Columbus, Ohio USA
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Gliding Into Summer in the Short North
By Joel Knepp
July/August 2016 Issue
Back in the last century, despite having almost no money and distinctly non-lucrative jobs, my wife and I somehow managed to buy our house on the poor underbelly of Victorian Village. We envisioned a secluded, shady, backyard hideaway similar to ones we’d seen in German Village. Unfortunately, what we had was a nasty, weedy, sun-baked area crisscrossed with busted-up homemade concrete walkways, with a liberal sprinkling of trash trees and rusty fence posts. Right in the middle of it all was a giant stump. To add to the ambience, two different COTA lines sent funk-spewing old diesel buses roaring within six feet of our yard many times each day. Adjacent to the yard was a vacant lot that had been the neighborhood junk repository for many years. Nevertheless, with faith and hope, we proceeded toward our dream of urban tranquility.
First, we hired some overly ambitious neighbors who offered to remove the monstrous stump. This is actually a whole story in itself, but suffice it to say the poor lads worked like dogs in the summer sun for about 12 hours, then called in a friend with an old tow truck. After pulling and more pulling, that truck’s transmission went kablooey, so they summoned a second truck, and finally that evening the tap root gave way with a sound similar to that of a large cannon firing. Following this debacle, we installed a driveway. I seem to remember the curb cut permit costing $2.50. Yes, folks, times have changed in Victorian Village. You’d probably have to grease many palms and hire a pricey architect to plead before city council to make a curb cut in the ‘hood these days. Next came much digging out of little trees and fence posts. A privacy fence followed, then some DIY landscaping with pressure-treated timbers around the inside edges. One humorous incident found me, a 5’11’, 135-pounder, bouncing around on the end of a Bosch electric jackhammer breaking up a ridiculously thick concrete slab.
Then came the bricks. Battelle Institute somehow ended up owning a whole residential street near their complex. The houses were gone, but the street itself was paved with Nelsonville Block, likely the sturdiest bricks ever made in the Buckeye State or anywhere else. These babies weigh nine pounds each, are made from super-tough clay full of rocks, and have a beautiful glaze. They make the paving bricks used nowadays now look like pitiful jokes, and would easily withstand nuclear holocaust. Nelsonville Blocks will doubtless be here when the world ends. Enterprising rehabbers started digging these gems out of the abandoned street and we joined them. It was our semiprivate brick mine/gym.
Night after night we would come home from work, gobble some food, and then drive over in our ’67 Volvo. We’d spend an hour or so prying up bricks, loading them into the trunk, taking them home, unloading and stacking them. Over several weeks we hauled so many bricks in that old sedan that we had to eventually send to Volvo in Sweden for replacement rear coil springs. Finally, we had a sufficient amount of these free but labor-intensive bricks to commence paving, but first I had to chip the tar off each and every one with a hammer and chisel. Then I had to figure out how to cut the bricks for end pieces. At last, we brought in sand, laid the bricks, and had the beginnings of a cozy, private back yard.
At this point we needed something to sit on. Since no money had fallen out of the sky, we located an ancient but sturdy set of patio furniture on the balcony of a co-worker living above High Street near Buttles Avenue. I think we paid her $40 for a three-seat steel glider and two matching chairs. I spent many an hour in those early years lying on the glider and staring at the large cottonwood trees down the street as the leaves shook gently in the breeze.
My wife repainted the set a few times over the years in various colors. But as with everything that sits outside, time and the elements took their toll. Multiple layers of peeling paint and rust had rendered the set embarrassing in the context of what was by now our well-developed little haven. At long last I summoned the courage and energy to address the situation of the seriously deteriorating but beloved glider and twin chairs. A friend suggested sandblasting, something that had never crossed my mind. I checked around and found a variety of possibilities, all of which were financially out of the question. One place in town expressed the desire to blast and prime the three pieces for $1,000 – no way, José!
Finally, I located a fellow in Heath near Newark who offered to do the work for under $300. I scraped as much paint and rust off as I could to give him a head start. To further aid the blasting, I used multiple wrenches, a torch, hack saw, and much elbow grease to disassemble the chairs. In the process, I learned that the original paint color had been aqua.
We hauled the stuff out to a delightfully messy country business, complete with dirt driveways, a friendly junkyard dog, mounds of rusting old equipment, and a doorless metal building piled high with hundreds of huge spools of some unidentifiable plastic fabric they must have gotten a deal on but had probably reached their final resting place. The operation was manned by a large, cheerful, ponytailed owner and two colorful employees who, between them, probably had a full set of teeth. All in all, my kind of place! I immediately sensed our furniture was in good hands. After a week or so, the sandblasted and primed pieces came home to our garage. The fun part was over.
After chiseling off various chunks of paint missed by the blasting process, I procured cans of spray paint from various locations around town in cranberry and almond, colors we thought would go together and look good in the back yard. One store, Tractor Supply Company in Pickerington, actually demanded to see my ID. Maybe they wanted to check if I was on a list of notorious Picktown graffiti vandals – who knows? Anyway, before I got far in the process of taping, masking, and painting, I discovered that although the chairs were in fine shape, the centerpiece of the set, the glider, had some serious problems. Various sections were pitted, ragged, or totally gone due to rust. Several years earlier I had patched the entire front bottom edge with a piece of aluminum stock. Now I used some aluminum stair-edge guards to cover up more ragged edges here and there. Some years ago, on a tour of the Airstream factory in Jackson Center, Ohio, the generous folks there offered me some lovely scraps of the aluminum used to make outer shells for the shiny, expensive trailers. Naturally, I took them up on their offer. When cut and shaped properly, they made nice patches for more bad spots on the glider.
While I was taping, spraying, overspraying, and cursing in the garage, my wife, who loves researching obscure topics on the Internet, learned something about our patio furniture. It was manufactured, probably in the 1950s, by the Bunting Glider Company of Philadelphia. They made fairly high-end stuff which is now prized by collectors. Sets in prime condition, i.e., not patched with trailer skins, stair-edge guards, and metal putty, can sell for big bucks. The long-gone company used proprietary dies and stamps to create stylish patterns on the seats and backs, and developed a process unique in the industry to roll the metal on the top and bottom edges. Some of their gliders, including ours, were suspended from their frames using not the usual rigid straps but rather chunky springs and chains, provided more comfort for sitters. Who knew we had such cool stuff rotting under a pear tree in our back yard?
After a month in the garage enduring all kinds of indignities from not-so-handy me, the glider and chairs finally emerged and once again took up their place in our little getaway spot. I will flatly and immodestly state that their appearance is stunning, especially compared to their pre-rehab look. As we enjoy cocktail hour with friends, happily gliding into summer, we know the struggle was all worth it!
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