The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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I returned from Australia mid-1970, somewhat foot-loose. I bought a single-cylinder BMW “thumper” to get around on, and did some odd jobs for friends to earn a few pennies. As summer approached, my brother Todd asked me to look after his studio in the Sierra foothills while he scoped out prospects for summer art sales in Alaska. I spent the summer months in Sutter Creek; where Melbourne had been dull, SC was utterly dead (at least for a young gay guy like me). I often drove all the way down to West Sacramento, where there was a sort of tubs I thought might provide some relief, but I don’t recall ever actually finding a trick there.

To keep busy, I undertook some repairs on the facade of my brother’s little shop. One day as I worked at this a tall, lanky blond youngster wandered along looking for work. I hired him to assist, but could not resist putting the make on him during lunch. Typically of my luck, he said he wasn’t interested, and at the end of the day’s work, I paid him off and he disappeared.

The very next morning I was seated at the little desk in the shop when a police car drove up and parked in front of the shop. A uniformed officer got out of the car and came into the shop:

“Are you Mr. Bramson?” he asked.

Of course my mind ran wild: that blond kid must have blabbed, and now I’m in deeeep do-do!

“That’s me.”

“Your friend Ronnie in San Francisco called and asked us to give you a message — he’s forgotten your telephone number. He’d like you to give him a call.” The officer departed, and I heaved a great sigh of relief! The blond must have just been “passing through” — I never saw him again.


Late that summer I rode my little thumper down to San Francisco intent on staying with friends and spending a few nights at the tubs. By chance, I drove by the old house my Ex and I had owned, and noticed it was for sale. Now, I had always loved that house: that it held some unpleasant memories was not it’s fault, and I thought if I bought it by myself for myself, I could expunge the bad memories and have a nice hobby and a roof over my head as well.


Built in 1889

However, I had very little money and no job, so buying a house seemed out of the question. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I wanted that house. I called the realtor, learned the price and terms and explained that I “had no money and no job, but I’ll get back to you.” I then called my old employer: did they have a job for me? “Can you start Tuesday?” was the response. Then I called my brothers, parents, and friends: before long I had commitments sufficient for a down-payment, so I called the realtor back. “I now have a job, I have some money, so I’m ready to make an offer.”

The long and short of it is that after some negotiations, my offer was accepted, based on giving the owners 90 days to vacate.

Meanwhile, through friends, I happened to meet the fellow who had been my immediate predecessor in my Ex’s life—and we found we had much in common. Learning that Johnnie had nearly driven Ted insane came as no surprise: he drove me nuts as well. So I moved into Ted’s house temporarily, until “The Mansion” was cleared out and I could reside in it.

My Ex, you may recall, had made arrangements to sell the house without telling me, so it was imperative that he get a quit-claim for my portion of it. This he got at knife-point, and the rest is history. Since 1964 the house had been occupied by a religious cult that took guys off the drug trip and put them on the God trip. (Out of the frying pan into the fire as far as I’m concerned.) Nevertheless, I knew from a member of the Board of Directors that the building had not been severely trashed, although there were 53 people living in it. This is how I knew they would not be able to vacate in the usual 30 days. Since I was in no hurry, I applied myself to my job again, built up my bank account, and waited.

The house was still not vacant at 90 days, so I informed the occupants they would have to pay rent; they did so for two more months before, finally, in May of 1971, the deal closed and I took possession of the building in which I still reside. I’m still renovating it, though it is in much better shape now than I am!

With all the current flap about toxic mortgages, I find it interesting that I got the house with just over 10% down. But the interest rate on the first mortgage was 18.5%, and on the second mortgage 25%! For the first year I occupied the house, I watched my equity “build” at literally pennies per month!

My house has been a very important part of my life for almost 40 years. I have zillions of photos showing the many renovations that have taken place over the years. I’ll try not to bore my readers with too many of these, focusing instead on other aspects of my life – my travels to distant places and so forth.


40 guys lived here!

There were several projects over the years of considerable magnitude. The first was to replace the roof, which leaked badly. This occurred in 1975, when a second re-finance brought forth the necessary funds. The most expensive part of the job was removal of the old roof, consisting of 4 and in some spots 5 layers of “modern” material over the original wood shingles. To save money, I did the removal myself, aided by a gaggle of Ted’s students. Ultimately, we removed and disposed of 9.5 tons of old roof! Among the interesting findings were burned portions of the spaced sheathing on the north slope of the roof: the 1906 fire burned itself out just half a block away, but clearly owners of my house had managed to put out “hot spots” and saved the Mansion from joining the thousands of others destroyed.

Another problem discovered was that the South stub-wall had shifted out of line rather noticeably, probably in the 1906 earthquake. I did not want to leave it so. When all the weight was off the roof, I used a 12-ton come-along to pull the wall back to plumb, assisted by jacks forcing the ridge-pole up. When all was aligned, two hefty membranes were added to lock the walls in place, and the rafters were further locked with tensioners that had not been installed previously.

Here’s a series of photos, from start to finish, of the first roof replacement during my tenure (it has now been done again):

RoofJob 01

Once a little area was cleared, the spaced sheathing acted as a ladder, and I could work comfortably. I always used a harness to prevent falling, however!

RoofJob 02

All the detritus was forced through the spaces onto the attic floor.

RoofJob 03

We rigged a block & tackle to an old fire-escape, and the trash was sent down to ground-level one garbage-can at a time.

RoofJob 04

At ground level the trash was put into a wheel-barrow and taken to the front of the house.

RoofJob 05

The junk was stuffed into an old hulk of a VW camper. In a day I could clear, and the guys could load, one camper-full.

RoofJob 06

Plywood sheathing was pulled up from below one sheet at at time and stacked in the attic. From there it was maneuvered into position on the roof and nailed down.

RoofJob 07

With weight off the roof, I used a come-along to pull the south stub-wall into place, assisted by jacks pushing up on the ridgepole.

RoofJob 08

There were other things to attend to, like repointing a chimney.

RoofJob 09

The 3/8″ plywood gave a better base than the spaced sheathing for the new roof of composition glass, tar and stone

RoofJob 10

Here I’m adding a skylight, without which the attic is rather dark.

RoofJob 11

After all the preparation was done, the professionals moved in! Here is their A-frame used to haul up bundles of roofing material.

RoofJob 12

All the new material was hauled up and distributed to workers.

RoofJob 13

It was a long way down to the street!

RoofJob 14

Growl!  Musta been a tough day up on da roof.

RoofJob 16

It was one of the filthiest jobs I ever did!

It took me six weeks to clear the old roof, install the new plywood, and do most of the flashing. It then took the professionals less than a week to install the new 25-year roof. It actually lasted far beyond its guarantee, and never leaked. Nevertheless, in 2008 this roof was removed down to the plywood, and a new 40-year roof was installed. This time I let others do the whole job!

Another big project will be described here soon.



Written by Editor

April 12th, 2010 at 11:51 am

Posted in My home