Building a Real House

In June of 1953, Troy and Marie purchased a small lot at 1330 Hazel Avenue, Lima, Ohio.  They towed our small trailer from the trailer park, and erected an outhouse. Troy and Marie built our house on this property, almost totally by hand! His step-father, Glenn Extine, helped lay the foundation and taught Dad how to  lay cement blocks.  The house was 26 feet by 28 feet: 728 square feet. Many garages today are larger than that!

Only when they were completing the trim and cabinets did Troy finally buy a power table saw, which his grandson Matt now owns. It took about 18 months to complete the house. Lima Locomotive had become Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton (BLH), and his job continued there.  After each payday, he would stop on the way home at the lumber yard, buy whatever materials they could afford, and he and Mom would spend the weekend and most evenings doing whatever work they could with the materials at hand. I remember seeing Mom on the roof laying shingles. Not a common site in those days. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.

Later Troy built a workshop in the back yard and a small shed, which originally held the wringer washing machine.  Later, he converted it into our playhouse, with built-in bunk beds for Don and I. The lot was covered with six beautiful huge elm trees, each sadly succumbing to the Dutch Elm Disease while we lived there.

Handy Man & Woman

At the time my parents were building our house — doing almost all the work by themselves — it didn’t seem particularly unusual. Rarely did they pay anyone to do any of the work, out of necessity. They were both remarkable do-it-yourselfers, throughout their entire lives. Plumbing, electrical work, roofing, engine repair, sewing, cooking. There were few projects the two were reluctant to tackle.

This “self-reliance,” drive to do-it-yourself, and audacity to think one can learn new things were passed on to Don and I. Both parents were continually sharing their talents with other folks, family, friends, or strangers. I believe Mom had a strong need to be needed, and shunned no opportunity to jump in to help — sometimes to a fault. At all hours, she freely volunteered Dad or Don to repair someone’s car, replace a door, or help someone move. (By feigning total mechanical incompetence, I evaded most of those assignments.)

One peculiar instance of Dad’s determination to do-it-yourself, happened the winter his car died. The solution was to rebuild the engine, which he apart piece by piece and brought in into our tiny trailer. It seemed like a logical solution to him. He cleaned, repaired and rebuilt the engine in his spare time for a week or so. When it was all re-assembled and ready to be put back into the engine, he drafted a friend to help move it out of the trailer.

They wrapped a chain securely around the engine and across the middle of a long pipe. The bent their knees, gave a strong upward heave  – immediate bending the pipe in half and puncturing the trailer’s interior ceiling with two perfectly symmetrical holes. They retrieved a strong pipe and shortly had it out and into the car, which now drove like new. Loved to have had a video of that project!