Saturday, November 23, 2013

Restoring 1000 Hanover in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Located on a quiet corner lot in the popular North Shore area of Chattanooga is a charming home whose history has been one of happiness and family harmony. Built in 1922, it had been the home of Helen Hubbuch for 46 years, where she and her husband Carl raised their five children. The 3,700 sq. ft. home had been neglected for many years leading up to Mrs. Hubbuch's death in March of 2001. Deborah and I were fortunate enough to be able to purchase the home in September of that year from Helen and Carl's five children.

1000 Hanover Street in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Once we decided on making Chattanooga our new home, the Hanover house was the second one we previewed. Our realtor, Bill Holmes, had selected it based on our price and desire for an older home with loads of character. At first glance, it was a little scary. Dark mildew covered all exterior walls and much of the paint was peeling. There were several cracked and missing windows. But the home was obviously built extremely well and had so much personality that the problems we saw seemed less overwhelming. We did not know it at the time, but we had just found our dream home.

Inside, all the downstairs floors were carpeted. The kitchen and breakfast rooms had aged vinyl. There were noticeable watermarks on many of the ceilings and walls indicating that there had been water problems in the past. The pedestal sinks in two of the baths had been removed and replaced with cheap fabricated cabinets and sinks. The beautiful cherry staircase had been enclosed with a door separating the upper floor from the downstairs. Aluminum windows had replaced two of the largest windows in an upstairs bedroom.

We could tell that there had been renovations in the past. The downstairs had partially upgraded wiring, copper pipes had replaced the original, and many of the plaster walls had been repaired. Also, a fairly new furnace, central air, and hot water heater had already been installed in the home.

To our surprise, when we attempted to insure the home, we found that we would not be able get insurance unless the wiring was totally updated. Much of the downstairs had been rewired but there remained much of the original knob-and-tube wiring throughout the home.

Later, after we had purchased the home, we discovered many other problems we would have to address. At the closing we met the wonderful Hubbuch family. We found that George Hubbuch had engineered most of the repairs and renovations made to the home over the years. He visited us the day after closing and shared colorful memories of growing up in the house. He was a valuable source of information about the history of the house. He pointed out construction features, past modifications and existing problems of which we were unaware. He also gave us many original plumbing and lighting fixtures that had been replaced over the years.

Never having tackled a renovation project before, we felt totally unqualified with no idea as to how to begin. Fortunately, our Realtor, Bill Holmes, came to the rescue. He was very experienced in restoring older homes and was himself with his lovely wife Kathy, at that time, restoring their own beautiful Victorian in the Historic Fort Wood district of Chattanooga. Also, to help us understand what we were getting into and what could be accomplished, he introduced us to several people who restored older homes for a living. Geoff and Amanda Tarr had moved from Atlanta and chosen Chattanooga as their home because of the abundance of beautiful older homes that were available at very reasonable prices. They were investing in the Fort Wood district and the up and coming Highland Park area. Amanda's parents, Pete and Diane, had also moved to capitalize on the affordable housing and wonderful Chattanooga life style.

Geoff and Amanda welcomed us with open arms. They were wonderful. They showed us their mission style home, which they were in the process of renovating. In addition to their investments in Chattanooga, they were also involved in renovation in the Grant Park and Kirkwood areas of Atlanta. Amanda worked as an international flight attendant while Geoff did restorations full time. Both were involved in a side business selling corn dogs and lemonade at the abundant festivals in and around Chattanooga.

The Tarr's introduced us to Amanda's oldest and closest friend, Jo Beth Kavanaugh, who had taken that leap of faith and purchased a run down home in the Highland Park area. Where Geoff and Amanda's home was in the early stages of renovation, Jo Beth's was done and done beautifully. After seeing her home and viewing the pictures of the house as it was when she purchased it, we realized that she had totally saved the home. It was beautiful, spacious, functional, and it had personality. That, seeing her home, more than anything reinforced our desire to have an older home, with personality.

The Sunday morning after the annual Micro Brewery Beer Festival, they all descended on our future home to be. Deborah was still apprehensive about the condition of the house. From the moment they entered the house they loved it. Compared to what they typically found when selecting a house for restoration, our Hanover house was in great condition. Not only did they give us insight into the condition of the house but they also offered ideas for correcting problems. They shared the names of excellent contractors they had used who were dependable, affordable and who could fix the problems. Later we would find that their recommendations were the most valuable help of all.

A major problem for us was going to be the coordination of all the contractors working on the house. Originally we had lined up multiple crews to accomplish the various task required the get the home in shape. There were the electricians who would totally rewire the house. There was the heat and air contractors who would install a new heat and air heat pump unit in the attic to service the upstairs. There were plumbers to correct any water and drainage issues. There was the contractor to repair all external problems. There were painters to re-glaze external windows and prime and paint the entire exterior of the house. And there was the flooring contractor to sand and refinish the hardwood floors. At the center of all this kaotic activity was the need for us to actually move into the house.

We worked out a project plan that required that we spend 3 weeks living out of a local Residence Inn. During that time we planned to overlap all the work crews in order have the house ready for us to move in. Exterior jobs were not as critical in this plan but we still wanted them finished as soon as possible. A critical task that had to be accomplished during that time was the finishing of the floors. It required 3 days were no one could be in the house. We set about coordinating with all the contractors. This required that they all be available during those weeks and that they be committed to getting their task completed on schedule. It looked good on paper.

We actually followed our plan fairly well. It did change but only to tackle additional task we had not originally planned on. There were two rooms upstairs where the plaster had collapsed that needed to be sheetrocked. It also became clear that it would be far easier to paint the interior prior to moving furniture into the house. We got additional bids on this work and decided to tackle this task prior to moving in. This delayed our move but did not prevent us from setting up residence in the house, without furniture. Deborah and I decided to live out of three rooms, the kitchen, bathroom and breakfast area (make shift bedroom with air mattress). Looking back on it, we are glad we made these decisions.

The Hubbuch's purchased the home in 1955, from the Fletcher family, and at that time the staircase leading to the upper rooms had already been enclosed. We knew immediately that removing the wall and door would open up the area. To us, this was the most dramatic change we would make to the interior of the home. We were so anxious to remove the wall. When it was finally removed, we discovered the decorative finials tucked carefully in the framework above the door in case the door was removed in the future. The craftsman who constructed the wall went to extreme measures so as not to harm the beautiful cherry wood banister and oak stairsteps. With the staircase once again open, the whole house started to feel like it was finally one home again.
Carl and Helen Hubbuck

Downstairs Hallway and Stairs

Enclosed Stairway
We were told that John Fletcher, a prominent attorney in Chattanooga, was the second owner of 1000 Hanover. He purchased the home within a couple of years of being built, from Lucias Blair. It is our understanding that the outside porch steps were added during the Fletcher ownership. These steps allowed entry to the second level from outside. We also believe that during this time, the Hallway staircase was enclosed with sheetrock and a locking door added to the foot of the staircase, restricting entry to the lower level from upstairs.
Rewiring and many other renovations was done by Higdon Electric. We got several estimates for rewiring the house. Included in the rewiring, we wanted to have multiple phone lines and cable entertainment run throughout the house. Jo Beth had recommended Bud Higdon and had told us that he was more expensive but he did not balk at every little change. He built some degree of change into his price.

The estimate for rewiring was around $8,000. This seemed like a very good price to us. The other estimates were in the same neighborhood but they did not include repairing the holes make by the electricians. Also, we did not have personal recommendations for the other companies.

Bud Higdon visited us the day after closing. He wanted us to understand that the job he was about to begin might look worst before it got better. His experience told him that we had little idea that the rewiring required him and his crew to break through the plaster walls and ceiling in order to get the wires run.

His crew descended on us, in force, two days later. It was obvious that his employees were motivated, that they enjoyed their jobs, and that they respected Bud. They were extremely professional, including us in any decision affecting the appearance of the home. I was, as horrible as it sounds, out of town during most of the renovation. This left everything on Deborah's shoulders. Bud and his crew, Richard and Hank, quickly became her guardians which I will always remember and appreciate. They really looked out for her.

When everything was completed, Bud had totally rewired the electricity, phones and cable. There was an abundance of outlets throughout the home. They had professionally patched all the holes they had made as well as any that were already existing. His crew also hung all the light fixtures and added needed lighting to the extremely dark basement. We did exceed the budget in a couple of areas. I had them run the surround sound wiring for me which was not included in the original estimate and I did not expect it to be.

Years later when we decided to sale the property, a live knob and tube line was found beneath the house. It had been missed during our original renovation. We contacted Bud and he immediately came and corrected the problem at no charge to us. This was ten years after the original work. We worked with Bud on several other projects during our time in Chattanooga. Bud is one of the best contractors I have ever had the honor of working with.

JoBeth Kavanaugh recommended Joel Germany for redoing the hardwood floors. He met us at the house prior to closing and gave us an estimate that included totally sanding the floors, replacing the plywood patch in the dinning room with matching oak, patching were needed, and putting on 3 applications of polyurethane using a satin finish. Joel's estimate for doing the floors was right on what we had budgeted. It did require that Deborah and I remove the carpet and prepare the floors by removing all the carpet staples. This saved us over $400.

The floors looked rough but Joel told us they were in great shape. He could patch the area in the dinning room so it would look nearly identical to the original hardwoods. He could also be working on the floors while the other contractors were busy doing their jobs. He estimated it would take 2 weeks. The last 3 days required that no one be allowed on the floors while they applied the finishing coats.

Joel was true to his word. The floors tuned out beautifully. His crew worked hard and were pleasant to deal with. We also decided to let Joel refinish the outside stairs leading to the porch. We thought a natural finish on the pine steps would enhance the overall look of the porch and lighten what was a dark and uninviting part of the house.

Plumbing was the hardest of all areas to obtain solid recommendations from others who had, and were, restoring old houses. Based on a good recommendation from Jo Beth Kavanaugh, again, we asked Jeff Kenney to give us an estimate. Jeff is a hard worker all the way round. He was not much into to discussing or speculating about what needed to be done. He let us know right away that he charged the same for working as he did for talking. This was refreshing and we chose to let him work. We had believed that the plumbing expenses would be extremely high. We were pleasantly surprised. Jeff was able to replace all three toilets, remove the new fabricated sink and cabinets, reinstall the pedestal sinks with new hardware, and correct all leaks for less than $2,000. Not only was he very affordable, he was also very easy to work with and extremely professional.

Pictures of Home following Renovation


First Level

This spacious Living Room is divided into separate conversation areas and features original tiger oak flooring and a beautiful fireplace

Large Dining Room features a built-in cherry china cabinet and a wall of triple windows that look out on a private courtyard

This unique kitchen was designed both for cooking and entertaining.  It features a Subzero refrigerator and an inset dual fuel Wolf range with griddle surrounded by a heart of pine mantle and cabinetry.  A beautiful Brazilian mahogany island and soapstone countertops provide ample preparation surface. The two built-in butler pantries provide abundant storage. 
The breakfast room that opens to the kitchen provides a comfortable spot to watch the morning news and for entertaining
Gentle breezes enhance this airy Sun Room that features original trim framing three full walls of screened windows
The spacious master bedroom provides a cozy sitting area and fireplace that features an inset entertainment center.  The room also features a window seat under a set of triple windows and an exterior door to the side porch.

In town living at its best just sitting in the glider and enjoying a cup of coffee reading the morning paper or sitting with friends in the afternoon

French doors lead from the master bedroom into this luxuriant master bath that features a 6 foot clawfoot tub and natural stone shower

Co-Workers with Kids

I am retired now with my wife, Deborah, and miss that jovial banter between co-workers in the office.  I have always seen the humor in most things and it has gotten me into trouble at times.  We are living in a co-op RV resort in Southern California now.  I highly recommend retirement and our resort.  You can check out our resort website at Thanks goodness most of the folks in our resort have a good sense of humor.  I never know what I will do next.
In the 90's I was working as a contract programmer at Haverty Furniture Company in Atlanta, Georgia.  We were developing their sales and inventory system on the AS400 platform.  I was one of the first programmers contracted and, over time, helped to bring in several of my contracting friends.  It was a great place to work.  The people were friendly.  We were right slab dab in the middle of downtown Atlanta, right next to the Georgia Tech campus and a few blocks from the Varsity.  If you know Atlanta, you know this is awesome.  I worked here on three occasions, each lasting about two years.  We produced a lot of really good work and that's probably why they kept bring me back.  Well that, and my winning personality. 

The incident I am  recalling at the moment occurred spontaneously, as usual.   I shared a cubical with two other co-workers, Jack Travis and Billy Smith, both of whom I had worked with at other companies.  Billy, one of the smartest analyst I knew, had a very dry sense of humor.  Without saying a work he would give you the most deadpan look that spoke volumes.  He was very quick witted and clever.  Jack and I both had kids and whenever one of us mentioned anything about the kids being sick, Billy would slip on this air filter he kept by his terminal, the paper kind that a medic might use, and give us that look.  It was winter and because of the wind, cold and wet of Atlanta, I was nursing chapped lips.  I was usually the first one in because I liked to get to the office early to avoid as much traffic as possible.  This particular morning, I was coating my lips with Vaseline to help out with the chapping when I spotted the air filter.  It seemed like a good idea at the time so I took a handful of Vaseline and coated the inside of his filter.  When we were all there and working I began talking to Jack about my kids having some illness.  I kept a watchful eye toward Billy and, like clockwork, he did the expected.  He plopped that filter right over his nose and mouth and gave us that deadpan look.  I laughed so hard because he had no idea what he had done.  When he pulled it off, Vaseline was all over his face.    Then Jack realized the joke and was laughing as well.  Billy was not! 

In retaliation, Billy later pulled a prank on me where stupid messages started appearing on my terminal and no matter what I tried, I could not make them go away.  After long frustrating attempts on my part and eventual capitulation, I sought the help from the system techs only to discover the problem was no longer there.  I suspected the brightest guy in the room who happened to have that famous deadpan look on his face at the time.  Later, when he was gone, I surveyed his terminal and, using a little used history facility he was unaware of,  was able to isolate the origin of the messages.  He had run a background job that pushed the messages to me every few seconds without identifying their source.  The job was still there.  I left the job there but changed the message and recipients to be everyone around us except for the two of us.  I sort of thought he might give it another go at some point.  He did.  A couple of week later, the employee in the office next to our cubical shouted something like, "What the hell is this, Billy".  We both ran to see what was up and when he saw the message, "Billy, not so smart to try this on me twice".  He immediately rushed back to his terminal, as others in the office started asking him what was going on, and cancelled the prank job.  I gave my best gloating deadpan face look and did not get any more annoying messages. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why Am I Blogging

For a guy who can't write, I am surprised that I am blogging.  I started out just trying to put down some of my funny experiences so my kids would not forget them.  Then I sort of did some reflective type things to help them understand my decision to be a fulltime RVer.  My reasons for posting things to the internet seem to all revolve around imparting information to my kids and future grandkids.  They were also my reason for creating a family photo website,,  long ago where I could post and catalog pictures and videos of our lives.  Although I am not that old, barely 60, I believe the internet will be around much longer than I and for whatever reason I would like to think that someone above me on the family tree will be interested in my stories.

It's funny how I keep calling them "kids".  All of them are in their 30's now so the term does not really apply but I will keep doing it anyway. 

To get back on track, I am a lousy writer.  The testimony to this is that my own wife has yet to read many of my blogs.  She knows me better than anyone and you can trust her opinion.  It might be advisable to stop right here and focus on something a little more constructive.  What I like about writing is that I have the chance to change how I say something.  I put down what I am thinking and may travel well on before going back and rereading my thoughts.  Then I change it to something a little clearer and easier on the ears.  My style I find is very informal and friendly.  I am one of the world's worst spellers, if not the worst.  I depend heavily on my word processer to identify misspelled words and to offer the correct spelling.  I might also mention that I am also the most unobservant person in the world and the options listed has not always prevented grievous errors in my writing.  When working I was trying to convey the exemplary quality of our project staff and ended up referring to them as imbeciles.  My bad!  In my interment wishes I expressed my desire to be cemented instead of cremated.  When questioned about that one, I just stuck to my guns and figure I may end up in the foundation of a building somewhere.   I would love to hear stories for others who have made similar mistakes.

I have looked at the statistics on my blogs and found that more people than I ever expected have viewed them.  I guess it is not that strange since I frequently look at other people's blogs.  I do find it interesting though.  What do they think when they read about my brother trying to lock me in the bus with a huge German Shepherd or scaring my kids during a séance with Michael Jordan.  Since I started RVing around the country I have met so many interesting folks who travel the country like ourselves.  They all have different stories and I love that.  I love to listen to them.  I love the variety of their backgrounds. You might think that these folks would focus on their past work lives but that is usually the least talked about subject.   We all had different jobs and you do learn about that part of their lives but mostly they like to tell you about their adventures and the people they have encountered during their lives.   For my part, I tell the funny stories that I blog about, the terrible old cars I somehow got to run spitting and spewing, the ice storm that kept us inside for a week or my brother inspiring me to pick up the pace during my first cross country race.  We are all very interesting in our own ways due to our unique experiences and the people we know.

My kids may read this someday and I hope they get to know me a little better.  I will always treasure being able to offer advice or pearls of wisdom those few times when they ask.  I actually wish I could go back and get to know my Mom better.  It would have been nice if she had left a legacy of her life as seen through her eyes as I am attempting to do.  In medieval days, referring to the 60's and 70's, folks left their legacy through letters to family and loved ones.  Their letters were for the most part very private and only a few got to share their thoughts.  That is not the case with the internet.  I keep this in mind when I post things.  I make things a lot less personal.  In private however, I let those I love know just how much I love them through words and actions.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Get Rid of It!

I just read an article from the New York Times about living simpler and smaller.  It hit home with me because for the last couple of years, that is what Deb and I have been doing.  I look back on our extravagant lifestyle and almost feel ashamed.  We are so conditioned to consume in our country that we hardly think about it.  Probably if we could categorize everything we bought into things we need and things we want, I am sure we would see that we need a whole lot less than we want. I agree that some things we want do make life more fun, but a lot of that stuff is just stuff that ends up being thrown away, donated or passed on to others.  Even if you sell the old stuff, you never get back what you paid. 

I grew up in a single mom family with very little.  I literally started working in the third grade by helping the family deliver newspapers in Atlanta, GA.  I lived through the "pay check to mouth" years after college and it wasn't until I was in my forties that life and finances seem to come together.  I found that I had money to spend and that is what we did.  We bought a wonderful old home in Chattanooga and totally restored it.  It had 3,800 square feet, 5 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths and a huge yard.  We decorated it with antiques, art, and crap you place around everywhere.  I think we were going for that restaurant look where there is something interesting for the eye to settle on everywhere you look.  Cracker Barrel comes to mind.  We really did a swell job on it and it was very rewarding bring this home back to its original glory. 
Home in Chattanooga

We also bought some other old houses and restored them during this time.  We sold these houses once they were completed and did pretty well with them.  This just gave us more money to spend.  I also fell in love with yard work and spent weekends and a lot of money in the yard, planting, cutting grass, pruning bushes and weeding.  There was also a lot of raking during the Fall.

Our life, if you can imagine, was work and spend.  I had a full time job running a software company and managing the restoration of multiple properties and maintaining our home and yard  consumed all our time. 

My lovely wife was the first one to come to her senses.  After completing the remodel of our kitchen, bath and bedroom, she suggested that we sell our house.  I was flabbergasted.  I was so proud of this home.  It was the symbol of our success.  The Chattanooga Times Free Press even did an article complete with pictures of our restoration.  We had sunk so much time, energy and money into the house and it was beautiful.  We had also made great friends and hosted many parties in our house.  During our eight years there, we had created some lasting memories and established lots of lasting friendships.  I was not enthusiastic over the thought of giving it up, not for any price.  But, as usually happens - we compromised and sold the home.  It sold quickly and for more than I had thought possible.  As it turned out, this was an important step toward simplifying our lives.  We moved into a two bedroom apartment, using one of the bedrooms as an office.  From there we purchased a two bedroom condo in downtown Chattanooga overlooking the city and the Tennessee river.  We had far too much stuff for the apartment and the condo.  We sold lots of it and ended up donating tons to Habitat for Humanity, Community Kitchen, Goodwill and friends. 

Dunedin RV Trip and Tarpon Springs, Florida
Out next great reality check came when we got a small RV and took a trip to Dunedin, Florida.  We discovered retired people who followed the weather, living in their mobile RVs.  I pretty sure you can call them "snowbirds".  We were only there a week and, in that time,  gained a tremendous appreciation for warm weather in the middle of Winter.  I would ride my bicycle into Dunedin for lunch or to Tarpon Springs for wonderful Greek cuisine.  Deb and I would ride the bikes over to Honeymoon Island and enjoy the beach and have lunch while watching the pelicans skim the surf of along the Gulf of Mexico shore. 

Since selling our home and starting our journey of downsizing, we were already dreaming of retiring.  We knew we could not do this while continuing our expensive lifestyle in Chattanooga.  Our dreams up to this point had focused on living abroad since it seemed the most affordable solution.  Using the internet we had moved around to the world looking for the best places to live comfortably.  We had even contacted a real estate agent in Merida, Mexico after watching an episode of House Hunters International and were contemplating a trip in the Spring to view properties.  Our trip to Dunedin opened our eyes to a whole new world, one that did not involve learning a new language.

After crunching the numbers, Deb announced that she thought we could retire if we started RVing fulltime.  We did.  We ordered a new 5th wheel, a DRV Mobile Suites, from RVs for Less up in Knoxville, TN.  We ordered a Ram 3500 Dually Longhorn.  I gave my resignation to my partners.  We put our condo on the market and it closed two months later.  We were definitely committed.  Even though we had already downsized, we still  had a lot of nice stuff.  We  thought we would consign it to the Chattanooga Auction House to sell so I took pictures of all the furniture, rugs and art and posted the pictures on a website so they could evaluate
Our DRV Mobile Suite
everything.  The auction house would keep 35% of all sales and there was no guarantee of what things would sell for.  Deb thought it would be a great idea if we also sent the web link to our friends  to see if they wanted to buy anything.  We were pricing everything to go and there were some great deals.  We just wanted it gone and we had very little time to haggle over prices.  It is very liberating to get rid of 90% of your stuff.  We only needed to keep what was essential and would fit into our new RV lifestyle.  Within hours of sending the link to our friends, we were swamped with buyers, all people we knew.  They pretty much cleaned us out without any haggling at all.  We were happy that they were able to use our stuff and we knew that our stuff would be in good homes.  We even sold both our vehicles to friends.  

The dealer who sold us our new RV also took our small motor home on trade and allowed us to live in it until the new unit was ready.  This took about two months for the new RV to be built.  You have to know that this dealer was absolutely wonderful.  We had not planned on the condo selling so fast and we did not want to rent another apartment and go through another move while waiting for the new RV to be built. 

Playing Pickle Ball
We have now been full time RVers for two years.  We do not collect stuff anymore.  We place more value on spending time living life to the fullest rather than spending money on material things. We love traveling to new places and meeting new friends.  We have gotten to know a lot of great folks along the way and have arranged to cross paths with some of them in different places.  We focus on staying healthy, living long and enjoying our journey.  I stay in shape playing tennis and pickleball whenever possible.  We have both adopted a vegan diet and dropped over 30 lbs. each since we began our journey and we feel great.  What I believed to be important when I was younger seems almost childish when compared to where we are today.  I advise my kids to focus on life and not things but know in my heart that they must find this out for themselves.  I can only imagine how much sooner we could have started this wonderful journey had we saved back when we were spending.

Deb at Our Site in Jojoba Hills, California
I really have no regrets at all over our decision to RV fulltime.  Probably the biggest drawback would be missing that constant connection with the kids and our granddaughter.  On the good side however, we are extremely lucky to have cell phones, wireless internet, Skype, Facetime, texting and Facebook.  It makes staying in touch extremely easy.  We post our photos on the internet so our family and friends can see what we are doing.  We Facebook with family and can see what they are up to.  I think it would have been far more difficult to be full timers before all this.

Our advice to all is to keep it simple and do your best to stay healthy.