Restoring My Vintage Spartan to Glory

...and crafting a purposeful recovery

Page 2 of 16

Odd’s n’ ends

This post-July 4 weekend is full of promise – not much catering work and a ton of Sparta stuff. Just look:

A cool copper sink to install

Beautiful, but expensive ($500)
Time to rip more trim pieces
Yes, I do mind the gap. But I think I have come up with a solution.

That’s all, folks!

Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July. Thankfully, holidays are different for me these days. I am not sure how many alcoholics, practicing or not, would relate but for me holidays once brought relief. And not for the reasons you might think. In my drinking days my near-constant companion was dread. There was this gnawing fear of being found out, held to account, sleeping through an appointment, being served with a summons or called upon by the IRS. In other words, almost every day of my drinking life was filled with the fear of reckoning with the consequences of my actions, or lack thereof. Holidays seemed to bring a temporary respite from these dreaded concerns, if only for a day.

When I lived in Washingtion it was an ABC state and liquor stores were always closed on holidays and Sundays. So when Independence Day fell on a Saturday, you really had to be on your game. This meant going to the liquor store on a Friday – normally an extra-busy day – and waiting. Sometimes the lines would reach the door. Most shoppers were solitary and if any made eye-contact (which was rare) there was exchanged a shared sense of desperation. Sure, there was always the jovial guy filling up his cart for a “party”, but most of us miserable sots were just trying to make sure we made it till Monday. It was a peculiar sense of isolation being in a room full of compatriots. But as associations go, active alcoholism is a slim reed. Once provisioned, the only thing left was to go home, close the shutters, turn off the phone, pop the cork and let that suspension of fear release me.

Happily, this is now just another day – my fears proportionate and better managed.

3.8 drinks per day. Maybe that’s why it’s the fourth

Reefer Madness

So the refrigerator purchase ended up requiring alot of Internet research, deliberation and the meticulous taking of dimensions. My choice of reefers’ began first with the question – standard 120v, propane or hybrid? The latter two have several advantages in an off -grid scenario or one where power could conceivably be interrupted for lengths of time. 120v units, on the other hand, are much more abundant, cheaper, offer a variety of sizes and many new models offer cool retro designs. And then there was the issue of space. When reinstalling the kitchen cabinets, I was left with a void atop the steel frame designed to support a refrigerator above the wheel well. It was 23″ wide, 24″ deep and about 60″ high. When looking at new units not specifically designed for RVs (those tend to be tiny and ugly), depth was a concern. New refrigerators tend to be pretty massive, often protruding out 30″ or more. Many are much too wide as well. For example, the “slim” Big Chill is almost 28″ wide and 34″ deep – out of the question. And the SMEG is 78″ inches high, a towering unit requiring a sunroof. Sparta is small enough without having to dodge a behemouth appliance nosing out into the passageway. And both those brands begin at over $2,300.

So I decided to buy a 7.6 cu. ft. Galanz refrigerator. The dimensions were perfect for the space, the retro design very cool and the price way below the others – $379 at HD. I realize this Chinese offering made of plastic and other cheap materials may not last, but that’s OK. If it fails in two years, I buy another or make the decision to go propane based upon my actual experience in the field. I think of it as a test model. There is a method to my madness.

Energy Guide reveals that it is not the most efficient option – probably owing to the extensive use of plastic.

Meanwhile, the Formica project wraps up.

Apply Contact cement. Wait an hour.
Time to address the old stove vent fan.
Now I need a sink.
Pocket door trim done.
Just to remind myself

Formica final

Here are a few pics of the last of the “Laquered Green Linen” Formica. It’s not glued down yet but just set in place to make sure I want full coverage up to the bottom of the cabinets. I think I like it as placed.

I like it so much that I may call the warehouse where I got it and get a couple sheets of the burnt orange version for my 48′ Spartanette.

Blue painter’s tape securing it for now
I guess I better figure out what to do with that old exhaust fan.
Pocket door hung and happy

So long…


Looks cool. Feels hot!

It’s hotter than a popcorn fart today and I only lasted about an hour in Sparta – long enough to install my kick-plates on the bathroom pocket door. “Kick-plates on a pocket door?”, you ask. Yes, it’s a bit like putting a mast on a submarine. You can do it, but why? Well, to cover the sloppy plastic surgery I performed on the original door, that’s why.

Sometimes I take re-purposing a little too far.
I bondo’ed both the pocket door and the wall.
Got a 8″ X 34″ kickplate, cut it in half, painted it with copper paint and put a bunch of clearcoat on it.
Twin pieces transformed
Easy squeezy

Drop the main and dive, dive, dive.


Recently my paperboy died. He was actually 60+ years old so “boy” may be inaccurate. He was run over by his own car while delivering papers – not 100 yards from my apartment.

My first thought was a Darwin Award, granted to those who perish due to their own stupidity (sorry if that sounds cruel). But then a few days later the story was reported in the local paper and I learned that this unfortunate gentleman had been working this very route for 15 years. It occurred to me that in that time he had probably delivered close to one million papers, most likely without incident. So how on this day did he manage to leave the car in “drive”, walk up a driveway and then get crushed by his own vehicle?

A few days later I was working at the trailer and, while stepping off, managed to miss the step and fall two feet, almost nailing my coccyx. I was stunned and lay on the ground a few moments feeling pretty lame. I have stepped off that trailer 1,000s of times…why miss that step now? Preoccupation…age-related clumsiness…stupidity?

Thinking about these two unrelated incidents it dawned on me that I, too, could die in a most innocuous fashion – quite possibly doing something I take completely for granted. It probably won’t be while cleaning my shotgun. I do that so infrequently that I do so with an abundance of caution. And I do so mindfully, fully aware of each step.

Things that we do often and in a repetitious, almost rote, fashion are governed by the law of automaticity – the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. John Bargh, a Yale academic, actually spent over 10 years researching the topic. Automaticity is a form of unconscious competence and the quality or fluency of the effort may actually be undermined if one actually stops to think about it. This is also known as the “Centipede Effect” and derives from the Poem, The Centipede’s Dilemma, wherein the toad immobilizes the multi-legged creature simply by asking it how it walks. The centipede’s normally unconscious locomotion was interrupted by conscious reflection on it. The psychologist George Humphrey referred to this parable in his 1923 The story of man’s mind:[6] “No man skilled at a trade needs to put his constant attention on the routine work,” he wrote. “If he does, the job is apt to be spoiled.”

So where does this leave us? We are told to be mindful. To eat mindfully, chew mindfully, even breathe mindfully. But these things should be automatic. Am I benefitted by thinking about them or, worse, endangering myself by doing so? I could choke on a piece of meat.

Sign me up, Charles.

As long as I am being totally random, I thought this was cute:

Laminate by the book

You may recall my bathroom laminate job. It was totally unorthodox and only worked because of the smallish surface area involved. The kitchen required more caution and an adherence to proven methods of installation. To Summarize:

First – Apply laminate to detached countertop to allow proper edging with router.

Second – Do not attempt to cut laminate to exact counter dimensions prior to glueing. Leave overhang.

Third – Apply glue in temperatures >65 degrees F. to achieve proper bonding. Apply to both pieces and wait 60 minutes before putting together.

Fourth – Use dowels to control the bonding process and work from the middle to the ends.

Cut to proper size. 1″ – 1 and 1/2″ along front, 1/4″ on exposed end.
Apply contact cement liberally to both surfaces being bonded
Place and space wood dowels atop glued counter-top.
Carefully place laminate and make sure all four edges are covered. Pull middle dowel, press firmly to the left and right evenly, removing remain dowels as you go.
If you are too cheap to buy a rubber roller, use whatever is at hand. A rolling pin might be even better.

While giving the glue time to set up, I made refinements to the bathroom pocket-door installation.

I am hoping this thing never jumps the track.

All in all, it was a productive day.

Little Shop of Horrors

To the old adage, “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made”, go ahead and add my bathroom vanity. Sparta is filled with bizarre work-arounds and shortcuts, mostly owing to my lack of proper shop tools and expertise. But this bathroom cabinet takes the cake.

I had been struggling with the question of the slider panels on its face. The old pegboard and slider tracks were rotted-out and long-since disposed of. I managed to find a nice new sheet of pegboard at Restore for cheap, but I didn’t know how to make the slider track. It’s not like they sell them in stores. And I still don’t own a router.

So I bought three 1/8″ wood dowels and a length of 3/4″ X 3/4″ birch and cut it into 3 (more or less equal) strips, with a jigsaw, guided only by the naked eye and nerves of steel. Geesh. Have a look.

Nails and glue to hold these hand-carved rails in place.
These 3/4″ deep channels should work for the top.
Shallower on the bottom just to guide the slide.
Cut two overlapping panels.
Happy with the result if I don’t look too closely.

Milt Duncan, my high school woodshop teacher, would have been mortified. But I still have all ten fingers.

The hands of a hapless carpenter

Slam dunk

Alrighty…getting ‘er done. Bathroom sink was a breeze. Nothing like a counter-top install to keep things simple. Plus, I am 6’ 1″ so I like an elevated sink. The ceramic fixture I ordered from Walmart ($120) and the hardware from Wayfair ($93). The straight lines and polished chrome kinda matches the look of the shower valves. My apologies to purists for the departure from authenticity.

Two simple holes.
Taped it off first to ensure proper positioning. Caulk on the outside and Powergrab in the inside.
…and Boom! Simple as pie
Plumbing for idiots thanks to Pex.
Where old meets new. Everything is so much easier than it was back in ’57
…and it’s time to hang the pocket door.

I still need a commode, but that can wait. On to the kitchen.

Hot Fun

Look up the word “civilization” in the dictionary and you are likely to find references to culture, society, language, law and order, etc.. Well, to my simple mind I’d say hot running water meets the test and, by that standard, Sparta now qualifies as a civilized abode. Yesterday I hooked up my Excel, on-demand LPG water heater (ODWH). I could bore you with the details of the decision-making going into this particular purchase, the location/method of installation and the multiple trials encountered along the way – but I won’t. Let’s just say the moment that I turned on the hot water valve in the shower and the 12v Shurflo pump shuddered and shook and the ODWH roared and began to glow red with ignited fuel and the shower head sputtered, spit and finally released a torrent – soon filling the bathroom with steam – was pure bliss. You could call this was my “ahah” moment when it struck me that – with a car battery, pump, 3 twenty-one gallon tanks, an ODWH and propane tank – one could carve out a piece of paradise anywhere. Even in a tin box surround by weeds, fields and detritus. Yeah, the whole Rube Goldberg contraption sounded a bit like Chitty-chitty Bang-bang, but it was music to my ears nonetheless.

All these tubes and stuff
I’m not a slave to code, but it does say to use copper the first 18″ out of the gate
Almost looks professional
Now. You are probably asking what I’m going to do with all that heat generating under my kitchen counter. Don’t rain on my parade. I’ll tell you later.

Come on in, Cristina. The water’s great!

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