Restoring My Vintage Spartan to Glory

...and crafting a purposeful recovery

Page 2 of 22

Victorious

I am happy to report I finally got my Excell on-demand water heater working. Sometime between a year ago when I first installed it (it worked perfectly) and earlier this month when we moved in, it decided not to ignite. I did everything – checked water pressure, replaced the batteries twice, cleaned the cold water filter, replaced the drain bulb screw (which I broke whilst tinkering), and finally called the Excell company in desperation. After walking me through all the possible causes for malfunction, they finally suggested I remove and clean the igniter magnet. It worked! Phew! Cristina and I finally took hot showers yesterday evening. Heaven.

I had to pull the unit out from under the sink to do the work.
At one point I feared this minor damage to the heat sink might be at fault. Nope.
Pure joy
Yesterday my landlord’s landscaping crew came and whacked all the weeds for fire control. I now have a denuded perimeter. I liked my weeds :o(

Beat the Heat

Here’s another quickie to mention the heat. Until yesterday, I really had no use for the A/C. But, by 3:00pm when the indoor temp hit 86 degrees it was time to fire her up. Unfortunately I was too late. I was behind the curve. All I could do was turn the A/C towards the bedroom and make that our escape. Today I am prepared. First, a 7:00am trip to Home Depot to buy silver-sided 1/4″ foam (8×4′). Second, I closed all of Sparta’s windows to seal in the cool air. Then, I covered the windows, shiny-side out, on those most exposed. It is 9:10am and 70 degrees in here. Let’s see how it goes before turning on the A/C.

I actually cut these from memory at HD to fit them in the car.
Not a bad fit, considering.

Heat update: It’s going to take some trial and error on this heat management challenge. Unlike a house, which these days has doubled-paned windows and gobs of insulation, Sparta is a metal box with thin insulation and 27 single-paned windows. While it would be nice to seal her up in the morning and trap the cool night air like one does in a conventional home, it does not work here. I have found the best approach is lots of venting. I have to keep the air moving through Sparta, otherwise she heats up like a toaster. The reflective foam paneling is fine, but I have to leave the top louvered windows open and run my powerful ceiling fan.

This is a temporary install to get me through this heatwave. It will ultimately be recessed and less conspicuous.

Yesterday it was more comfortable. I just ran the air conditioner in the early evening to get the bedroom down to a perfect sleeping temp.

Light Show

It’s been fun to repurpose Sparta’s old light fixtures, some of which didn’t seem to offer much potential. But a little sanding, painting, glue and new 12v hardware and I’m lighting things up around here.

Cone lights, both metal and fiberglass are usable. OK, maybe not the white kitchen light with floral etching.
Bummer! This pendant light arrived broken March 2016.
Gorilla glue to the rescue. Still debating whether to paint.
I took these apart, painted the hardware copper and rewired 12v.
They look nice on the ceiling of the OL.
This metal one I just sanded to give it a worn look.
While this fiberglass unit needed paint.
It looks great above my bed.
Cristina reads beneath a spectacle of lights.
Of course, I couldn’t forget the porch. The art deco originals cost about $200 so I’m going with the $3.99 IKEA for now.

I am glad I wired so many light receptacles way back when. Next, I have to finish the five can lights.

Fairer Creature Comforts

When I set out on this mission to resurrect a trailer and, to some degree, my life I was single. My goals for the project were to immerse myself in constructive activity, create something of value out of almost nothing and have a dwelling for some then undetermined time and place. A side benefit was that it might help keep me sober. This stuff is covered in my blog’s “Bio” and “Welcome” sections. Surprisingly, it all came to pass pretty much as I’d hoped, albeit with a much longer duration and a little twist.

I’m pretty sure my siblings thought I’d lost it when I announced my new acquisition and plans four years ago. Admittedly, when a 60 year old alcoholic buys a forlorn vintage trailer with lofty expectations, it reeks of impending disappointment. The Internet is rife with stories about time and money wasted on such projects, with the sad, half-finished results jettisoned like a toxic relationship.

They say if you want to make God laugh, tell him/her your plans. Sometimes the same applies to friends and family. But, as time went by, I did get encouragement from them. My brother even went so far as to coax me into creating timelines and spreadsheets for marking progress. The doubters became champions.

Their mounting optimism was, I’m sure, taken aback when I got a girlfriend one year into the project. Relationships have a way of undermining, even supplanting, things that were once important. The fact that my love interest lived in Miami and offered the complexity of a bi-coastal romance only worsened their expectations for this project’s completion. When Cristina moved west a year later, I could almost hear the chuckling from the peanut gallery. Picture this: a Rio-bred Brazillian comes to California from a Miami penthouse. She is blond with a pronounced accent and a decidedly urban style. All I was missing was a pig named Albert. So this Green Acres redux, 50 years hence, had to appear comically mismatched. Admittedly, the smart money was on Cristina bailing once she realized my trailer was her new nest.

Well, bringing her onboard wasn’t as simple as all that. I had to make some refinements – call them romance retrofits. Originally, Sparta was to be offgrid – solar, propane and maybe a generator in a pinch. Comfortable luxuries were not high priorities as they generally involve more power than I imagined having access to. But here on my Sonoma County hilltop I am plugged in. And it gets hot here – high 90’s possible – and dusty. That made two things non-negotiable – air conditioning and a washing machine. I wasn’t about to put a swamp cooler on top of my beautifully restored rig, thereby placing it solidly in the “trash” category. So I had to find a portable A/C that could fit inside. Same with the washing machine.

As I have said before, everything you could possibly ever want can be found on the Net. And if it exists, the Chinese make sure it’s affordable. My Danby 12,000 btu A/C and Black and Decker .9 cubic ft. W/M fit the task, both around $300. Of course I had to sacrifice space in my study for the A/C and a large area in the kitchen cabinet gave way to the washer but, what the hell. A little cut here, a new hole in the floor, some pipe and we are now ready for a hot and dusty summer on our hilltop.

Every picture tells a story.

Some power, water and a waste pipe.
Bye-bye dust and grime
Say “Hello” to your friends Shower Scum and Dishwater.
In goes the washer. But I had to shave 1/2″ off the trim on both sides to fit it.
Snug as a bug.
Ouch! I hate cutting up my new floor.
But the hot air has to go somewhere.
Not sure where my legs will fit as I sit at my desk, however.
Not all the comforts are found inside. This is as close as I will get to a man cave.
And on the seventh day…

Interiors

At the risk of sounding sexist, this is the point where my female cohabitant exercises her right to decorate. Sorry, but this nesting thing is real and chromosomal. There’s just no fighting it.

It’s OK. Cristina has good taste.

An inviting, albeit, cramped sleeping quarters.
Cristina’s bedside nook.
A beautifully polished copper sink.
A spot for every spice.
Nestled bamboo tools.
Even the washing-machine has found a home.
Colorful, vintage things.
A coaster awaiting that morning coffee.
A piece of Cristina’s well-traveled art.
The sconce’s amber glow.
…more Brazilian art.
The view from the potty.
An impossibly clean window…not.

We’re still debating the whole couch thing. And my daughter is still at work on our hand-crafted dining table. But it is definitely feeling like home.

So more to come.

The Folly of Ownership

As a lapsed materialist, I thought I might take some pleasure from divesting myself of possessions – some accumulated over a lifetime. The process of shedding was necessary as the move to Sparta was a drastic reduction in square footage – 900 down to 300 +/-. I grew up in a house of 7,500 sq. ft. and have owned dwellings upward of 3,000 but since then my domaciles have steadily shrunk as I trudge onward to the inevitable pine box (or urn).

“Damn, this stuff didn’t seem so big in the apartment.”
At least there’s lots of room outside.

My attachment to things varies. I still can’t bring myself to dispose of my 20 year old, analog stereo system – even the cassette deck. Music is deeply etched in memories and I suppose that is behind my refusal to part with components which weigh a combined 500+ pounds. I keep lugging them around the planet, trying to cram them into my shrinking world.

The worst thing about owning stuff is how to unload it once you are done with it. It’s a sort of payback proportionate to one’s carbon footprint. “OK, you have enjoyed these things you just ‘had’ to have long enough” says karma. “Now what?”.

The easiest thing these days is a phone call, 1 800 got-junk. The T.V. ad makes it look so simple. Snap your fingers and “poof”, it is gone. But that’s criminally expensive and an insult to one’s good taste exercised over a lifetime of buying. “Surely my stuff isn’t junk. How about a yard-sale?”.

Few of life’s punishments can rival that of the laundress picking over your valuables with disdain. Just ask Scrooge. The process of selling your things to people bent on bargains and who feign indifference is tortuous.

Who will buy this wonderful cherry-wood…

When the face-masked prospect finally deigns to make an offer it is pitiful and seemingly designed to insult. After a wasted weekend when the jackals have finished, you total up the proceeds and there’s enough for Mexican take-out (one of our few covid-19 dining options).

Once the failed yard-sale experiment is over, you’re left with three choices. Well, four really but it barely registers on the realism meter. “Maybe my kids will want it?”. Hah!!! One’s halfway around the world and the other’s rustic taste in decor eschews my 1980-era pieces. “What!? You don’t want my waterbed?”

So having been insulted by junk-haulers, masked men bent on legal theft and even my own children, my natural and terribly stupid reaction is to say, “I’ll show you how good my things are!”. And then I will now choose to store them.

“Self-storage: How warehouses for personal junk became a $38 billion industry

One in 11 Americans pays for space to store the material overflow of the American dream”

The above quote was the very first thing that came up on a Google search of “Storage industry”. One of my more perverse forms of self-justification is the storage unit. My personal storage decisions include a half-dozen units over the years (two at the moment, not including the garage of my rental home.) With my help, the storage industry has leapfrogged over laudromats and trailer parks and has become the better real estate bet. Their strategy is not unlike gyms. Sign ’em up. Then wait for them to forget about it. Then auction the shit off. What a concept.

My storage unit
My son’s storage unit

After I’ve filled the storage units floor to ceiling there remain either charity or the dump. Since even the former have become picky the latter is inevitable. Since I had amassed a serious amount of garbage at Sparta and needed a dump run anyway, a few picked over items had to come along.

Note my t.v. table acquired from Dad in left foreground. Bye-bye.

As I weary of writing this particular blog entry (the whole process has been soul-sucking), I would be remiss in not mentioning the final form of asset divestiture. Criminal theft. This past week my Spartanette was stolen right off the street, not 12 hours after parking it there. They say that in this mortal life we really own nothing, that everything belongs to God and we are simply beneficiaries of his temporary largesse. Well, if that is the case, the big guy has definitely called in his markers.

Jeeez

F-it. That’s enough outa me.

5/1/2020

For all of you who doubted Thomas, it’s time to admit that your pessimism – while well founded in my past procrastinations and unmet objectives – was misplaced. I’ve finished!! Thanks to Bill, Jim, Leslie, Saylor for their advice and guidance AND to Carolee/Jeff, Betsy and all those who offered on-site encouragement. The day has arrived when Sparta becomes a home, an occasion formally marked by Cristina’s hanging of clothes.

..and the making of bed.

And the completion of wiring…

Still much to do…including figuring out the hot shower issue.

Crunch Time

Not quite frantic, but working diligently to get Sparta shipshape. Right now, functionality is key and cosmetics must take a backseat. That means potty, power, pump and punchlist.

This stuff is dense! I need about 10% of the block in 1 gallon of water and…
……..
Voila! It expands into about 3 gallons of medium to place in the main toilet bin with the hand crank agitator.

So I have the little 12v fan connected and it is quitely venting the system while awaiting the inaugural BM.

I learn something new all the time when it comes to electricity and my latest teaching moment came when I decided to call Progressive Dynamics and find out what I had done wrong. My 12v circuits were not working. The vague schematic they provide on their website was not helpful and this whole wiring thing gets crazy, especially when you consider the considerable downside of messing up.

Two of the four grounds necessary to completing a safe installation of the Mighty-Mini power station.

Yeah, thanks to a little help from Dennis at PD, my system works and so far my vast array of fuses and breakers (10 to be exact) is holding up.

Unfortunately, my water pump is acting up. Or maybe it’s the on-demand water heater. The latter will not engage without sufficient water pressure from the former. I’m confused because it worked fine under initial testing months ago. This may take a call to the people at Excell, makers of the water heater.

Meantime, back at the gray-water purification system, I have experienced problems with the lines clogging with bark, etc. causing the tubs to overflow. It turns out that screen door mesh is too fine and acts as a dam when clogged. So I cut up some rabbit wire as a first line of screening. It works now.

So what’s still on my punchlist?

  • caulk tub
  • wax sticky drawers
  • finish flooring under bathroom vanity
  • complete external a/c plugs
  • trim odds and ends
  • get house jack and level Sparta
  • Weed whack perimeter
  • there’s more I’m sure
Biocompatible soaps for laundry and dishes.
Photographed from my front door yesterday – a neighbor come to check out the new humans.

I think I may be working too fast. Pulling wire through tight spaces, using hand tools, digging it the dirt and getting generally frustrated has taken a toll on my right hand. Maybe it’s the dreaded old man skin – thin and crepey. Shit!

Sorry – too graphic for some of you.

Anyone who tells you that age is nothing but a number is full of coconut coir.

Sweltering in Place

OK, I’ve been waiting weeks to use that line. It is now hot enough to do so so and Sparta is heating up like a Dutch oven. I’ll admit it. I entertain myself coming up with silly titles for these posts. Bad puns. Obscure cultural references. Fractured cliches and painful bromides. They’re all here and I think I like this one best. This blog is, after all, a journal and the above sums up the times we now endure. Thanks for indulging me for this, my 200th entry.

The air conditioner has been ordered and should be delivered next weekend – none too soon. So now I am busying myself outdoors putting in a gray water system. For the uninitiated, gray water is everything coming out of Sparta except pee and poop. Those must be handled seperately as they are toxic to gardens and gardeners. Gray water comes from sinks and showers – even washing machines (also on order), provided one uses the proper detergents. They must be bio-compatible, not just biodegradable. In short, a gray water system uses a series of vessels filled with: 1) organic matter as a worm medium; 2) small and larger pepples/rocks for additional filtration and 3) a holding tank to allow substrates to further settle. Once done, the water can be dispersed into a garden or wash. It helps that Sparta is next to a slope as gravity is key to making the system function.

I found these at a pallet/barrel recycling business in Graton, Ca. They originally held chlorine but that was long ago.

Cut ’em in half
Position on slope. I will dig them in a little deeper this morning
1-1/2″ pvc running from underneath Sparta.

So after these tanks get better positioned and the pipes fitted and glued, I will fill with the proper medium and go find some worms. I don’t know if bait shops are considered essential.

Stay safe!!!

Post Script – So I just wrapped up this morning’s chores and have more to add re: gray water…

Each 1/2 barrel has an outlet just slightly lower than the inlet and it is sealed with caulk to prevent drippage.
The first basin has a layer of thick mulch on the bottom which is covered with what used to be my screen door. That is then covered with topsoil for the worms.
Everything has a role here. It’s great to repurpose.
Second basin features layers of rock. First larger pebbles
First the larger rock on left. Then the river pebbles.
Then a layer of black lava rock
Then, itty-bitty pea gravel. BTW, the board in the middle diverts incoming water downward and then it comes back up the other side.
Finally, off to the third settling tank before distributing

Ok, that was some boring shit. Sorry

Rack in the Box

America’s love for shopping online has taken us places I couldn’t have imagined. The pandemic has given health-saving urgency to this trend. From the comfort of your now familiar couch, you can buy a car (Carvana), a Slavic bride (mail-order-bride.net), therapy (talkspace.com), even a tomato (blasphemy!wtf?). Remember when it was just books and cd’s?

To wit, my latest home delivery – a bed for Sparta. Have you noticed of late the plethora of online bed companies with cute, fuzzy names like Casper, Nectar, Puffy, Purple, etc.. I have never seen so many ads for beds on TV. Was it always so? Am I just now watching too much teli? Or, are humans getting so lazy that the future portended in WALL-E has arrived. I guess I have.

Picking a bed took hours. I shopped and shopped without touching a single mattress, relying only upon buyer reviews and the assurances of 120 night guarantees of comfort. REALITY CHECK – according to feedback, almost no customers exercised their rights of return. To do so, one must cram a 100 lb. mattress into a box. There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.

Yesterday my bed arrived with the rather bland name of Cool Comfort (sounds like shoe inserts). No prizes for clever originality there. But the price was right on Wayfair and their promise of swift delivery was a factor. Despite a Covid-19 related delay, it arrived in time. To resume its intended mass, the bed must rest (?!?) for 72 hours before using, so I dragged it over to Sparta immediately upon delivery.

First, outa the box and across the field of dreams.
Thank God it’s not a king
Position it in place. Ready, set, poof!
I felt like I pulled the cord on a life-raft in an elevator. I didn’t know pillows were included.

So now I let it rise for another couple of days and attend to other things.

I have put 3 out of 4 possible 120v breakers in my power center.
I cleaned up the wiring rat’s nest. Note motion-activated LED light to right. Very handy.
Shoo fly. We can’t be starting a maggot-farm in the potty.

Today, I am gonna go to the tiny little burg of Graton, Ca to buy two used 55 gal. plastic barrels for my grey water treatment system. Stay tuned.

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