Cock of the Walk

Renovating Chanticleer Cottage gives one writer something to crow about

By Ross Howell Jr.

Chanticleer Cottage” is a euphemism to suggest (but obscure) its true pedigree — a double-wide trailer. However, situated on a gently sloping lot, it has a fine view of Grandfather Mountain — about 300 feet from the 14th green of the Blowing Rock Country Club golf course.

Location. Location. Location.

My wife, Mary Leigh, and I had been looking for property in Blowing Rock for years, so when the price on this place dropped significantly, she sent me an email.

“Don’t give this a lot of thought,” I replied. “Make an offer.”

Her offer was accepted.

Thus began a process that quickly had me rethinking my “Don’t give this a lot of thought” advice.

The place came with a renter, which was fine by us — until in six weeks’ time, we learned she was the renter from hell. Ours was her eighth Watauga County eviction, according to sheriff’s deputies.

I’ll spare you the details. After more than a month of scrubbing and sanitizing and hauling away two dump-truck loads of filth and junk, the place was empty and relatively clean, ready for renovation.

My father-in-law, Richard Wallace, and I had worked on four projects together before this one. Well, on the first two, I basically held the hammer for Richard, until I finally learned enough to handle some things on my own.

I had gutted both the double-wide’s bathrooms before getting Richard involved.

His first evening there, we were inspecting a bathroom subfloor.

“This doesn’t look so bad,” Richard said, stepping near where the drain for the tub had been — and promptly fell through the floor.

Thank God he wasn’t hurt.

I think you get the picture. This renovation was a doozy.

Richard would drive from his home in Lillington to Greensboro. We’d transfer his tools to our station wagon. Then we’d drive to Blowing Rock.

Over a period of seven months, working on long weekends, or three- to four-day stints here and there, we rehabbed the double-wide (aka DW). First we bunked in sleeping bags on air mattresses, until we had the flooring repaired sufficiently for Mary Leigh to buy mattresses and box springs.

She insisted we keep the mattresses and box springs in their original plastic because of all the dust and sawdust of the ongoing renovation.

You’d be surprised how much noise that plastic can make when you turn inside your sleeping bag at night.

And another thing.

Since we were working during the winter months, we learned they don’t call the town Blowing Rock for nothing.

My father-in-law served as a ground crew member in the U.S. Air Force on a Texas base in the era of the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. On a January morning, after a night with the snow flying and wind howling, I asked him how he’d slept.

“Well,” he answered, “I woke up and for a minute I thought I was back in Texas with those fighters taking off.”

And the fog! Some nights, driving back after supper at our hangout — aptly named Foggy Rock — we’d creep along at 5 mph, lights on low beam, even though we knew the way. If I flipped the headlamps to high beam, you’d think someone had draped a white sheet over the windshield.

Our final DW project was the “observation deck,” which the previous owner had built using the peak of the roof as support on one side.

Mary Leigh was concerned about this structure, since our property inspector had said he wasn’t trained to assess its stability. He suggested we bring in a structural engineer.

We did.

The engineer told me the afternoon he arrived that he’d just that day condemned a property. He looked over the observation deck, then he asked to look in the attic.

I set up a stepladder and slid the plywood attic access aside.

He climbed the ladder and looked around, his knees at my eye level.

“I haven’t seen anything like this,” he muttered.

“Is that good news or bad news?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“They’ve scabbed 1-inch plywood on both sides of the supports,” he said. “You could park a Jeep up here if you wanted to.”

That night I climbed the observation deck and sat on one of its benches, admiring the moon hanging low over Grandfather Mountain. The stars were so close they seemed to rest on my shoulders.

Though I was sitting atop the only double-wide I knew of in view of the Blowing Rock Country Club golf course, I felt like a lord of the manor.

Ross Howell Jr. was instructed by his wife to let readers know that three-bedroom, two-bath Chanticleer Cottage — he still hasn’t mounted the rooster weather vane — is available for short-term rental.

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