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.


  1. Nice story about you two and Emmaville on WCCO yesterday! Laurie Larson

  2. We just made a reservation in August for our 1st stay at Emmaville. We are looking forward to it after having driven past it for about 30 years. We enjoyed reading your blog and learning some of the history of Emmaville. We wish you the very best & much success. It warms our hearts to see it looking so good, and we're looking forward to our weekend there.

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  4. Wow, that is one drain pipe problem gone wrong. If there's anything good that can be taken away from what happened, it is that your new pipes should last you for a very long time. Hopefully they were connected properly, unlike the previous pipes that they replaced. It seems you still have a few more projects to do, so good luck with those!

    Levi Eslinger @ Capital Plumbing

  5. Interesting post! I like it very much. Keep doing the great work up. Call Kansas Plumber