The Diagonal Drama

It’s a good thing y’all weren’t with me at the Cross House today.

For, my language would have scandalized you. Scandalized!

I cursed and cursed the whole afternoon.

In short, Ross was not happy.

And it’s my own fault.


Several decades ago I learned an invaluable lesson: If you are doing anything, be it working on an old house or writing a novel, create the ideal working conditions. Good lighting! Room to work! A comfortable ambient temperature! And so on.

Poor working conditions? And any job becomes a thousand times worse. Even a good job or project will become a bad job or project.

Well, today I had to re-learn an old lesson.

Stupid Ross.


I almost never use a ladder while restoring the exterior of the Cross House because they are horrible. Horrible! One has to climb up/down a zillion times. The area you can reach is severely limited, there is no place to put tools, and you always, always have the feeling that you might fall to your death with just the slightest slip.

This is why I am so passionate about scaffolding. Wth each tower of scaffolding I erect, I make sure it is FIRMLY attached to the house so there is zero movement. Feeling on solid ground does wonders to keep my mood elevated. I also surround myself with railings so there is never a fear a falling off because I make a wrong step or because I started dancing to a song on my iPhone and my fancy feet skipped me into oblivion. I, too, always add a “cocktail shelf” so there is a convenient place for tools and paint and nails.

Today though?

I spent the afternoon high up on scaffolding which jiggled with every step because I had not attached it to the house. I also had not created railings so there was the omnipresent feeling of being inches away from disaster.

In addition, I did not create enough room for the chop saw. Thus, as I cut long boards there was a constant headache of boards being longer than the space I was in (the sleeping porch).

Between the jiggly scaffolding and no railings and not enough room to saw wood…Ross was not happy. And this often expressed itself in quite shocking language.

The lesson however was learned. First thing tomorrow I will secure the scaffolding to the house, create safety railings, install the damn cocktail shelf, and move the chop saw into the expansive sewing room.

It’s extremely rare that I don’t enjoy working on the Cross House and today was a powerful reminder how vital good working conditions are.


While this afternoon was not, well, a happy time it did prove, somehow, a productive time.

Wanna see?


The mission for the day was to replace the rotted diagonal sheathing boards. The damage was caused by a poorly maintained built-in gutter, above.


The diagonal boards came off easily enough, jiggly scaffolding notwithstanding. But notice how they continue behind the curved tin cornice?


Geez. How to get the rest of the obviously rotted boards out from behind the cornice? Eek! Eek! Eek! Because I was SO already not enjoying myself, I came close to giving up at this point.


After cursing a lot though, I discovered that I could actually pull the curved cornice away from the house. Golly. Zounds! I had no idea this was possible.


With the cornice so pulled, the remaining sheathing boards were revealed. Golly. ZOUNDS! I have never ever been up inside the cornice! And the boards, praise the Lord, stopped! They did not continue into infinity as I had worried!


Yes, I know: TRIPLE ZOUNDS! Ross did it! Ross is a miracle worker! Ross is a friggin’ old house God! Ok. Maybe not, but I sure felt that way around 4:30PAM today. It’s a particular thrill knowing that even BEHIND the tin cornice, an area no one will likely ever see again, is all right & good & proper.


Squee!!!!!!!! You can also see the removed sashes to the original housekeeper’s room. The whole window frame is also a disaster and needs to be removed and somewhat rebuilt. Sigh.


When I returned to ground level I had to laugh. What had seemed so HUGE a project up close was, ahh, less than impressive with the scale of the house factored in. Now……see the curved cornice just above the new boards? That has a built-in gutter above. And…


…that gutter, that fucking gutter (you were cautioned about my language today) caused so much damage over the decades. It not only destroyed the corner I am working on, but it 100% destroyed the first-floor. All the area covered with Tyvek was 100% replaced in 2014, and I mean ALL: The sheathing the studs, and the sill.

All because of a gutter which was not maintained.


The morals of today’s story?

Good working conditions matter.

Perfect gutters matter more.

Ross having a glass of wine tonight matters most.





  1. Betsy frisch on November 4, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    Omg just looking at where you were working makes my head light !

    You MUST secure it and put rails up

    • Ross on November 4, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      I agree, Betsy!


  2. Stewart Mclean on November 4, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    -I have another in my series of likely inappropriate questions. It appears to me, when looking at your pictures, that you are not using pressure treated lumber for the sheathing. While I find this to be the way to go, what does it say about the comments you made about using pressure treated lumber for the corner joists? I questioned the necessity of using pressure treated when I read the former post because I can’t imagine you allowing the gutter to deteriorate enough to either result in the shingles being damaged, the sheathing below them, nor the new corner joists below that.
    -Of course you may be using pressure treated lumber that doesn’t have what I consider a tell tale greenish tint.

    • Ross on November 4, 2018 at 7:51 pm

      Hello, Stewart!

      I planned to use pressure-treated plywood as sheathing.

      But then I had to factor in my age. And of trying to manhandle a 4×8 piece of plywood up to the second-floor and then out to the jiggly scaffolding.

      So, there went that idea.

      I could have used pressure-treated 1×6 boards like people use for decks. But, I wanted tongue & grove to keep out wind. They make T&G deck boards, but I had to special order this. And wait two weeks.

      So, in the end, I went with T&G pine.

      NOTE: Having the new sheathing rot out decades down the road is not NEARLY as bad as having the structural framing rot out down the road.

      NOTE: While the bad gutter is now a good gutter I cannot assure that, say, it will not return to its former bad ways thirty years from now.

  3. Mary Garner-Mitchell on November 4, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    Oh, Ross… It’s when we ease up on safety, even the lightest, is when true disaster happens. We know this!!

    I learned a very hard lessen when I returned from my office late one evening knowing I had prepped everything for the Christmas holiday and my mother’s arrival the next morning … EXCEPT for the fucking Christmas tree. It was midnight and as I stood in the kitchen, staring into the living room and the naked tree, I though … oh, what the hell. I’ll decorate the damn thing and be DONE. So, stupid me did this into the next three hours. I was finished.

    Back into the kitchen, and looking at the “finished” tree…BUT, but, but…I didn’t like that stupid star at the top and thought a ribbon would be much nicer. So rather than the now put away ladder, I grabbed the library steps, and still wearing my very fashionable black leather boots with FOUR INCH HEELS, I stepped on the the very top of the library steps, and tumbled…my foot catching between the steps…and BROKE MY LEG!!!

    I’ve not had a Christmas tree since. In fact, I’ve never particularly cared for the holiday. But that’s not the point.

    A good friend recently lost her brother to a ladder accident. He was making some final repairs to his mountain cabin the day before he was to close on its sale and the worst possible thing happened. Not to end this morbidly, but its just a reminder, as though you surely don’t need one.

    Secure that scaffolding, and the swearing is certainly justified! xoxo

  4. Barb Sanford on November 4, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    Wow. I’m impressed with the progress, because I’ve seen that damaged spot in person.

    Stewart has his burning questions, I have mine. Mine is: Red or white on the wine?

    • Ross on November 4, 2018 at 7:55 pm

      Thank you Barb. You made me laugh out loud!

    • Stewart Mclean on November 5, 2018 at 12:28 pm

      My question was based on the fact that I really like to hear Ross’s thought processes. It wasn’t burning or even Luke warm, but I did notice that Ross didn’t tell you whether the wine was red or white.

      • Barb Sanford on November 5, 2018 at 1:41 pm

        I like to hear his thought processes, too, which is why I appreciate your questions.

        Because he didn’t answer, I’m going to conclude: Ross chose both. It was that kind of day.

  5. Annette on November 4, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Amazing progress. Made all the more amazing by the lack of rails etc. I have fallen off a ladder and it’s horrible. So glad your going to fix the f**king scaffolding tomorrow. Hope the wine was lovely.

    • Ross on November 4, 2018 at 7:57 pm

      Hi, Annette!

      Oh, you poor thing! Big hug!



  6. pk on November 4, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    Forget the wine! After experiencing a day like this,
    I would go straight for the vodka!

  7. A.H. on November 4, 2018 at 8:18 pm

    I’ve almost had a ladder clip off my fingers, fall through a sheet-glass window, I’ve even had scaffolding collapse on top of me as I was assembling it! Safety first, definitely important!

  8. Karen Spencer on November 4, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    Wow, I was thinking martini after that experience! Yes you are an old house god Ross! Glad you are safe and got some good work accomplished.

  9. Vicki on November 4, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    Enjoy the wine!

  10. Jp on November 4, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    All I can really say is, we need more people in this world like you.

  11. Mary Carol on November 4, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    Please be safe, Ross.

  12. Christine on November 5, 2018 at 6:12 am

    Hi Ross,
    Shaking and having to adjust in a too small space IS frustrating, for sure. And now you remember the right tools for the job are tantamount. Cursing is such a stress reliever. (I suspect that you’re not just frustrated about the house. Perhaps there’s a little worry sneaking in about the election??)

    Seems like you may need to make peace with this south side. Be it’s friend, caress it and love it for the beautiful, past it’s prime lovelyness it is. Embrace the work that this last, lost, forgotten side presents to you. It’s definitely being vulnerable with you.

    I find your photos fascinating. It’s clear that the upper left corner had at some time in the recent past been replaced. That means somebody went to the trouble that you are going to now and left all the rest of the rot. Perhaps the other boards weren’t in as bad of shape at that time? Perhaps the gutters were repaired so they didn’t think that the other boards needed to be fixed? Makes me shake my head.

    In any case, your pics are very interesting and show how the house was put together. No scrimping, no shortcuts, and definitely no half-assed work. That’s just your work mantra too. It’s perfect you found each other. You get to practice your particular kind of perfecting work and she gets to come back to life. What a wonderful symbiotic relationship.

    P.S. Looks like you can use some of the off size shingles on the corners and weird angles that await you.

    P.P.S. I’m wishing you a happy safe work day at the Cross House today. Big hug!

  13. Dan Goodall-Williams on November 5, 2018 at 8:55 am

    For the love of God, you can not hurt yourself! We need you, the house needs you and the kitties need you.
    Now, the work is great, hope the gutters are in working order. Curse away, it relieves all the stress!
    I find a little rum and coke helps too!

  14. Jackie on November 5, 2018 at 9:48 am

    You say “When I returned to ground level I had to laugh. What had seemed so HUGE a project up close was, ahh, less than impressive with the scale of the house factored in.”

    While I say wow, to be frank, that section of clean fresh wood positively SHOUTS to all who see it “Hey look at me! This side of the house is ON ITS WAY BACK, BABY‼”

    I wonder, Ross, if your uncharacteristic behaviour up there yesterday stems from outside influences, such a HUGE day in the US tomorrow, and something you feel so strongly about, that’s sure to be having a significant impact on your mental processes without you even realising? Stay safe. ​❤️

  15. Kim on November 5, 2018 at 11:37 am

    I know this may be over thinking it but, couldn’t an underlay material be placed over the sheathing, prior to the siding in that “risky” area? Much like a moisture barrier under roof shingles, it might diminish possible future moisture issues. Is that something to consider or would the extra expense even be worth it?
    Ya know, after a summer of cider, I think I’m ready to join you in hefting a glass (or 4) of something a bit more robust. 🍷 Be safe, Ross – tomorrow’s an important day. 😉

  16. Seth Hoffman on November 5, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    Looking good, as always, Ross!

    I also can attest to the value of scaffolding from my experience. The initial set-up time can be a turn-off, but it invariably saves time in the end (especially if that time saved would have been spent sleeping in a cozy pine box…).

    Bad gutters, flashing, and other water-management destroy so much on old houses and often go unnoticed. Our neighbor’s house has badly-maintained gutters (complete with foliage growing from the compost that’s developed in them). It makes me cringe every time it rains and I see a waterfall overflowing them and down onto his siding and against the basement windows. And then he complains about the water in his basement, but still fails to do anything about his gutters…

  17. bill whitman on January 31, 2021 at 1:07 am

    As one who shingled one side of an old grain mill 30 feet up on pump Jacks with the uprights in 3 foot deep spring overflow from the dam, my sincere sympathies. I know from history it came out all right.

    Question – where does that downspout go? It can’t possibly run down the clapboards at that weird angle. It just looks wrong in light of the quality of the house.

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