"I buried my friend the other day, and I saw my life in a different way." -Life of Agony, "Words and Music"

The El Reno House, Part One

In August of 1993, after attending classes at a local community college for two years, I packed up all my belongings and moved 60 miles west to Weatherford, Oklahoma, where I moved in with Susan and enrolled at South Western Oklahoma State University (SWOSU). In Weatherford, Susan, I, and a third roommate all lived together in a mobile home. In the spring of 1994, Susan and I quit school, ditched the roommate, and had the mobile home towed the 60 miles back to Oklahoma City. As I mentioned earlier this week, once we moved back to OKC we had a rough time finding jobs, and the two of us were pretty hungry and miserable for several months. We lived in the mobile home for another year or so and were still there when we got married in August of 1995.

In 1994, Susan’s mom received a sizable inheritance and began frequently attending local auctions. One day, in the fall of 1995, Susan returned home after attending an auction with her mom and informed me that she had “just bought a house!”

And actually, that wasn’t accurate — her mom had bought two houses: 202 S. Barker and 206 S. Barker, both in El Reno, Oklahoma (about 15 minutes west of where we were living). By the time I found out about all of this, the financial details had already been worked out. Susan’s mom paid $75k (cash) for both houses, and she was offering us one for $37,500, which we could pay off (interest free) over the next ten years. After living in a mobile home for two years, we decided we were ready to become home owners. How bad could it be?

(Did you ever see the movie The Money Pit?)

Front of 202 S. Barker.

The house at 202 S. Barker was around 3,000 square feet in size, with several additions added over several years. It was originally built in 1880, 27 years before Oklahoma was a state. Inside, the house had been divided up into five separate apartments. Four of the five apartments had their own kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom(s); the fifth apartment was a big studio room. Only two of the apartments were part of the original house; the other three had been added on at some point. I think we counted a total of fourteen rooms (excluding bathrooms).

When Susan and I first moved in, we discovered two girls — twin sisters, I think — were still living there. When we told them we had purchased the house and that they needed to leave, they said “no.” We took ownership of the house in the middle of October, and the twins informed us they had paid rent through November 1. They hadn’t paid us any rent of course, and their old landlord was dead (thus the auction). So for two weeks, we had a couple of strangers also living in the house. Due to the layout of the house with its separate apartments, it wasn’t as awkward as it sounds — we heard them more than we saw them. When the twins finally moved out, they left behind a mountain of furniture and personal belongings that Susan and I ended up moving out to our shed. It took us another several months to get the twins’ family to come get their stuff. That was an odd experience.

Rear of 202 S. Barker.

At first, the idea of having such a large house was pretty exciting. With so much space, We joked about having different rooms for everything, like a “dirty clothes room” and a “shoe room” and different rooms to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in. We quickly learned life was simpler if you didn’t spread your stuff all over a giant house. Ultimately we settled into the “side” apartment (the most modern of the five), and lived there. There were two bedrooms (I used one for an office), a living room, a dining room (that I turned into an arcade), and a bathroom with a claw foot bathtub and no shower. Actually, all the bathrooms were like that. Five bathrooms, five claw foot bathtubs, and zero showers.

Makeshift arcade — Mat Mania and Championship Street Fighter.

The interior of the house was a sight to behold. There wasn’t a three-prong electrical outlet to be found anywhere. For the arcade games and my computer, I had to plug things into a power strip with the ground prong pulled off. The living room had gas pipes still attached to the wall, as the house was originally built to accommodate gas lanterns for interior lighting. I don’t know if they had been capped or not, but the entire house had the faint smell of gas in every room the entire time we lived there. And then there was the attic; the one time I peeked up there I saw electrical wires with rotten insulation. The image of bare wires running through the attic haunted my dreams.

And then there was “the door” incident. At some point in time, someone had completely sealed off the rear apartment from the rest of the house, and the only way to enter it was to go outside and come back in through a different door. I thought that was stupid, and decided to “make a doorway”. I’m not sure what tools most people use to “make a doorway”, but I used a steak knife. I sawed and sawed until I had what essentially looked like a giant mouse hole from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. While cutting, I discovered that the interior walls had been insulated with newspapers from the 1930s and hay. Seriously, one errant match could have incinerated the place.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of “The El Reno House”!

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5 comments to The El Reno House, Part One

  • gratte

    STRAW?! A giant mousehole. Dang.

    Good story, sir.

  • Susan

    Remember in the attic? It was filled with old dried up cornshucks, used for insulation. And the makeshift basement, was really just a hole dug under the house? I was scared to go down in it but when I did, it had cat and rat skulls in it. And sometimes there was a guy living in the bush under our bedroom window. Ahh, good times.

  • Brent

    The only good thing about you living in El Reno I think was the Onion Burger Festival.

  • Sue you promised not to bring me living in the bush up again : ( but the view was always interesting : )

  • Tim Musselman

    Your experience with that house can at least somewhat be generalized to the entire town of El Reno, IMO. El Reno = the armpit of Oklahoma!!