Thursday, July 4, 2013

North Dakota Living rebuilding the American Four Square

The American Foursquare home is a staple in the American Mid-West. Realistically easy to build. It was good for large families.  It fit well on a small city lot. It's popularity was helped by the fact that Sears and Roebuck Modern Home Catalog sold, "build yourself" kit home of this type of house.
Sears Model 52
Sears Hamilton
Sears Chelsea

Click on the link and check out the prices.
Another Kit home company called Aladdin Homes had some models

This one is very much like the one I lived in while in North Dakota.  These houses are so prevalent in the mid west they are called "Prairie Boxes".
Homes built in the early 1900's were more of a personal thing. The owner had his or her hands in most of the design and building of it. The designs and look  could be anything from Victorian to Craftsman or a little of both.  Brick, Shingle, Clapboard, or Stucco where used on these simple homes. Depending on the region the looks would vary too.  The Foursquares I have seen up here in the Pacific Northwest since I moved up here have a different look.
Like this one...if you notice how the upstairs front widows are out a little from the house. Image from

The Famous Architect Frank Lloyd Wright even put his mark on the Foursquare.

This is a good example of Wrights Prairie School influence. Image from

Our house in North Dakota had some of these influences too.  She was built in 1913, making her 100 years old this year. Now for my story.

In August of 2011 my friend Kevin convince me to come up to North Dakota to work. He was staying in his 36 foot Fifth Wheel in a makeshift trailer park at this RV store. The first night up there I had to sleep in his bed with him in it too. We agreed there would be no spooning! His son-in-law was sleeping on the floor in the living room of the trailer.  The son-in-law was going to stay at his sisters house until his wife came up and we could all find a house.  We needed to find a place before October because the Trailer park shut down for the winter.

Kevin's wife was back in the trailer a couple of days later. I have known Kevin and his wife since High School. I was even Best man at their wedding. Back in High School Kev's wife and I actually went to Prom together, so we all know each other very well.

So we set up to living and working in lovely North Dakota. From that point on I considered them my Minot Family.  The first week I was there I was training and getting physicals and all so I had not much work to do. Kev's daughter was there a few days after I arrived . She had brought her 3 children with her.  We all set out to find a house to live in.There were several problems though.

The houses that were available for sale were over the top expensive, and all the rentals were taken up by the oil workers.  They put a few offers in on a couple of homes on the market but none were taken. On top of that the City of Minot had just gone through the worst flood in it's existence.

 I saw the aftermath of the flood, it was the most heartbreaking thing I had seen in a long while.  It was the "Perfect Storm". The Fall of 2010 was very wet, winter 2010/2011 was more snow than they had  seen in 60 years. The ground was saturated and could absorb no more water. Canada started releasing waters from it'd dams up stream in the winter they had so much water. The spring melt was much more than the Canadian water system and the Army Corps or Engineers water system could handle. Then it started to rain. By May evacuations of people down by the river was in full effect. They started building dikes to contain what they new was going to be a flood of unseen proportions. The company we worked for sent my friend Kev down with a huge excavator to help build the dikes.  He said it was amazing to watch that much water going by him as shoveled dirt. The flood was something like 10 feet over the last record. Normally if it floods in Minot, the river spills over the berm, floods some basements and leaves some mud in the streets. This flood was almost to the roof line of the single story homes.

This flood displaced hundreds of families in many of the towns along the river. FEMA brought in tons of trailer and built whole trailer parks for the displaced. Some people still live in those trailers today. The waters receded and some people started emptying out the debris that was once there love and joy of a home. Many were upside down on their home as it was because of the economy and they gave the flooded hulks back to the bank. Some of the resilient started posting yellow signs with "We'll Be Back" on them and started work on their homes to get them back to normal. The Nice people my friend bought the house from couldn't see how they could go back to the once lovely home that they had fixed up over the years. Raised a family in, put their love, and time into.  You could see it in their eyes when they showed it to us, the sadness of loss, how hard it was to be in the ruin of their old dream.

I mentioned this before in an earlier blog. We had been looking at houses and place to possibly put the trailer so we could live. The only things that were even in the ball park was a flood home. we rolled down into these areas at dusk a few times and it was eerie to see. Dingy covered in mud, no electricity so there was no sign of life, no animal life around, horrible. We had toured a few homes down in the flood zone.  We were looking at this small home on a corner lot, the house was probably not worth saving, but we could put the trailers on it and hope to stay there for a year maybe two.  Across the street was this American Foursquare with a for sale by owner in the yard. I told my friends that is the house we should get. But the price was too much to get a loan on, especially on a flood damaged home.

Every time we passed by that house I told them that was the house we needed. It was a classic home and would have great resale value if fixed up right. As it got down to the wire at the trailer park some providence came our way. Kev's daughter, my god daughter, had talked to the owner of this Foursquare and he liked her and the fact that her husband was in the military. He agreed to let them make payments to him and not have to go through a bank. It was actually advantageous for both parties on this.  He could sell an almost unsellable house to people he could trust, and we had a place to live.

I get this message from my friends wife or maybe it was the god daughter, I can't remember which, stating that they got "My" house.  It was a teasing "I hope your happy now" message. The owner got the Electricity back on and gas so we could heat and do the final drying out of the house. He had the place treated earlier for mold and we wedged two large Fifth Wheel trailers in the back yard. I mean wedge there was maybe an inch and a half on either side to put these two units in there.

It is a two story home so the upstairs was untouched by the flood.  I temp wired the upstairs into the new breaker box and moved a bed and a heater into one of the rooms of the old house.  I spent the first night in my own room in ND, and reported the next morning that the nice old house was not haunted.  I had to keep all this living in the house on the low key.  The city had not declared it liveable yet.

Here is our lovely Foursquare.
I'm not sure what supported this old lady but, it was scary to look at what held things up. For instance the center of the house on the main floor was held up by a simple 2X4 wall. If you will look at the chimney, although it is a nicely done tapered to the top chimney it was an after thought to this house and someone had just cut a hole in the wall, right through the wall studs and put it in. That is one of the first thing we supported on this house.

 We had to wedge that beam into the studs to get it to work.  They bought a bunch of house jacks and we set to making things level, or rather as level as you can make a 100 year old house that has settled and sagged. During this time we would jack up the center of the house a fraction of an inch in the basement to bring the center of the house up some. We sistered one of the beams in the basement to help support the house better.  We also put up this bubble wrap silver insulation to help hold in the heat for the winter.  Pretty neat stuff, it did a great job and kept the house warm.

Next we supported a wall in the kitchen area. A lot of weight was just hanging over the kitchen windows simple 2X4 frame.
This was the last beam we needed on the outside, it was now time to work more on the middle. Here is some stuff we were up against.
Take a close look at this 2X4. It was actually 2 scraps cut to fit together. This was on the end of the center supporting wall...luckily there is now weight on this so it has lasted for 100 years.
 You can almost see the sag of the floor above the beam.  If you look close enough you can see the difference in lengths of the little supports above the beam.  To the left is one of the house jacks holding up and lifting part of the center of the house. The Plaster upstairs started to crack as we started this process. The top of the stairs felt a lot more solid when we were done lifting.
On the ceiling  of the picture above you can see the start of the plate for the new 2X6 center wall to replace the old one shown.
 Above we are supporting the old wall. the old lath and plaster use to help do this but with that gone the house was a little shaky.  It took us a while to get through with this part. We did have help though from the World Famous Collin.
That little monkey was just starting to walk and he saw us and his dad climbing those ladders and using the tools and he would want to help, and also climb to the top. On the floor next to him is the new beam about to go up.  Collin would grab a screw driver and put it on something and make like he was fixing it, cute as hell.
New beam goes up and is supported.
After getting that center wall built we started to rewire the down stairs and put things to code. We also replace some windows and installed new ones where none were before.  Then re-plumbing the main floor.  We used this stuff called Pex. It is a modular plastic hose and clamp and fitting type of set-up.  The stuff is very good in cold climates and doesn't burst when it freezes.  Then came the drywall. My friends wife is an artist with drywall texture. When she was done the walls looked just like plaster walls. Then came the day to put in a sink and stove in the kitchen.
This was actually a mile stone. Up to this point all the cooking was being done outside in one of the trailers, and we were eating like campers for almost a year.  We all sat down to a home cooked meal at a dinner table we could all sit at.

Just before the winter of 2012 everybody moved into the house and a room was built in the basement for "Uncle Fester", Me, so everyone would have a room.  The one shower made for an interesting time with all those people in the house.

During the first winter there I had bought one of those fake electric fireplaces on sale.  It had a heater in it and would warm a room on the cold nights. I set up my room with a micro fridge and found a floor model flat screen TV for cheap. I was set even in the basement.

I have been told that a lot has been done in my absence so be surprised when I head up there in a couple of weeks.  I think this house was the best thing for all of us up there.  The people that buy this house next will be getting a much better house than when it was built 100 years ago.  I'm going to miss all the debates on engineering and processes and styles, we had while working on this house. She sure is a beautiful old lady.

1 comment:

  1. I Like it! but you don't Kevin and I too well, after all he was the only one you shared a bed with. planes, trains, and automobiles