Tuesday, May 10, 2022


    In 2000, I moved from little Rock Arkansas to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a town famous for its steep hills, stone buildings, and weird artiste lifestyles. A tourist mecca in the warmer months, it is wonderfully quiet from New year's until Spring (except for Valentines Day), and we lived in a remote cabin on King's River between Eaky Spings and its evil twin, Berryville.
Berryville isn't really evil, but is more of a conservative farming community on the flat Springfield Plateau as opposed to the more artistic town on the extremely steep Salem Plateau, which is gouged by deep ravines. Both towns are the seats of Carroll County, as King's River would often flood, keeping county residents from reaching court or voting. 

Finding shop space in the crowded little Disneyland that is Eaky Spings was problematic, and while driving around Berryville, I spotted this little stone building with a gambrel roof. It squatted in a dirt parking area just behind Berryville's picturesque Main Square, and it was CHEAP to rent, always a factor in my thinking.

The building is made of solid stone, mostly limestone and sandstone from the area, and had been there since the early part of the twentieth century. It was known as The Ike Doss Blacksmith shop.

View of the Blacksmith Shop showing the backs of the buildings on The Square

Ike Doss is famous not only in Berryville, but in blacksmithing circles across the south. Barely a tad over five feet tall and thin as a rail, he could shoe the orneriest mule, and the local farmers lined up for his services. He is featured as a photographic exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution.
When I first got access to the shop, I was surprised at how sturdy the  foot-thick walls were and equally shocked at the blackened interior. Of course it was blackened; it was a blacksmith shop, like duh. I rolled some white stain-killing primer on the rough concrete interior and brightened it up considerably. I then managed to pack it with all my tools, benches, tables and antique lumber.

Crowded, but quite efficient.
While ensconced in the blacksmith shop, I did a number of interesting jobs in Eureka as well as out in the country, and I'll be featuring a few of them in my next posts. But I also had a loyal following back in Little Rock, three hours away, and so had to keep those folks happy as well.
A church in Little Rock saw some of my Antique Wood Crosses and asked me to build a lectern for the Minister as well as a baptismal, all out of 500 to 300 year old longleaf pine, often referred to as "heart" pine. This term is a bastardization of the term "hard" pine, as old-growth longleaf has much tighter grain, and shortleaf doesn't get quite as old and is, therefore, softer. Virtually all longleaf old-growth was logged from the south by the early 20th century, but us woodworkers scarf up every piece we can get when older buildings are being remodeled or demolished. It has magnificent straight grain, few knots, and finishes a deep reddish orange with applications of varnish or oil.

The church folks brought me a number of wrought iron pieces they wanted woven into the design, but they had some rather unworkable ideas, so we had to make a compromise on the lectern.
Originally, they designed an octagonal base to house eight of the iron pieces, but that would have made it seriously unwieldy and hard to stand behind, so we reduced the design to four and I created a square base instead. The center column of the lectern is a section of an 1881 porch column, and I turned the baptismal legs on my lathe.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022


I began my restoration career in Texas in 1985 after a number of years in new home construction and remodeling. Unless you consider my demolition of the Bremond Building on Austin's Sixth Street 'restoration.' Apparently I do, if you read a few posts back.

And though I had a lot experience in many types of building repair, I was an absolute neophyte when offered my first job doing a 'spruce up' to a 1930s house in Little Rock, Arkansas. This led to many real restoration jobs, but boy, did I suck at glazing windows when I started. Usually done from ladders, I'd chip out loose hardened putty and replace it with Dap 33, then the industry standard putty. I'd roll little cylinders that looked like long, skinny joints and press them into the unprimed putty rails, then mash them and run my finger along the putty run.

I was terrible. But I asked my brother, a stained-glass artist and glassmaster, how to do it, and he set me straight. It still took me years to master the art of restoring windows, but I finally got it down after many attempts. I continued to learn Old Window Repair as an art.

Opening my first Restoration shop in '97,  I got my window legs. By the mid 2000oughts, I'd gotten pretty good at puttying (one of the hardest things to learn), and in the early 20teens I moved to Connecticut and went to work on Colonial-era windows. Colonial windows are both a curse and blessing compared to what I worked on in Arkansas. Their wood components are much thinner, and the muntins (crossbars between glass) are far spindlier. The glass, being older, was much more difficult to match and cut for replacement, and the thinner glass was harder to set properly.

But the Victorian and Craftsman styles in Arkansas feature huge panes up to 40 inches across. Beautifully figured, wavy with streaks and bubbles, it was hard to remove or reset without cracking it. The panes from New England were certainly easier to handle unless they have Crown glass. 

That stuff will test you, and test you but GOOD.

More on that later in the post.


As my techniques and technologies advanced, I became quite proficient indeed. I've worked in several glass shops doing only antique windows and have nothing but praise for those who do the same. It's beyond craft; it's art.

Here are some pictures from a glass shop I helped to build for a large restoration company in North Stonington, Connecticut. The stripping room was already there, but it needed a lot of tweaking to make it productive, safe, and efficient.

For you not versed in restoring antique windows, there are essentially four stages: stripping, repair and wood prep, puttying, and painting. There are mini-steps between all of these steps, so don't get picky, you window freaks. You know: priming, sanding, cleaning and cutting glass, that kind of stuff.

Here are some random pics from that shop, in no particular order and missing the repair stage. That'll come later, as will many other posts about Antique Window Repair.

While still outfitting the strip shop, I was given a number of windows to strip and restore, mostly to test the equipment, estimate time spent on each sash, and develop proper shop ergonomics. Stripping windows is dangerous, hard work, and without the proper protective equipment and air handling, it can be dangerous to others nearby. Virtually ALL antique windows have lead paint on them, and we went to a lot of expense and trouble to alleviate any dust or leavings. You'll see how the shop progressed through this post.
The above sash was one of the first in a job of 436 sashes from the oldest building on the Yale Campus, Connecticut Hall, built in the mid 1750s. After stripping and sanding, there was still some paint attached to the old white pine rails and stiles, the main structure of the window sash. This was likely lead paint or possibly milk paint, and we've discovered that this stuff, when deeply imbedded in the wood grain, is nearly impossible to remove without gouging the wood. In that case, we encapsulate it with primer and paint. But if it flakes, it goes.

Yale's Connecticut Hall before restoration

Typical condition of the windows. Note the deteriorated putty rails (in the crossbars known as muntins), extreme paint peeling, and hundreds of years of putty over putty over.. you get the picture.

EEEwww,,,,, is what we window restorationists would say. Then we'd say, "Let me show you what I can do..."

Back to the stripping shop as it was created. 

The sash in the second picture above has a strip of wood installed between the stiles of the sash, as did many of the others. Though many windows have such treatment because of deterioration of the bottom rail over time, this strip went between the stiles, which proves that it was designed that way. We've puzzled about this for some time, and I'm still not sure the answer. Anyone have an explanation? Only a handful of the 430 odd sashes had this feature. It's obvious that this is an original design by examining the end of the stile; it extends the same width beyond the rail as the width of the strip.
Needles to say, during repair I removed it, cleaned out the old paint, then primed all joined surfaces before reinstalling it with glue and clamps.

Many small divots, dings, and chips were repaired, either with glued-up wood (Dutch repair), wood fillers (Abatron products are my favorite, though I sometimes use Durham's Water Putty in my own shop), or one of my favorite fast-drying compounds, MH Ready-Patch. These companies don't pay me, I really like their products. 

Here an original wood dowel can be seen keeping a muntin in place. Many people mistakenly believe that window sashes such as these are supposed to be straightened, squared, and glued up. Not true for the gluing part. Most wood sashes are kept in position by the glass and putty, and MEANT to move a tiny bit with weather changes, especially the thinner Colonial sashes. It has to do with differential heating and cooling of the wood and glass; a fixed window, glued into a specific position, will expand with moisture and can break glass, a very high-priced commodity in the Colonies. Better to have the putty loosen and add new putty than find new glass. And once you've properly restored a Colonial window, you'll see just how strong the window holds its shape.  

Sash stripped and sanded.

Detail of wood strip added (before removal and reinstallation).

The glass, before removal, was numbered with a black Sharpie, then carefully cleaned of hardened putty with a razor (and prayers it wouldn't break while you did it), then washed in a white vinegar/water solution to clean them. We built these slotted cases to allow them to dry quickly so they could be reinstalled quickly.

Hey, we had 435 sashes to completely restore while the Yalies were off for summer break. This included taking them out, restoring the window casements (the frames and trim that hold the windows and cannot be removed), and reinstallation of the restored sashes.
YOU try it. We did it in less time than we had bid, and were the only company on that project that came in under the time allotted.

Actually, except for the few square sashes already presented here, these particular pieces were part of the Test Windows, and some came from other properties. The Yale windows had no curves.

Yale Test Window primed.
Always prime before caulking.
Didn't know that, eh? Well, do it.

This sash was part of a complete window set, with frame, casement, and trim pulled intact from a soon-to-be demolished building . I remember removing the glass and prepping the sash and frame, but I don't recall restoring it completely. We often did something that we finished later or used as sample windows, and I believe that when the Yale job began in earnest, this sample got put away as we dove into Yale headfirst.

One of the interesting things about the sash in this ornate horizontal window was that the interior paint scraped off completely, turning to powder as I ran my scrapers over its interior surface. This was only true on the interior; I imagine that it was a window that either received a lot of sunlight or a basement window near a heat source, such as a furnace. That would crystallize the paint right well.
It seems like a rather ornate window for a basement, but as you'll see in the next pics, the frame looks baement-ish.

Sash completely stripped and frame brought to whatever first coated it. Almost looks like a stain, but I assume it's the original paint's pigment (likely manganese dioxide) that colored it black.
Note the  heavy sill; still looks basementish to me. Too ornate for a Classical revival upper story half-window.

This is the interior, showing the perfectly clean sash, which wasn't steamed or stripped without using more than custom-ground scrapers and a few abrasives. But only on the inside. The outer surface had the imbedded black paint.

Here is another window sash that was done in the middle of setting up the Strip Shop. At this time, we hadn't yet built the glazing and painting shop; it was just me, as the new window crew was still a month or two away. Note the white powder on the diamond-shaped pane to the right. No it's not my midday snort! That happens much, much earlier.
No it doesn't!

It's the calcium carbonate (whiting) that we use to clean the putty haze from the newly-installed glass.
Glass panes are installed after priming, and  are backbedded in small runs of glazing putty, which keeps them waterproof, strengthens them, and keeps them from rattling. So when they are set (squished into the putty rails), they exude a bit of putty and once removed, that putty leaves a haze that can be cleaned by brushing CaCo2 onto the haze using a china bristle brush. The same is done on the exterior side, only it is worked with a putty knife before cleaning with CaCO2.

Yeah, me neither.

Test cases

Damn, I HATE to leave my coke around the shop! Okay, that joke was old yesterday.
CaCO2, calcium carbonate, is essentially ground up limestone. It's chalk. It is good for absorbing things. We had so many windows to do on the Yale job that we ran the local paint and hardware stores out of the little 1-lb. CaCO2 boxes, mostly from the Rainbow company, which makes many fine old-time compounds useful to the Restoration-minded. Many of their products can be found at Montville Hardware, the Greatest Hardware Store on Earth.
I am not kidding. If they don't have it, it doesn't exist.
One day, bereft of our precious whiting, we fretted for a bit then realized we could substitute a product we already had on hand, Setting-Type Joint Compound. It comes in 20-lb. bags, is a hell of a lot cheaper than whiting, and does the exact same thing. Sprinkle some on the putty haze, brush it very carefully to the edge of the putty, and your haze is gone. If you wait too long, the haze dries and you must scrape it with a razor, which is time consuming and might nick the seal you made when you worked the putty.

Sash clean and ready for putty. At least the middle seven panes are.

Here is how the stripping process begins.
This pic was taken from Steve Marshall's glass shop, another of those in which I toiled. Steve does a lot of antique woodworking restoration, but windows are his bread and butter, and he's very good at it. I used his shop in this pic because once I got going at the North Stonington Yale job, I had no time to breathe, much less shoot a lot of pictures.
The sash is put into a steam chamber, which heats the wood and softens the putty and paint. Once softened, the window is taken out and quickly stripped of the putty, taking care not to scratch the or break the glass. Softened paint is also removed if it isn't imbedded in the wood grain.
The process often takes two or three sessions in the steamer, as the putty will re-harden as you remove it. Then back it goes for a few more minutes before the scraping starts again. Special scrapers made of hardened steel are necessary, as are razor knives, chisels and brushes. The small metal points that hold the panes in the wood sash have to be found and carefully removed, otherwise you'll do the achy-breaky dance and say bad words when you hear the crack.
All this is done in a room with "negative air," which means fresh air can come in, but any air going out has to go through an elaborate filtration system to make the dust stay in the 'contamination area.' And does it contaminate? You bet it does. The steaming keeps most of the flakes, chunks and powder wet, so little becomes airborne, but as the sash dries, lead dust can float a bit. Wear a respirator, gloves, and a 'hazmat' suit anyway. If you're not trained and tested for lead regularly, DON'T DO IT!

Paint often comes off too, a positive freebie!

Some folks like to scrape their wood sashes to raw wood immediately after steaming, but most wait until the sash dries. Scraping wood while wet often strips out wood fibers and gouges the soft pine, the wood from which most antique windows are made. Drying also crystallizes the leftover paint, which makes it easier to remove.
This sash is being scraped. Note the blocks and wedges around the stiles and rails; this holds the window in place and allows the sash to be turned by tapping out the wedges Very sharp scrapers are used here, an care must be taken not to gouge the wood while exposing the fine detail of the muntin interiors. It's very satisfying to see ten layers of paint come off to reveal the crisp lines of a milled surface; often these lines are so muddy from thick layers of paint that they are invisible. Don't believe me? Take look at your old windows'  muntin interiors. Sharp edges and fine detail are likely filled, rounded, and hard to see.

Back to North Stonington.
The crew at work in the stripping shop. All wear 'hazmat' suits, specialized respirators, and gloves during the initial stripping. Once the dry sanding and scraping occurs, the hoods and shoe coverings are added. And even at this stage, body vacuuming and clothes changing is required upon leaving the contamination area. The steamer, built into the wall, can be seen to the right, and strong plastic grids underlie the sashes on the table. Beneath those, heavy-duty plastic bags inside the OSB boxes catch the steamed paint and putty. These bags are removed, tied and wrapped, and set to a lead relocation facility, where they are given new identities and a house in the Nevada desert. 
In actuality, each state's Department of Environmental Health (DEEP in Connecticut) has its own guidelines for lead paint disposal.

 Terry uses a sharp scraper to remove the stubborn putty. Other scrapers scatter the table. Where are your gloves, Terry? He put them on when I reminded him. The vacuum in the foreground is essential for cleaning the sashes during scraping, and is set up with HEPA filters and collection bags. The doors in the background are left closed but are not sealed; this allows enough fresh air in to keep the crew alive as well as create a jet of air that is sucked into the massive air filtration system on the other side of the room. If you stand by these doors, you can feel the air being sucked by you. The system is cleaned daily and tested monthly.

This sash, not from Yale, shows the three stages of puttying.
The closest panes have been puttied and worked smooth with a putty knife. I like to leave about an eighth of an inch of the putty rail behind the glass exposed; this way, when I paint the putty, I can also paint a tiny line onto the glass, which seals the putty from weather. And because I left the putty line a tiny bit shallow, the paint on the glass can't be seen from the interior.
The next three show my own technique for working the putty onto the panes, pushing it as deep into the putty rail/glass pane joint with my thumb to fill all voids, and doing it repeatedly. Then the smoothing can start.
The panes to the right have been set, backputtied, and dehazed on the interior side. They await putty.
A word about putty.
The Industry Standard for wood windows has been Dap 33, and that since I was in short pants. But I have foregone using this putty for old windows with the discovery of Sarco. The Sarco family has been making their particular putty formulae for many decades, and in my humble opinion, it seems far superior to Dap 33. Dap 33, according to the company's tech sheets, sets up for painting in two weeks, then an oil primer is to be used before coating with exterior acrylic enamel. 
But my experience is that 33 is still very soft after two weeks, and even if it skins over (it never did quickly enough with me), it is still completely malleable, allowing fingerprints and distortion of the putty. And if it is still soft, that means it still needs to allow the linseed oils to evaporate while curing. How does it do this when you've sealed it with paint?
To top it off, 33, if left to dry completely, often mildews and will crack from exposure. There is a period of time when the putty hardens enough and doesn't crack or mildew, but not while the sash in in my shop. And my clients can't wait for months without their sashes.
Sarco Type "M" skins over and gets partially hard within four days, allowing for quick shop painting, and the company recommends painting directly with acrylic, not oil primer. If the sash must be installed, then left for another crew to paint in an indeterminate amount of time, Sarco "Dual Glaze" putty is used. This type stays soft and takes longer to cure.

All antique glass (before 1935, by my standards) has distortion that identifies it as such. Streaks, bubbles, waves, and focus distortions are obvious from Craftsman-era glass down to Colonial Crown glass. The older the glass, the more distortion is usually found. Most of the glass in the Yale Connecticut Hall windows was newer than the windows themselves. The building dates from 1750s, and at that time the Colonies had to buy their glass from the Crown (thus the name). That hand-blown glass was often shipped in huge crates from England and used as ballast in wooden square-riggers. The Crown then sold it, laden with heavy taxes, and the Colonists grumbled about such a necessary commodity being so expensive. The fact that the taxes went to support the King Georges' elaborate lifestyles didn't go over too well, either. Add to this that the Colonists were prohibited from making their own glass, and you'd think the sashes from Yale's oldest dormitory would be crawling with Crown glass.
Yet out of thousands of panes, we found only a handful of original pieces. Why?
Well, it was a dormitory, and young Yalies in the late 18th century were probably not that far removed from college males today. It seems possible that through the years, much of the glass would have been broken from use, windows slamming, sashes dropping to the sills (there were no ropes, pulleys or weights to keep the windows open; a small stick was shoved into a slot in the trim to do this), and general falling out from deferred maintenance.  Plus the partying. They were Yalies, after all. The building has four stories, so there were a lot of panes worth breaking.

One of the few pieces of Crown glass. Hard to see through, distorted, filled with streaks and bubbles. Also extremely thin an nearly impossible to cut. We treated these panes like wounded birds.

Some comparisons of Crown versus mid-1800s glass. The distortion can be seen easily by looking at the fluorescent light reflections.

Seriously distorted. Lookit them streaks and bubbles.

 This is a non-Crown pane, but it shows the 'potato chip' structure that makes a lot of extremely old glass such a challenge to cut (or mount for puttying). Some say it can be cut on a pile of corn starch, but I've yet to master that technique.
So there you have it. Not exactly a primer on how to restore antique windows, but a tiny bit of a taste, and hopefully enough to either pull you into our circle of craftsmen and craftswomen, or to turn you around and direct you to your garden. Gardening is MUCH easier, trust me. It's why we Antique Window restorationfolk are so wealthy.

BWWWWAHH Ha ha ha ha ha..... (wipes eyes). Oh, yeah. That was good.

Some more pictures of Connecticut Hall before and after restoration. Yes, we did the frames and shutters, too, but I was only in charge of sashes.

Before restoration. Our team can be seen at the lower right, putting a plan together.

Yeah, you've seen this, but it bears repeating. Don't let your windows get to this stage.


Paint is not only alligatored, but hides the original coats with tens of layers, one over the other. 
I'm very proud to have guided their restoration, but I was only part of a huge team of craftsmen. A Collaboration of Craftsmen.

The outer stop of the upper sash, showing that the upper sash was only to be lowered a small amount to allow air to circulate to the ceiling at night, displacing the warm air that had gathered there during the day. But why such a small amount of sash movement? Anyone know?

Whoa, WHOA!!!
This is not an original window!!!
This is a one-piece modern sash!
It was likely that someone inside had this changed out to keep the drafts from freezing them in the New Haven winters. A cheap, but effective trick. My question is, "Where did we get the extra sashes to replace this monstrosity?"
The damned impostor doesn't even OPEN.

AAAUUGHHH! Another one! Kill it quickly!!!

By Autumn, the students reconvened and Connecticut Hall was once again in operation as an office for the university.
You didn't honestly think they were going to put Yalies back into it as a dormitory, did you? After all that work?
The windows are now protected with storm sashes that open, have screens, and admit outside air. And the entire exterior shines without those window-unit air conditioners from the first CT Hall picture.
Made you go back and look, didn't I?

Finished product. And though I understand the need for storm windows, they do remove the three dimensional look of the original sashes.

A Damn Fine building.

I LOVE this brickwork. New Haven Bond, I believe.

Damn Fine

Wednesday, April 13, 2022



                                                               Actual portrait of the author

I've been asked what the OHD in OHD Restoration and Repair...etc. actually means. Apparently they didn't read the heading above.
I hold the International Copyright to the name Old House Doctor, as I've been publishing under that name in a number of public forums (newspapers) for over thirty years. I also had a TeeVee show by the same name. If you get adventurous and look around this page, you'll find links to a number of my OTHER Historic Restoration blogs at the bottom. One contains reprints of The Old House Doctor from several different newspapers. 
This appeared in the Lovely County Citizen, a wonderful little rag from the most beautiful town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Eureka Springs (I often refer to it as Eaky Spings) looks to be a mix of San Francisco, The Ozark Mountains, Switzerland, and Disneyland. Feels that way, too. I took a lot of liberties making fun of the locals, mostly hippies that bought up the town in the sixties and seventies and have become the old curmudgeons as the town grew.


  Forty five years in construction have given me a great deal of insight inside both the contractor’s and the homeowner’s minds. I’ve come up with a set of guidelines that get posted on all major jobs, and if the homeowners don’t laugh at least once, I know I’m in trouble. Here they are, followed by brief, but useless explanations:

1.   THAT’S EXTRA. I won’t raise my prices during the job if you won’t change your mind again.

2.   PAINTERS WILL FIX IT. You expect carpenters to know something about joinery? Of course caulk is structural.

3.   THAT’S NOT CODE. This gives us the chance to catch up as you and the architect go crazy making changes (see #1) to remain legal. In Eureka, it should go “That was code according to the LAST inspector.”

4.   YOU WON’T SEE THAT. We’ll fix it, or it’ll be covered with sheetrock, or some such nonsense. The further up it is, the less we have to worry about how it looks.

5.   IT’LL HOLD. All we had were six penny finish nails to attach the roof, so we used superglue. Or, “liquid nails never fails!” See #2.

6.   OF COURSE WE’VE DONE THIS BEFORE. If the whole crew shows up with brand new tools and spends all morning reading instruction booklets, you’re in trouble.

7.   PERMIT? WHAT PERMIT? Sometimes goes “License? What license?” Often coupled          with # 8,

8.   WE ARE OUR INSURANCE. A very dangerous situation, especially when they show up with wooden ladders and circular saws that have the blade guards removed.

9.   I AM NOT YOUR COUNSELLOR. If you and your spouse haven’t worked out your architectural differences yet, just keep #10 in mind.

10. DEER SEASON STARTS NEXT WEEK, WE’LL BE BACK IN FEBRUARY. Usually        followed by, “Kin we git a ad-vay-unce?”


Monday, April 11, 2022





Sometimes, you get calls that you’d rather not answered.


“I gots a trailer out in Traskwood with a bunch o’ broken winder glass, cain yew fix it?”

I’m sure someone can, but we are a Historic Restoration Company.

At least, that’s what I have to occasionally tell people with problems like that.


Then someone calls an architect we know, and he drops a 1923 Church in our laps. Designed by the preeminent historic architect in Arkansas, we put a plan together, built a crew, and moved to the tiny burg of DeWitt for two weeks, doing the impossible. We rescued a church from total destruction when one of its two 45-foot bridge trusses failed.

That church now stands proud and likely will for many years.


Then there’s the Stranger Things. I do not mean a television show.


I’ve said it before; My Magic is Strong.

But sometimes it helps to have someone else along, sorcerer or not.

While working as a Project Manager for CM Construction of Little Rock, Arkansas in the late 2000oughts, I was introduced to our new office manager Kelly. Kelly, a professional accountant, knew little of Restoration or our business, but he dove in, made things tighter, and righted a ship we thought was already pretty right. 

During this time, I expanded the Little Rock company statewide, as our first out-of-town jobs went swimmingly. One of my promotional tactics was to travel to towns being visited by the State Main Street Program, an organization that offers advice, programs, and help in the restorations of small town commercial districts. Some programs were free, some cost a bit, and others cost more. The towns’ movers and shakers would attend the pitches, and some would spend a few dollars to get more locals or tourists into the town centers, hopefully to add to the towns’ coffers.

I would attend these meetings to see if the townsfolk were really interested in improving their city centers or not. We’d talk up the Main Street program, shake hands, introduce ourselves, and then talk up our restoration services. 

It wasn’t easy to get rural towns to bite; their downtowns are often underdeveloped, many with beautiful older buildings sitting vacant for years. Building owners were understandably loath to invest in what they often considered a useless effort; times are always tough in farm country. But sometimes, just sometimes, a few would rally together and improvements would be made. Then the other building owners would invest, and what was nearly a ghost town would begin to resemble what it was in the past, with commerce bustling, money spent, businesses growing, and civic improvements made.

So it was one weekday when Kelly and I rode the two-laner to Warren, a southern Arkansas town famous for its Pink Tomatoes.

They truly are wonderful, and if you happen to be in Arkansas when the Pink Tomato Festival is taking place, don’t miss it. I’m not kidding.

As often happens, the Movers and Shakers were counting their pennies and didn’t bite to hire Main Street to do any seminars, programs, or other Main Street offerings to revitalize Warren’s downtown. And looking from their points of view, who could blame them (other than me)? Again, farming communities have it hard enough, and they simply didn’t see the investment returning enough to take the chance.

They not know.

But they were all very nice, and when the meeting began to break up, Kelly and I were approached by the Head of the Chamber of Commerce.

“So you guys do Historic Restoration?” he asked. I nodded, noting the CM color brochure in his hand. “Do you know anything about metal?” Again, I nodded. This might get interesting.

“What have you got” I smiled, seeing he held his cards very close.

“You guys meet me at the Chamber in an hour, and I’ll show you.”

The meeting broke up and Kelly and I went to the local cafĂ© to get lunch and to wonder about this guy’s mysterious metal problem. 

He wasn’t back in the office after lunch, so we walked around town and I described the buildings’ charms and problems to Kelly, who was just learning about restoration. There were plenty of fine, strong two-story brick storefronts with huge spaces above, but the question always is “How do you fill these spaces and make them economically viable?”

All while not only retaining their historic charm, but using that charm to the town’s advantage.

It's a challenge, all right. And the local farmers have plenty of those.

But we had a hard time keeping our minds on the town and its future, as Arkansas was experiencing one of the hottest summers ever recorded. Nearly every day, the Arkansas River Valley towns of Russellville, Clarksville, and Fort Smith recorded temperatures in the upper 100teens.

“Lookit that,” I pointed sweatily, wiping my brow with a red bandana.

“Oh my God,” Kelly said, wiling his own brow with a handkerchief. “Can that really be right?”

The bank scroll-message read 117 degrees, and I believed it.

“We gotta get out of this heat,” I offered. “Let’s go wait at the Chamber.”

But the Chamber Head was already there, and he still wouldn’t tell us what he wanted us to restore, other than it was metal.

“Follow me out to the park and I’ll show you.”

A half mile later, we exited our vehicles into the July heat and marveled at the prettiest little park we’d seen in some time. A creek lined with trees was surrounded by playscapes, tables, swings and slides. And we didn’t see the Most Important Part of the Park until it was pointed out to us.

“Is that….?” I stumbled with my words as we approached the thing.

“Yep,” Mr. Chamber smiled. “A local lumber company donated it years ago. I’m not sure how long it’s been here, but even I remember playing on it.”

NOW I understood; he wanted the shock value to reflect on our faces. And I saw that this particular item needed restoration pretty badly.


“The kids still crawl all over it and play like they’re driving it, just like I did,” he said, though I couldn’t believe it had been there that long. We walked up to it, climbed in the cab, and talked about what he wanted done. The paint was failing, there were rust holes, and many parts of the engine and oil tender were getting too dangerous for the kids to crawl around. I asked how extensive he wanted the restoration to be.

“You’re not wanting it to run, are you?” I smiled.

“Not at this time,” he smiled back.

 Telling him I needed to take some pictures, I climbed down and began my photographic foray, thinking ‘What do I know from locomotives?’

 I knew I’d have some studying to do. So I took a LOT of pictures.

Rust holes in the oil tender, plus a little local graffiti.

Hard to carve a heart on metal.

More holes in the oil tender. The tender is the car directly behind the engine that carries the fuel. In this case, it was "oil." A petroleum product not unlike diesel or kerosene, but thicker.

Some places had rust that would be difficult to reach.

Some places had rust that had gathered in piles. These piles would have to be dragged out and vacuumed with a thin hose to reach the tight space.

Some pipes were missing, but still allowed water to infiltrate.
Locomotives are made of cast iron. Cast iron can stand heat that steel and wrought iron cannot, and since they are literally boilers that move, there is a lot of heat.
Cast iron also rusts amazingly quickly, due to its high carbon content. All the more reason to patch the holes after treating them with a rust preventative. And that right quickly.

Handmade rivets, set by two workers. One worker sets the rivet while it is practically molten (okay, it's elastic, but just try to grab one with your hands and you'll think they're molten too)) while the other worker bangs it with a heavy hammer, flattening the other side. The frame of the Empire State Building was built the same way, as were the Queens Mary and Elizabeth. Ships, you know, in the Queen's service. By name, anyway.

Some sort of railing or pipe base, by my best guess. A better look at the rivets.
We used to MAKE things in this country. Heavy, moving things made of iron and steel.
Now we make watery decisions.
We need more craftsmen and fewer middle managers.

Kelly trying to shade himself from my golden being!
Or maybe it was the sun. A hot sun, too, as the temps reached 117 degrees that day.
What a perfect day for me to clamber about on a giant hunk of black steel!
I burned my hands, my shins, and the bottoms of my shoes. I was also dressed for a meeting, not a restoration investigation. Luckily I didn't ruin or stain my Columbia Giant White shirt or khaki shorts.

The floor of the cab, including the doors to the firebox, some control levers and wooden benches.

Not sure what this contraption is.. I'll get back to you on that after I study a bit more.

More details of steel connectors, but I like the rivets best.

Steam dome; it regulates the steam so the engine doesn't explode 

This joint will need some sealing after we rustproof it.
 Oh, we already did. All that was done ten years ago.

More rivets, more joints to be sealed. All this is at the base of the smokestack, in case you didn't notice.

Headlight and more technical effluvia circa 1906.

Giant rivets and a beautiful weld at the most important joint of all; the front of the boiler.

Bottom of the piston cylinder completely rotted away. The bottom of the oil tender was just like this, and it was a plethora of scrapes and cuts on the kiddies that woke the town to do the restoration. Thanks, kids!

Drive wheels and connecting rods. My studies are about steamboats, not locomotives, and I mistakenly called these "Pitman Arms." Them's what turns the paddle wheels on steamboats.

Steam Dome manual release. Also makes the engine whistle.

Durn! Another hole!

After I climbed, photographed, sweated, cursed, and got filthy on the locomotive, I got off and frowned at Kelly, who, almost the entire time, sat in the cab chit-chatting with Mr. Chamber of Commerce. They even drank cold sodas! I agreed to get back to Mr. CoC with a bid, and as Kelly and I slipped out of town in my thankfully cold air-conditioned pickup, I growled and buffled at him.
"I climbed all over that damn white-hot piece of cast iron while you sat in the cab talking!" My anger was pretend, and he knew it. "Just what the hell were you doing all that time?"
He looked at me with a grin I would come to know and appreciate.
"Only getting the entire budget for the project."
I smiled and nodded.
"I think you'll fit in here nicely, Mr. Kelly."

And you know what? We came in way under what they intended to spend.

The locomotive after it was finished. TEN YEARS after it was finished. The following pictures show some slight re-rusting of some of the top components and peeling of the wood on the cab and cowcatcher, but it held up perty darned well, considering. Now I have to approach the city about touching it up, or it'll look like the first pics in no time.

I never got a chance to see the final product, since I set up the job, hired the subs, and sent my best crew down to do most of it without me. I was running the Estevan Hall Project in Helena at the time (look in early April for that post), and simply had no time to visit it, But I saw photos and got reports on the work constantly, and the Chamber of Commerce was happy, so I was happy, too.
In 2020 (actually only eight years after the job, but ten years until this post), I returned to visit the site and took these last pics. I really will contact the town to give advice on needed maintenance.
Not that I'M going to do it. I've been stuck here in Arkansas for two and a half years, mostly due to COVID. But I'm going back in a month.
That doesn't mean I can't stick my nose back into my own past business....

The back of the boiler, front of the cab, and the Control Center of some of the finest technology in 1906. There is a small brass plate visible above the heat shield (or whatever it is) above the doors to the firebox. It reads

Seems like small numbers for such a strong machine.

  A LITTLE PROJECT FROM MY OLD SHOP IN BERRYVILLE, ARKANSAS     In 2000, I moved from little Rock Arkansas to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a t...