Beziers, France photo by Lady

“Beziers, France” photo by Lady

Excerpt from “Learning to Swim” by Thurman Ireland

We’d had enough, and made a decision to build a house. We purchased a lot on Richmond Road south of Miles Avenue in Bedford Township for three hundred dollars. The lot size was forty feet on the front and three hundred feet deep. I approached the seller the next day intending to purchase the adjoining lot to the south and found out it had been sold on the same day to another person. We purchased plans for a two story Cape Cod style house and had them redrawn to suit our needs. And in the early part of 1948 I received my Soldiers’ Bonus of $350, enough money to purchase basement concrete blocks, cement and sand.

On Decoration Day, May 20, I broke ground and started to dig the basement hold by hand because I didn’t have enough money to hire an excavator. It was easy going at first because it was former farm land and the topsoil was 18 inches deep. I then started digging through yellow clay and then blue clay. The basement hole was to be 26 x 36 x 6 feet deep.

One day a 1936 Chevy stopped in front of the property and a man came over to the hole and asked me, “What are you doing?”

“I’m building myself a house,” I answered.

“You sure in hell look like you need a hand,” he said, and with that he went back to his car, took out a pick and shovel and proceeded to come down into the hole and work with me. He worked with me almost every day until I got the house up. His name was Rassi McGiboney, Mac for short, a man from heaven. A very rough, tough man who knew nothing but hard work and who was very talented in methods of construction. We’d swing a pick into the hard sun baked clay and he’d say, “This is more fun than going to a circus.”

I’d carry two lunches to work and go directly from work to the lot to dig. The main problem I encountered was that the soil would dry out between digging sessions. Instead of just digging I’d have to pick it loose with a pick-mattocks first and then shovel it into a wheelbarrow and when full, wheel it out of the hole.

When the excavation was complete, I dug the footer trench around the perimeter, 16” by 6”. I poured the footers with ready-mix concrete and started laying block. It was slow going because I mixed the cement by hand and was not skilled at brick or block-laying. After six weeks from the time I started digging and laying blocks I’d laid about half the blocks. It was taking too long and I’d not be able to reach my goal of moving in Thanksgiving Day, so I hired a professional, Sam Forlani, to complete the basement and build the chimney.

I purchased a 1940 step van Willys truck to transport the tools and materials. On the weekends I slept in the truck at the building site as too much of my time was spent traveling to and from East Cleveland.

My first order for lumber was from Dougherty Lumber at Euclid and East 118th. When I applied for credit I was turned down on a $1900 order because I had a bad mark against me. In checking with the Retail Creditmens Association, I found out it was because of five dollars Glenville Hospital had charged for the emergency room visit when I worked for the Hi Speed Service Station. I paid off the five bucks and my good rating was restored.

Dougherty Lumber shipped the lumber, but did not ship a keg of 16p common nails nor a keg of 8p common nails. I went to the lumber yard and was told they didn’t have any nails, and I blew my top because I knew they had nails in their nail shed. There was a steel strike at the time and nails were in short supply. They were trying to keep their nails for preferred customers. I told them, “If you can’t supply me with the nails, you can come out and pick up the whole order.”

They supplied me with the nails at no charge.

“Mac” gave me the center beams, three 6” x 10” by 12’ timbers. A great beginning for a well constructed, sturdy, seven room house.

In the beginning I rented a circular saw, because they were really expensive to buy. I gave in and bought a six inch Mall Circular Saw only to find I did not have power on the site. Ben Marino, the nearest neighbor to the north, let me run a two hundred foot extension cord from his house. The only problem was that every time I went to his house to plug it in, I had to join him with a drink of homemade wine that he’d draw from the barrel. There were times we did not stop with just one drink. Oi vey!

Construction proceeded at a rapid rate considering the obstacles I had to overcome due to lack of enough building knowledge. My biggest help was from my friend and benefactor Mac. He explained his generosity saying, “I was originally from the South and that’s the way they do it down there. Neighbor helping neighbor. Someday I may need a hand and you will help me. If not, I have donated myself to charity.”

Mac was a crane operator for Emerson Construction and a scavenger of building materials when he was using the crane for wrecking. There were several times I’d need a piece of lumber and he’d drive home to his house on the north side of Miles on Richmond to come back with the needed piece, thus saving me the trip and expense of the lumber yard.

On the weekends, my brothers-in-law Sandy, Les and Manny, plus many friends would help. One Saturday when I was sheathing the building with 1 x 12 boards my fellow workers from Stratton Mercury all showed up and the majority of sheathing was installed in one day. I was doing the cutting and they were doing the nailing.

Lenore even spent a day putting down subflooring that installed diagonally to the floor joist to add strength. Can you picture her swinging a hammer and driving nails? She gained so much valuable experience that years later she won a Cub Scout den mother nail-driving contest. Lenore also installed a lot of the wall insulation.

On Thanksgiving Day 1948, come hell or high water, we moved in. The house was not habitable for normal human beings, but it all depends on what you consider the definition of the word, “normal.” We had no sewage or running water. We were walking on the subfloor; the walls were the bare studs. Our heat was a coal stove in the dining room where our sons, Jim and Bob, slept. The only enclosed area was our bedroom and what was to be the bathroom. Our toilet was a chemical toilet. Our bathtub was a galvanized round tub. Our wash water was from a fifty-five gallon barrel that contained rainwater from the roof. I used three five gallon glass jugs to bring drinking and cooking water home from work.

On the day we moved in, Mac, using his truck, was dumping and spreading crushed marble on what was to be our driveway from the Cleveland Art Museum where he was involved in a remodeling project. What a generous, wonderful friend he was. I was never able to completely pay him back for all that he did for me. As I look back, I regret I didn’t know of his passing until six months after because I was out of the country at the time. He must be in a special place in heaven. He made a lasting impression on me and I have tried to follow in his “help thy neighbor” way of living. God bless him.

Over the winter of 1948-49 I made considerable progress in making the house more livable because I could spend more time working on it. We were limited in major investments in building materials because we lived from paycheck to paycheck. After the lumber, we never borrowed more money for materials.

Sandy told Lenore to purchase kitchen cupboards and he’d pay for them. She purchased the cheapest ones she could find at Sears Roebuck for two hundred dollars. She didn’t purchase a sink unit. I bought a used cast iron porcelain sink from Broadway Wrecking and made a temporary two by four stand to support it. Faucets were not needed since we didn’t have running water.

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