Flagstaff's Clyde Tombaugh House
and Steve Schoner's story
Steve Schoner, in better days, holding a meteorite; his lifelong hobby
Photo by Harald Stahlik c.1998
In 2001 I was given the opportunity to move a historic house here in Flagstaff, Arizona, the home of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto. At the time I and my wife were in deep credit card debt and we had put our home up for sale to pay that off and eventually relocate. But when this opportunity was offered I immediately jumped on it, and decided that it was the best way to go to perhaps change our fortunes.
(See AZ Daily Sun article. Then after viewing use the BACK button to view this page)
CLICK: A moving experience for Tombaugh's home
A year earlier, before this article came out, I was at that moment deeply in debt, $60,000 in credit cards at 21% interest. This very dire situation was, even at paying the minimum, a $10,000 payment per/year, not to be resolved until 2059. And before this offer came to me, I was in a self employment venture with computer repair, and my wife working a part time job. (Meteorites have never paid my bills) We were not making enough to pay the outstanding debt. So, I was either going to have to declare bankruptcy or to sell my house to pay the debt off.
In this situation I chose to sell my house, move and relocate to a better area for employment, being that in Flagstaff it is so costly to live. With low wages and a high cost of living, that is the reason my wife and I got into such crushing debt over the last 10 years.
So, no sooner had I gotten an offer on our house, a friend of mine, Elton Turner, offered his Clyde Tombaugh house to me… If I wanted to move it off his land then on the land next to my current home, all of which was up for sale. Initially I was to pay 5,000 for the house, after it was moved a year later. But then when things about a year later were under way and my bills mounting, before the move, Elton was kind enough to waive the fee and give me the house outright… But only if I could get it off his property for his building project. This would remove the house from his property and save him the cost of demolition.
The promise of this offer put a whole new spin on the prospect of selling our house. And in that year before the actual move, I decided to refuse the offer we had on the table, and take our current house off the market. We would sell the land behind it; pay off our debt, then use the remaining funds for moving, and re-setting the proposed Tombaugh house onto our property.
After looking into the entire dynamics of the process, it looked very promising.
The actual relocation of this house to my property, about 300 feet would cost $15,000. Then according to the building contractor, the new foundation and plumbing would cost another $15,000 to $20,000.
It all seemed good, and after the credit card debt was paid, we would still have enough to do the project.
So, with the promise of this project before us, we chose to sell the our vacant land, three lots behind it. The land quickly sold and after paying off the credit card debts, we had the remaining money to do the project.
With a full year of preparation the logistics over that year were very involved. On the day of the move, re-locating this house caused a big stir here in Flagstaff, AZ. I was moving a very historic property, and what a thing it was! The house is well maintained in virtually the same condition that it was when Clyde Tombaugh lived in it… Crystal doorknobs, brass fittings intact, crystal chandeliers, solid white oak floors, and a very quaint sea green tiled bathroom from the 1940's.
Then as the project was underway, many things happened. I was put through the wringer by city planning and zoning every step of the way. Every expense was over budget, and there was no way for me to keep up with it. The new foundation, plumbing, electrical, gas lines, every step of the way the expenses mounted, and soon the bill was over the $40,000 that I had left over from the land sale. Now I was selling my personal assets, and taking loans from my father and ailing mother. The cost of this project is now in excess of $70,000 and to make matters worse, I was again in personal credit card debt to the tune of over $6,000.00.
And though close to being finished, the house after two years of this was still not done, and now I stood to lose it, as well as the historic home that I now live in, due to these mounting debts. And thinking that it is a historic property, there must be loans for it from historic preservation groups... Wrong
They will cover only historic property that is on its original location.
And if that is not too bad….
The story gets worse,
(A recent AZ Daily Sun article outlining what happened to me. Some details are in error which I have addressed in the text following. After viewing this link and the transcription of the actual article posted by Ron Baalke of JPL please use the BACK button to view this page to continue with my detailed account)
CLICK: Moving experience nearly fatal
In December of 2002 I worked feverishly to level out the home's foundation in its tight crawl space. I spent 2 solid months previously in that dank and dirty space, using a 10-ton lift, shims, and a hammer in the task. I realigned the floor so that the 1-inch crack that ran from the front to the back room of the house closed as the floor was leveled out. It would have cost me a fortune to do it via a contractor, and being that I was running out of money I decided to do it myself. Dead tired after a full day's regular work, in the cold, and at night I worked nearly every day till 12 midnight to level the entire floor out. It was just about finished in the last week of December of 2002 when one of two things hit me, maybe both at the same time. There was mold under that house, and spiders, maybe even ticks from the skunks and stray cats that got under there at night. Just after Christmas I was bit by something as I had a lump on the top of my head,the mold was getting aggravating my sinuses as well. I was increasingly tired from the long days of labor. Come January of 2003 just after the first, I was so tired that I delegated the first weekend after the holiday as a time of rest.
Well, rest I did… Almost forever.
A nap gone wrong:
Come the 4th of Jan that afternoon I decided to lay down on the couch and take a long much needed nap, something I had not done in a long time. I also had a headache, which I thought was related to my chronic fatigue. I slept through the night and well into the next day. But when I woke up on that Saturday morning I was very disoriented. I cannot remember much of what happened after that, other than the fact that I was very tired, and also very confused in my thinking. In fact I cannot remember much of what happened that day, though my wife tells me that I was looking very tired. Later that afternoon, I took to the couch again for another nap. Again,I laid down on the couch and slept through the night, my wife letting me stay there rather than disturb me. But it was more than one night. I slept throughout the entire next day, waking only for water and relief. I found that I was getting weaker and weaker, and even more bewildered. My thinking was becoming very erratic. I went to the couch again, and soon fell asleep. It was not until the next morning, Monday Jan. 6th, that the plant light for our window plants awakened me. I found the light very bothersome, and wanted to turn it off. My wife had gone to work as a part time receptionist that morning, and was not home. I struggled to get up and then stagger over to where the light was to turn it off. But when I got there, and attempted to do so…
I was befuddled… I could not figure it out! How to turn off a light was completely beyond me!
Turn off the switch.
Pull the plug.
Unscrew the bulb.
None of these otherwise obvious options were apparent to me.
I sat down and contemplated it, completely bewildered that I could not figure it out. And also, my mind was going fast, my thoughts were getting very odd and confused. And I also noticed that my right hand, and leg felt numb, and unresponsive.
Something was very wrong, and I sensed it. But I did not know what to do. I was losing my sense of reality, and even who I was.
It was very strange.
I rose to go to the couch, and as I was walking there, staggering to keep my balance, I stumbled and fell to the floor. Then I discovered I could not get up. No matter how much I tried, I could not lift myself up from the floor. Then I became nauseous, and vomited profusely a clear solution, almost like water. It was awful. The heaving was extremely intense. I struggled to get up on the couch for quite some time, I have no idea how much time it was but I remember how hard it was. Then, before I could pull myself up, I lost control of my bladder. I peeled my clothes off in response and managed to lift up onto the sofa. Then my perception of the world around me went into a spin. I was having something like vertigo, a condition that in the past often afflicted me.
I tossed and turned on the sofa, trying to go back to sleep. I peeled my covers off, and on because I felt hot, then I felt cold. Back and forth, hot and cold I went struggling to find comfort. I was having audio hallucinations. I heard someone walking above my ceiling in the roof space. I vaguely remember shouting at the perceived person and it would stop. Then start again to further annoy me. So it was till my wife came home later that morning. She saw the vomit on the floor, the overall condition of the living room, and my condition.
By now I was becoming delirious, my words made no sense at all.
She asked me a question.
"Gosh, you look really bad, are you sick?"
And my response was like this:
"Pyramids are gray, but the ships have no meaning."
None of my responses made any sense to her, and they made no sense to me either. I was losing sense of reality.
A trip to the hospital:
She wisely decided that I should go to the doctor, and she got me to somehow cooperate as she got me dressed for the trip.
I was completely out of it, but aware that something was wrong as my entire right side was very numb. After I was dressed, she helped me out to the car, and how she did that I have no idea, as I vaguely remember her helping me to the car and me staggering out into the snow to get there.
She drove me to the doctor, and went in to get help. But while I was in the car, vomiting profusely, unable to walk, he told my wife that if I could not walk on my own it would be best to take me directly to the hospital and that they would call him from there if it was serious.
She did that, and I was admitted via the emergency ward. The next thing I remember is one doctor after the initial exam expounded that he thought that I might be having a major stroke. I heard this, but oddly I was not shocked.
They sent me to radiology for an MRI. By then my right side was completely gone, I could not feel it, or move anything from the top of my head down to the foot.
Dead, completely dead.
My perception of reality was extremely weird as well, for I was functioning on only half a brain. The second MRI that Monday afternoon, Jan 6th, confirmed that my left brain hemisphere had swollen, and it was during that second session that I went into a coma.
I was dying and the doctors and neurosurgeons were perplexed as to what was causing it. They had done that day and the next spinal taps, artery checks for blockage to the brain, and other standard tests for stroke victims. None of the tests revealed a clear-cut stroke or what it was that had affected me so profoundly.
I was dying and the team of doctors could not figure out why. At 52 years of age, I was in perfect shape, with a resting heart rate of 51 to 55 beats per/min, and my blood pressure was low, 70;105. I had prior to this episode walked to work each day and usually would walk as much as 7 miles per day at a race walk speed; I had the heart of a twenty year old athlete. My condition to them made no sense.
What did I have?
There was no evidence that I had a stroke… But it was plainly apparent that a stroke like condition was underway. And during the time that I was deep in a coma, I was told that I was curled up in the fetal position.
What was it? They had to find out… So my wife was asked if they could perform a major brain biopsy where a piece of my left hemisphere would be removed. She agreed, and signed the papers and this dangerous operation was performed while I was in a coma.
(see photo of the scar remaining after the procedure, but use the BACK button of your browser to return to this page. CLICK: scar.jpg )
With the samples they failed to find a pathogen, and decided to FED-EX them to the University of Kentucky, neurological pathology that specializes in rare brain disorders. They also sent slides to Barrows in Phoenix and St. Joseph's Hospital. Six nerologists worked on my case, and they failed to find any pathogen, but from the symptoms, and the condition of the brain cells in the samples they determined that I had "multifocal perivascular subacute demyelination" and or "acute pervenous diseminated encephalitis" consistant with acute disseminating encephalomylitis,(ADEM). And even with this they are not absolutely sure what it was that nearly killed me, as it was limited to the left hemisphere of my brain, whereas in most cases it is both hemispheres.
To see these brain biopsy slides taken from my brain, and numerous educational links regarding demyelination click the following link, but use back buttons to return to this page
Histologic slides from my brain biopsy
A most amazing thing-- An out of body experience:
According to the official pathology report this is a very rare and dangerous condition that usually afflicts people after vaccinations, and usually restricted to younger people after vaccination. Most of the children so affected recover, some fully and some with residual disability. But for me, many in my age group, 50 and above wind up dead, or very severely disabled. At 52 my prognosis did not look very promising; in fact the doctors had braced my wife, my parents, and my brother for the worst outcome.
And while I was in the coma, I had strange visions, and weird hallucinations. I saw people I once knew, sitting in an plush gray armchair petting a cat that I once had. One after another, in a continuous sequence of visions, I saw them. One after another petting my long gone cat. Many of these people were long gone as well. And everytime I looked at my cat, right between its eyes an opening would appear and light would stream out and the vision would start again with another person I once knew. And I also saw my brain in cross section against a brilliant iridescent metallic pink field of color.
I was in the ICU with tubes hooked up to me, and a breathing-feeding tube down my throat. And in that state with weird hallucinatory dreams, I suddenly came to reality. I saw my father, brother, wife and daughter along with the doctor, a neurosurgeon. I was very surprised by this, for I was seeing them clearly, more clearly than ever before. I had had an eye operation in 1980 for detached retinas and my vision is after that very bad. I need very thick glasses to see anything at all. But I did not have them when I was in the hospital at the time, they were at home. But in this coma state, I could see everything very clearly. It was as if I was in a cocoon floating over my bed and I was seeing everything very clearly, and hearing too.
My brother argued with the doctor about my condition, maintaining that I would come out of it. But the doctor was adamant in his position based on his experience as a neurosurgeon.
He said: "I don't want to get your hopes up too high, but every one that I have seen in your brother's condition does not come back from it, and if they do they come back very disabled."
I heard this very clearly, and I was somewhat taken aback by it. And the neurosurgeon told them that a procedure was in order to obtain a biopsy of my brain. I heard it all, and saw it, when theoretically, I being in a deep coma could not have seen or heard what was being said. My brain was shutting down, I was in a coma with no responsiveness, but I heard and saw it all.
I saw Jesus!:
"I am dying," I thought.
"What do I do?"
But there was no pain.
And there was no fear.
And a very strange thing happened to me from that point, the image of my folks and the doctor vanished and I was seeing the crucifixion. I saw Jesus on the cross. It was nothing really spectacular. But I was seeing it, a static scene… the Cross, and Jesus on it against a dark sky.
And then I was in darkness, an intense darkness.
There was a light in the distance, a very bright light.
But it was not distant at all, and if I had hands to reach for it I think that I could have.
It was like a portal into another dimension, and as it grew larger, the edges of it were like rays of light that had penetrated into equal rays of darkness that surrounded me. And these rays were scintillating, moving along the edges of this very bright and ever growing light. And I saw colors in there, beautiful colors like a rainbow, but more intense, pastel bright, beyond my words. And in the very center of this was gold and silver light, roughly rectangular in shape, but the edges of it were not distinct like the solid jambs of a doorway. And in the midst of the colors, this gold and silver light was very bright. I wanted to look away but could not. And there was a figure in there approaching me, and when it drew closer at the portal, I was there.
It was Jesus!
He was right there!
And he was looking at me!
In that light I saw that he wore a robe of silver and gold, and his hair was dark brown, almost black, and he had a short beard, not long like some pictures. And his eyes… I remember them.
I am here, I thought.
I had by then forgotten where I had been or what had brought me where I now was.
I am here.
And He spoke to me, not with words that I heard, but to me in my mind.
"I am sending you back."
That is all that he said.
There was no explanation; just that he was sending me back.
"Where?" I thought.
I did not know where I was to go, as I had at the time no idea why I was even there. In other words, I had completely forgotten the world that I was from, and all that mattered to me was that moment.
After almost 7 days I emerged back into this world. After that vision of Christ, coming back was not instant, but a gradual transition, so by day 7 I was more or less back.
But I could not speak, nor recognize words, or common household items, or read a clock. I was completely aphasic. And I could not move my right arm, or leg as my entire right side was dead.
Everything looked strange to me, and I was lost in this now very strange world. And all the while, I reflected on what I had just witnessed, Jesus, his words to me. And now I was back not able to speak or relate what I had in my coma seen and heard? And all the while, I had this very strange vision as I was recovering, the sound of medical instruments being used on my brain, and seeing a section of my brain to the left side being worked on, all against a brilliant pink field of color. Yes, I had a brain operation done when I was in a coma, but this vision and the sound of the tools and footsteps were very clear in my mind for almost 20 days after the actual operation. And whenever I closed my eyes I would hear it, and see it. But when I attempted to look up to see who it was, the sounds and the image of what was my brain vanished. And then as I relaxed, and with closed eyes drifting in the state that I was in, it would come back.
And all the while, slowly and painfully through the hospital rehabilitation program I regained the use of my right arm and leg, starting first with my thumb and big toe. To demonstrate that I would not spend my remaining days in a wheel chair, after almost a week of being out of the coma, I got them to move. And it took a monumental effort to do that. And my speech was coming back, though words and some terms even now still confuse me. I did this against all that the doctors said regarding my case. They now call me the "Encephalitis Miracle Man", as they have never seen anyone come back from the state that I was in.
Currently, I suffer with cognitive difficulty, and also the very minor but annoying inability to distinguish between right and left. But, thanks be to God, I can write. Not nearly as well or as fast as I used to, but considering where I was when I came out of the coma, everything I do now seems miraculous. And I have a new perspective on my life, it is as if I am at times outside of myself looking in, and there is a weirdness of perception with it. It is hard to explain, to find the right words, but I am certain that if there are others like me that have had this experience and lived to tell of it, we would understand each other.
What am I doing now? Trying to pull it all together. I am going to church now, and seeking the Lord in things. This spirit shattering event has changed my life. I am unemployed, disabled and not even able to work.
The bills keep mounting.
The treasured historic Clyde Tombaugh House is yet to be done, and I am now out of money to finish it in its very last stages. The pavement was done with the last loan from my father, and still the landscaping, floors and finish work is yet to be done.
This house has cost me my fortune, and my health.
But I am back after having a very profound near death experience.
My hospital bills have exceeded $80,000, and thankfully my insurance and ACCESS have covered that.
But the bills other than that continue to mount. This affliction has caused me to lose some IQ points, and tasks that were easy before are almost impossible now, as I am now always on edge or asleep. No in betweens. Due to driving restrictions placed on me, I now depend on my wife to drive me around. My wife applied for my disability when I was in the hospital, and was at first rejected, because they do not understand my case involving a very rare brain disease, and Social Security wanted me to hire a lawyer to explain it to their agency. Then no sooner had I found a lawyer, and was inquiring as to the legal process, I received on 8/15/03 a check from Social Security. Social Security confirmed that I am now on SSDI, and without legal assistance. This will not pay for everything, but it will help greatly.
I never expected that Clyde Tombaugh's Flagstaff house would have cost me my health on top of the bills. I have, due to the limitations of my current medical condition changed my plans from turning it into a bed and breakfast, instead I intend to turn it into a rental cottage. Like a time-share.
My daughter currently live in it and pays nominal rent. But I will probably need $10,000 to $20,000 to finish it. The roof of our historic house, the oldest house in Flagstaff, the one that we reside in was in disrepair. I was hoping to have the re-roofing of our current home done with money left over, but the contractors with their high fees took that money I was hoping to have months before I came down ill. And all of this did not even address the ever increasing personal debt that my wife and I are falling into, which was the very reason that brought us to this current situation. I am the "Encephalitis Miracle Man" recovering from a near fatal condition, not able to work or make a living as a computer technician, or do my hobby of meteorite hunting, but if I can finish this project things for me and my family will change, as I originally intended.
All help would be appreciated, and accepted with great thanks. And would I ever do this again... NO! I will NEVER move another house again.
City of Flagstaff Lends Help:
As of 08/2004, the City of Flagstaff provided support in so far as extending aide through Flagstaff's Housing Rehabilitation Program for low income housing repairs. This involves re-roofing and re-modeling of our current historic home one that we have lived in for 29 years. However the Tombough House is not included in the grant, but at least such work prevents our home from further deterioration. The grant is in the form of a no interest loan, and is imposed as a lein on our property. It does not have to be paid back until we refinance or sell our property. Roofing, lead abatement, and re-modling according to historical guidelines for our residence, the oldest home in town, will entail $25,000 of work. And I am eligiable to re-apply to get more work to correct the grossly out of date plumbing, as well as the 1915 electrical knob and tube wiring brought to code. Though this does not apply to the Tombaugh House this upgrade of our current residence is greatly appreciated. And I and my family extend thanks to the City of Flagstaff for this program.
Also I extend special thanks to Thrivent Lutheran Fund, and my church, Peace Lutheran of Flagstaff, that raised nearly $2,000 toward the completion of the Tombaugh Home's steps and decks
Photos of my historic Clyde Tombaugh House, the discoverer of the planet Pluto, being moved. These are pictures and will take time to load, especially at 56K I will add some other photos of the home's current exterior and interior later. Click the link below and then wait for it to load.
CLICK: Moving Tombaugh's House.
Postscript Addendum 04/06/04
On the evening of March 24th while out on a meteorite recovery trip, I suffered a major series of seizures "status epilepticus" lasting 30 to 40 minutes. I believe this to be due to Lamictal, and or the initial trauma that I sustained in January of 2003.
Postscript Addendum 12/18/03
This year has proved to be especially hard for me and my family. My dear mother died as a result of cancer on November 30th, 2003. Click the following link to see her and my eulogy to her given at the Scandinavian Mariner's Lutheran Church in San Pedro, CA on December 13th, 2003. Being that I am disabled, and in recovery, it was very difficult for me to speak to all those gathered that day.:
Eulogy to my dear mother.
Postscritp Addendum. 01/05/2005
"Heavy Snow Wrecks Havoc," AZ Daily Sun, Jan. 05 2005 has mention of me and it as I was attempting to shore up one upper back room roof of the Tombaugh House. A one foot diameter tree limb crashed onto my car caving in its roof. (AZ Daily Sun requires $2.95 to view the whole article):
Thank you for your consideration in reading my web page. Writing this has been tremendously difficult. Any words that were poorly used are my fault, for it seems my mental ability has been affected, and it is as if my brain has aged 30 years this year. I will however continue in updating this page, so please return.
My e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other links of interest:
International Meteorite Collectors Association
UPDATE 01/31/05: After 16 years of work, and two years after leaving the hospital, I finally finished my Civil War novel "Scarlet Fields." The first draft was finished and copyrighted in 1992, and over the twelve years following I line-edited and checked, and re-checked historical details. It was completed two weeks before I entered the hospital. The last two years were spent in my recovery period checking and correcting typo's and grammatical details. It is now available, and if you are interested in Civil War history and a long novel regarding this conflict, consider this work. After reading it, give it a rating. Thumbs up or thumbs down. From this, I will either make a revision or establish it with an ISBN so that it will be available at Amazon.com and other booksellers. For me, Scarlet Fields gives me a great sense of accomplihsment after the near death experience that nearly deprived me of the time to see its completion. I can find typo's and errors in grammar, but whether I can write anything like this is now in question. I can only thank God that I finished the final manuscript before I became ill.
see: SCARLET FIELDS
UPDATE 07/20/06: After a very modest inheritance from my mother's estate, I am proceeding in finishing the Tombaugh House. My daughter is renting while I have work done in the interior. The house needs a trememdous amount of landscaping work, and finishing touches. It is still a very big project, but at least I can see some light at the end of it. And at the very least at least it is livable. The back room on the lower floor had a fireplace put in sometime in the 1970's and this I have removed and am having restored to what I think it was back in Tombaugh's day-- a study room. It will have a desk that lowers from a wall bed. This room is the one that will require the greatest amount of labor to finish. And I am well into it now. Health wise, I am better. However, I still have issues with memory, word finding, tingling on my right side, terrible muscle spasms and other ADEM related issues. And I am worried that I might be afflicted with MS which is in some cases related to ADEM. (Time will tell) ADEM is a terrible affliction. It has done a number on my brain and I have over the last 3 years and 7 months fought it and re-habilitated myself as best as I can. My mind and brain feel like it has aged 30 years. It has not been an easy road, and at times I get very discouraged and angry. For me ADEM is a life changing event. Coming out of it is like a second birth. Most though do not come out of it as well as I did. I am currently employed part time at an agency that employs disabled persons. And due to mental fatigue I can only work less than four hours after which I lose focus. All said, I am alive, well and still working, even if only part time. And this month on July 30th, my wife and I celebrate our 28th year of marriage. (God bless her-- she has gone through real hell with me) We should do something good.AddPro - Site Submission and Promotion Submit your URL to more than 120 of the most popular search engines on the web. You can also create meta tags for your site.