Posts Tagged ‘wayne ringer’

Orlando in Nebraska

April 4th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

Last year, I was watching the movie “Nebraska” with my daughter Corey, when I asked her to hit pause for a moment. I jumped up, grabbed a camera and took a picture of the tv screen.

My daughter quietly asked, “Sears House?”

Montgomery Ward,” I replied.

We continued with our movie.

As mentioned in a prior blog, I can’t just watch movies or television like normal people. I’m forever looking at the architecture. Doesn’t matter if they’re Sears Homes or not, I like looking at houses. When I was single, I kept hoping to find a dating site that featured pictures of men’s homes, rather than their faces. Some things are so much more important than looks. And then I ended up marrying a guy who lived in a concrete filing cabinet for people.

And then we moved to a fine home after we got married.

Shown below is the house I spotted in the movie “Nebraska.”  As movies go, it was okay, but pretty slow.

However it did have a nice house. Looks like it might be a Montgomery Ward “Orlando.”


To read more about how to identify kit homes, click here.



This foursquare was featured in the movie "Nebraska" with Bruce Dern


Dare I hope

Is it a Montgomery Ward Orlando? Might be.



Montgomery Ward and Gordon Van Tine were one in the same. Montgomery Ward relied on GVT to handle all facets of sales, from catalog publication to order fulfillment. What's the difference between a Montgomery Ward house and a Gordon Van Tine house? Not much. Image above is from the 1918 catalog.



I love reading this stuff.



Classic foursquare, with one difference: No entry foyer. Instead, that extra space is used for a small den or first-floor bedroom. Notice also that it has "good-morning stairs" in the kitchen. Nice touch!



This is the only Orlando I've ever seen, and it's in Beckley, West Virginia.



My friend Ersela found this house in Beckley. For years, people had said it was a Sears House. They were close!


To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

*       *        *

Teddy: Watchdog Extraordinaire

December 30th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

One of my all-time favorite books is, “Kinship with All Life” (by J. Allen Boone).  It’s a short but delightful read, and the book’s premise is this; dogs are a whole lot smarter (and more intuitive) than we humans can understand.

Several years ago, when Teddy was less than two years old, she came to my bedside one night and demanded that I awaken and arise.

I opened my eyes and saw my favorite quadruped standing there with an intense gaze in her eyes.

With as much gravitas as a Sheltie can muster, she lifted her snout ever so slightly and said, “Woof!”

As any dog owner knows, a dog has different barks for different occasions. This “woof” was different from the others.

I looked into her eyes for a minute and said, “What?”

She looked at me as if to say, “Listen, you need to get up and take a look outside. It’s important.”

She stood still and continued to stare intensely at me.

I arose from my soft pink bed and looked outside, and that’s when I saw two miscreants studying my car, parked in front of the house. One was especially interested in the license plate. The other was leaning over and looking in the driver’s window.

The dog stood beside me and barked incessantly. I was trying to figure out if I should holler or call 911, but Teddy’s barking was enough. They immediately stood up and briskly walked away.

Once the drama ceased, I praised Teddy. And I wondered, “How did she know? And how did she know how to get my attention with that little staring maneuver? How could she hear those muted malefactors, preparing to do heaven-knows-what to my slightly used 2003 Camry?”

Teddy just turned seven years old last month, and I recognize with some sadness that her life is half over.

For the first 30  years of my life, I didn’t like dogs. I was a cat person, through and through. When I was 36 years old, I got my first dog. When my mother met “Daisy,” for the first time, she fell in love with her. My mother told me, “I’m glad that you have discovered what a joy it is to have the love of a dog. There’s nothing like it.”

Mom was right.

PS. One of my most-popular blogs of all time (8,000 views) was this story about Teddy, but the link (from 2010) is now a “dead link.” Not sure how that happened, and this post was an attempt to repair the broken link - unsuccessfully! My apologies if you’ve heard this story before.


Roxy (black fuzzy lumpkin) is Teddys best friend, and sometimes, they have a sleepover.

Roxy (black fuzzy cutie-pie) is Teddy's best friend, and sometimes, they have a sleepover. At first glance, you might think this is a human bed, but you'd be mistaken. It's a dog bed that humans are permitted to use.


Teddy has also mastered the art of relaxation.

Teddy has also mastered the art of relaxation.


Teddy also enjoys looking for kit homes in her spare time.

Teddy also enjoys looking for kit homes in her spare time.


This is one of my favorite photos of Teddy. She loves taking me for walks.

This is one of my favorite photos of Teddy. She loves taking me for walks.


To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

*         *        *

Christmas Comes But Once a Year…

December 23rd, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

The holidays are challenging for lots of people for lots of reasons. I have much to be grateful for but sometimes, I find the holidays a little difficult, too.

It doesn’t help that I’m a highly sensitive soul, who takes the world far too seriously and feels things way too deeply. Plus, I’m highly allergic to people, and shopping malls make me break out in hives, and blinking lights make me nervous. Short sticky people who move in erratic patterns whilst generating loud noises make me recoil in horror.

I love movies and in the movie“The Secret Life of Bees” I found a character with whom I could truly identify: “May” (played by Sophie Okonedo).

May is the consummate highly sensitive person, and in one very memorable part of the movie, she tells Lily Owens, “Sometimes not feeling is the only way you can survive.”

If someone invented an off-switch for feelings, I’d consider them worthy of the Nobel Personal Peace Prize.

In the meantime - to my fellow old house lovers and sensitive souls - I hope you have a good new year!  :D

And thank you very much for reading my blog! It brings me much joy to know that folks enjoy the stories I publish here. For that, I am both humbled and grateful.

*       *       *


Teddy The Dog hasn't told me how she feels about Christmas, but she has expressed a wish that she not be forced to sit in little red wagons again.


And from the man who would be Santa.

One of the people in my life for whom I am grateful: Wayne Ringer, the lawyer who looks more like a logger (and a lot like Santa). Photo is copyright 2014 Morgan Ringer and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


Despite my fondest Christmas wish, the house featured in A Christmas Story is not a kit house. It is, however, a real house in Cleveland, Ohio.

Despite my fondest Christmas wish, the house featured in "A Christmas Story" is not a kit house. It is, however, a real house in Cleveland, Ohio. And the movie is one of my all-time favorite movies.


To read about old houses, click here.

*       *       *

More on Jim Walter Homes…

December 19th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the last couple years, I’ve had probably about 20 requests for more information on Jim Walter Homes. As mentioned in a prior blog, the company started doing business in 1946 and ceased in 2009, having sold about 320,000 homes.

That’s a lot of houses.

Last week, Carmen Miller contacted me and asked if there was a way to authenticate a Jim Walter Home. (Carmen was interested because she had recently purchased an alleged Jim Walter Home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.)

I thought and thought about her question, and couldn’t come up with a good answer.

As it turns out, I do some of my best thinking when I’m semi-conscious. Bolting upright about 4:30 this morning, I had my answer: Grantee Records.

Jim Walter Homes (like Sears) offered a really sweet deal on mortgages on their kit homes; easy payments, unusually low downpayments and lower-than-market interest rates. Using Grantee Records (where mortgages are recorded), I could look up “Jim Walter Homes.”

I immediately awakened in-house counsel from his slumbers, who put a damper on my brilliance, and pointed out that I would need trustee names. I replied, “Maybe that’s true, but I’m going to try ‘Jim Walter Homes’ and see what happens.”

I was surprised at how much I found: Four houses within the computerized records in Portsmouth, Virginia!

If you enjoy the following information, you should thank the architecture-loving angel that whispered in my ear at 4:30 am. And thank Carmen, too!  :D

To read more about Jim Walter Homes, click here.

Thanks to Bill Inge for providing some super-fast research on a couple names!


house house

The map book (showing a physical address for this site) is housed in Norfolk County (see red arrow) which is in Chesapeake, about 45 minutes away from downtown Portsmouth. Using the legal description and some help from my friend Milton, we figured out where this house is located. The trustees names are given as W. S. Sullivan and R. E. Kane, but the deed was found by searching for "Jim Walter Homes." At the top, this document references a "deed of satisfaction," showing that the mortgage has been paid in full. Notice the letterhead.


Here is the house in Portsmouth, referenced in the deed above.

Here is the house in Portsmouth, referenced in the deed above. It was built in 1974, and unfortunately, I wasn't able to find this model in my 1972 catalog. It's endured some remodeling. Who knows what it looked like 40 years ago.


Honestly, Im not sure what this document is, but I suspect its a cover letter for legal documents. Nonetheless, it was on file in the city of Portsmouths land records, and gives the address of another Jim Walter House.

This appears to be nothing more than a cover letter for legal documents (which I did not find). Nonetheless, it was on file in the city of Portsmouth's land records, and gives the address of another Jim Walter House.


This one, I was able to identify.

I was able to identify this house on Highland Avenue. Construction started in 1988.


Its The Oxford.

It's "The Oxford."



Fancy name; simple house.



According to city records, the house on Highland Avenue is 24 by 38 (912 square feet).



This also shows a trustee name of Robert E. Kane (for JW Homes). On another note, I can not make out the owner's last name. Is it Lyttle?


And heres the little JW house that the Lyttles bought.

And here's the little JW house that the Lyttle's built on Holladay Street.


As my buddy Bill Inge said, Jim Walter Homes were - for the most part - pretty modest dwellings and in the final years of the company, their quality apparently took a nose-dive. Still, it was fun to find four of these homes in Portsmouth. And theres one I still cant locate! It was purchased by Sidney Allen Weiss, Sr., and all we know is that its located in Portsmouth, VA. The deed says, Legal description attached, but there was no attachment.

As my buddy Bill Inge said, Jim Walter Homes were - for the most part - pretty modest dwellings and in the final years of the company, their quality apparently took a nose-dive. Still, it was fun to find four of these homes in Portsmouth. And there's one I still can't locate! It was purchased by Sidney Allen Weiss, Sr., and all we know is that it's located in Portsmouth, VA. The deed says, "Legal description attached," but there was no attachment.


I’m on the hunt for a few more (earlier) catalogs. If you find one, please drop me a note!

*      *       *

Peace Pipes and Fourplexes: The Calumet

October 24th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The Calumet is a rare Sears kit house that was offered for a brief time in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Sears did offer a few apartment buildings (yes, as kits), and the Calumet was one of them. My favorite feature of the Sears Calumet is the wall-bed, and the Calumet had two wall beds per unit.

The bed frame was included in the kit (but not the mattress).

It’s also interesting to note that the word Calumet comes from the Latin word calamellus, meaning “little reed.”  According to my online dictionary, a calumet is a “ceremonial smoking pipe, traditionally smoked to seal a covenant or treaty, or to offer prayers in a religious ceremony.”

Next time you’re watching TV with your friends and an Indian starts smoking a peace pipe, you can exclaim, “Why, he’s smoking a calumet!”

They’ll be so impressed with your esoteric knowledge!

Want to learn more about Murphy Beds (Wall Beds)? Click here!


The Calumet, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

I just love the math: 20 rooms in 12! How do they do it? :)


The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.



The Calumets had four porches, each with their own coal bin, whichwas nothing more than a small bin. Not nearly as luxurious as it sounds. Plus, it has "handy closets." I wonder which model had the "unhandy closets"?


That would have been a heck of a kit house!

That would have been a heck of a kit house!



Notice that the wall beds have their own windows - in a closet!



The Calumet - as seen in the 1918 catalog.


The only Calumet Ive ever seen - and its in Bloomington, IL.

The only Calumet I've ever seen - and it's in Bloomington, IL. You can see those two "closet-bed windows" on the right side. Sadly, the second-story porches are long gone. That first step outside of those 2nd floor doors is a doozy!


Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!


In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.


In the silent short film (1:00 a.m.), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed).

In the silent short film (title, "1:00 a.m."), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed). The full video (about 10 minutes) is at youtube. See link below.


To see the Charlie Chaplin short, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.


Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nice House: Basement Sometimes Floods

September 26th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

When Hubby and I were in Brattleboro last month, we saw this old building *in* the river. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and would love to know a little more about it.

My first impression is that it was a mill with a water wheel, but I wonder - was it BUILT in all this water, or did the waterways change a bit after the construction?

On a recent trip to Brattleboro, we saw a cool house!

On a recent trip to Brattleboro, we saw a cool house!



Admittedly, I was just a flatlander tourist seeing the sites, but this structure caught my eye. Yes, that's Vermont rock at the far left, and the building was set within the river (or so it appears).



If I were the Realtor writing up the listing for the structure, I'd include this disclaimer: "Sometimes, the basement floods." It would be fun to go fishing off the balcony.



Was it built as a mill? I suspect it might have been.


To learn more about the kit homes I found in New England, click here.

*        *       *

Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business,” I tell folks at my lectures, “but judging from my emails, you’d think that number was 70 million kit homes.”

Some people really, really, really want their house to be a kit house, but not every 1920s house is a kit house.

And if I were queen of the world (a title I aspire to), I’d make that Hopewell’s town motto.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003, I caused a stir when I proclaimed that 36 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills weren’t really Sears Homes. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well.

And the fact is, I might have made a mistake.

Rachel Shoemaker and I have reviewed some of the photos, and we now believe that 38 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes may not be Sears Homes.

Still, that leaves six Sears Homes in Crescent Hills (Hopewell).

After the “stir” in 2003, I didn’t hear back from Hopewell. But then, several years ago, I offered to help Hopewell do a proper survey of their kit homes - for FREE!

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011 (wearing a wig and a fake nose), I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only a few Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing a few of the fake Sears Homes.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

It has a gambrel roof and a chimney and some windows, but that’s about it.

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

Hopewell, if you’re listening, you can contact me by leaving a comment below!

*       *       *

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.



Notice the double windows centered on the 2nd floor, and the double windows on the first floor. Notice also the placement of the home's chimneys. These things do matter.


Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.


This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but its not a Van Jean.

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but it's not a Van Jean. The 2nd floor windows are wrong, and the front porch is also not a match - for many reasons. The Van Jean has those oversized cornice returns. This house has none. I'd expect that the footprint for this house is also wrong. In short, it's *not* a Sears kit house.


Close-up, comparing the porch.

The edges of Van Jean's porch roof are aligned with the primary roof. The Hopewell porch roof extends well beyond the roofline. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell porch roof terminates at the cross member.


Hopewells brochure explains the differences (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean.

Hopewell's brochure explains the "differences" (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean. Oopsie. They neglected a few details. And a few facts. And one big reality: This ain't no Van Jean.


Will there ever be a day when someone in Hopewell exclaims, “Enough of this! Let’s call that gal in Norfolk and get this right - once and for all!!”?

I wonder.

In the meantime, Hopewell certainly does offer a lovely opportunity of how not to promote historic architecture.

To learn more about the real kit homes in Hopewell (and they’re not from Sears), click here.

To read about Sandston, click here.


Amtrak’s “Vermonter”: The Good, The Bad, and The Smelly

September 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 16 comments

Update! Amtrak contacted me and offered me $180 voucher for future travel! I’m not sure how they arrived at the math, but the customer service rep said it was the difference between a coach fare and the business class fare.

In last week’s blog, I mentioned my 10+ hour trip on Amtrak. In this blog, I’d like to tell a little bit about my experience on the The Vermonter between Brattleboro and Washington, DC.

When it comes to trains, I’m a hopeless romantic. I love, love, LOVE the idea of train travel. It’s an adventure, it’s relaxing, it’s environmentally sound, and “riding the rails” is an integral part of our American culture and history.

Plus, it’s a great way to find kit homes. My little pretties were often built right along the rail lines.

However, after my most recent experience on the Vermonter, I’d have to say that this country’s rail system needs some big help.

First, the good parts.

Frequent flyers will have culture shock when they board a train for the first time. The train slows down and stops at the platform, you climb on board, stow your luggage, pick a seat and get comfy.

That’s it.

No full body-cavity searches, no presentation of ID, no long wait to board. A few minutes into the trip, the conductor will walk down the aisle and ask for your ticket. Rarely do they ask for any ID. In my 20+ trips on Amtrak, I’ve been asked to produce ID only twice.

Our seats in “Business Class” were spacious and comfortable, and the long, tinted windows offered a broad and comfortable view of the world outside. There was an abundance of leg-room, and our brown-leather seats had foot rests and cup holders.

If you’re going to go Amtrak, Business Class is the way to travel. It’s been my experience that passengers in this car are usually well-coiffed, quiet, and mature  (35+). The cost to upgrade to Business Class is minimal.

Business Class is typically located within the Cafe Car, and the plus is, you have ready access to all manner of tasty treats (chips, drinks, pizzas, etc.). The downside is, Hubby spent $52 on snack food during our 10-hour ride back to DC. His sub sandwich, with a bag of pretzels and a small bottle of orange juice cost $22.

The other plus is that a train trip offers views that you’re not going to see on our highways and byways. And there’s a little splash of voyeurism too. You get a sneak peak into America’s back yards, as well as abandoned factories, dilapidated buildings and forgotten farm houses.

Train travel can be so very relaxing, and for the most part, fellow passengers are in good spirits. The rhythmic clicking of the wheels against the metal tracks soothes the weary soul. The gentle to and fro rocking can induce a meditative, almost euphoric state of mind.

With every train ticket you buy, you’re supporting an alternative to flying and driving. America desperately needs alternate modes of transportation.

Those are the good things.

Ready for the not-so-good things?

The trip from Brattleboro to DC (the trip home on Sunday) was less pleasant than the outbound trip, because every seat on the train was sold. This meant that the bathrooms saw a lot of use. Within three hours of our departure, the smell from the bathroom (within the cafe car) was horrific. And the bathroom looked worse than it smelled.

There were small puddles of urine on the floor, together with a few wads of used toilet paper. (My husband reported that on an earlier train trip, the bathrooms in coach had much bigger problems than “just” puddles of urine. Yikes.)

The bathroom trash can was filled well past overflowing. I skipped the paper towel portion of my visit so that I could avoid placing my hand into the mass of used debris stuffed into the trash receptacle. Again: Ick.

Fortunately, I had an adequate supply of disposable wipes in my briefcase.

A not-so-well-coiffed woman in Business Class threw her McDonald’s bag and an empty bottle of soda on the floor when she was finished with breakfast. And there it remained for four hours (despite several conductors stepping over it). When I arose to use the facilities, I picked up the bag and carried it to the overflowing trash can in the cafe car.

Admittedly, slobs and litter bugs are not the fault of Amtrak, but Hubby and I were both surprised that the conductors walked right past it repeatedly.

More bad.

As my closest friends know, I’m highly allergic to little children, especially when they scream loudly and jump about and make lots of unexpected, dramatic movements. Less than an hour into the trip, a young father came into Business Class with two children (ages 5 and 7, I’d guess). The children crawled all over the seats and made a fair amount of noise and I don’t think they sat still for more than 20 seconds at a time. That took away a lot of the enjoyment of a “peaceful, quiet ride.”

Whey they got off the train, my husband, who’s far more tolerant of little children than said, “That’s a relief. Those kids were nerve-wracking.”

It was disappointing that the conductor didn’t ask those children to remain seated - especially in Business Class.

Which brings me to the next “Oh Dear” comment.

Some of the staff onboard the train were not pleasant. One conductor came into our car and literally yelled for all  of us to produce our tickets immediately. It was a piercing, strident voice and really not needful for the 20 passengers seated in the small section. Another employee - the cafe car attendant - made no secret of the fact that he was annoyed when someone showed up at the snack bar, and he had to get up out of his seat and wait on them.

On the north-bound journey, the Vermonter is moved onto a track at Palmer, Massachusetts and a new engine is put on. From Palmer to the end of the line (in our case, Brattleboro), the train goes backwards. If you’re in the Coach Section, you can switch seats (if there are openings) and find a backwards-facing seat. If you’re in the Business Class section, you’re kind of stuck.

Both Hubby and I have a bit of a tendency to motion sickness, so going backwards was a no-go for us. We moved to the cafe section and sat at a table, so we could face the right direction.

And there was one really big surprise.

Occasionally, the conductor would tell the passengers that they had “five minutes for a smoke break” at the next stop. Whenever these announcements were made, I’d hop out of my seat and go stand outside for a couple minutes to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. At one such stop, the rear door in the Business Section was opened. I wasn’t sure how long we’d be at that stop, so I stayed inside and admired the view from the safety of the car.

Good thing too, because without warning, that door slammed shut and the train started rolling. In other words, there was no conductor checking for passengers at the back of the train and no one yelling, “All aboard!”

I didn’t realize it until that moment, but those doors can be - and ARE - operated remotely from the front of the train. Had I stepped out of the car, I would have been left on the platform! Let me tell you, that would have taken a lot of fun out of the trip!

Factoring the four-hour drive between DC and Norfolk, the trip from Brattleboro to Norfolk took 14+ hours of travel time. (Not counting parking, and other miscellaneous travel events.) Fortunately, the train was on time both ways. However, this is a trip that takes about 9-1/2 hours by car.

The two round-trip train tickets were $566 and it cost $132 to park at DC’s Union Station.

It was an adventure, and there are some good memories, but I shant be riding The Vermonter again, for all the reasons outlined above.

To Amtrak’s credit, I must add that during the many years I lived in the Midwest, I rode the rails at least a dozen times. I’ve been on The Cardinal (2010) and the Texas Eagle (2004). In 2005, I took the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. That was 48 hours of bliss!  I also rode the commuter train between Alton and Chicago too many times to count.

Those train rides were great fun. The service was good, the cars were clean and the trains were on time 75% of the time. In 2008, Hubby and I took the Silver Star to Orlando, and that was also a pleasant ride.

As I said in the beginning of this blog, I dearly love train travel and our country has great need of ecologically sound alternatives to flying and driving, but Amtrak has some major issues that need to be resolved. And the Vermonter’s run along the Northeast corridor has a lot of room for improvement.

As of 2008 (the last year for which I could find stats), the US taxpayers were subsidizing air travel to the tune of $13 billion per year. Perhaps it’s time to do more for Amtrak, in the hopes that they could find better staff and get the restrooms cleaned up and establish high-speed rail in more areas.

In short, Amtrak needs some re-tooling so it can be a viable contender in the transportation industry.

To read what I found in the Vermont area, click here.

*      *       *

The trip to Brattleboro was a big annual vacation, and Vermont is a beautiful place, but getting there aint easy.

Vermont is a beautiful place, but getting there ain't easy.


The Amtrak station was next door to the Latchis Hotel, which was convenient.

The Brattleboro Amtrak station was next door to the Latchis Hotel (where we stayed).


Amtrak in 1915

The original train depot is a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. It's now a museum.


Another view of this beautiful old train depot.

Another view of this beautiful old train depot. Kudos to Brattleboro for preserving it.


The contemporary Amtrak station is carved out of a tiny piece of the original depot, in the back of the building. Pretty modest.

The contemporary Amtrak station is carved out of a tiny piece of the original depot, in the rear. That "does it fit?" frame in the left corner isn't used much apparently.


New Haven

The Amtrak station in New Haven, Connecticut.



In New Haven, Connecticut, the pretty Amtrak diesel-electric locomotive was replaced with an electric train, which runs on catenary or overhead wire. From New Haven to DC, we were electric. (Photo is from Wikipedia.)


A photo of our train at Penn Station in New York City.

A photo of our train at Penn Station in New York City. I'd love to know how old this thing is.


Long view of our train at Penn Station.

Long view of our train at Penn Station.



Hubby sitting in the Business Class section. The seats were quite comfy.


I will always love trains, but from now on, I may stick with excursion trips, such as this one in Elkins, WV.

I will always love trains, but from now on, I may stick with excursion trips, such as this one in Elkins, WV. Ten hours on a train is too much for moi.


I think these days are gone, but there must be a way that this country can make train travel a viable alternative for the weary traveler. Photo is from Wikipedia, showing a car on the Silver Meteor.

I know these days are gone, but there must be a way that this country can make train travel a viable alternative for the weary traveler. Check out those lamps. Photo is from Wikipedia, showing a car on the Silver Meteor.


To read about the future of train travel, click here.

Or here.

*      *       *

Sears Catalog House, or Something Like it (Part II)

July 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

In my most recent blog, I talked about the fact that Hopewell’s “Collection of Sears Homes” (and I use that term loosely) was in the local news again.

At the end of that blog, I offered to help Hopewell sort through their historical chaff and find the wheat.

The fact is, at this point I’d be willing to donate my services (gratis), to help this small town (just outside of Richmond) get their Sears-home story straight. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this enticing offer may not be accepted.

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of letters and emails (yes, both) to some folks in Hopewell, making this same offer. I never heard a peep. Not a “Thanks, but no,” not a “we’re not interested,” or even a “Go to hell, Rosemary Thornton.”

Honestly, I would have preferred to hear something, rather than nothing.

In case anyone from Hopewell is reading this, I can tell you, I know a little something about Sears Homes. Here’s a short bio I use with the media:

Rose is the author of several books on early 20th Century kit homes. Rose and her work have been featured on PBS History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News, MSNBC, NPR’s All Things Considered and BBC Radio. In print media, her story has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, L. A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor and more.

Sounds darn good, doesn’t it?

So what can I do to help Hopewell correct their boo-boos?

I don’t know.

In the meantime, below is the “re-do” of a blog that was a personal favorite of mine. The idea was the brainstorm of Rachel Shoemaker, who loves both music and kit homes, and found a delightful way to blend the two topics.

You can read Rachel’s wonderful blog here.

Here’s the ditty that will  help you learn more about correctly identifying houses.

*       *       *


Here's a screen-shot of the Sesame Street ditty that tell us, "One of these things is not like the other." Its intent is to teach youngsters how to spot differences in similar items. Learning how to distinguish subtle differences in physical objects can be tough. Ever more so if you live in the small towns around Richmond (apparently).



Let's try it with houses now.


One of the houses above is different from the others.

If you guessed the brick house with the metal casement windows, you’re right!

For some time, Hopewell was promoting a brochure (showcasing a driving tour of alleged kit homes in Crescent Hills neighborhood) that identified this brick house as a Sears Dover.

But oh noes!! That’s not a Sears Dover!

The other three houses (the three that look just alike) are the Sears Dover.

More recently, Hopewell has modified this statement and now claims that this brick house is a Sears Maplewood.

Let’s see how that works.



Oh noes - AGAIN! One of these homes just doesn't belong! Which one is it? If you guessed the brick house, you're right! The other three homes are the Sears Maplewood.



There's also the fact that the Sears Maplewood and Dover were never ever offered with metal casement windows. There's also the fact that this house was probably built after WW2. But hey, why let something like "historical fact" get in the way of a good story!



Here's a Sears Maplewood (1930 catalog).



If you really think that the brick house above looks like a Sears Dover, I highly recommend the Sesame Street "Not like the other" series. It's helped many a lost soul find their way through the thickets of misidentified kit homes.



Meanwhile, in Hopewell, they have a cache of rare and unusual Aladdin Homes (like the one above) and what is being done to promote those houses? Nothing. Unbelievable.


To learn more about how to distinguish differences in certain objects, click here.

Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for the use of her photograph above (the blue Maplewood). You can visit Rebecca’s website here.

Visit Rachel’s website here.

Read about the bonanza of kit homes we found in Richmond!

If you’re from Hopewell, and you’d like to take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

If you’re not from Hopewell and you THINK they should take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

*       *       *

Sears Catalog House or Something Like It (Hopewell, VA)

July 25th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last week, Hopewell was in the local news again, touting their Sears Homes. I’m not going to post a link to the article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch, because it was rife with errors.

I’m somewhat incredulous that a paper as prestigious as the Richmond Times Dispatch didn’t do some fact-checking before publishing this story.

The recording and publishing of history is such a sacred trust, and writers have a solemn charge to get the facts right, before sending this information into perpetuity.

And there’s this: I’ve been sought out and interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, BBC Radio, All Things Considered (PBS)  and more. I’ve been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, and MSNBC.

It’s disheartening to know that a newspaper so close to home ran this article without seeking me out for a quote, or even asking me to help with the fact checking (which I would have gladly done).

Hopewell and I have a history.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003 (to give a talk), I was shown a small brochure touting 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills.

As mentioned in several other blogs (click here), Hopewell is mighty mixed up about what is, and what is not a kit house.

Of those 44 purported “Sears Homes” in Crescent Hills, only eight are the real deal, and frankly, it may not be eight. Some of those eight could well be plan book homes.

On that “list of 44,” this house (see below) was featured.

To read more about Hopewell, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker who successfully identified this house!


Nice House

The brochure promoting the Hopewell Sears Homes stated that this was a Sears "Newbury." Ooh, nice try and thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.



The Hopewell brochure states that it looks JUST LIKE a Newbury, except for the "sloping roof, full width dormer, extra windows and round columns." Good grief, if that's our criteria I could say that my dog Teddy looks like just like a Sears Magnolia.



Except for the absence of a hip roof, full width windows, round columns and cypress wood, these two dwelling places are stunningly similar. You'll note that the subject on the right also does not have ears or fur, but both of these items could have easily been removed during an earlier remodeling.



Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.



Wow, look at this! The house on the left is in Illinois and it actually LOOKS like a Newbury!



Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!



Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, we now know that this house in Hopewell came from "Standard Homes Plans" (1923, 1928 and 1929). You may notice that THIS looks a lot like the house in Hopewell!



In fact, "The Monticello" is on the cover of the catalog! What a beauty!



And lookie here. It is a very fine match!


Big and fancy

Did anyone from Hopewell ever go into this house and compare the interior layout? If so, I hope the homeowner gave their seeing-eye dog a tasty biscuit. The floor plan for the Monticello is radically different from the Sears Newbury (shown directly below). And the Monticello is 50% bigger. These details matter.



The Newbury is a modest, simple house (1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).


If you dont love this house, theres something wrong with you!

According to the text in the ad, if you don't love the Monticello, there's something seriously wrong with you!


It’d really be swell if Hopewell would invite me back to do a thorough and proper survey. I would be more than happy to get the facts right and help them create a new brochure.

In fact, I really wish they’d give it a go. It’s time to make this right.

To learn more about Hopewell, click here.

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

*     *     *