Building Our Upland Dream Home
(Part 4)

Dateline: 1 February 2017 a.d.

That staircase was salvaged from an old camp on
 Skaneateles Lake. It is probably over 100 years
old, and it is now part of our Upland dream home.

I am recounting the story of how my wife and I built our small Upland dream home back in 1983 (Click Here to go back to Part 1 of this series). 


After getting the deck and two walls framed (see previous blog post), I hired two high-school-age guys from our church for one week to help me get the house framed up. I had one week of vacation from my job and really wanted to get a lot done.

The picture above shows me on the left, then Scott, and Larry. Scott and Larry lived about an hour away and spent the week here in Moravia. They had no carpentry experience. My expectations of them going into that week far exceeded their abilities. And my expectations of myself exceeded my own abilities.

That one week is a short blur in my memory. What I recall most is that I drove myself from sunup to dark in my frantic desire to get the house framed and weathertight, and I drove Scott and Larry too. The nice guy they knew from church (me) turned out to be a tyrant to work for.

In the picture above, we have the first floor end walls framed and we're putting the floor joists in place. I special-ordered a top grade of 2x12 Douglas Fir for those joists because Fir is stronger than the usual pine or spruce that lumberyards stock. 

I'll never forget that when the Douglas Fir joists came into the local lumberyard, I went and looked at them. To my great dismay, the wood was full of knots. I complained to Henry Wild, the owner. He went right out to look at them and immediately agreed with me. They returned the wood and got me some absolutely lovely 2x12's.

Marlene's dad, Jay W. Myers, is the person standing on the first floor, looking up at me. Jay was a retired dairy farmer back then. Him and Marlene's mom, Evelyn, got married in the Great Depression. Jay didn't inherit a family farm. He started with nothing and worked worked hard to get ahead in life. As a result, he was notoriously tight with a dollar, but he loaned us $10,000 to build our dream home. 

Jay took a great interest in our house and garden and all the things we were doing. In retrospect, I'm sure he got a lot of pleasure out of seeing how hands-on industrious Marlene and I were back then.

By the way, Marlene and I moved from our two-room apartment in town to live with Jay and Evelyn in the fall of 1982. They fed and housed us, and seemed happy to have us with them. Our only expense was the electric bill when they went to Florida in the winter. I have so much respect and admiration for Jay and Evelyn for the example they were to us and the help they gave us in our early years.

If you look close in the foreground of the above picture, you can see two concrete piers. After putting in the piers for the house, and seeing how small it was, I decided that a 10' x 10' addition off the back would be a good idea. Framing that addition was part of my plan for the one week, but it never happened.

The Ford LTD was Jay's. Notice that there is no driveway. We didn't have a real driveway for a lot of years. It wasn't a problem except for a few weeks in the spring, when the soil got soft. When that was the case, we just parked our vehicles on the side of the road.

I really like that picture of Marlene (good lighting and shadows). 

The framing on the house was a mix. Post-and-beam on the back wall, balloon framing on the front wall. I was such a neophyte builder at the time. But I wanted the house to be built well, and I wanted sizeable overhangs on the roof, and I wanted the gable overhangs to be rock solid.

In the picture above, you can see that I cantilevered the gable overhang framing back to an inside roof rafter. That is not a common practice among builders in this area. It's more time consuming to do. I saw it in a book and it made more sense to me. I would make my overhangs the same way if I ever build a retirement home.

In the picture above, my friend Kenny Pearsall is getting a piece of plywood roof sheathing up to me. Kenny worked in the building trades too and he stopped by after work that day. Scott and Larry were pretty much out of steam in the afternoons and I don't think Kenny ever runs out of steam. I remember how glad I was to see Kenny show up.

The picture above shows how far we got with the house in the one week. Not as far as I wanted to get. I remember I was physically and mentally spent at the end. I apologized to Scott and Larry for being impatient with them. I told them they had been good helpers (they really were), and I paid them well for their week of work. I hope that experience from 34 years ago is a good memory for them. Marlene and I stopped going to the church in Whitney Point a year or so later and I don't know what became of Larry and Scott. 

to go to Part 5 of this series


  1. Ohmygoodness! You and your bride are so inspiring!

  2. Herrick, So glad you are sharing this with us. I would implore you to include Marlene's thoughts about the two of you building your Dream Home together as a young bride and her thoughts now as you remember these days spent together working hard to acquire your Dream Home. I ask as I am trying to convince my young (16) year old son to spend his hard earned cash on building his small house now while finishing high school and college as an investment and as an elective course (avoiding debt). I would like to use your wife's perspective as further motivation as I suspect she was and still is proud of these accomplishments as a young couple. Thanks.

    1. Hi Bob,

      Marlene is less inclined to wrote about all of this than I am. I'll show some pictures of her in the house, one making curtains, in an upcoming installment, and relate her thoughts on it all. Her retrospect isn't as entirely positive as mine.

  3. Balloon framing? Did you put in fire stops in each bay? How about angle bracing inlet into the studs? Back in the days when my house was built, 1915, That was what was being done. No Plywood then, so they nailed on the siding boards at an angle also. The folks had seen way to many houses burn down really fast because of the open bay balloon framing and that was the reason for the fire stops.

    Reminds me of all the different carpentry jobs I have done to "This Old House" since I came back from the Navy in 1975 after 20 years. I also had my share of mistakes that I had to go back and fix!

    Keep nailing!, Regards Everett

    1. No firestops. However, I did inlet some angle bracing into the stud walls, though I'm not seeing it in the pictures. I clearly remember doing it. That is something that I've not seen done around here in home construction. But I would do it again if I built a retirement home. Triangles are mighty strong. I would think that is very important on your island especially.

      I sheathed the house and roof with plywood. Waferboard was just coming into use and I could have saved a lot by using it, but I wasn't interested. Then came OSB, a more intelligent form of waferboard. I don't think I would use it on a new house. I'd use some engineered lumber, but not OSB sheathing.

      Also, notice that the plywood sheets are upright. Sheathing is much stronger if put on horizontal. Another mistake on my part, but most builders I know around here put sheathing upright.

  4. I like Bob Hill's suggestion--getting Marlene's input. I'm thinking she was just as excited about the project as you were, and I bet she was inside that structure as it was going up and thinking about how her kitchen would come together, maybe even the curtains she would put up at the windows. :)

    1. Yes, Marlene was excited, for sure. Our dream was coming to fruition. Slow but sure.

  5. Hi Herrick, Just got around to looking back here. Around here on the sidewalls, interior floors and the roof, we start with a half sheet of ply at the end of the wall/deck/roof and lay them horizontal so none of the seams line up. Breaking it like that does a lot toward mitigating the high wind loads we get. Went to #5 and things are looking really good. I love to do sidewall shingles as long as the are parallel and re-butted! Before them I use to keep a small stainless steel Stanley model makers plane in my pouch for doing the side shaving stuff.