Emmaville Store, circa 1969

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Money Pit or Gold Mine?

After 5 hours of pumping steam, the septic tank guy emerged from the crawlspace and said,

"It's no good.  I can't reopen those lines because there are too many backward fittings and low spots where the water collects and freezes."

He was working to open up frozen drain lines under our "housekeeping" cabin. We hadn't rented it out the previous weekend, and the lack of activity allowed the lines to freeze just before our latest guests arrived.  When things backed up on them in the middle of the night, we had to open up one of the motel rooms so they could use the bathroom.  We had the organizers of the snowmobile race coming to stay in 10 days, so there was a sense of urgency.

The plumber recommended we tear out the existing drain lines and replace everything. I knew this day was coming.  Having spent time in the crawl space replacing insulation, I knew the plumbing was screwed up, but had plenty of other projects needing attention.

After getting the go-ahead, the plumber proceeded to dismantle the existing lines. He not only found backwards fittings, he found fittings that were no longer (or never were) glued, fittings wrapped in Saran Wrap and electrical tape, and at least one line that wasn't connected and was emptying into the crawlspace.  (Thankfully, this was a sink drain and not a toilet drain.)

A week and $1500 later, we had functioning lines again.

This was the latest chapter in our ongoing efforts to rehabilitate "Housekeeping", as its always been known. The three-bedroom unit had been sorely neglected when we bought Emmaville. The roof was in bad shape, the soffits were starting to fall down, a couple of windows were cracked (one looked like it had a bullet hole!) and the concrete steps at the front door were crumbling.  Clayton, God bless him, had rigged up a temporary handrail, using a fencepost, a broomstick, some tape and good wishes.

But the steps would have to wait. The first order of business after we closed on the purchase was installing a new septic tank to service Housekeeping.  The existing tank did not have a bottom, and according to the letter the previous owners received from the the county attorney, it had to be replaced. (We had tried requesting this be taken care of by the previous owners in our initial offer, but no dice.)

In our second year of operations, we had the roof, soffits and fascia boards replaced.  This work displaced the small colony of bats that had taken up residence in the attic. We also had a deck and new stairs (with handrails) built over the concrete steps, thus precluding (or delaying the inevitable) lawsuit. Last year we replaced windows and tiled the smaller bathroom.

We've noticed that a few cracks have appeared in the walls and in the ceiling. Also, the floor is very uneven, especially in the living room.  According to local lore, a previous owner had built Housekeeping by cobbling together two or three of the existing one-room cabins on site. Just recently, one of our neighbors who is
considered to be more or less truthful, depending on who you ask, claimed he had helped join the cabins together.  He had observed the crew trying to accomplish this by hand, and offered to bring in some steel beams and a tractor to facilitate the merger.  He said the crew on hand that day had little skill but plenty of adult refreshments on hand to do the job.  It seems highly likely that this same crew was responsible for the plumbing....

At this point, dear readers, you may be wondering why we didn't just tear the place down and start over.  The thought had crossed our minds. But we were embarking on a major overhaul of the kitchen in the cafe at the time, and didn't have room in the budget to replace Housekeeping. And Clayton assured us that Housekeeping was a favorite place to stay among long-time guests of Emmaville, so we thought it might be worth saving.

It turns out Clayton was right.

Housekeeping is nothing fancy, but guests like Pete and Betty don't care.  The couple has been making the long drive up from their home in Nebraska to Emmaville, sometimes twice a year, for close to 30 years now.  The Official Emmaville Photo Album has photos of their two boys holding fish from when they were preschoolers to when they were young men. Pete and Betty love to fish and they love to stay in Housekeeping. The cabin doesn't have air conditioning, but they get by just fine with a couple of window fans.

Ed Lanning, Jr., who grew up at Emmaville when his parents owned it in the 40's and 50's, stayed in Housekeeping every year during deer hunting.  The last few years he couldn't walk very well, so he appreciated the new stairs and deck. Every year, we are seeing more snowmobilers and ATV riders request to stay in Housekeeping.  With a full kitchen, the ability to sleep up to eight people and two bathrooms, the cabin is ideal for groups.

So, we'll keep plugging away making repairs to Housekeeping. This year, the slightly sagging toilet in the main bath seems to indicate we'll need a new floor in there next.  We might even put in an air conditioner, if that's ok with Pete and Betty.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Frozen Elephant in the Room

We Minnesotans love to talk about the weather. We can't help ourselves; it's genetic.  Nearly every one of our regular customers makes a weather-related comment when they come in the store; it's almost as automatic as "hello":

"Looks like rain. Boy, we sure need it."
"How much snow (or rain) did we get last night?"
"When is that wind gonna quit?"
"Sure is muggy out."
"What did your thermometer say this morning?"
"Cold (or hot) enough for ya?"

This last comment is probably most frequently heard, and usually elicits a smile, if not a chuckle.  We heard it a lot when we were first introduced to the Polar Vortex back in December.  As denizens of the Northwoods, we are used to shrugging off the cold, making jokes, laughing at Old Man Winter and then putting on another layer and going about our business.

But now, three months on, nobody is laughing. And nobody wants to talk about the weather.

After 78 of the last 90 days with a low below zero, we have nothing left to say.  Old Man Winter slaps us again and again as we go out the door in the morning, and we don't have a comeback.  We want to spit in his eye, but we're out of spit.

So now when our customers come in, the conversation is brief.   We won't bring up the weather now until it changes for the better, when we can be certain the below-zero stuff is behind us.  No one dares mention Spring - it's just too soon.  Nope, not going there yet.

Authors note:  I promise no more posts about winter! At least not until we can get excited about it again.