an Arcadia turned 90 degrees on the lot. The dormer was only present on one side, and for the rest of the Arcadias, the dormer is facing away from the camera. But look at those little houses with hipped roofs! What might they be?


I suspect that these hipped roof houses are the Rosita.

I suspect that these hipped roof houses in Chester, PA are the "Rosita" (shown above). This was a very small house (and also bathroom-less, just like the Arcadia). The panoramic image first appeared in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and both the Rosita and Arcadia were offered in the 1918 catalog, so that's a good fit.


Look at the floorplan for the two houses.

Look at the floorplan for the two houses. The Rosita is on the left; the Arcadia is on the right. This is a minor detail, but look at the placement of the chimneys. The panoramic view shows that the chimneys are pretty closely aligned. On the Arcadia (right), the chimney is 9'4" from the home's rear. On the Rosita, it's 11'1" from the rear. That's *about* the representation shown in the old panoramic view. And it's a quirky feature, but look where the front door is on the Arcadia. It enters into the dining room! And, there is no bathroom in either house.


And the Arcadia

And the Arcadia floorplan really did lend itself to being spun 90 degrees on the lot. Here, I've taken the floorplan and turned it 90 degrees, and I've also added a doorway into the front bedroom, and moved the front door from the dining room (which is darn quirky) into the living room.


So heres what youre looking for: The

So here's what you're looking for: The Arcadia (left) and the Rosita (right). Note, a lot of things about a house can change through the years, but the chimney placement and roofline usually do not change. When you find these houses, they should all still be lined up, much like they appear in the vintage photos above. You should be able to look at them on Bing Aerial photos and count the rooflines - five side-gabled, two hipped, etc., and it should be a spot-on match to what is shown above in the street (panoramic) shots.


house on the right

Last but not least, what model are these houses on the right? I puzzled over them for some time. The first house in this row is an Arcadia. Notice how the next house juts out a bit further than the Arcadia? I think to "mix it up a bit," that they stuck a small front porch on an Arcadia turned 90 degrees. The proportions are right and the placement on the windows (on the side) is right. In Carlinville's "Standard Addition" (where Standard Oil built 156 Sears Homes), those houses also had minor architectural changes, so that the houses didn't look just the same.


Heres a Rosita in the flesh in Deerfield, VA.

Here's a Rosita "in the flesh" in Deerfield, VA. Somewhere in Chester, Pennsylvania, you have a whole neighborhood of these, and the Arcadias, built by Sun Ship Building Company about 1918, but where? Photo is copyright 2012 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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Be Still My Heart: The Eighth Magnolia?

June 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

Updated!! See detailed photos here!!

A few moments ago, my sleepy husband stuck his head into the room and said, “It’s 3:11  in the morning. Why are you still up?”

“Well, I think we’ve found our eighth Magnolia,” I replied.

“Oh,” he said quietly, as he toddled back to the bedroom.

No additional information was needed.

Every month, I get a handful of emails from people who are 100% certain that they’ve found the crème de la crème of all kit homes: The Sears Magnolia.

And 98% of the time, they’re wrong.

Sears sold kit homes from 1908-1940, and in that 32-year span, they offered 370 designs. Of those 370 designs, the Magnolia was the fairest of them all (and the biggest and the most expensive).

In 1918 (the year the Magnolia first appeared), 90 designs were offered, and only 13 of those homes cost more than $2,000. Not counting the Magnolia, the most expensive house in that catalog was the Preston, at $2,812.

The other 76 models offered in 1918 were under $2,000, and the overwhelming majority of those were less than $1,200.

The price tag for the Magnolia was $4,485.

Most of the Sears Homes in that 1918 catalog had less than 1,000 square feet, and the Magnolia had almost 3,000 square feet.

For years and years, it was widely believed that only six Magnolias had been built in the country, and yet their locations were not known. In time, those six Magnolias were discovered in Benson, North Carolina, South Bend, Indiana, Irwin, Pennsylvania, Canton, Ohio and a fifth in Piedmont, Alabama. A sixth had been destroyed by fire in Nebraska. (Of those six Magnolias, the house in Benson was the “newest” discovery, found in March 2010.)

And that was that.

Six Magnolias. All accounted for.

Five alive.

One dead (and cremated).

And then in May 2011 (thanks to this blog), someone  contacted me and said that there was a Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, NY.

I didn’t pay too much attention, because frankly, I’d heard it before, but fortunately, a friend and faithful reader (Heather Lukaszewski) did pay attention and she did a little research. She wrote me a nice note and said, “I think this may be the real deal.”

And that’s how we found the 7th Magnolia. The discovery made the local papers, and it was all pretty exciting. Click here to read the article from May 2011.

All of which brings me to this newest discovery of an 8th Magnolia!

Friday evening, someone contacted me and said that he lived in a house that was across the street from a Sears Magnolia. We exchanged several emails and I started to get pretty interested in this story. It had a lot more background and depth than the typical “There’s a Magnolia just down the street” stories.

Thanks to a lot of help from Rachel Shoemaker and Mark Hardin, we were able to see the house via Bing Maps, and I have to say, I think we’ve got a winner.

In fact, I’d be willing to say that I’m 90% certain that we’ve found our 8th Magnolia.

And the best part of all?

It’s in West Virginia.

I love West Virgina and I’m headed to Elkins in six weeks (with the aforementioned hubby) to visit family.

I’d sure love to stop by this sweet old kit house and check it out in person. Boy oh boy, would I love to see this fine house in the flesh.


Just wow.

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

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Magnolia 1918

The Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and yet, those leaves in the border are not Magnolia leaves. What a fraud!


1918  1918

Close-up of the Magnolia (1918)


house house

The Magnolia was first offered in the 1918 Modern Homes catalog (shown above). In 1919, the Magnolia hit its highest price: $10,000, more than double its price in 1918.



In 1921, the price of the Sears Magnolia dropped to $6,489 and one year later, it would drop to $5,849. Following WW1, prices of building materials fluctated dramatically.


Magnolia Benson

In March 2011, a reader told me that there was a Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.


Janets house

The Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio was almost lost due to neglect but was lovingly restored in the 1990s. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet's Hess LaMonica and may not be reproduced without written permission.



Our 7th Magnolia, in Syracuse! And what a fine-looking kit house it is! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


Magnolia columns

Close-up of the columns on the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama.


To learn more about the Sears Magnolias among us, click here.


To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!



The Thrift Book of a Nation

May 26th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Earlier this week, my friend Rachel posted a picture of this 1922 Sears catalog in our Facebook group “Sears Homes.”

I found it utterly enchanting.

The cover shows a little girl dashing out to the mailbox to retrieve the goodies that just arrived from Sears & Roebuck. In the background, there’s a Sears Silo, a Sears Barn, and a Sears kit home, The Silverdale.

It’s an entire farm built by Sears!

Years ago, I interviewed Joseph Origer who’d purchased a Sears Hammond (kit house) out of the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.  He was inspired to buy a Sears House by his father.

Mr. Origer explained,

My dad built a Sears kit silo in 1911 and he was so impressed with the quality of the lumber (all cypress) that he decided to buy and build Sears Modern Home #101.

I remember my father telling me that his kit home was all number one lumber and material. All the building materials cost $879 and the total expense, including all carpenter labor, was less than $1500. I still have the itemized list of materials for that house!

When I decided to marry and stay on the farm, my parents suggested we go to Chicago and pick out another Sears home. Dad said, “you know the material will be good.”

These 60-plus years The Hammond has been a wonderful house. I am glad I built it. This house has been well maintained inside and out, and it is still just as good as new.

Mr. Origer’s experience was probably fairly typical. Potential customers might have been hesitant to purchase an entire kit house, but they were ready and willing to buy chicken coops, silos, corn cribs, milk sheds, tool houses and more.

How many American farms were filled with Sears outbuildings and kit homes?

I wish I knew!

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing these wonderful images!

house hose

Cover of the 1922 Sears General Merchandise catalog.



The barn in the background is a Sears kit barn, L2055.


Sears barn 1918

The Sears barn as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.


house ouse house house house

Unnamed, happy child with severely deformed left leg and mangled left hand rushes out to the mailbox to see what parcels have arrived from Sears and Roebuck.


house house house

These must be some of Sears best customers! Not only did they order a house, silo and barn from Sears, but each day they receive a plethora of packages!


house house

Close-up of the Sears Silverdale. But what kind of car is that?



The Silverdale, as seen in the 1916 Sears catalog.


Hettick, IL

A real live Silverdale in Hettick, IL.


house hose

Thanks again to Rachel for sharing this wonderful picture!


To learn more about the amazing Mr. Sears, click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To visit Rachel’s blog, click here.

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Dr. Malone’s Hamilton in Capleville, Tennessee (Part II)

December 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 9 comments

What a difference a day makes!

Early this morning, I posted the information about Dr. Malone and his Sears Hamilton at a forum and a kind soul did some research on her own and sent me this link.

That link sends you to a narrative, written by Dr. Malone’s daughter. It’s an incredibly detailed life about growing up in the Sears house in Capleville.

It’s a long detailed (and wonderful) story, and I’ve reprinted a few highlights below.

I spent many hours in the swing on the front porch at Mama and Papa’s. That way I could see the patients who came to Papa (Dr. F.M. Malone) for any and all their ills. The Dr’s office had an entrance off the screened porch, back side. Real often I sneeked around to listen to their complaints. On one such day I heard Papa ask the man, who had given his name as Bob Jones, if Jim Jones was any relation. The man said, “Lawsy, Doc., He’s liable to be My Pa”.

The “big house” as referred to by Kiline, had a parlor on one side dawn stairs troll and Papa’s office on the other.

They were separated by a front hall with sliding doors. The stairway in the front hall went to 4 large bedrooms & one bath room. There was no running water, but a tub was in the bath roost.

Water for the tub had to be brought up the steps by buckets. However there was a drain for the dirty water to run out. Down stairs, behind the parlor was the dinning roost, butlers pantry and kitchen. The screened in porch off from the kitchen housed the cistern, with a pump. A door in the kitchen went down to the cellar.

To some it might have been a basement. Canned goods, sweet potatoes, & empty jars found a home there. If there was a storm brewing Mama always rounded us all up to find shelter there too.

There was a fire place in each room, but in the winter Mama & Papa’s bed room was the only one heated after supper. Everyone gathered there. Since there was no radio or T.V. we played games. Dominoes and Logomiky were favorites.

Logomiky was cards that had beautiful pictures and letters to spell with. Often Papa entertained me with post cards that he had saved from far away places. He kept them in his desk by the fireplace. Sometimes Mama was busy with sewing. The back bed room, with a stairway to the attic didn’t have a fireplace.

The attic fascinated me. I could imagine a store place of wonderful things. Forbidden to go there, made it all the more interesting. One day Maxey and I, slipped away from the adults and crawled up on our hands and knees. The opening was one big hole. Soon we were disillusioned and ready to come down.

It looked much more dangerous from that view. Maxey said, “Tuie, (his name for me) how we gona get down?. I was only 3, but I said, “Just turn loose and fall down Bu”. This he did and hit his eyebrow on the foot of an if iron bed. I just stayed were I was. Of course he screamed with pain and help name. Papa h..d to sew up his wound. This was u scar that he carried to his grave. After everything had cooled down, he was asked; “Why did you fall down?”, His explanation was “Tuie told we to.”

Read the rest here.

Now, if I could just find the living descendants of Dr. Malone and/or the current owners of this fine old house!  :)

To read Part One of this blog, click here.


Sears Hamilton, as seen in the 1908 catalog.

Sears Hamilton, as seen in the 1908 catalog.


Dr. F. M. Malones own Hamilton in Capleville, TN.

Dr. F. M. Malone's own "Hamilton" in Capleville, TN, shortly after it was built in 1909.



Dr. Malone spoke in glowing terms about his new Sears Home.


To read the prior blog (Part I), click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Dr. Malone’s Hamilton in Capleville, Tennessee

December 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

Sears started offering kit houses in 1908, but when was the first Sears Home sold?

Well, for years, we believed that the first order for a Sears House wasn’t actually received until 1909 (based on info gleaned from the Sears archives in Hoffman Estates, IL).

But now, it seems that that information may not be correct.

When Dr. F. M. Malone purchased his Sears Modern Home #102 in late 1908 or very early 1909, it was probably one of the first Sears Homes built in the country and yet (to complicate our life even further) he customized this design a bit!

The Sears Hamilton (Modern Home #102) was a traditional-looking foursquare and with the passage of 100 years or so, this simple (and yet spacious) house would be mighty hard to differentiate from other foursquares.

So, where is Dr. Malone’s home? Somewhere in Capleville, Tennessee.

If I were queen of the world (and that moment should be arriving soon), I’d find this house, contact the owners and present them with a plaque that reads, “One of the first Sears kit homes built in the country.”

That is a pretty cool designation.

UPDATE:  I was contacted by Dr. Malone’s granddaughter (see first comment below), and she reports that this house was razed many years ago.  While I’m grateful for the update, I’m saddened to know that the house is now gone.

The Sears Hamilton was first offered in the first catalog (1908) and Dr. Malone must have snatched it up immediately.

The Sears Hamilton was offered in the first "Modern Homes" catalogs (1908) and Dr. Malone must have snatched it up immediately. He ordered it (about an eight-week lead time) and had it finished and photographed in time for it to appear in the 1909 catalog.


One of the distinctive features of the Hamilton is this indented porch on the rrear of the house.

One of the distinctive features of the Hamilton is this indented porch on the rear of the house.


The floorpplan was spacious

That's the biggest kitchen I've ever seen in these original Sears Homes.


The Hamilton (also known as #102) was offered by Bachman Toys for model railroading.

A diminutive version of the Hamilton (also known as #102) was offered by Bachmann Toys for model railroading (in the 1980s). Nice example o f Sears Modern Home #102!


The 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog is probably the rarest of these catalogs. Its in this catalog that I found Dr. M

The 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog is probably the rarest of these catalogs. It's in this catalog that I found Dr. Malone's testimonial on the Sears Hamilton. These catalogs had about a six-week lead time, and most of the testimonials in this catalog speak to the quality of Sears building materials (because there were so few house sales in those early days). Dr. Malone's testimonial was one of four testimonials that actually described the building of a "Sears Modern Home." In that his house was finished by 1909, in time to appear in this catalog, it must have been ordered in late 1908 or very early 1909.



It's the most thorough and loquacious testimonial I've seen in these old catalogs.



And here is "Picture #9" also known as Dr. Malone's Sears Hamilton. Likely, this is one of the first Sears Homes built. In fact, I'd be so bold as to guess it was probably one of the first 20 Sears Homes built in the country.


What the heck is that on the second floor? Is it a sliding glass door? Sure looks like it. But this came from a 1909 cataalog, well before the advent of such inventions.

What the heck is that on the second floor? Is it a sliding glass door? Sure looks like it. But this came from a 1909 catalog, well before the advent of such inventions. And look at the front porch roof. Dr. Malone had a good time making it difficult to identify this house as a Sears Hamilton (from the street, anyway).


Is Dr. Malone’s house still standing? Do the current owners realize they’re living in a piece of America’s architectural history? Do they know that they own one of the first Sears Homes built?

Inquiring minds want to know!

To learn more about the Sears Hamilton, click here.

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Cooking - Off the Grid!

November 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

As has become our annual tradition, hubby cooked our 18-pound turkey on his Weber Charcoal Grill. It was one of the most delicious birds I’ve ever enjoyed. The best part was that it was cooked 100% “off the grid.”

The charcoal is a no-brainer. Lots of people know how to use charcoal to cook their meat.

But the secret of a well-cooked bird  is the rotisserie attachment which spins the meat at a slow speed. This year, the small but powerful rotisserie motor was powered  by our new “Solar System,” three 15-watt solar panels which we recently installed at The Ringer Ranch.

These three photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which is stored in a 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery. The inverter (shown below) converts the 12-volt system into 120 volts, suitable for household use.

To learn more about how we installed these solar panels, click here.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.



Our three 15-watt solar panels are on top of the shed roof.


The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed.

The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed. Notice the orange extension cord coming out of the inverter? That is powering the rotisserie.


The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power.

The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power. And this was at 8:00 am.


Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.


It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!


Want a “solar system” of your own? We did it for $351 (total cost). To buy your own, click here.


To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.


To read about a very happy Thanksgiving in 1918, click here.

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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham (Part V)

November 20th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

One of the most interesting features  of Ham Radio is that its operators are expected to have access to alternative energy sources during times of regional or national emergency.

After all, what good is it to have a Ham Radio if you can’t use it when the power goes out?

For as many years as I can remember, I have been utterly fascinated by alternative energy sources. Capturing a tiny drop of the sun’s massive nuclear-reactive power (386 billion billion megaWatts) is a  fascinating concept.

After several tours of Mike Neal’s very own “Radio Shack,” and after receiving several helpful tutorials on this topic from Mr. Neal (and lots of specific guidance), I was ready to take the plunge.

My “solar project” started in earnest about a month ago when Mike sent me an email to let me know that Harbor Freight was having a sale on solar panels. This was the very set that Mike had at his house and he said it was “a good solar set-up for the money.”

With a $30 coupon (gifted to me from a fellow Ham), I got the $229 solar panels for $159. (The original price for the panels was $229, with a sale price of $189. The $30 coupon got me to $159.)

Because I’m highly allergic to crowds and shopping areas and loud noises and small children and fluorescent lights, I paid the extra six bucks to have the unit shipped directly to my house. It was well worth it.

It took about 12 hours to install the whole rig, and my oh my, it was a fun project. And watching those photovoltaic cells turn the sunlight into electricity is every bit as fascinating as I’d thought it would be.

If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d recommend that every homeowner in America have a set of these on their roof. It was a great learning experience. And I’ve shared all the nitty-gritty details below.

To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series.

House shed

The little shed in our back yard is now electrified, thanks to these three solar panels on the roof. Each panel produces 15 watts, for a total of 45 watts.


solar thunder

I'm not sure why a corporation would adopt the name "THUNDERBOLT" for their solar products. Nonetheless, it's a sound value and seems to be a well-made product.


Solar panels

The solar panels were set on a 2x4 which was fastened with screws into the roof and painted flat black. The PVC frame was secured to the 2x4 with 3/4" metal pipe clamps. This will enables us to change the angle of the panels (for winter and summer) without any major disassembling.


house house house

This shot shows the panels and 2x4 more closely. In a mere 12 hours, the solar panels have already been assaulted by both birds (far left) and pine straw (bottom).


Thinking about how to get the leads into the little shed took some thinking.

Figuring out how to get the leads into the little shed took some thinking. In the end, I decided to drill a hole (3/4") through the 2x4 (and the roofing sheathing below). I reasoned that it'd be easier to patch a clean hole through a piece of lumber rather than trying to patch a hole in an irregular surface (such as an old roofing shingle).



Using stretchy weatherproofing tape (which probably has a much better name), I bound those three wires (from the three solar panels) together and fed them through the hole into the shed's interior. I purposefully used a lot of tape so it would fill the 3/4" hole. For the tiny gaps that remained, I used a compound putty substance (again, don't know the name but it looks a lot like Silly Putty). Back in the day, a contractor friend told me it was called "Dum Dum" because you use it to patch a dumb mistake. However, I'd like to point out that it should be called "Smart Smart" in this particular application.



Inside, the wires drop down from above and into the controller (right side on the shelf above the battery). From there, the wires go into the 12-volt deep cycle Marine battery. Another set of wires carries the power from the battery back to the inverter (left side on the shelf). The inverter turns the 12-volt current into 120 volts (for household use).



The controller that came with the solar panels is quite impressive. The digital display is large and easy to read, and reports on the battery power (12.4 volts shown here). For $159, it's a pretty fancy set-up and a darn good deal.


Another nice bonus that came with this set are these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed.

Another nice bonus that came with this set are two of these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed. They plug into the front of the controller (as shown in the picture of the controller above).


The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for  $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.


Part of the problem I encountered was that, despite my reading and studying, I didnt understand a whole lot about how these things work.

Part of the problem I encountered whilst doing this project was, despite my reading and studying, I didn't understand a whole lot about how all these things work together. I asked Mike Neal, "What's the difference between a 200-watt inverter and a 750-watt inverter?" Fact is, a 200-watt inverter was whole lot cheaper. Mike explained, "Think of the battery as a bucket full of water. You can draw that water out with a swizzle stick or a milk-shake straw. The 200-watt inverter is a swizzle stick. The 750-watt inverter is a milk-shake straw."



The other helper in this project was my wonderful neighbor, Mike Mancini. I told him that I needed a deep-cycle marine battery and he got me a good deal on one at a local marine parts supply company. Plus, he gave me a ride out to the place and then hefted it out of his truck and out to my shed. This battery weighs about 50 pounds. I set it up on cinder blocks to make it easier to access, and I put the OSB down because I'd heard that batteries might discharge if placed directly atop masonry.


Fie dollahs

You may notice the fine-looking wires shown in the picture above (of the battery). I bought these booster cables at General Dollar Store and paid $5 for the whole affair. I then cut the wires off from the clips and used them for the controller-to-battery run and the battery-to-inverter run. It's 10-gauge stranded copper wire.



The last part of the project required anchoring the panels to the roof. In that the panels sit so high above the roof, they'll become a dandy sail in strong winds. Our solution was to tether the pvc frame to the opposite side of the shed. For the tether, I used 10-gauge stranded copper grounding wire. May seem like a waste, but I recently bought a spool of it to ground a couple antennas and masts and such. Seems I had about 400 feet left over from those other projects.



Close-up of the tether on the PVC frame. It's not super taut, but it doesn't need to be. It's anchored into the steep side of the shed roof with an eye-bolt.


Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such aas the many tall trees in our yard,

Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such as the big old tall trees in our yard. After the "Solar System" was all set up, we were both AMAZED and pleased to see that it started charging immediately. What was so amazing? It was a dark, cold, gloomy overcast day. I can hardly wait to see how it does with a little sunlight!


Total cost of the entire project:

Solar Panels - $159 plus $6 shipping (and tax)

Interstate battery - $114

750-watt inverter - $39

Battery terminals - $8

Wiring - $5  (thanks Dollar General!)

Incidentals - about $20 (zip ties, pipe clamps, tape)

Total investment:  $351

Entertainment value: Endless!  :)


To learn more about why Ham Radio is so relevant and important TODAY, click here.

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WLS Radio and Sears Roebuck

October 21st, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

What is the connection between the famed Chicago radio station - WLS - and Sears Roebuck?

In 1924, WLS began life as a promotional tool for Sears. In fact, WLS stands for “World’s Largest Store.”

On April 9, 1924, Sears own radio station signed on with 500 watts, with offices on the 11th floor of the Sears 14-story “skyscraper” at Homan and Arthington Street in downtown Chicago.

In 1925, the front pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog promised that, “WLS was conceived in your interests, is operated in your behalf and is dedicated to your service.”

It was a short-lived experiment for Sears. Four years after its creation, WLS was sold to the Prairie Farmer Magazine. The studios were moved to the Prairie Farmer Building  (also in downtown Chicago).  In 1960, WLS was sold to the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

Click here to learn more about the history of WLS.

Hey, is that a Sears House? Click here to learn more about identifying kit homes.


In 1925, Sears published its first employee newsletter, known simply as "WLS" (World's Largest Store). Inside the newsletter was a detailed account of The Kelly Family buying and building their own kit home.


To read more about the Kelly’s kit home, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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Where Art Thou Hamilton?

September 16th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

When Dale and I visited Bedford, Virginia in 2008, we drove around for some time, striving to find the Sears Hamilton that (according to the Sears catalog) had been built there in the mid-1910s.

Dale drove slowly and methodically throughout the county (and the city) while I scoured the landscape for any foursquares with a hipped roof.

We found many kit homes along the way, but we never found our Hamilton.

On my various hard drives, I have about 35,000 photos and yet I don’t have any photos of a real live Sears Hamilton.

If anyone has a photo to share, I’d be very grateful to receive it.

As a side note, The Hamilton was also the name Sears gave to a modest bungalow with clipped gables (circa 1930s). The Hamilton I’m looking for is a large foursquare.

Sears Hamilton, as seen in the 1916 catalog.

Sears Hamilton, as seen in the 1916 catalog.


By 1916, this had already become a popular house! But where are they now?

By 1916, this had already become a popular house! But where are they now?


Nice floorplan, too.

Nice floorplan, too.


The house has

The house has several distinctive features. Note the inset back porch which extends the full length of the long kitchen. Also noticed the 4/1 windows on the front. The one side (right side above) extends significant further than the left side.



Close-up on that back porch.


The Hamilton was also offered as a wee tiny kit house for model railroads.

In the 1980s, the Sears Hamilton was also offered by "Spectrum" as a wee tiny kit house for HO model railroads. And this one has only 172 pieces! Notice that it's a little different from the house above? That's because they modeled it after the 1908 design. In 2001, I purchased and built this small model house. It took some time, but it was worth the effort because finally, I'd have my very own "Sears kit House." Sadly, it was lost in "The Great Divide" (divorce).



Here's the Hamilton as seen in the 1908 catalog. It's a perfect match to the model above and slightly different from the 1916 version. The dormers in the 1908 house are shed dormers, and in 1916, they were hipped. The front center window (second floor) has diamond muntins in 1908.


So where are our Hamiltons? I don’t know, but I’d love to find out, and I’d love to have a photo!

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about the Sears Homes in Roanoke, click here.

To read the most recent blog, click here.

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