It was a rather warm weekend. On the last working day before the 4th of July weekend, we had closed on the purchase of the farm, made our payment after raiding our savings that we had kept in Europe. We had signed the loan agreement combining the bank guarantee issued by United Virginia Bank and the loan issued by the European Bank. We called Spain to advise our sons that the adventure was really beginning. They could tell all their friends, say good byes and think about packing during the month of July.
Ahead of us for Peggy and I was the job of doing everything we could to prepare the older house that had been rented to William & Mary students. The heat must have been around 90 degrees as we drove to the farm. The three quarter of a mile long driveway had been arranged as one might expect to find on a working farm, a dirt road without ditches.
The water available at the old house was pumped directly from an old well and rather unsanitary. What were the electrics like? The power company was closed; the power had been turned off for a good while and there would be no power. Another item for the list.
As we walked in to the house, we began by creating a pile of garbage for disposal. The tenants had not been kind to the old cottage, a forty by sixteen foot construction built on brick piers and with two shed roof expansions on the East side and a screened early twenty century porch on the West front looking at the driveway.
There were abandoned school books, paraphernalia for illicit substance uses, pillows and the whole lot was moldy, dirty and repulsive. Our goal was to assess whether it might be salvageable. The other house on the property was a typical nineteenth century wood frame building that looked like it had provided ample haven for hungry termites and it had been our feeling from the first day that whenever our “wood-cutters” determined that they wanted to leave the place, we would have it demolished.
Our preliminary assessment was that we would need to tear down a wall between the existing tiny kitchen and the other small room under the shed roof expansion. Importantly, an operating, functional kitchen is essential. Plan was that needed to get done as soon as we come back with the entire crew at the end of the month. Next thought was to look at the fireplaces. Clearly the original brickwork that must have dated from the time of construction had featured two fireplaces that had been bricked up both downstairs and upstairs leaving holes for stove pipes.
The bathroom was a total disaster with porcelain fixtures from the fifties. Whenever water could get connected back to the house from one of the wells on the farm, and thoroughly cleaned up, it could be functional for a few months in time to get it fully redesigned and hundred percent remodeled.
The roof needed work, but the asphalt shingles would hopefully last one more season.
We peeled the clear plastic sheathing that had been stretched and stapled all around the house as mentioned. We now had a few loads of garbage and made the first of numerous trips to the county dump site.
Back in the local hotel where we were staying, we continued making numerous lists including that related to the costs anticipated for all the needs that we felt were immediate upon our arrival.
We celebrated the 4th of July, a celebration of independence, by watching the fireworks thrown by Colonial Williamsburg for the visiting tourists. The house was more or less tidy. We knew and had agreed on all the next steps. Tired as we were, we felt exhilarated. We had begun the first and not such a small step towards “our independence”.
Next day, another flight back to Spain and continue the regular routine of travels, while Peggy was taking all the steps for the organization of the end of July trip, closing of the house on the beautiful Costa Brava, planning shipment of the furnishings from Spain to Norfolk. The trip was going to be interesting in itself. I needed to be in NYC as of mid July. Peggy, Patrick II (age 11) and Terence (age 9) and the British au-pair as well as the two dogs of the family plus a fair load of suitcases would fly to Kennedy where I would meet them, transfer to LaGuardia, fly down to Richmond, pick up the largest rental car that was available and arrive in Williamsburg to a hotel where we had made reservation for at least a week.
It all happened as planned. Murphy’s law did not surface on that day. I had three weeks of vacation. The race was on.
Get an electrician to look at the old fuse box and install completely new circuit breakers and get connected to have power. Buy a large double door refrigerator-freezer and install it in the living room. Use an ice box for luncheon food such that we could work non-stop. Go buy a pick-up truck, basic no frills, standard transmission, three gears on the column make an offer for $5K, get turned down, walk out, salesman runs after us and says, “You are killing me, but I’ll take it;” take it straight from the dealer’s lot and turn in the rental car.
The old kitchen cabinets are ripped; the kitchen floor is ripped, the inside wall between the two rooms is removed, inch thick old plaster partitions and stud framing; the plaster board on the ceiling comes down. More trips to the dump. Power approved, refrigerator is connected. The pump in the well works and water flows. Showers outside at the end of the day. Back to the hotel and crash.
As soon as the little house was clean we moved in to camp. We had folding cots and sleeping bags. The hotel was happy to see us go. The two dogs were very well behaved but they were frightening other guests by their sheer size. The bigger one weighed about a hundred pounds of muscle and was the friendliest dog one could think. He and his sister had been actually bottle fed by Peggy.
Follow up on all the purchases, construction supplies, an electric stove, an oven, a kitchen sink and a dish-washer. Built cabinets, countertops, connected new plumbing lines, electrical lines, new kitchen floor joists, installed insulation in the floor, put down sub-flooring, drywall after placing heavy duty beams across the new space. The kitchen was operational. The telephone was working. I could fly back to NY Piedmont Airways had a 6:55am out of Norfolk to LaGuardia which would make me the first to arrive at the office.
I managed to organize a long week end at the farm in October, continuing the planning of new projects. Rob Bickford, a young, close friend who had lived with us for short periods in France and Spain provided the help that was needed to take down the nineteenth century porch of the house such that we could anticipate installing new siding to restore that house to its more original appearance.
A local neighbor that we had met offered to work with us on rehabbing the little house. He was a talented carpenter and had the soul of a craftsman, ever even tempered, kind, well mannered and easy-going. Michael worked with us for the next three years. First on the list was the new siding on the back side.
The next week I was in Mexico for a major marketing meeting with the entire US sales force and representatives of the Swiss, the Dutch and the Puerto Rican organization. Peggy was calling me every day and keeping me up to date with the repair work on the North side of the house. The original twelve by twelve beam that had served as the structural base of the North side was of no value anymore; that entire wall was hanging from the cross-beam tying the rafters at the second floor level. It had to be replaced and was. By Thanksgiving the house had a different look.
It was decided to tackle half the roof before Xmas. It was the portion over the two shed roof expansions and where small leaks on the side of an old chimney had appeared. The asphalt shingles were ripped and replaced by cedar shingles. By that time, my office had been moved from Europe to NYC and I could fly in and out late Friday night and depart from the farm at 5am on Monday with Peggy driving me to the airport in the pick-up truck. That gave me more time to work with Michael and speed up the process.
The settlement had begun. History tells us that the early settlers experienced some difficulties, particularly in winter. Well, they were not the only ones.
(To be continued)
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Patrick G. Duffeler
Founder & CEO