kitchen with cabinets

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy GirlSaving Etta: Chapter 11 – The Final Haul

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters for more of the back story.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

The next morning, my body felt stiff and my head was thick with exhaustion. The previous day’s physical toll on my body had not been wiped clean by a night’s sleep. By 11am, I was dressed and fed, but my brain was only beginning to function again. I made my lunch and slowly pulled myself up into the truck to head downtown. Raymond, the junk hauler, had promised to meet me at 11:30. But, I had doubts that he’d show up again after the grueling work he had completed the day before.

As I pulled my truck into the driveway downtown, I saw Raymond pulling into the space behind me. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to see a junk hauler. We shook hands and exchanged brief pleasantries before he pulled on his gloves and immediately got to work wheeling the refrigerator out of the house.

I asked if he wanted help, but he said, “Nah, I got it.”

I heard him call me outside to watch as he tilted the hand truck toward the back of his van. He rested the handle on the bumper, then moved to the base of the refrigerator. With one swift motion, he shoved the fridge up and into the van. It was obviously a maneuver he’d practiced before.

I clapped and yelled, “You da’ man!”

For the next hour, Raymond and I worked together to clear out the laundry room. We pulled the washer and dryer free from layers of dust and dried detergent powder. Then we followed the trail of detergent to the cabinet over the washer. It was filled with boxes of old detergent that had leaked out of their cardboard containers. The powdery detergent left a crunchy layer covering most of the contents in the cabinet. We swept everything off the shelves and into an open garbage bag. Then I tied it up and hauled it out to Raymond’s van.

With most of the appliances gone, I looked around the kitchen and decided the stove had to go too. It was working, but had definitely seen better days. I didn’t want to spend any time cleaning it and knew that home buyers would want a matching set of stainless steel appliances instead of mismatched appliances. I got to work trying to free the stove from its spot between the grease covered cabinets. After much tugging and pulling, I finally began to feel small micro movements. Once I had the stove pulled far enough forward, I found a wrench and began to disconnect the stove from the gas line. As I banged on the pipe, I hoped the gas company truly had turned off the gas. Finally the nut began to turn and soon I had disconnected the stove.  With one big jerk, I yanked it out completely. Behind the stove in a corner were two dead mice, a huge pile of grease topped with rodent poo, and a large rodent carcass (to me it looked big enough to be a squirrel, but others swear it is a rat). You’re welcome to be the judge, here’s the picture.

Dead Rat at foot

Raymond and I loaded the stove onto his hand truck and hauled it into the back yard. His van was full and he was getting ready to take the load to the dump when he told me he couldn’t come back tomorrow.

“Oh no! Why not?” I asked.

He explained that he had to have surgery on his knee. The shard of mirror that had broken out of a bag the day before had punctured into his knee. Unfortunately a piece had broken off into his leg. I felt horrible and couldn’t believe he came back after such an injury.

“I’m a man of my word.” He said. “I told you I’d be here today and so I came back.”

I thanked him for coming back to help me and assured him that I’d refer him to everyone I knew. If you need junk hauling in the Raleigh/Durham area, give Raymond a call at Junk 2 Dump in Fuquay-Varina, NC.

The next morning, I drove back to the house and started my first day of solo-demo. A big dumpster had been delivered that morning and I was looking forward to loading it up with the kitchen cabinets and some of the remaining furniture that had been left behind (most of it was particle board and not worth saving.) Walking to the back of the dumpster I groaned as I saw that the dumpster had been parked up against a small tree preventing me from opening the door.  That’s what I get for allowing the dumpster to be delivered without my supervision. Within minutes I had called the dumpster company and left a message asking for the dumpster to be moved.

kitchen with cabinets

Heading back inside, I looked at the kitchen cabinets and devised a plan of attack. I’d start with the lower cabinets and move onto the uppers after the lowers were removed. From the bed of my pick up truck I pulled out a hammer, a drill, a small pry bar, a large crow bar, and a sledge hammer. I strode up to the first span of cabinets with my hands on my hips as if I was challenging the cabinets to a duel. Bending my knees, I squatted near the first cabinet and got a good grip under the hunter green formica countertops. I steadied myself for a struggle and thrust my hips and hands upward with as much force as I could muster. The countertop flew into the air and hit the upper cabinets. I almost fell over laughing. No one had attached the countertop to the cabinet! They were simply resting on top. Luckily, this would be an easy demolition job. The rest of the counters came out just as easily with the exception of the counter that had the kitchen sink in it. After disconnecting the plumbing, it took a few minutes to cut through the caulk around the sink rim and another 15 minutes to loosen the clips from the sink with my drill. Finally the stainless steel sink gave up its hold on the counter. I walked out back and threw the sink toward the dumpster. Gleefully, I watched it sail through the air and over the rim of the dumpster.

Strutting back into the kitchen, I felt a huge sense of strength and accomplishment. Next I located the screws holding the cabinets to the walls. I easily removed them with my drill. Then the screws that connected the cabinets to each other were removed. One by one, I dragged the carcass of each cabinet out the back door and left them in the yard next to the greasy stove. I’d have to break them down to save space in the dumpster. (Plus, I wasn’t sure I could heft them over the dumpster rim until they were broken into more manageable sized chunks.)

To take down the upper cabinets, I wished I had an extra pair of hands to hold the cabinet while removing the screws. I rummaged through my truck bed until I found two things that might help me with the upper cabinets: a work stand and a 2×4. With the 2×4 inserted into the clamp of the work stand, I was able to wedge the board under the center of one of the upper cabinets. Crossing my fingers, I carefully removed the hanging screws. My makeshift support worked beautifully and I was able to remove the cabinet without it falling on me. I used my invention on the remaining uppers, making quick work of the cabinet removal.

removing upper cabinets

With the kitchen clear, I pondered how to clean up the grease and grime that covered the floors. Finally, in desperation I poured bleach, soap and water all over the floor, then used a squeegee to push the concoction through the kitchen, the laundry room and finally out the back door. The mixture turned dark brown instantly and I tried not to think about all the yuck I was pushing along. After the last of the cleaning mixture was pushed out the door, I repeated the process. This time I was relieved that the mixture didn’t turn dark brown.

As I walked around the house assessing anything else that needed removal before the mold remediation, I had that nagging feeling again. Although I had tested the flooring for asbestos, I felt like I was missing something. I looked up a phone number and pushed “call” on my phone. The span of five years disappeared as a familiar voice said, “Hello.”

. . . Continued in Chapter 12

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Are you enjoying the Saving Etta chapters? I’d love to hear from you! What are you enjoying the most?

9 replies
  1. Melissa in NJ
    Melissa in NJ says:

    Love demo! Had a friend help me when I demo’ed my kitchen counters. Wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be till we got to the corner sink area. Nearly fell into the cabinet below. Amazing how heavy a cast iron sink is, even with 2 people.

    Meanwhile, love your idea for extra hands for the uppers. I used my sofa cushions to help me lift and hold my microwave to install above the glass cooktop. It not only takes strength, but creativity to be able to do some work on our own!

    You are an inspiration. I’m enjoying the stories.

    Reply
  2. Tammara
    Tammara says:

    A cliff hanger….aghhhh, now I must wait. Love your stories, progression, and problem-solving techniques. Hope Raymond recovers quickly. Can’t wait for chapter 12. Thanks for finding the time to keep your readers posted on your progress.

    Reply
  3. Colleen Taylor
    Colleen Taylor says:

    I wish you could see my face at times as I’m reading your progression, nah, maybe not! I feared for Raymond as well but I can see above he’s doing fine. Goodness gracious girl, you are one tough lady! Can’t wait for the next installation.

    Reply
  4. Karen
    Karen says:

    Always a cliffhanger! Having demoed a couple of kitchens, this episode is dear to my heart. Taking a sledgehammer to crappy greasy cabinetry is a pleasure everyone should experience!

    Reply
  5. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    I must say that I am a HUGE fan! If I didn’t live in the Pacific Northwest I would gladly come and help you with the demo FREE of charge! I read your blog everyday and love the ideas and projects that are shared, but I get especially excited about the Saving Etta Chapters! You are AWESOME! Please tell Raymond I wish him well.

    Reply
  6. Joan
    Joan says:

    Great story so far–I am enjoying it so much and am following your instagram. Give Raymond my best wishes too
    Eagerly awaiting more !

    Reply

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