TO FIND THE OLD iron bathtub in the upstairs bathroom was exciting and confusing. I knew that the tubs are well-made and are considered stylish–perhaps even a bit sought-after. I also knew they were heavy. In order for me to remove the glued-on tileboard that was added to the bathroom at some point (perhaps the 1970s?), I had to move the tub, which meant I needed a helper. My brother, David, who likely has one (and in many cases two!) of almost anything, brought his pipe wrench over and helped me loosen the plumbing fittings and drag the tub away from the wall. Later in the day, I was able to tilt it onto its side and slide it into the upstairs hallway so that I could remove the blue shag carpeting that covered old linoleum tiles and, beneath that, the original pine floor.
I knew that the tub could be refinished, but Prospect is an extraordinarily small place, and finding a refinisher there would be unlikely for sure. A search on the Internet revealed a few listings for refinishing in Lynchburg, a city about 40 miles west of Prospect, so I started emailing and calling. Two gentlemen returned my calls and messages. Joe Stump, of Classic Bathtub Refinishing Company, and Brad Fulcher, of B & S Reglazing, quoted the exact same price for refinishing the inside of the tub ($250), but only Mr. Fulcher suggested that he could also have the outside of the tub sandblasted and then painted ($200). Mr. Stump said that typically the homeowner manages the outside of the tub. This information, along with Mr. Fulcher’s A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, made the decision about who to choose easy: the price was the same and Mr. Fulcher could refinish the entire tub. He said that he’d have to charge $200 to pick it up and return it, which prompted me to ask my brother and our friend, Ken Cook, if they thought we could get it loaded and delivered. Mr. Fulcher’s first question had been, “Is it on the second floor?”
A couple of days later, David said that he and Ken had been talking about how to get the tub down the stairs and they thought we could turn it upside down and slide it on a piece of carpet down the steps. The remnants of the blue shag rug were going to be handy! The three of us wrestled it into place at the top of the stairs and put a strip of the carpet in front of it, then slid it into place. David was on the stairs below the tub and Ken and I tried to guide it from above by holding onto the claw feet. It was an awkward, but ultimately successful method. The tub is heavy enough to have its own momentum, but it’s not so heavy that David wasn’t able to control it. Once we got it to the bottom of the stairs, we were able to pick it up and carry it onto the porch to be loaded onto a truck bed.
David and Ken removed the feet by sliding out the old square nails used to wedge the feet into place. David held one of the feet up to examine it. “I wonder why they didn’t just make these square?” he asked. I looked at the foot in his hand. Until that moment, I hadn’t really thought about why the tub is described as claw-foot, but, in the case of this particular tub, the foot looks like an eagle’s talon holding a half-ball. I’m not sure how I’d missed that obvious detail, given the tub’s name, but I became interested in the history of the style. One website, a blog titled House Appeal, suggested that, “like fashion, the originators of the clawfoot tub copied the styles of furniture from the time period, thus, the ‘claw-foot’ legs.” The site goes on to say that “the ball and claw was developed in Holland in the early 1700’s, inspired by a Chinese motif of a dragon clutching a pearl. The design evolved into a claw clutching a ball, and found its way from Holland to England and then to America within the first part of the 1700s. There are two variations of the ball and claw: a lion’s claw, which is more popular in England, and an eagle’s claw or talon, which is more popular in America.” Old House Journal has an article on the history of bathtubs that explains that it was in the 1920s that the cast iron and porcelain tubs became inexpensive enough for more people to have them. I’m guessing that’s when this tub was added to the house.
You can’t see it in the pictures, but the bottom and the side of the tub that abutted the wall were unfinished–just rusty iron. The front side of the tub (that would be seen as you enter the bathroom) had been painted white, and the paint is peeling. David noted that the seal for U.S. Steel was embossed in the bottom when we turned it upside down.
David and I shoved it onto the bed of a pickup truck and hauled it to Lynchburg and unloaded it in Mr. Fulcher’s yard on Thursday, May 19. Mr. Fulcher wasn’t home, but his large black dog seemed to be on guard duty, so I expect it was waiting for him when he arrived home that afternoon.
And that’s the story so far …