Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This old house, a work still in progress August 6, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I ALWAYS WANTED TO LIVE in a big old white farmhouse that holds the history of generations. Abundant, aged woodwork and built-ins. A sprawling porch and plenty of windows with sunlight pouring in. Wood floors that creak with age.

A farm site along U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato.

A farm site along U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato with the type of old house I like.

That was my dream.

But as we know, dreams don’t always become reality. Rather, I’ve lived for 30 years in a smallish home along a busy street. Anything original to our old house was hidden behind dark, dreary paneling. My husband and I long ago removed most of the paneling, replacing it with sheetrock. We didn’t want to live in a cave.

Yet, one bit of 1970s cavedom remained—in the basement. It was time, after 30 years here, to begin the process of transforming our basement.

We are currently in the demo stage, thus the stacks of Styrofoam insulation/ceiling panels, paneling and wood edging our driveway.

Gutting of our basement is well under way. This photo shows paneling stripped from the clay tile foundation walls with some paneling remaining yet on along the stairway. The floor shows carpet backing scraped off, backing to be scraped off and the not-so-lovely carpet.

Gutting of our basement is well under way. This photo shows paneling stripped from the clay tile foundation walls with some paneling remaining yet along the stairway. The floor shows carpet backing scraped off, backing to be scraped off and the not-so-lovely carpet.

Now we’re adding to that debris pile as, strip by strip, the red-and-black striped carpet is being sliced from the floor. Underneath lie the remains of black carpet backing and glue, there for, we guesstimate, forty years.

So, on hands and knees, we have been scraping remnants of carpet backing from the concrete with one-inch wide gasket scrapers. It is a slow, tedious and labor intensive process. My hands and arms ache. My knees and back are sore. But there is no easier way. We tried a wire brush on the end of a drill. The heat warmed the glue enough to melt some of the backing into it. This is not what we want; we desire the cement as clean as possible. Solvents are not an option.

Original wainscoting uncovered beneath the paneling.

Original wainscoting uncovered beneath the paneling.

But in the midst of all this mess, I uncovered a treasure when I pulled a portion of paneling from the basement stairwell. Underneath was wainscoting. Why, oh, why would you cover wainscoting with paneling? The answer, I suspect, lies in the paneling fad of the 1970s.

Perhaps I could ask Nicky or Cheryl or Randy, whose names and heights were penciled upon the wainscoting in 1969.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling