The Stately Manor is shovel-ready and hammer happy

The roof vents were briefly installed backwards, the prefabbed roof joists were off an inch, the yard delivered the wrong cedar siding. What would any project be without minor hiccups? The great garage (pronounced “Gay-rahj”) addition to the historic Stately Manor is proceeding nicely.

Summer is construction season in Wisconsin, as anyone negotiating Verona Road at the Madison Beltline can attest. No different on my street. AT&T is laying cable. Down the road, a single-family house is going in. After 23 years in residence, your humble squire is doubling his one-car garage — which is so full of stuff it rarely houses even one car.

This has been a fun project, this new home for my baby hog, watching my doodles on 8½-by-11-inch graph paper morph into a 12-by-30-foot deep garage and open-air back porch. Since my last college job at a ductile iron foundry, I’ve made my living with my mind. (The anonymous inmates of the snake pit may have something to say about that!) But I grew up around people who smelled like topsoil, diesel fuel, manure, and corn silage. The sweet sweat of honest labor. Real people doing real work.

So it has been a real kick. I’ve contributed some sweat equity; in a few cases, I’ve been told about too many cooks. Made a few build decisions on the fly. In all, enjoyed talking with and observing the skilled tradesmen who bring brawn, brains, pride, and experience to the job. These are jobs that won’t be outsourced to China.

I count 13 different entities, including the company that brought the dumpster. A most valuable tool in itself; it prompted a purge of the old garage. (Rule of thumb: If you haven’t used it in five years, it’s junk.) The majority of our craftsmen (they are male) are small-family enterprises. (The entities named here are not aware of this write-up and no considerations were requested or received.)

The father-son Gausmanns from Cottage Grove got this unsubsidized, shovel-ready project underway in late June. Busted out the old concrete pad with a Bobcat-mounted pneumatic hammer. Paperwork at City Hall engineering showed that it had been installed in 1977. Had they intended to add a second bay onto the garage back then? It never got done and code nowadays requires a deeper frost wall than the one poured then. The Gausmanns dug the trenches with the deftness of a White House pastry chef, each corner clean and square.

Pouring in the mud

The concrete pourers came in next. I’ve never seen two people work so hard. World War I, begun a century ago, came to mind — Tom Klinzing was down in the muck of the trenches, building the forms, constantly measuring, checking the level, and snapping string chalk lines. The sump pump got a workout, as this was the rainy season in June.

The actual pour came in two stages: first for the frost walls and then for the garage floor. Try holding a shovel up at shoulder level and pulling the heavy muck down and then pitching it left and right as fast as you can. Hard work. The pour had to be canted a few degrees so that any water on the finished floor would flow out the garage door. They leveled the goo off with a screed (a true metal board), then worked it with a long-handled, toothless rake called a bull float.

For several hours Tom’s assistant worked on all fours, a hand float in each hand; strapped to each knee he wore a rectangular float with half-inch sides. This allowed the worker to glide over the poured floor working the concrete, working the larger aggregate down for a nice, smooth top. Impregnated with a sealing solvent, the floor appears hard as a diamond. A thing of beauty. 

Crushed stone was dropped into the pit that remained; the clay that was removed is simply too hard to work. That should keep the sides clear of vegetation, nice and clean.

Anchor bolts plunged into the sidewalls provided a fastening point for the lumber sill plates that would frame the outer wall.

No plastic or aluminum siding at the Manor; we are matching the beveled cedar — laid horizontally — of the original manor, constructed in 1955. The Squire will primer paint the prized boards before Mike and Darren attach them over the Tyvek-covered particle board with their compressed-air hammers. They’ve been working together for 18 years and seemed to anticipate each other’s moves. Because the prefabbed joists and beams came in wrong from the supplier, they had to cut a network of joists on the fly.

It’s hip to be framed

Both men, slender, negotiated the emerging parapet with the insouciance of Philippe Petit on the high wire. But they had the muscle strength to wield 4-by-8-foot sheets of half-inch-thick particle board into place. That’s some heavy lifting.

Complicating the project, we decided to bump out the addition two feet toward the street to break up the roofline. Even though we’re using the same Shasta White shingles, the new would never match the old, put up after the hailstorm of 2006. Plus, it’s a hip roof, which means it must pitch to the side as well as front and back.

A forklift deposited the packages of shingles to the roof, but manpower is still needed to heft the weighty packages over the worksite, lest there be too much load in one spot. The 3-D printer that can print a house is not yet. (The roofers came Monday to turn the roof vents the right way.)

The garage opens up in back with double doors (each with a grille displaying six “panes” of glass) from Brunsell. I want to be able to drive the Sport Trac into the backyard for maintenance and various military maneuvers.

I’m already tripping the circuit breakers with the make-do electricity I have in the old garage (actually, one exterior ground-fault-interrupt outlet). So we’ll splurge on the juice. Was ready to check out at Menards with four ceiling fixtures, each with four 48-inch fluorescent lights (two fixtures for each bay) when another shopper volunteered that he had the goods in his attic. I could have them for a fourth of what I would pay new. Deal. Now Middleton electrician Bob Corrigan will check if they have instant-on ballasts.

Taking their turns

The final touch will be two “Coachman Collection” Clopay-brand garage doors — each 9-by-7-feet high — one for the new garage, another for the old; $3,600 installed. A little pricey, but I figure it is what people see. Like most ranch-style homes, the garage accounts for one-quarter of the facade facing the street. Shouldn’t be blank.

The doors resemble carriage house doors, with raised panels and 12 “lights” across the top quarter, divided by a wide middle mullion. (One sheet of glass, for energy efficiency, is covered by a grille to give it the look of individual panes.) We opted for one-half-horsepower, chain-drive garage door openers. Maybe not as quiet as belt-drive but still programmable.

But before the doors can go in, Mark Munson must drywall the ceiling, not for warmth in the winter but to keep it cool in the summer. And before Mark can drywall (if that be a verb), we need to run the electricity. Dick Lee of ABC Builders is the guy who coordinates all this. A great guy to work with. The last of a breed, one of the subs called him. He’s seen it all.



This sidewalk superintendent is in awe of the skills and products that go into a seemingly simple storage space. And that’s without the plumbing, heating, or kitchen. The complete house is a complex organism, and for a fuller accounting you turn to better writers (more rustling in the snake pit), such as Bill Bryson, author of At Home: a Short History of Private Life.

City inspectors certified that no underground utilities would be interrupted, that I had proper side yard setback, that each joist was secured to the sidewalls with metal “hurricane hangers.” Now the City of Madison has the information it needs to jack up my assessed value; accordingly, I will pay more property taxes from here on out. Then again, a two-car garage is more desirable when it is time to sell. 

Now I have to figure how to pay for all this.

Riding for freedom and MDA

Lifted this photo from the Sauk-Prairie H.O.G., group, where I am a member. Displays the turnout for Saturday’s Freedom Ride out of Sauk City supporting the Muscular Dystrophy Association. A total of 825 bikes and 1,189 riders registered. What a fun ride!

Whole families, including Grandma in her wheelchair, were sitting on their front yards and porches waving and, in many cases, holding signs of encouragement throughout the route, which traversed city, village, and countryside. Along the route we saw displays of vintage tractors and antique automobiles. We drove twisty roads past dairy farms, horse corrals, and farmers baling hay, and one Amish man and his horse and buggy. One police officer told me the ride stretched 11 miles.

We circled up to the Loganville First Responders barn for beer and brats and then back to VFW Park in Prairie du Sac on the banks of the Mighty Wis. I was too tuckered out to hear the Love Monkeys, but I dig their name.

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