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The Old Tenant House

Michael Hillman

Read Part 9 - The Kitchen Cabinets

Part 10:  Refinishing the Floors

"Those burn marks aren't going to come out"

With the installation of the new cabinets in the pantry and kitchen, I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the renovation of the old tenant house. The house now sported new windows, level and reinforced floors and ceilings, and straight plaster walls. Under those now smooth walls, the "guts" of the house - the archaic wiring and plumbing had been ripped out and replaced.

While I was pleased by what I saw, the house reminded me of a cake without its icing. In spite of all the work of the Emmitsburg craftsman, the house still had a 'dingy' appearance to it - and it was all because of the condition of the floors.

When we had moved in 20 years ago the floors needed sanding and refinishing. Twenty years and seven cats and six dogs later, they were in dire need of help! Given all we had done, it would have been ridiculous not to do it now. Opting not to refinish the floors would be like serving a birthday cake without icing and candles.

Like all the other aspects of the renovation, I approached the sanding of the floors with reservation - steeling myself for what I was sure would be the largest expense in the renovation project to date.

Our interviews with several flooring refinishing companies left a rather bad taste in our mouths. One insisted that all the furniture had to be removed from the house, along with all the new plumbing fixtures just installed by Joe Reckley, not to mention, our dogs and cats. Needless to say, they didn't get the job.

As I was pissing and moaning to Joe Wivell over the conditions insisted upon by floor restoration companies, he suggested I give Tim Wantz a call. Tim, an Emmitsburg native, operates Woodcrafters Hardwood Flooring and according to Joe he was 'good people.' An opinion seconded by Tony Orndorf over at Zurgable Brothers.

I can still remember my first meeting with Tim as if it was yesterday. I called him late one Friday afternoon in hopes of scheduling a meeting with him sometime in the coming weeks.

"Are you going to be home this evening? Tim asked.

'Tonight? Um... sure." I said. I was hoping to get a quick quote but didn't expect it this quick!

Within an hour Tim was at the house, in what seemed like minutes, he had measured the house and was figuring out an estimate.

While sanding the floors was going to be a task in itself, what made the job much harder to estimate was the fact that the kitchen's original wood floor had been covered with at least three layers of linoleum, all of which had to be torn up. The condition of the floor underneath it was unknown.

I nearly fell over when Tim handed me the estimate. It was only one fifth what I expected. As I looked at his estimate I found myself muttering quietly, "Had I known refinishing floors was this cheap, I would have done it years ago." Needless to say, Tim got the job.

But it was not Tim's estimate that won him the job. Instead, it was the feeling he gave me that he knew his trade.

Funny, as I look back on it now, Tim inspired the same trust as Joe Wivell did, which led me to turn the window work over to him. I got the same feeling from Joe Reckley, who did our plumbing work, and the Reaver Brothers, who did our kitchen cabinets. In each case, I instinctively knew each man was right for the job. Like the others, Tim's mannerisms resonated confidence in his skills and ability, and as time would soon tell, that confidence was well founded.

As it happened, a project Tim had schedule the following weeks had been delayed a week, so he was free.

"Do you mind if we start Monday morning? He asked

I stuttered. "Next week?" My mind raced. Did I have enough time to get all the furniture out of the house? Where would we put the dogs and cats? Where would we stay? I dreaded the start of the sanding and all the mess I was sure it would bring

Having told Tim the prerequisites of the other sanders, he must have read my mind. "'Don't worry about moving the furniture out of the house," he said, "we'll do it section by section."

"What about the dogs and cats?" I asked.

"Hey, it's their house. They live here. We'll work around them." Tim replied with a smile.

With a simple handshake, the deal was done.

Tim and his crew showed up early Monday morning. They moved what furniture we did have upstairs out to the new summer porch, and immediately began to sand. The other part of the crew headed straight for the kitchen and began to arduous task of ripping up the linoleum.

Late in the morning I went upstairs fully expecting to walk into a cloud of dust, but much to my amazement, the air was clear. The sanders Tim was using had high efficiency vacuums attached to them which collected nearly all the dust. Once again I found myself regretting prior misconceptions on floor refinishing which had been my justification for not refinishing them earlier.

By three, the upstairs was fully sanded, and even thought the stain had yet to be applied, as far as I was concerned, Tim had earned his full payment. The floors looked breathtaking!

Gone were the scratches, stains, and weather patterns I had long since accepted as the price for living in an old house. The original grains of the beautiful heart-wood yellow pine could once again be seen in all their glory. And the first coat of stain only enhanced this beauty.

While the sanding of the upstairs went like clockwork, the sanding of the kitchen floor was proving more difficult than planned.

Sometime back in the early 50s, the flooring in the main part of the house was leveled out by covering it by new flooring, and it was this new flooring that Tim was sanding. But the kitchen was simply covered with linoleum. Once removed, Tim was faced with sanding away not only the old linoleum glue that had seeped between the boards, but one hundred years of wear and tear.

Unfortunately, there is a limit to how much you can sand before there is no flooring left. And Tim was quickly reaching that point.

Clearly exasperated, he called Audrey and I into the kitchen and pointed out burn marks in the floor. "I can keep sanding to get them out, but I'm afraid you won't have much board left." He said.

Both Audrey and I smiled. We had long ago learned that the spots where Tim was pointing was where an old wood burning kitchen stove had stood when the house was new. I could imagine some former owner fretting over the fact they had burnt the floor with a hot ember. We quickly set Tim's mind at ease. "By all means leave the marks. They add character to the kitchen. It's an old house. Each mark is a story unto itself."

I could see Tim breathe a sigh of relief. "Most people don't appreciate things like that. They want it perfect. I agree with you, a floor with character beats a new floor any day."

That evening my wife and I slept in the living room where Tim and his crew had concentrated our downstairs furniture. The dogs were good about keeping off the newly sanded and stained areas. The cats, being cats, of course ignored us and went where they pleased.

The next morning a second coat of stain was applied, and that evening, the polyurethane was put down.

On Wednesday morning Tim and his crew rearranged the furniture to allow the sanding of the remaining flooring. Raised walkways were set up to allow us access between the areas ready for traffic. The dogs didn't understand why they had to walk on boards when a perfectly good floor was below it. The cats on the other hand found traveling the walkways great sport.

To be honest with you, I can't remember much about the sanding. Which in many ways is a complement to Tim and his crew. They bent over backwards to allow us to go about our daily lives. Even our most skittish cat didn't seem to mind their presence.

By Friday, less than a week after I had called Tim, the floors throughout the house were finished. Like icing makes a cake, the floors made the house! Of all the projects we had done to renovate the house, sanding and re-staining the floors had the greatest eye appeal per buck spent.

Had I known the floors were going to turn out as well as they did, and with the price as inexpensive as it was, I would have done it years ago. I won't make that mistake again. And when I do have it done again, there is only one man I will call to do it - Tim Wantz and his Woodcrafters Hardwood flooring. For all your flooring needs, you can't get better 'people' than Tim.

Read Part 11: Trimming out the Tenant House

Read other humor stories by Michael Hillman