The News From 2Dits Farm: Dear Santa

carpenter SantaDear Santa,
I know it’s early to be writing to you, but I wanted to beat the rush because I have something really important to ask. You need a little background for this, so if you can spare a minute from the toy workshop, here goes.

It started pretty simply. I was just going to replace a rotted fascia board and the roof shingles on the bedroom ell. Not a big job. I figured I could get it done and still have plenty of time to do all my usual Fall chores–applesauce and cider making, ordering and storing all the wood pellets for the stove, turning under the oats and buckwheat I’ve got growing in the veggie garden for green manure crops, planting next year’s garlic, and all the other odds and ends that need doing before the snow flies.

Santa, you would think I would know by now that no repair job on a 90 year old house is ever that simple. When I took the rotted fascia board down, I discovered that several of the rafter tails were also water damaged, so punky I could put the screwdriver blade more than an inch into them. Well, I had half expected that, so I was prepared to cut off the rotted tails, replace them with fresh lumber, and then sister them up with new rafter tails. Which I did. So far, so good.

Then I stripped off the old shingles and tarpaper. That’s when things got interesting in a hurry. Ninety years ago there was no plywood for roof sheathing, so my guy (the original homebuilder, a merchant marine, I’ve been told) had used boards. Which was fine, but what scared me was that the rafters to which they were nailed varied in spacing from 26 to 40 inches apart. (Normal spacing is 16 or 24 inches. I know you’re aware of that, Santa, being an old roof man from way back.) So there I was, standing on a roof that was manifestly unsafe because of the inadequate rafters alone. Add to that the discovery that every single rafter had rotted and even the nails had rusted through, and it was quickly apparent that I had better get the hell off that roof immediately, which I did, tiptoeing.

It was a mess of the first magnitude, Santa. At that point, any rational person would have been on the phone with her homeowner’s insurance company, asking for an urgent appraisal and help with finding a contractor ASAP. But I am not always rational where power tools are concerned, and besides, it was the middle of September, appraisals take time, any contractors worth their salt already had work lined up for the rest of the construction season, and…well, yeah. You can guess the rest.

In the end, nothing could be saved. I had to take off the entire roof. Wielding a reciprocating saw that cuts bare roofthrough wood and nails like a hot knife through butter is a peculiarly satisfying sensation, except that the vibration plays hell with carpal tunnel syndrome. If you can ignore the pain and numbness, though, it’s a trip.

Once the decks were cleared for action, so to speak, I raised a ridge, installed new rafters–using correct spacing, at least theoretically–and started installing the plywood roof sheathing. There was absolutely no way that I could haul a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood up a ladder (heck, I couldn’t even get it across the yard without dragging it) so I had to cut it down to smaller sections. Even then, pushing them up the extension ladder ahead of me, using hands, body, and occasionally head to steady them, was exhausting and gave me spectacular bruises in awkward places, Trust me, Mrs. Santa never wants to have a plywood mammogram.

Until then, then weather had been remarkably wonderful, even somewhat too warm and unnaturally dry. My luck ran out, though, when I had less than half a roof on. The weather forecast had been warning of three to four inches of rain several days in advance, so I had nailed down tarps to cover the ell, buttoned everything down as well as I could, and waited.

It poured outside. It poured inside. Right over my bed, which got soaked before I realized I had a major leak. Quickly I got my canning kettle, shoved it under the stream, and from that point it was a constant marathon to find every pot, pan, pail, and storage tote in the house and try to position them under the drips. By late that afternoon, the rain had stopped, but the wind was howling, tearing at the tarps. Most of them held.

The next day’s weather report said we had gotten nearly ten inches of rain in about eight hours. I know that’s not much compared to what’s happened in the mid-Atlantic states, but it was devastating enough for me. All the brand new insulation I had just installed had to be ripped out, the dehumidifier had to be lugged up from the basement and turned on high to try to dry the ceiling tiles and mattress, bedding had to be laundered before it molded, and I had to get back up on the roof and get more plywood nailed down as quickly as possible because there was a hurricane possibly headed our way for that weekend. I had two days.

At one point, the wind gusts caught the end of the board I was trying to position and knocked me right off the stepladder. It was only six or seven feet and I managed to land on my feet briefly before pitching over. My left foot went numb and I thought, “Oh, sh*t, just what I need now,” so I sat there, sort of taking stock for a minute, and the rest of me seemed relatively intact. The ankle did not hurt so I cautiously flexed it and discovered it worked with no undue twinges. Relieved, I had time then to get mad, which I did. Santa, I dropped the f-bomb. Well, OK, I carpet-bombed the neighborhood. Luckily, the closest neighbors had gone out that day.

That was a week ago. Since then, I’ve been able to get the rest of the roof sheathed, the soffits rebuilt, ice-and-water shield membrane installed, and drip edges on the eaves. I still have to shingle, install the ridge vent, caulk and paint the soffits and by then, I hope, the ceiling tiles will have dried and I can crawl inside the section of the gable over the screen porch and put in insulation.

So, Santa, finally I’ve come to the request I wanted to make of you. When you come to my rooftop this year, santa-crash-woodcrafting-pattern-santas-sleigh-is-a-wreck-while-an-elf-and-reindeer-hang-precariously-from-your-eavestrough-diy-woodcraftpatternscould you please tell your reindeer to LAND LIGHTLY! Thank you. I’ll leave the cookies and carrots as usual.


Sheila (Good Girl) Gilluly




The News From 2Dits Farm: Dear Santa — 19 Comments

    • Er, thanks, Brenda, but I’m not sure competence should be assumed here. The roof is up, the weathershield membrane is on, it’s raining today, and there are no leaks (loudly knocking on wood here). But that’s the most I dare to claim!

  1. I would have been overwhelmed. You are a superhero–and now we know why we haven’t seen any posts on writing lately! You have earned your writing winter, and I hope you can get the garlic starts in before the snow!

    (I woke to a waterfall in my garage, while having my house re-roofed. Deep sympathies!)

  2. When they popped the roof over the master bedroom at Clough’s Little Acre the workmen were able to frame it and plywood it in one day. And the weather was with us, it didn’t rain until the shingles were on.

  3. Oh, my goodness! You are braver than me by far — and your competence is remarkable. Very very good wishes.

    • Braver? Or just too stubborn to admit that I frequently bite off more than I can chew? And then I HAVE to get myself out of it, because by then, no professional would take over the job, anyway!

  4. only suggestion I can think of…
    10 years ago my Father had a new roof put on the house… roofers came in, stripped the old put the new on, cleaned and were gone in 2 days. Nary an extra shingle or wrapper in sight… 25 year warranty on the shingles, if you know what they are.
    Couple years ago, I re-roofed my sister’s house including new sheeting. At least the trusses were on 24 inch centers and a friend helped me pitch the 4x8s up.
    But I do have the receipt for the shingles and an extra package of them.
    I know where they came from and what they are.

    The one’s on the big house had one section where a lot of the little pressed in colored pieces blew off… and no idea what roofing company to yell at.

    So at the least you have your self protected for a long time and save some shingles in a package…

    • Good advice, Alan. It is a great advantage to know exactly what materials were used and where they came from.

        • I’ll keep that in mind… right now my Sister and I are caretaking a 94 year old Mother… but may be up for a vacation in a few years…

          I stripped the roof, Jerry Oltion and I put the sheeting up and I tarpapered it.
          Cheapest bid to merely place and nail the shingles … one days work two people working for cash was $450 or about $25 to nail a 10×10 area…
          Needless to say I put on the knee pads and nailed the thing down…

          but I forgot to mention… above.. if you do it yourself… the worst part is trimming the damn shingles… shears suck, razors knives are likely to slip and slash you…
          But somewhere along the job … my mind kicked in… I grabbed an old fashioned paper cutter with the chop down handle…. it will never work for paper but one thwomp and shingles cut cleanly…

        • A vacation at your lovely ranch sounds wonderful, Judy, but the thought of doing another roof any time soon gives me the collywobbles. 🙂

  5. Parts of this sad tale made me laugh out loud, Sheila. You truly are a wonder woman, and I am so glad no permanent physical damage was done to you. Only time will tell about the mental impact! Great writing as always!

  6. will give this a repeat post, if you ever do a roof yourself
    the worst part is trimming the damn shingles… shears suck, razors knives are likely to slip and slash you…
    But somewhere along the job … my mind kicked in…
    I grabbed an old fashioned paper cutter with the chop down handle…. it will never work for paper but one thwomp and shingles cut cleanly…

    got it at goodwill for $10 or so…
    the new rolling blade systems are replacing the old style so they should be cheap wherever you find one…

    • I checked out your blogs, Chris. Now, THAT’S a roof job. Slates, a roof pitch of 45 degrees, rain, wind, and the ever-popular ladder problems? Yikes!