The Colonel’s Plan – We Want Stairs

May 2, 2019

Dear Daddy–

By the next time I write you, you will have been gone for two years. So much has changed, and so little.

This is a huge task you left me–have I mentioned that? I’m really at the point right now of looking at the house and saying, “Wow! I’ll never finish this!” I guess I’ve accomplished a lot, but, everywhere I look, there’s so much left to do. And, as I once pointed out to you, when you take fifty years to build a house, you reach the point where the work you’re re-doing may outpace the work you’re doing for the first time.

Case in point: You purchased a fleet of fluorescent light fixtures for the basement. They’re quite nice, classic, office-grade fixtures, such as much have hung in many a workplace in the 1960s. The have frosted, white side-panels, and what I always thought of as “ice cube tray” grates over the four tubes. I guess those were there to protect the tubes.

Back in the day, fluorescent was the way to go. Fluorescent tubes use less energy per lumen and tend to last longer than incandescent bulbs. They have their downsides, of course. You once told me that the ballasts in the fixtures were a fire hazard, if left on all the time. (Should I research that? You also believed that the VCR was a fire hazard, if left on all the time. Nothing was ever recorded using a timer in your household, because it would have meant leaving a unit powered on and unattended. Maybe your fluorescent ballast statement was fueled by similar neurosis?)

The tubes also flicker, and I’m told that they flicker at a rate that’s out of sync with the human eye, causing our eye muscles to constantly respond without our knowledge, inducing optical fatigue and headaches.

I’m not overly fond of fluorescents myself. Fortunately, LED lighting arrived in mass quantities a few years ago. You first introduced me to the concept of the light emitting diode back in the 1970s. You also explained liquid crystal display, which took the place of cathode ray tubes for TVs and computer monitors. As an Air Force Reservist and working researcher, you were tasked with reviewing proposals for new technology applications. You heard of LEDs and LCDs long before most of the public did. Thus, so did I.

Anyway, you never installed most of the fluorescent fixtures. Indeed, you never finished wiring the basement. To this day, extension cords run all over it. Most of those giant ice cube trays still lean up in the corner by the foundation of the west chimney, and they’re behind large, steel shelves. And the first light you installed, which has lit the side room containing the electrical panels and water tank, just failed on me last night. It had been running on two of its four tubes for a while. When I turned it on last night, it just glowed faintly. I replaced the tubes. I’m determined to use all the tubes you left behind, and you left a lot. But it still wouldn’t light. The ballasts are likely shot.

So now, to have light in the room I was getting ready to clean out to be a workshop, I have to order LED tubes and rewire the fixture–because I won’t go so far as to replace ballasts, just to use the tubes. I’ll use them elsewhere. Of course, there are working ballasts in that chimney corner…

Nah. I want LED.

The basement continues to be a challenge, beyond its lighting. I’ve talked already about how you filled it with surplus electronics. I’ve dealt with about 70% of that issue. But now there’s the question of access. There are two doors to the basement. One goes to the outside, and a four-step walkup. The boys (who came to collect the old electronics) broke the glass out of the storm door for that entrance. They also took the doors off the jamb so many times that the storm door is loose and can’t be tightened. I pointed out that it would have been easier to just take the hinges loose from the door. I got, “Um… oh.” Not their fault. It’s an old door. But it needs TLC. Not to mention that the stairwell it opens onto has a drain which was long ago blocked by a tree root. So it floods. I have to deal with that.

There’s a second door to the basement. It’s in the upstairs hallway. It opens to a yawning chasm, because there are no stairs between the basement and first floor. When you built the house, you quickly put in temporary stairs to the second floor. You intended to replace those with oak, after all the work was done, so that the oak wouldn’t be messed up before you finished it. You were going to use the pine boards from the “temporary” stairs to build stairs to the basement.

Well, there are twelve steps on that staircase. Seven of them are now oak, which you put in place 30 years ago. You didn’t finish them, so they’ll have to be sanded down. I’m not sure where you put the temporary steps they replaced. I’m not sure I know where all the other oak steps are.

But, soon, I need to find them all, because it’s time to build the basement stairs, finish upgrading the upper level stairs, and be able to use the indoor basement entrance.

I mean, we do use it now, after a fashion. You long ago propped a ladder up by that door. We used to use it when there was a lot of snow outside. You tried to use it not long before you died–we never knew why–and got stuck. For years, there was so much stuff at the base of the ladder that there was no danger of it falling. Now that the stuff is gone, I’ve anchored it with castoff pieces of Romex. We do use it quite a bit.

But we want a stairway.




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