This old house was a dream come true — or was it a nightmare?
Blessing and bane were both wrapped up in the old Victorian mansion that Ron Tanner and his wife, Jill Eicher, have spent more than a decade restoring.
When the two first "met" their 1897 Baltimore brownstone, it was sitting vacant, condemned and filled with trash. The three-story structure had been used and abused as a fraternity house and was in a shambles, for sale "as is."
The two knew nothing -- absolutely nothing -- about restoring old houses, Tanner says, and he and Jill had only been dating a few months. Their friends and family told them they'd be crazy to buy such a wreck of a place.
But, as the line now goes, "Jill really wanted the house. And Ron really wanted Jill. So he bought the place."
The couple have worked hard and long on their former "Animal House" since acquiring it in 2000, and laughed long and hard along the way, too, admits Tanner, who speaks about their experiences and his new book, "From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story" (Academy Chicago Publishers, $24.95) in Ogden on Saturday.
This is no strait-laced "how-to-fix-up-an-old-house" lecture but more of a comedic one-man show from the Loyola University Maryland writing professor.
"(Humor) just seems to be the best package for this story," Tanner says in an on-the-road phone interview from Yellowstone National Park. "There's always room for humor and I think people never tire of humor."
Where fools rush in
Lydia Gravis, a Weber State University art professor who arranged Tanner's visit to Ogden, says anyone who has worked on a home project will appreciate the author's lighthearted approach.
"There are some situations where if you're not laughing about it, you'd be crying about it," says Gravis, who, with her husband, recently made over their own Victorian home in central Ogden. "It's just refreshing to hear about a comical adventure of repair and house restoration. The humorous part of it is what makes it most appealing."
Tanner's presentation at Ogden's Historic Pingree Mansion includes a slide show of before and after shots of the brownstone. The couple spent a month just hauling out garbage, enough to fill three 30-yard Dumpsters.
The walls in the 4,500-square-foot structure were also covered in graffiti.
"It wasn't bad-looking graffiti, really, but it would have looked more fitting in a subway tunnel," Tanner says on the couple's website, www.houselove.org.
As newbies to home restoration, Tanner says the process was a learn-as-you-go affair for him and Eicher, who got married in their Victorian in 2003.
"Throughout the book I'm just a fool and it's just kind of fun to watch me do all the things I do wrong and learn things the hard way," he says, adding, "I don't try to make myself look good in any respect."
Writing about the adventure was difficult, Tanner says, because "life is messy" and he had to decide what parts of the story needed to be told and what things could be left out.
So that means he skipped over the stressful stuff and the husband/wife bickering, right?
"No, that's the stuff I left in," he quips.
A do-it-yourself home restoration is stressful, Tanner says, noting, "We were at odds at every turn."
Even seemingly small things led to tremendous tension, he says, like, for example, the fact that his wife liked to see their dogs running free through the house -- and Tanner preferred to see them tied up.
"What we learned to do, then, was talk and listen, and talk some more," the author explains. "The listening part was always hard for me because I am a guy."
Also, he says he and his wife did see the humor in it all: "Jill and I are two people who laugh a lot. We are two people who are always laughing at each other; we are far from perfect and we know that."
He adds, "Sometimes she would freak out and sometimes I would freak out, but we never freaked out at the same time."
Pardon our dust
Gravis says she became acquainted with Tanner online when she discovered his blog about his home restoration. When she learned he was going on a book tour, she invited the author to stop in Ogden.
Folks interested in historic restoration will enjoy the lecture, she says, but so will anyone who has dealt with broken pipes or other projects while trying to make a place their own.
"From Animal House to Our House" is, above all, a love story, Tanner adds, but part of its appeal is also that it's a "believe-it-or-not" story, the kind that he says gets people thinking, "Holy cow! This actually happened -- they actually did this!"
The end result is a great house -- with not one but seven prime spots for reading a book -- where Tanner and Eicher enjoy living, but are still hard at work to complete.
"Well, it's not done," Tanner says with a laugh when asked about the finished product. "We're finished, but we're not finished."