Reinhardt Family History
Memories of Eggs and Chickens
Stories from Neil Reinhardt
Remodeling the Farmhouse
I don't think there is anyone who has not dreamed of some day living in a brand new house. This dream came true for me when I was about 13 years old.
Our new home was not really a new one, but rather a rebuilt one. My folks decided to remodel the house on Martin Road, which had some damage from a tornado several years earlier. It took the barn and other outbuildings down at 5:30 am one May morning. Except for the loss of one cow, our other animals survived. I missed seeing the tornado because I was fast asleep - my mom had a hard time waking me up. By the time I was awake and looked out the window, all I could see was boards and trees scattered over the countryside. They were all that was left of the barn and other buildings.
Imagine the excitement in the winter as my dad sat at the kitchen table and drew the plans for the remodeling, for even a bathroom and a furnace! No more taking the trip to the little house on a cold day, no more grabbing your clothes on a cold morning and running downstairs from an unheated room to dress by the stove. If you turned your back to the stove you had to take care or be branded like a steer. It was very hard for a 12 year old boy to figure out where his room would be from a lot of lines on a piece of paper.
Suddenly the whole family was talking about not having to carry water from a pump outside, no more filling the reservoir on the back of the old kitchen stove, no more carrying water to fill the washtubs on wash day or filling them again Saturday nights for a bath, then having to carry the dirty water outside again.
On a day early in the spring of 1923 the construction on the house began. The old house had a very small basement with an outside cellar door, the kind that is written in song - "Slide down my cellar door." Through this door the work began. The first thing was to build a large cistern in the basement to catch the water that would later run through the pipes to the new bathroom and kitchen. This was my introduction to construction work. Dad had bought a little cement-mixer that ran with a one-cylinder hit-and-miss gasoline engine. My job was to mix the concrete cement. Dad would start the engine and when I had a batch mixed, it was dumped in a wheelbarrow and he wheeled it where it had to go. I soon learned by scoldings from dad that if I put too much water in a batch it made weak concrete, not enough and it was hard to handle and work into place. If the engine stopped he would have to start it again.
The railroad bridge close to our farm had to be repaired every year. The men who worked on the bridge borrowed a horse to pull the heavy timbers up the bank from down on the tracks. Dad had offered the use of the horse. When they found out how much easier it was than dragging them up by hand, they told him he could have any of the timbers that they took out for firewood. They even told him to bring a wagon to the bridge. They loaded the used timbers on the wagon, brought them down to our yard, and unloaded them. Some of the timbers were decayed only on the ends. There had never been any nails driven in them. Dad cut off the ends and hauled them to a sawmill in town to be sawed into lumber that he could use in building the house.
Next dad went to see about the sawing. He came home and said it would cost $8 an hour to saw the lumber, but if they hit a nail it would be $8 an hour until the saw was repaired. Dad and I looked over each timber very carefully to see that there were no nails. When he took the timbers to the mill and came back with a big load of lumber without striking a nail, he was very happy. The lumber was used in the rafters and most of the studs of the house.
The next year we started early in the Spring. First we moved the wing of the old house away. Later on it was added on to, and made into a large henhouse. In order to have a place to eat and sleep, the rest of the house was left standing and the new was built over it. The basement was enlarged to more than twice its original size. In this process some digging had to be done under the old house. Dad hired a man to help with the digging. It was all hand work. The dirt was loosened up with picks and shovels. Then we pulled a slip scraper back under the house and hauled it out with the horses. Shoring was put in so the old house wouldn't fall into the new basement. Planks were laid across the part of the new basement that the old house did not cover so the kids did not fall in as they went in and out of the house. As soon as the basement was dug, it meant mixing more concrete for the new walls. The outside frame was soon up and the roof put on. We had no electricity so all lumber had to be cut with hand saws. Dad had three saws I wasn't allowed to use. They were good carpenter saws that he kept very sharp: one for cutting across the grain, one for ripping and one with fine teeth for finishing work.
The house was square and the roof was quite a job to cut the rafters, hip rafters and jack rafters. I remember my grandpa Reinhardt came to help when he could. The jack rafters had to be cut on an angle and all different lengths. Dad spent several days just cutting rafters to fit. He put them in four piles for each corner. Grandpa wanted dad to take them up to the top and cut them one at a time to be sure they would fit. He said dad was spoiling all that lumber. Dad had worked with a carpenter several years before he was married, and he knew how to read a square and cut the right angles. As he handed up the rafters dad had cut, Grandpa couldn't get over the fact that each one fit in its place.
We continued to eat and sleep in the old part of the house. Dad built the new roof over the old house, and then he had to tear the old roof out from under the new one. It was well into fall by the time it was lathed and plastered. A furnace was put in and there was a bathroom and running water from the cistern. The drinking water had to still be carried from the old pump. In order to have running water, a tank was put in the attic and water was pumped from the cistern by hand to the tank in the attic, then connected to the plumbing.
There is only a little part of the north and east side of the old house that remains in the new house. The house is similar to the Fond du Lac 'Squares' sometimes advertised by Realtors. Four years later the large sun porch was added, with a coal-bin under it. When it was finished, it was the newest house on the road. It had running water, a bathroom, a furnace, even electric lights. There were no power lines in the area at that time, but it had its own electric power plant with 16 large batteries that had to be charged once a week by starting the generator in the basement. There were 5 bedrooms, a bath and a half, kitchen, pantry, dining room, living room and a full basement. It also had a large entry way in the rear of the house where you could go into the basement or hang your work clothes as you came in from the barn. But the main things were to just open faucets for hot or cold water, and you could get out of bed in a warm room.
The first year we were in the new house, the upstairs was not complete. The only room finished was the bathroom. The other rooms were plastered, but did not have doors, and several did not have the hardwood floors yet. Dad completed them as time and money allowed.
Sometimes as I go for a ride and drive past the old home, I think of the many hours of labor that went into it 70 years ago. No electric saw, just a hand saw; no mixing of concrete, just a phone call and it is delivered already mixed; no nail driver except a hammer and muscle. The shingles were carried up a ladder not lifted to the roof by a hoist on the delivery truck. Now roof trusses are made in a plant and lifted in place by the delivery truck.
It was nearly three years before the house was really completed. Dad and I did most of the work, hiring help only to do the plastering, plumbing, and electrical wiring. It was wonderful to have a room of my own. In the building of this house, I learned the rudiments of the construction business under my dad. Little did I dream that in later years I was to mix all the mortar that went into the building of Rosalind Apartments, buildings at Marian college and other buildings in Oshkosh and Fond du Lac.