It’s amazing to think the house in which I am currently dwelling was an honest to goodness piece of the Old West. The farmhouse on the ranch is over a century old.
For a little perspective, someone was cooking in the very same kitchen in which I make my coffee every morning when the United States only numbered 45 and people were still robbing stagecoaches. Somebody’s wife was probably sweeping my porch and hanging laundry out to dry just as I am doing today when “Buffalo Bill” still had a good ten years of his life to go on supporting the rights of women, Native Americans, and the environment, and entertaining Europe with his Wild West Show. (Yea, seems like he was a pretty all right guy)
It’s almost a challenge to believe it in today’s society in which we tend to just throw out the old stuff when it’s not shiny and perfect anymore and simply build or buy new stuff. But the oddities of living in this house make it impossible to not really believe this house is OLD.
Yes, I have plumbing, though that is old and decrepit as well, but not quite as old as the original structure. There is running hot and (painfully) cold water. There is a shower, inside. There is even a toilet that flushes… nothing other than water and whatever comes naturally out of the human body. Meaning no toilet paper in the toilet.
It was explained to me that one simply throws the paper in the trash and then burns it later in the woodstove. I very quietly had an internal fit and then devised a plan to buy a package of brown paper lunch sacks to keep next to the toilet for paper collection. Now we can simply throw the whole bag in the fire whenever we see fit. No way was I picking toilet paper out of the bin, sorry, that is just one step too rural for me.
Oh and peeing outdoors and using the outhouse is officially highly encouraged.
Though plumbing was an update that could be made to the house, modern insulation was not. The construction of the old place is fairly solid, but there is no option for just removing drywall and packing in fiberglass or foam or whatever people do to newer homes. I know this because I can see the actual materials and makeup of the walls through the holes in the ceiling, small boards, burlap, and some kind of grey, crumbly, pre-cement looking stuff.
That particular open patch is directly above the couch in the living room and no, no it does not concern me at all. Right now, no one lives upstairs! Yep, there is a whole second floor on top of that sturdy looking stuff.
No one goes upstairs right now because insulating the house requires ingenuity rather than basic materials from the “More Saving, More Doing” store. One of the first projects here upon moving in was preparing for winter by upholstering the interior. Stapling, nailing, and screwing blankets to every exterior wall and window, and even some interior ones, became almost a creative outlet and clearly a necessary endeavour as the overnight temperatures began to drop to the single digits. An old mattress was even included on the windward wall for extra protection.. The interior of the house is essentially a patchwork quilt during the winter months. Somehow in all it’s ugliness, it becomes charming and cozy.
Upstairs, two bedrooms are enjoyed and well used in summer, but in winter, to keep all the precious heat from rising up and through the ceiling, they are closed off and padded. Every piece of extra bedding including pillows, mattresses and foam cushions are spread out on the floor like puzzle pieces in thick layers and the staircase to the top level is laid over with plywood and fiberglass insulation batting. So there are no fears of any stockinged feet crashing through above our heads until summer.
I haven’t tested that smoke detector. There’s not much point. The boards of this old house, covered in cloth, are so old and dry, not to mention that burlap packing, that a smoke detector would simply not be sufficient warning to escape an instant farmhouse sized pile of hot ash.
Besides, the only methods for heating the home anyway are baking, which warms up the kitchen, and building a big fire in the woodstove. Smoke inside is a pretty common and un-alarming occurrence. For at least a month and a half, temperatures range between 18 above and 10 below (degrees Fahrenheit), so a fire is needed constantly. That means anytime you wake in the night to add toilet paper to the lunch sack or pee off the back porch, you better add another hunk of gnarled tree root to the fire or morning will show just how long a couple of blankets on the walls will hold out the -8 degree mountain air. For goodness sake though, be awake enough to not scatter sparks or hot coals while you’re doing it. A 4 a.m. test of the flammability of the tinderbox house would be less than pleasant.
One of my favorite things about the old farmhouse is the front porch. In the winter it serves as an additional option for insulation and is completely enclosed with heavy,opaque plastic sheeting stapled to the wood beams. It limits the amazing view obviously, but on sunny days it becomes a country solarium and warms enough to be a total escape from the beyond chilly high altitude winter. Even though it also has to hold the kindling and a saddle I’m cleaning, I’ve cozied it up as much as possible so it can be enjoyable even now. I can’t wait til spring truly arrives though and the plastic can come down. I simply adore a good front porch.