The Patchen Homestead
As I have mentioned often, we bought this house on 2.2 acres in the Spring of 1969, when Steve was a toddler and Kelley was just 5 months old. We had lived in Sunnyvale for 2 years or so, but neither of us liked city life very much so it didn’t take long to find our way back to our roots in the countryside. [i]Judy being from Idaho and I from Michigan.
According to the previous owners, Dick Nielson and May Mellinger, the original house was built in 1949 by a man named Evans. I don’t think building permits were common at the time so not much more is known about that. It was framed from 2 x 4 rough redwood, except for the roof, which is 2 x 6, also rough redwood. Some of the framing is not rough and it is not dimensional – at least according to modern standards – but something in-between, and not very consistent for sure. The roof and side wall sheeting are mostly second-hand rough redwood and mostly 1 x 4 or 1 x 6. It’s pretty clear that standards for dimensional lumber consisted more as tradition and less as a written standard at the time. Of course, if you asked for a building permit today using redwood, you would be laughed at. Even though It holds up better than Douglas Fir in earthquakes because of its flexibility, it is not nearly as strong.
The wiring was originally knob-and-tube but I have replaced most, if not all of that with Romex as part of the various remodels over the years. For those who have never seen this 19th Century knob-and-tube wiring method, there is a box of those original knobs and tubes upstairs in the barn.
The only heating in the original house was the fireplace in what was probably originally the living room, but was the master bedroom at the time we arrived on the scene. That chimney broke off during the 1989 earthquake, but the TV antenna that had been strapped to it kept it from falling through the roof. I hired “Bill-The-Brick-Man” to rebuild the chimney but we never put the antenna back up and went for many years after that without an antenna and therefore without TV reception. I did have a TV set but only for watching VHS movies. Considering the quality of TV journalism today, that approach still has considerable merit.
In 1952 or 1953 another room was added to the north side of the house. It is built with 6 x 18 Douglas fir beams and roof rafters of 4 x 6 redwood on 48-inch centers. That’s when the second fireplace was added and I think the recessed propane wall heaters were added at the same time. You could hear those old wall heaters banging from the thermal expansion of the steel housings when the thermostat would turn them on in the middle of the night. They were not replaced until after the fire in 1998.
The next remodel came in 1980. I had grown disenchanted with the electronics business after a frustrating two years of trying to save Timex from their suicide mission. I left the industry for a year or more, long enough to double the size of the old house, including a basement set into the side of the hill, which I dug myself with a 1950s vintage Massey-Ferguson loader/box-scraper. I hired a guy to form and pour the concrete and hired Skip Ricks to do the framing. “Bill-The-Brick-Man” laid the underground concrete blocks but I did most of the rest of the construction myself, including wiring, plumbing, and finish work.
The most recent remodel came after the fire of April 1998. I happened to be away from home for a few hours, while Salvador installed a propane log set in the basement fireplace. He apparently is one of those rare people who cannot smell the odorant in propane so not realizing there was a leak, he tried to light it. The explosion blew out all the windows and doors and the resulting fire destroyed most of the interior but the structure was saved by a speedy fire department response, initiated by the passing US Mail delivery lady[ii]To this day I feel sorry that I was never able to find her identity to thank her. Salvador regained consciousness soon enough to run and jump into the pond that he and I had dug a few months prior with a backhoe borrowed from George Staudacher. That pond literally saved his life and today it’s known as Lago de Salvador. A helicopter took him to the burn center at Valley Medical Center, where he was in a drug-induced coma for many weeks, while doctors took skin from his legs to replace what had been burned away from pretty much all of his upper body. For the next year or so, he was known as the Bionic Man and other such insensitive names because of the space-suit-looking thing he wore to hold his skin in place while the grafting healed