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Fallbrook Farm Heritage Site
Update 8


News about chinking

Sun, 30 Mar 2008

Good morning

I have a few minutes before heading off to work so wanted to comment on the chinking in the cabin.

The logs were squared on the exterior face, which probably means two faces, including the inside. The top and bottom of the logs were left "round" however, as was typical of the Puterbaugh Log House, circa 1831, and the Collins log house 1826, and then chinking was applied between the logs.

The material used was rich with lime. Peter and I noted the large inclusions of lime in the sand-lime mix, but also big clumps of clay that were not well mixed with the mortar.

The sand-lime mix was durable, and insect proof, but rather brittle. Since logs shrink as they dry, and are only really supported at the corners, or where the rough bucks (large planks) framed the window and door openings, the logs would flex and cause cracking. Lime is self healing, to a certain extent, migrating to the cracks with moisture and re-sealing the gaps. This only works with minor (sub-millimeter cracks however, as would be typical with a brick house). With logs the shrinkage can be measured in tens of millimeters over the height of the wall. To make the chinking/mortar more flexible, they would try to air-entrain the mix so that the many small bubbles would cushion the shrinkage and action of frost. Why? Because maintenance of chinking was an annual PITA, (pain in the ass). The whole family would be out there in the spring mixing and applying chinking to all the new gaps, everywhere. this is why most cabins can be found with bits of rag and paper stuffed in various gaps, stop-gaps, used in the dead of winter to block some new draft in the wall. This is also why most early cabins were covered with siding as soon as this option was available. (More on repair options later).

Pioneers also used clay-straw chinking as we found at Puterbaugh. We actually salvaged this mix and examined it carefully. It often contained a percentage of cow manure as well, since this would ferment in the mix and cause small bubbles that would help to make it more flexible than mud. The exact methods of mixing were not recorded (at least in my experience), but also included a bit of sharp sand to provide some body to the mix. The straw was often meadow grass, since this was about the only thing available the first year that cabins were built. Later they might have straw from grains, but at Puterbaugh we actually remixed the chinking with new grass, that I cut by hand and trimmed to short 2 or 3" lengths and then worked into the mix. We applied this to the interior finish of the walls and then whitewashed the entire inside, (as was almost universal as a way to make the dark interior of the house more bearable on dreary days.) Remember that the sooty smoke from the constant wood fire in the fireplace, would tend to make the walls quite dark after a winter, so multiple layers of whitewash over soot are commonly seen in these houses. Gradually the whitewash built up to resemble a plaster.

In this house, the clay inclusions may represent an ill conceived idea that clay improves the flexibility of the mix, because big lumps of clay (the size of something that you would throw at a a person) would only provide locallized weakness in the chinking.

The lime may have been burnt on site, or at another farm close by. The round edge of the log that we examined did not have bark on it, but appeared to have been peeled before the chinking was installed. While Puterbaugh was in many respects a cruder cabin, the bark was left on the logs, and it did provide a better Key for the chinking to adhere to. If the settlers peeled the logs, they may have found recurring problems with chinking falling out over the winter, and this may have contributed to their decision to cover it all with clapboard as soon as possible.

The style of clapboard appears to be from the 1870's or later. I could not see exactly how the corners were finished between the older house and the addition but noted the narrow corner board at the junction, even though the two segments are almost in the same plane. This may indicate that the older house was clad with siding before the addition went on.

The smooth texture of the end log that was examined, may represent about 40 years worth of weathering. I could find no saw marks or axe marks to indicate the method of preparation, but the delamination of fibres on the face of the log suggested that years of rain and sun was causing the surface to fuzz and erode, before it was clad. This may indicate that the cabin was considerably older than the siding. The bits of panel door that I observed in the addition were in keeping with heavy panel doors of the 1840's to
1860's.

About the millrace above the creek, next time you are on the bridge take a good look along a line running north-north west from the east abutment of the bridge. With snow on the ground, and no trees or shrubs, the channel is clearly visible as a hollow about 5 feet wide which runs more or less straight across this level shoulder of the bank, to a point just east of where the creek turns south. I have seen similar millraces as the only surviving evidence of mills below the bridge on Dundas Street where 16 mile creek had seven mills, and near the very small undershot sawmill that Charles Sovereign operated on a rivulet approximately 3/4 mile west of the mouth of Bronte Creek. If you there was no record of a mill being there previously, it must be checked out. There is a possibility that this was a dry channel of the creek before it cut down the additional 12 or 15 feet to its current path, but it does not have the sort of outcrops or profile of a dry channel, and is U shaped not V shaped.

Sincerely

T.M.


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