house factory not in Westchester
Saturday, December 12 2020
Gretchen and I got up unusually early for a Saturday so we could drive down to Westchester Modular Homes (which, confusingly, is in Dutchess County) to have a meeting at the prefab housing manufacturer so we could work out the details of the cabin we intend to have installed on Woodworth Lake in Fulton County, NY. I did all the initial driving, and Google sent us through a surprisingly-depopulated (and Trump-loving) part of southern Dutchess County. It was beautiful country, with lots of large rambling estates and only the occasional community of modest homes (this was where pro-Trump enthusiasm seemed to be concentrated).
As we entered the southwest corner of Millbrook, we saw a spectacular ruin on a hill. It featured a massive Tudor-by-way-of-the-Catskills mansion and then a series of apartment-like buildings that looked to have been built in the 1960s. All of it was faded and crumbling, overrun with vegetation, and surrounded by a fence warning away any trespassers. We had no idea what this archæological site was, but it was one of the more interesting things we'd ever seen. [Later I would learn that it was the ruins of Bennett College, a women's college that went bankrupt in 1978 after non-coed colleges experienced a decline in popularity.]
Our destination was near the Connecticut line in Wingdale. There were a number of what appeared to be modular homes near our destination, which had me wondering if there were just there as models. But no, they were actual houses people lived in. The guy were meeting was named Jim, a salesman for WMH, and he came out in a mask and waved us in out of a drizzly rain that seemed a bit warm for this time of year.
Jim was an affable guy who seemed to think he had a tricky sense of humor, though there was no way he could match Gretchen on this score. We sat in his office and the builder in Gloversville joined us by telephone. To help illustrate things he was showing us, he used software called Chief Architect to switch between floor plans, elevations, and 3D renderings of the inside and outside of the house using virtual cameras. Much of what we discussed got into the minutia of what needed to be included in the house and what did not. This included the size and position of windows. There was no indication yet of the orientation of the house on its lot, so Gretchen and I worked from the assumption that the house was oriented with the biggest windows in the south and the smallest windows in the north.
I only made two really major contributions to the discussion. One was about the kitchen, where there was proving to be a paucity of counter space. I noted that the refrigerator in the design seemed enormous. "That's a standard 36 inch refrigerator," said Jim. I recalled our refrigerator back home as being only 30 inches wide (it's actually about 32.5 inches wide) and said that a 30 inch refrigerator was good enough in our "dream kitchen" so it would be more than good enough in our lakeside cabin. Indeed, as Gretchen and I quickly agreed, it's best to have a smallish refrigerator in an upstate cabin so that not too much will accumulate in it. Leaving only 30 inches for a refrigerator gave us six more inches of countertop, which really helped with the layout.
My other major contribution concerned the main (downstairs) bathroom. When Jim brought up the possible issue with a vent stack interfering with a in-wall medicine cabinet, I said that I knew all about that problem, and that I'd had to solve it by somewhat-collapsing (by melting) the ABS-plastic pipe to give me more room in the wall. In our cabin, I said, the vent pipe should be routed around where the place where the vanity will go.
At some point, Gretchen and I decided our decks and porches were too small, so we had Jim make them bigger. Chief Architect wasn't being cooperative, though, and it kept drawing railing cantilevering out over empty space. As he wrestled with it, his laptop's fan ran more and more furiously, suggesting to me that there were lots of calculations being made. Eventually Jim got the program to do what he wanted it to.
After we'd worked everything out, Jim took us on a tour of the factory, a huge enclosed space similar to an indoor-granite yard. But instead of cranes, the houses rolled around on railroad tracks. First the floors were built, then the walls, which were constructed drywall first. To these, the studs were glued without any fasteners. The only fasteners used would be for one side of an interior wall where drywall was attached later in the process. Despite the factory conditions, most of the technology being used was similar to that used in stick construction. There weren't, for example, any robots doing any work. Drywall taping had to be done the old-fashioned way. The only major differences were the widespread use of foaming glue and the spray application of primer paint. Jim told us that it took only three days for a factory to complete a house.
After signing some paperwork, and saying goodbye to Jim, we turned our attention to lunch. We had the idea of getting Indian food, but it turned out that we were in the middle of an Indian food desert; the nearest Indian restaurant was in Poughkeepsie. So Gretchen placed an order online and we set a course for
New Taste of India. Google has us cross two mountains to get there, and as we went through Lagrangeville, some reckless teenagers came close to causing a couple accidents. But nobody except the cook was working in New Taste of India, so we felt safe to eat in the dining room (though not in the corner table, where an arctic blast was coming through a hole in the dropped ceiling. The place was kind of a dive, but the food was really good (if rather greasy). We had the chana saag, aloo gobi matar, a south Indian dosa, two kinds of soup, and a couple japatis.
Gretchen was all turned around after crossing the bridge into Ulster County and started heading south. But I turned her back around and got her not to get back on the bridge to Poughkeepsie.
Halcyon Hall at the abandoned Bennett College in Millbrook. Click for a wider view.
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