Upgrading my Universal/Westerbeke Heat Exchanger: The dumbest repair I’ve ever made

This is a tale of folly and failure. My lack of research and trust in manufacturers led me down a long path of woe.

Universal5424

The Universal 5424 in our 1982 O’day 34 was overheating. The 3-cylinder diesel motor was rated to run at 2800 RPM. However, if we pushed it past 1900 RPM, the temp needle began rising and never stopped.

Decades ago, Universal/Westerbeke admitted that the 2″ diameter heat exchanger was too small for the 5424 and the M-25 and recommended upgrading to a 3″ heat exchanger. Despite our engine allegedly being rebuilt in 2008, that never happened.

At the very beginning of this debacle, a friend said I should just buy a cheap generic 3″ heat exchanger with screw-in bungs, so I could size them to my hoses and just do a quick swap. I decided against that because I wanted to keep the engine as OEM as possible with an “official” upgraded part, and I thought finding the barbed bronze bungs might be a pain. Oh, how foolish I was.

Catalina Direct had factory style replacements heat exchangers starting at $500, but I wasn’t ready to pay that much, so I searched eBay. One seller claimed he had a 3″ Universal heat exchanger. It looked very similar to the one I had. I made an offer at $150 (plus $20 shipping), and he accepted! I probably should have paid more attention to the last line in his auction that said, “measurements are not exact.”

A few days later the eBay exchanger arrived. It did look very much like the one on my boat — because it was the exact same 2″ diameter heat exchanger mounted on the back of my motor.

I contacted the eBay seller, and after a photo with a measuring tape showing that he had definitely listed this part incorrectly, he agreed to refund my money. Unfortunately, I had to spend another $20 to ship it back.

Before the project even started, I was down $40.

I browsed the Universal/Westerbeke options on Catalina Direct, and they all had the same hose inlets/outlets listed. I took that to mean they were standard sizes that would be the same as the heat exchanger I was removing. That was a terrible assumption.

heatexchanger01

Approximately $550 later, I had this 3″ x 17″ behemoth that didn’t share a single intake or outlet size with my old unit. In fact, despite being the “factory” upgrade, some of the outlets didn’t even point the correct direction.

I slowly began the process of adapting the hose sizes and directions to make it fit.

heatexchanger03

Why have four hoses and eight leak points when you can have 15 adapter pieces, nine hose sections and 63 leak points?

The worst part of it all was the 7/8″ raw water intake port. My oberdorfer pump had a 1/2″ barb and hose coming off of it. I found a 3/4″ barb, but a 3/4″ hose will not fit on the 7/8″ intake — even if you boil the hose first. There are no 7/8″ fittings available ANYWHERE.

heatexchanger02

I ended up running the 1/2″ hose to a 3/4″ adapter and then triple clamping the 7/8″ hose onto that to keep it from leaking. However, since the soft 7/8″ inlet got slightly out of round as the heat exchanger was being moved around for three weekends, the 7/8″ hose doesn’t make a perfect seal on it, and I’ve now got an ever-so-slight drip of sea water leaking into my bilge for the rest of my life.

Another $500 in adapters and hoses later, I finally had the entire coolant system put back together.

Since I had to drain all the coolant anyway, I decided to replace my thermostat.

thermostat

That was an easy process, but you have to special order the molded hose that connects the thermostat housing to the water pump. Be aware of this fact ahead of time because if you’re not, you have to put the project on hold for another week while you wait on that hose to show up.

Once I finally got it all back together, I fired up the engine, and it promptly overheated.

heatexchanger06

Yes, I had an airlock. I did not know that after filling the coolant system, you must remove the bolt in the top of the thermostat housing and then pour more coolant in there to remove the air pocket.

After overheating the engine twice dealing with the airlock, I finally got it running. We ran it in the slip long enough to verify the thermostat was opening correctly, and that she wouldn’t overheat anymore.

It took three weekends and about $1200 after the expense of the heat exchanger, hoses, adapters, clamps, thermostat, and impeller, but we can finally push into the wind at 2200 RPM without overheating.

heatexchanger04

Our last time out in that type of wind we were running at 2 – 2.5 knots. Making trips down to Galveston in a strong headwind were completely out of the question. Now we should be able to plan trips at an average speed of at least 4 knots no matter what the weather is like.

heatexchanger05

We still don’t have one of those speed demon sailboats that can motor at 6.5 knots, but four is twice as nice as two. However, if I could do this project again, I definitely wouldn’t be so freaking dumb.

Don’t be like me. Get the generic heat exchanger and screw in the barbs that fit your existing hoses. You can even get 90-degree nozzles and twist them to the exact direction required.

I’m going to apologize now to any future captain of Gimme Shelter. Projects like this are the reason people hate previous owners.

 

 

Advertisements

Backpacking Guadalupe Peak

Guadalupe_Mountains

Our backpacks were too heavy. Nobody had trained. Nobody had even worn their packs before except me, and mine hadn’t left the garage in at least ten years.

On paper, the hike seemed easy. It was four miles up the trail with a 3,000 foot elevation gain, reaching a final height of 8,600 feet above sea level. The logistics of getting to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and back to Houston in one weekend were what had me the most worried … at least until we stepped on the trail.

20170310_093736

We formulated a plan to leave Thursday after work and drive to Kerrville, then get up Friday morning and drive the rest of the way to to the park. Once there we would obtain the limited backwoods camping passes for the Guadalupe Peak Trail from the rangers, then hike up the mountain. After we set up camp, we’d hike the rest of the way up the peak to watch the sunset. Then I’d take some amazing milky way photos, maybe even do some starry sky timelapse videos before heading to bed. Then we’d wake up before dawn to hike back up to the peak to watch the sunrise before walking down the mountain to go explore other things like Carlsbad Caverns or the strange Prada store in Marfa.

Things did not go exactly as planned.

We did leave Thursday night, and we did make it to Kerrville.

20170309_231243

The Holiday Inn Express had a fancy Texas-shaped pool. Unfortunately it was far too cold and late in the evening to try it out. The next morning we were back on the road.

GM-01

We made it to Guadalupe Mountains National Park around 1 p.m. and were very lucky to snag one of the few remaining backwoods camping permits. We unloaded our gear and headed up the mountain.

I’d done a fair amount of backpacking when I was in the Boy Scouts, and I was lucky that I still had my gear. However, nobody else had really tried out their packs, some of which had been procured through eBay, so everyone was starting the hike with discomfort.

32647071874_6d800bbbfc_z

I also didn’t have time to open each person’s pack and ruthlessly throw all their belongings back in the car saying, “Nope, can’t take this,” like the guides and counselors did to me back in the old days. No deodorant. No extra batteries. Not even a toothbrush unless you break off the handle. What’s worse is I didn’t even follow my own rules and packed in two camera bodies, three lenses and a tripod in anticipation of all the amazing photography I was going to do. (So glad I brought a tripod for this …)

33430399861_d4270743aa_z

Let’s just say it was a very long hike up the mountain.

GM-09

We stopped to rest often.

33432311776_8a73896aaa_z

We really should have paid attention to the fact that the trail was marked strenuous.

GM-12

Although we made sure to find plenty of photo ops.

32647066004_5055db964b_z

Five and a half hours later, we finally reached the sign for the camping area.

33548228346_d81ff3bf5c_z

Unfortunately that arrow on the sign doesn’t actually point in the right direction. The trail is off to the right of the sign, so the girls took a break while TJ and I wandered the mountain looking for any sign of a camp.

GM-15

It turned out to be just over the ridge of lower peak, so we made the last march of day into the camping area and set up our tents.

GM-16

We started cooking dinner just as the sun was setting. No, we weren’t going to be able to watch sunset from the peak, but there were times throughout the day when we weren’t sure we were even going to make it as far as we had.

GM-17

As I set up my cameras to capture some stars, the brightest full moon I’ve ever seen rose into the sky. I thought it made the night look a bit unique, so I set up a timelapse anyway. Then, since the moon hadn’t been able to dissuade me, the clouds moved in as mother nature had a good laugh about the fact that I’d carried all that camera equipment for nothing.

GPNight

The weather in the desert makes massive shifts between day and night, so we all layered up to fight the cold. The dehydrated food never tasted so good. Our friends passed around a flask, and we all took a nip of Scotch before climbing into sleeping bags and quickly falling into a deep, black sleep.

Around 2 a.m. the wind had picked up to better than 25 miles per hour. It had been impossible to drive stakes into the hard ground where we were camping, so Mary sent me out with rope to tie the tent down to whatever rocks and trees were within reach. The moon loomed over me, lighting the work. I never even had to turn on the flashlight.

We slept through sunrise.

GM-20

The dehydrated egg scramble had never tasted so good, and spirits were high as we knew we didn’t have to carry our backpacks up to the peak.

32612961814_298be6348a_z

Yes, we’d missed the sunrise, but it would still be a nice hike.

 

I packed some water and my camera into a sleeping bag stuff sack, slung it over my shoulder, and we headed for the top.

GM-22

The last mile was full of beautiful scenes. We couldn’t get enough photos, but even without packs, everyone was still having a bit of a struggle.

GM-24

Once we passed El Capitan, we knew we were almost there.

33328796461_d8d17852cf_z

A few portions of the trail crossed steep rock face, which had Mary crabwalking, but she overcame her fear of heights to cross them.

GM-29

Despite various threats of quitting, we all made it to the tallest point in Texas together.

GM-26

Inside the ammunition box at the base of the monument was a log book, signed by all who make the hike. Some people put serious thought into what they write. The book is full of poetry and quotes. We added our own signatures to the pages.

GM-27GM-28

Had we had more time, water and a permit, I think everyone would have been content to stay another night before breaking camp and hiking down the mountain, but we didn’t have that luxury. We made a quick lunch and then reluctantly put on our backpacks.

Mary had a sore knee, so it was slow going. Even so, it only took us about two hours to get down the hill — a marked improvement compared to our ascent.

I left my pack with everyone at the base of the trail and hiked over to the ranger station to get the car. Everyone was very excited to sit down.

We drove to Van Horn and celebrated our achievement with dinner and drinks at the El Capitan Hotel.

20170311_175409

We made the long drive back the Houston Sunday with one question in mind, what mountain do we conquer next?

Chasing leaks

ChasingLeaks01

I was in my favorite seat in the boat when I thought I felt something on my head. I looked up just in time to feel a very cold drip down my neck.

Last year we had replaced the two large cabin windows, but it was time to chase leaks again. This time we had water coming through the handrails on the ceiling, so we swore we’d actually commit a nice weekend or two for repairs rather than just sailing around while our boat continued to leak.

I wasn’t excited about dealing with all the wood plugs that were hiding the screws, but there was nothing to do except start drilling.

chasingleaks03

Our rails were through-bolted from the inside of the cabin to the rails on the cabin top with the screw heads inside and the nuts outside.

chasingleaks02

Unfortunately after 35 years, most of these screws didn’t want to budge. We managed to break about half of them loose, but then I had to deal with the tedious process of drilling the heads of the other half.

plug

After much longer than expected, we finally managed to get the rails loose.

chasingleaks08

I made a trip to West Marine for new hardware, but of course the screws weren’t a standard length, so I had to buy longer ones. Meanwhile Mary was sanding the rails to clean them up. When I got back we gooped up the holes and started bolting everything back together.

chasingleaks09

In retrospect I wish I had taken the time to paint the black spacers while the rail was off, but it never crossed my mind until we had it back on the boat.

The interior rails had the screw heads, so it was easy to get those holes plugged and leveled. We then rubbed the rail with teak oil, and it was looking pretty good.

chasingleaks12

On the exterior I had to grind the extra length off all the screws, which wasn’t as terrible a job as I thought it would be. It took about 30 minutes to get all of the screws cut down. Then I started tapping in plugs.

ChasingLeaks05

This was my first time to use plugs, so it wasn’t a flawless operation. I chiseled them down and then sanded them level, but I had two or three that split wrong or came apart and had to be redone.

Finally, I got it all sanded smooth and added another layer of teak oil.

ChasingLeaks07

You would think that would have been enough leak fixing for the year, but we also finally tackled the broken opening port in the V-berth. When we bought the boat fit came with a tupperware container under that window to catch the water. A year ago we bought a replacement window. I guess after four years it was finally time to do something about it.

chasingleaks13

The new window was the same size, but the interior screw holes weren’t in the same places, and the exterior trim had no holes at all.

ChasingLeaks04

There was a long debate whether or not to drill holes in the new trim to make it match the old trim rings, but it was finally decided to mount it with sealant only the way we had mounted the fixed ports. If we really need it to match we can always glue screw heads on the trim.

On top of all that work, Mary also sanded and oiled the companionway as a bonus project.

chasingleaks10

The good news is we’ve got no leaks from the re-bedded rails or the new window.

chasingleaks14

The bad news is that our mast is leaking again. Guess we’ll tackle that next year because I need to do some sailing.

 

 

 

Catching up with life

2017 arrived with a whirlwind of activity. We were traveling and visiting family through New Years Day. Then we both jumped right back into some intense work situations, the GBCA Icicle Series, and a Gimme Shelter concert. It seems like every minute of every day for the past three weeks has been planned, and we just go from meeting to meeting and event to event. This weekend we finally got a few unscheduled hours, so we tossed the lines and went sailing.

l1006800web

We brought our friends TJ and Kayla from Folie a Deaux along for the ride.

l1006786web

We had about 7 knots of wind giving us a relaxing ride out towards Redfish Island, although we didn’t quite make it there before sunset.

l1006815web

As the sun went down, the wind disappeared, so we dropped sail and motored back into the marina, recharged for another week of hectic schedules.

l1006847web

Hopefully things will settle down a bit, and we’ll have more time to blog soon. We’re also planning some exciting trips in 2017, so stay tuned.

Our Best Photos of 2016

Happy new year and welcome to 2017. I hope all of our readers made it, unlike all those celebrities that didn’t.

I haven’t had time to write anything new for the new year, so I thought I’d kick things off with a photographic retrospective of 2016. Deciding on our “best” photos is very subjective, and I didn’t actually ask Mary’s opinion on these. I just scrolled through all the folders of photos from the past year and picked my favorites. So, in no particular order, here are my favorite photos that we took during our adventures in 2016.

So how’s that music thing working out?

xmasparty

You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!

Finally a restaurant in our marina! Opus Ocean Grille

For about three years now we’ve been promised a “coming soon” restaurant in our marina.  Last week the restaurant was finally open.  A sort of party on the bottom, business on top place that’s made to cater to both us boating riff raff, and people who come in dressed to the nines in formal clothing.

After a long day of sailing Saturday, us women folk decided that we had no interest in cooking or cleaning and demanded to try out the new restaurant. After tying up the boats and one slight accident that involved someone getting very wet and changing into jammies, we were off.

Half of us went over by dink and the first thing that we noticed is that there is no place at all for visiting boats — not even a little dinghy dock. There are no cleats on the main bulkhead. We ended up tying off to a ladder at the end of the fairway and climbing up.

14753445_10154115364928721_2296060650041381828_o

The restaurant has a very high class vibe right when you first walk in.  The lower level has a nice looking bar on one side and white linen tables on the other.  The upstairs has more tables.  Both levels have great patio seating.  The upstairs patio has couches and coffee tables for a more lounge feel.

14608686_10154115365188721_6012686079156381450_o

Even though the restaurant was fully booked they made room for our party of eight scraggly sailors. From the beginning the service was excellent. Our waiter informed us that in order to give the chefs and staff some practice all of the food for the night would be on the house. He gave us all a menu of 4 courses, with two choices for each course.

15134699_10154186723793721_5537928426050616658_n

Some of the menu options were: Filet Minon, Lobster tail, Ahi Tuni, Oysters, Lobster Bisque, Lemon Triffle, Key Lime Pie.  Absolutely everything was amazing.  The side salads were big enough to be a meal.

img_1103

We decided to pay back the generosity of the restaurant by ordering extra drinks.  The wine selection was great, and it came with a reall cool back-lit wine menu.

15253503_1353093714702826_2367240773716492041_n

All in all the evening was amazing.  The atmosphere of the place is just what you look for, and the food and service was great. It was a night we will definitely remember for a long long time.

https://www.facebook.com/OpusOceanGrille/

Thank you to Maverick Remodeling and Construction for some of the photos.

10 Thoughtful Christmas Gift Ideas for Boaters 2016

Hey guys, its that time of year again!   We’ve found a few products this year that we’ve really enjoyed, and we’d like to share them with you.  Great post to link on your facebook for a little hint hint to your friends.  🙂

  1. A Cold Can – Ok so full disclamer, we may or may not be friends with the man who invented this thing but it is pretty sweet.  It keeps your drink really cold, seals completely with a locking cap, and floats!  Plus you will be supporting a small business. http://www.thecoldcan.com/

2. This spotlight from West Marine – A lot of people don’t think about needing a spotlight until they get caught out at night.  Think of it for them!  This one is rechargable and happens to go on sale at 50% off on black friday.  Making it only $50

3. Personalized Flag – There’s nothing like hoisting a custom flag with your name on it to make people say “wow these people are serious about pirating”.  We got one a few years ago and its one of our most cherished possessions.

4.A French Press and/or Airtight Coffee Container – This is the combo we’ve had on the boat for a couple years now and we really really love them.  Both are absolutely good as new after living exclusively on the boat.

5. Nesting Pots – If you really really love the person you’re buying for you’ll get them this Magma cooking set.  I swear it is better quality than the ones I have at my house.

6. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my bags in this list!  Please feel free to visit my shop and buy a recycled sailbag for someone you love.  Use coupon code Christmas2016 for 15% off through Jan 1st.

7. Black and Decker Air System – There are a lot of floating toys on a boat, and most of them can’t be inflated simply using your lungs.  This little air station has attachments for everything you might need and its battery operated.  We have one and we’ve found we can blow up about 4 air mattresses per charge.

8. Mono Guitar Case -These guitar cases are extra tough for boat life.  They have impact panels for when you’re getting knocked around underway.  They’re also waterproof for dingy rides to shore.

9. Luci lights – As a boater you can never have too many luci lights.  They’re small, light weight, and last longer than any other solar light I’ve ever tried.  We’ve had ours for a few years now and they’re still going strong.  They come in all sorts of colors and styles these days.

10. If all else fails get them what they really need.  A West Marine gift card.

If none of these ideas catch your eye check out our list from last year.

 

Texas Renfest 2016 Pirate Weekend

If you’re a sailor its pretty hard not to run into someone you know at the Texas Renaissance Festival on pirate weekend.  We like to go one weekend a year and camp both Friday and Saturday nights.  This year it just happened that pirate weekend was one of the times when we were free.  After all you can dress like a pirate on any weekend really.

img_1041

We got to camp around 3 and our friends Shari and Daniel had already staked out a healthy size spot with folding chairs.  We created our little pirate nest and then cracked open some beers to wait for the rest of our friends to arrive.

14795891_10101982635659352_1703785924_o

Much music was played and much fun was had, and before long it was Saturday morning and it was time to put on your best pirate outfit and head into the festival.

Most of the activities inside Renfest involve spending large amounts of money, so we like to take advantage of a good vantage point and just people watch.

14813062_10154640561203518_268398253_o

A lot of people are pretty period appropriate, but then there are always a few with no clear idea as to the theme of the park.  Here are a couple ents in their natural habitat.

14813563_10101982634122432_898608109_n

img_1042

There are a lot of shows to see but they are exactly the same every year.  One of the shows we’ve found is just as good every year is the belly dancing show in the Agora.  Plus the bonus of Greek food.

14858562_10154640556913518_826984189_o

We met up with even more pirates at the Barbarian Inn and we all headed over to the Sea Devil Tavern.

14787109_10210528587908325_521171327_o

There was quite a bit of ruckus shouting and mug banging, and we decided we needed to head out to purchase our own clinky mugs.

14800025_10154640557358518_603773046_o

14813504_10101982634142392_178781263_n

All in all a great weekend with friends.  In the words of a wise wizard I know “Go out and be merry, pretend to be pirates and forget your problems”

14804804_10101982634476722_428164040_n

14813250_10210531871430411_887881023_o

 

The Winchester Mystery House

I have always wanted to visit this delightful maze of a victorian mansion. While we were visiting San Jose, California for a wedding, I was finally able to convince my family to come along for a tour.

In 1881 Sarah Winchester lost her husband, William Wirt Winchester, to tuberculosis just a month after losing her infant daughter to Marasmus. Deciding she was cursed, she visited a spiritualist who proclaimed that there was only one way to escape the spirits of all the people killed by Winchester rifles. If she began construction on a house, the spirits couldn’t touch her as long as it remained under construction.

winchester01Mrs Winchester inherited several million dollars as well as a 51% share of the Winchester company. This gave her a comfortable daily income of $1000 in a time when a normal daily wage was $1.50.

In the height of its glory the property had 161 acres of farmland including many orchards and beautiful gardens, and the house was seven stories tall. Today the property takes up about one city block.  The house was damaged badly in the earthquake of 1907, and instead of repairing it. Mrs. Winchester blocked off that portion of the house to never be used again, considering it cursed.

winchester02

After her death her niece quickly auctioned all of her furniture and sold the house for next to nothing. When she died the estate was huge but sprawling and unfinished. It contained 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens. It however had extensive earthquake damage on one side that was never repaired, and upkeep required a large crew of people.

winchester03

Today as you visit the Winchester House there is a confusing mix of modern tourism and historical preservation. After walking through the gift shop full of all sorts of junk and knick knacks which have absolutely nothing to do with the house, paying a heavy fee, then being forced to take a photo while holding a Winchester rifle for possible later purchase (by the way, there’s no photography allowed inside the house), you will begin your tour of the house led by a historically costumed guide. While the guides provide historical information for different aspects of the house, they don’t really know a lot about Mrs. Winchester or the house specifically. This is because she never kept any journals or did any interviews. She also didn’t see many guests. Only a few of the rooms in the sprawling mansion are furnished. The rest are just bare walls, with a few scraps of old wallpaper here and there. This gives the house a feel that is more like a bizarre construction site than a haunted mansion.

winchester04

The assortment of windows to walls, windows on the floor, doors to nowhere, stairs to nowhere, etc. are pretty cool to see. They don’t really add an air of “mystery” though, as you can see the train of thought that went into them however bizaar. Mrs. Winchester would just build a new room next the house, then build a door to connect them.  She just didn’t deem it necessary to remove the old doors, windows or stairs. While it’s a little odd, I wouldn’t call it creepy.

Overall I enjoyed the trip. It was a bit more touristy than I expected, but there was a lot of interesting things to see, and our tour guides were very knowledgable about the history of  the region and technologies of the time. They explained to us the systems for gas power, and how the estate pumped and stored its own water. The house also had 4 elevators. It’s not very often you get to see the very best that 1900 had to offer, especially on this scale.

http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/