Interview with John Thomas,
former occupant of the "Leatherface Home".

John Thomas (pictured middle) on Quick Hill living in the Leatherface home.

John (Rob) Thomas and I have put together this interview for posting on my web site.  I am too glad that he has taken his valuable time to answer my many questions about his experience and knowledge about Quick Hill.  The picture above was taken in 1978 and he is the middle person in the photo.  You can click on the photo for a larger version of the picture.

This interview has been compiled over several e-mails between ourselves.  We have also edited the interview to leave certain names and other facts that were not necessary to answering the questions out of the document.

All in all, this interview is by far the best resource of information yet posted to my web site.  Again, I thank Rob for his time, effort and openess on the topic and look forward to more information he has to share.

If you wish to contact Rob, send me an e-mail and I'll forward it to him.  If he has any reply, I will most certainly forward it back to them.

Can you provide some general background information on Quick Hill, the structures built on the hill and the owners at the time?

 I lived in the Chainsaw family house for 8 years, from August 1978 until October 1986.

I moved into the Family house with two friends of mine.  After they moved out I lived there with various members of my family, who continued living there after I left. One of them is the "hermit" referred to in your story. He is not a real hermit in any sense - he saved all those newspapers for recycling, but was too lazy and also unequipped (transportation-wise) to move the stuff after the piles got too big, so there it sat. He worked at Motorola during all those years, and still does. The "piles of garbage" are undoubtedly just the usual result of an unattached bachelor with no housekeeping skills and no scheduled garbage pickup. I last visited the house in 1992. My relative lived there a few more years, and then the house sat vacant for some time until the property was sold shortly before the house was moved. Some of the "garbage" could also be the result of vagrants who may have used the house during that time.

 There was a married couple living there before we did. I don’t want to give their name. She is a midwife in Austin.

 Please note that I am no relation to the current owners of the house.

 One of the problems (or pleasures) of living there was the constant stream of tourists wanting to see the house, and fully expecting a gracious, guided tour both inside and out. There were also the night visitors looking (usually) to scare their girlfriends.

 The house sat on 100 acres owned at that time by an old lady who lived in Austin.

Her son-in-law managed the property for her. Our lease covered the house and 4 acres, mostly the area in front of the house. The rest of the property was leased for cattle ranching by two Czech-Texan farmers, a father and son,  from Rice's Crossing and Taylor.  I believe they were already leasing the land when the movie was made, but I’m not sure.

 Once we had a visitor (an older lady) who told us of living in the house as a child decades earlier. Her grandfather had died in a car accident when the steering wheel came off his car as he was going down Quick Hill. Another family member (female) died in the house, of natural causes.

 Rattlesnakes were fairly common on the hill. We had our first encounter with one in the back yard shortly after moving in. (The hill directly south of Quick Hill is known as Rattlesnake Hill.) One of our cats was bitten on the foreleg and required extensive treatment and skin grafts. We couldn’t afford the bill, so Hyde Park Veterinary Clinic adopted the cat, which lived there for many years. (It was a seven-toed orange tabby known as “Bigfoot.”) In 1987, my brother was bitten on the leg by a 5 1/2' snake in the front yard, as he walked from his car to the steps shortly after nightfall. He went in, called for transportation to the hospital, then returned outside with a gun and killed the snake. On another occasion a rattlesnake was coiled on top of a large box left directly adjacent to the front door.

 The live oak grove northwest of the house was an Indian campsite. I found numerous flint tools and a few arrowheads lying on the ground. There were also Indian middens that have probably been raided by pothunters by now.


What were the circumstances in which you moved into the house?  In other words, how did you hear about the house being available to rent?  And how old were you?

 Two friends of mine were moving from Houston to Austin to go to graduate school/law school. (I myself had finished a Master's degree in French at UT.) My roommate (I lived in East Austin on Garden St., in the barrio) had moved out and returned to Montana. My friends were looking for a place in the country, outside Austin. They wanted a third roommate, and I was acceptable. (We were all classmates at Rice University in the early seventies.) Another friend of ours heard about the place from his girlfriend's sister. She was a friend of the occupants, who were moving out of the place. So it was just serendipity that landed us there. As far as I know the place was never advertised for rent, we just followed on their heels.

 There was some deception involved. The landlady wanted to rent to a couple, so my friends posed as such. My position was ambiguous - some sort of relative.

 I was twenty-six at the time. (We were all approximately the same age.) My foreign-language skills and advanced degree had landed me a job as a brick mason’s helper. ;-)


At what point did you first find out about the house being used as the set for TCM?  And what were your thoughts about this?  Did it change your perception about how you felt about living there?  Did you know the history of the house before you moved in?

 We knew the movie was filmed there from the first, before we moved in. None of us had seen it. It was intriguing, but we didn't give it too much thought. We also knew from the beginning that it was pure fiction and that nothing like that had ever happened at the house. I'm sure it added to the attraction.  A connection to a movie always gives a house a certain cachet - especially a notorious movie.

 All of us had lived in various old houses, more or less communally, since our days at Rice. We loved old houses, and this was a great old house. We all wanted a big vegetable garden, some chickens, etc. The place already had a garden, a greenhouse, a chicken coop, etc. We had a little of the "get back to the land" idea going, but not in a really serious way, given that we were all working on some sort of other career.

 We knew very very little of the history of the house before the movie. The couple living there told us what they knew, but they didn't know much. They had not been living there when the movie was made. I think they moved there in about 1975 or '76.

 The first chance I got after we moved in, I went to see the movie and loved it. I really liked the way the film struck a balance between black comedy and superbly-done Hitchcock-type suspense, never overindulging in gore. (As most anyone would agree, it's one of the least bloody horror movies ever made.) I thought the scene in the pickup truck with the girl in the bag, and the scene where grandpa has to be revived by being forced to suck the girl's bloody finger, were hilarious. (Of course a lot of people might say that makes me a sick person. I know one woman who walked out on the movie during the pickup truck scene.) Plus, the characters weren’t just faceless victims or villains. Even Leatherface got to show some emotion.


It’s obvious that you had many people coming by to view the house(s).  How did this make you feel?  Were you proud of this fact?  Were you upset at the loss of privacy?

 That was, to put it succinctly, a pain in the ass. We shared in the Texas countryman's general mistrust of strangers and trespassers. For those people who drove up during the day and were well mannered enough to ask polite questions about the movie, we generally would answer them. However, we never felt comfortable taking strangers into our house, and I would say only a handful of people got to go inside. (This does not include our friends, of course. We had a great number of friends in Austin who would come to visit, and they got the full tour.) Anyone who asked, "Is this the place where the massacre happened?" was sure to be told no, given a brief and not-unsarcastic lesson on the relationship between fact and fiction, and asked to leave. Anyone who came uninvited after dark would get the same treatment.

 Even after the house across the road burned, there was constant activity over there, especially on weekend nights. There was teen drinking, screaming, loud music, etc. etc. However, CR172 carried a lot of traffic and that was not an ideal place to hang out. Even at three or four in the morning there was sure to be a car coming along every ten or fifteen minutes.

 Early on there was an ongoing debate about what to do with the most annoying kind of visitors, the thrill seekers. These people seemed to believe that we were the Chainsaw Family living in the Chainsaw House, and the closer they got to us the more thrilling the fright. Of course, they never got very close. They would park on the side of CR172 or a short ways down our driveway. Then they would get out and sneak around a little, craning their necks to see signs of activity in the house. If they saw any, they would usually hop back in the car, sometimes letting out a few panicked screams, and peel out. The bolder ones might drive right up to the house, but such proximity guaranteed they would not get out and they soon fled in the same manner as the less bold. As anyone who lives in the country will tell you, it is disconcerting to have strangers drive up to your house in the middle of the night. It leads to a lot of lost sleep. We began to close the front gate every night and that helped a lot.

 We had guns in the house, mainly for the rattlesnakes. (I also hunted doves on the land during the fall.) There were many suggestions that we scare intruders off, by firing a gun into the air or (more intriguingly) by starting up a chainsaw and revving it a few times. We all agreed that this would only encourage even more thrillseekers. Everyone who was asked to leave did so. We never had to threaten anyone or call the sheriff.

 I should mention that we always had dogs. Country dogs, as I'm sure you are aware, don't like strangers either. Many visitors were deterred by the agitated greeting they received from the dogs. My sister, who lived there a year or so, had a Doberman. One day a man on a motorcycle rode up the driveway. The dog was fast asleep beside the house and was only roused after the man stopped the bike and got off. He barely had time to jump back on the bike, start it and roar off just ahead of the enraged dog.

 Another day an entire group of people came marching up the driveway, fifteen or twenty people of all ages. It was some sort of extended family. I met them in front of the yard and they said they had come to see the movie house. Would it be OK if they looked around? I told them they could see about all they were going to see from where they were, but that they could stay and look for a few minutes. Ten minutes later I found them traipsing around the back of the house and asked them to leave.

 Here is a reconstruction of a typical "visit:"

 Visitor knocks on the door.  There are usually several others in the car. Only the bravest or most obsessed has dared to get out.

 "Can I help you?"

 "Is this the Chainsaw Massacre House?"

 (Sigh) "This is the house where the movie was made, yes. Nothing like that happened here, though. It's just a movie."

 "Oh. Well... can we see the house?"

 "You're seeing it now."

 "(hesitates) ... I mean, can we see the inside?"

 "No. I'm sorry. We live here, and we don't give tours."

 "Oh. Well, alright."

 Not too annoying, most of the time. But when you get two or three of those every Saturday and Sunday, and a few more during the week, it's tiresome.


I understand that when you first moved into the house, the house across the road was still standing.  I also understand that this house has been referred to as the “Thompson-Quick” house which has been said to have been built by William S. Thompson.  Can you impart any more historical information about this structure?

 None at all. Sorry. I learned more about it from the link on your web site than I ever knew.


What was your experience with this house?  Did you visit or explore it?  What evidence did you find that people were visiting the house?

 I visited it once or twice. I don't like trespassing (see above) and it bothered me to be there. Some of my friends went over there repeatedly. There were numerous empty beer cans and liquor bottles and lots of cigarette butts. We figured someone would set it on fire eventually.


It has been said to me by a TCM fan who visited the “Grandparents” house, that this house was in very poor shape.  And that when they looked back at their experience in this house, they felt lucky that there was not bodily injury done to themselves because of weak floors and other problems the house was suffering from.  If you did ever visit this house, did you feel like your presence there was hazardous?  If you can, please describe the house and your memory of it.

 That is all true. The upstairs was particularly dangerous. The house had been vandalized and damaged by weather, and the floors were weak.


It has been stated to me by Don Martin Public Affairs that the “sliver” of land that the house used to reside on is owned by the White Lime Co. which is just a few miles away from Quick Hill.  Do you know who owned the land and the house when you lived on Quick Hill?  Do you know when it was built?  Can you describe the overall layout of the house and it’s floors?

 That was my understanding - the entire parcel was owned by White Lime. Before the new CR172, it was not a "sliver." It was leased for cattle ranching. I never saw many cattle or much activity on that land. On one or two occasions I went onto that land to a small stock tank below the ruins of the house.  The cows did wander up to the old house, since there was some shade up there.

 The house was built in two parts. Based on what I know of architecture, it is likely the second part came later, but I'm not certain. The older (?) part of the house was constructed between two massive stone walls set parallel, with a central chimney in each.  This is a classic farmhouse design found all over central Texas and elsewhere. This type of construction is usually pre-1900. Generally, the more massive the walls the earlier the house was built. (I know of a pre-Civil War house near Taylor built with walls two and a half feet thick.) I would guess it was built about 1880 or 1890. The newer (?) part was built as an ell, at right angles to the first part.  Both parts were two stories tall. The second part was constructed entirely of wood. It had a two-story porch and gallery that ran along its entire length, on the inside of the ell.


 It has been documented that the “Grandparents” house burned to the ground sometime in the 1970’s.  Were you living across the street at the time this house burned down?  If so, did you witness the event?

 … when the other house burned it had been empty for some time and was severely damaged by vandals, weather, etc. We went in it a few times before it burned, but it was very spooky and somewhat dangerous in its condition. Also we were trespassing, and CR172 carried a lot of traffic. It burned in early 1979. One of my housemates woke me up, yelling for me to come and see, the house across the road was burning. (It’s amazing the effect the two words ‘house’ and ‘burning’ have on a sleeping human being.) It was very cold, but we could feel the heat from the fire in our front yard well over a hundred yards away. It was one of the grandest spectacles I have ever seen - it burned so fast and so intensely. The fire had to have been visible for miles around and in downtown Round Rock, but it was like 2 or 3 in the morning. The RR VFD {Round Rock Volunteer Fire Department} came but could do nothing except put out the trees around the house.


Do you have any idea of what may have started the “Grandparents” house to catch fire?

 It was undoubtedly set afire, whether by design or accident, by one of the many “night visitors.” I can tell you that the local high school students were universally acquainted with both the houses and the movie. They were not the only visitors, though.


Do you know who built the family house and what year?

 Sadly, I do not. As you state on your web site, the construction is clearly from a kit. Kit houses became very common around the turn of the century. The style of the interior wood trim is often referred to as "San Francisco." It was commonly used in Victorian houses built in Texas around 1900 to 1915. The exterior trim is Victorian, with some "gingerbread." All in all it's reasonably accurate to say the house was built circa 1910.


What was the overall condition of the house like when you lived in it?

 It was a house in need of a great deal of exterior work. The paint was already shot. A new roof was put on the house around 1975. The next spring an intense hailstorm from the northwest pounded the house, breaking windows and completely ruining the new roof on those sections that faced north. (The previous occupants told us this story.) In the pictures I have, the north side of the roof looks 25 years old, while the south and east sides look new. The chimneys were crumbling, and since I knew masonry I set a scaffold up there and tore them down to the point where the mortar was still more or less solid, and painstakingly rebuilt them. Then I repointed the rest of the masonry joints.

 The inside of the house was in very livable condition. The wallpaper was dated, but of course we found that charming. Other than a few small places, it was in fair condition, except that there were a lot of watermarks on the ceilings. The woodwork was in excellent condition. The floors in the kitchen, den and far back bedroom were covered by linoleum laid down on newspaper over the wood floor. In the bedroom, I took all that up, sanded the floor roughly and refinished it with linseed oil. That room had also had all the wallpaper and backing removed, so the walls were bare shiplap. (This room does not appear in the movie.  This was also the room where the last occupant stored the stacks of newspaper.)


Can you compare the appearance, inside and out, of the house between your memory of living in the house as opposed to how it looked in the film?

 It looked exactly the same. Other than hanging some bones and chicken cages, etc., it was obvious to us that the filmmaker had done very little to change the house. The kitchen looks pretty grim in the film; they may have made some cosmetic changes to create that effect. To this day, one of the fun things for me about watching the movie is the fact that everything in the house is so similar to when I lived there. They did build the slaughterhouse ramp and the door that Leatherface slams after he sledges the first guy and drags him through it. There was nothing like that in the house. The most obvious differences were the vegetation outside.

 I should tell you that only three of the downstairs rooms appear in TCM: the kitchen (where the meat hooks and freezer were), dining room (the dinner scene) and living room or parlor (the “chicken room”). They also used the hallway, stairway, and upstairs landing and one of the upstairs rooms. The house really only had one bedroom downstairs, in the far corner from the entrance. Then there were two other rooms that had been combined into one, by taking out a wall. None of these rooms is in the movie. A friend built a large wardrobe cabinet out of pine to fit the dimensions of the open doorway between the parlor and the dining room. This closed off the parlor and we turned it into a bedroom with a single door, just inside the front entrance.

 One other thing – no one could have jumped through the upstairs back window and landed on the ground. There was a small balcony, its railing, and fifteen feet of roof to clear, at least. They made it look pretty good, though.


Were there any “obvious” remains left behind from the filmmakers in or around the area?

 Not a single item. None. No, wait. There was the swing built out of railroad ties in the front yard. We were never sure if the film crew built it. It collapsed after a few years.


Besides the photographs you have of your stay on Quick Hill, do you carry any other items to this day from Quick Hill?

 I have some Indian arrow points and flint tools that I picked up in the live oak grove northwest of the house. There was also a fossil bed in one of the ravines below the house toward Round Rock that was full of common marine fossils. I might have one or two of those.

 (I was driving through La Frontera not long ago and one could still easily stroll up that ravine. If it’s still there, it would be interesting to try to find that fossil bed.)


Did you have any knowledge that this house had a “sister” house further up 1325?  If so, did you have any experiences there and what do you know about it?

 Sure. We'd have been blind not to see that the yellow house was built from the same plans and materials. There was a Swedish-sounding name on the mailbox. I never went there. I saw a story in the paper when they moved that house, and that’s when I found out where the Chainsaw family house is now.


 What were the addresses assigned to both houses on Quick Hill?

 When I moved there, there was no mail delivery. We had a box in Round Rock.

We got a notice at some point that a street address had been assigned for 911 purposes. We decided to put up a mailbox and get our mail delivered. To our consternation no mail appeared. (We had closed the PO Box.) After some bureaucratic red-tape-unwinding, we discovered that we needed to request in writing that the local mail carrier's route be extended up the hill. That got the job done. Thus the only address I know of was 3100 County Road 172. I have no idea what the address was back in the Postal Route days.

 After the new road was put in and I moved out, my relatives got a PO Box again and that was the end of the street address.

 By the way, someone once told us that the road used to be named Uphill Road, but I know now it was really Quick Hill Road. When I lived there we never knew the name of the hill, and we called it Rattlesnake Hill. I was never sure about that name, though, because there were signs on the hill to the south that said Rattlesnake Hill. Later and after moving out I found in some Round Rock historical material that the hill was named Quick Hill.


Were you still living on Quick Hill when the new CR 172 was built around the hill?  And was Old CR 172 the only way to get from 1325 (back then, Burnet Rd.) to McNeil?

 Yes, I was still living there. CR172 was the only way to McNeil except for McNeil Drive, a little road that ran just south of Abbot Labs over to Austin White Lime. Not many people used that road though. Everyone going to Round Rock West, Chisholm Valley, etc., which were booming subdivisions, used CR172.

 CR172 was a very dangerous road in the seventies and early eighties. It was a narrow two-lane road with a nasty, uphill S-bend near the northbound peak, and it carried a huge amount of traffic. There were many one-car run-off-the-road accidents. Fairly often someone would run off the road and take out the cattle fencing. For this reason {they} ran electric fencing around their pastures and did not rely on the barbed wire. If a car took out the electric fence it was easily repaired.  I can recall two multi-vehicle traffic accidents. Once a couple on a motorcycle sideswiped a car on the S-bend, banging up the drivers leg badly. Another night a couple of cars sideswiped on the bend, and numerous drivers stopped to look or assist. A DPS trooper came and I put out a plastic caution triangle. Next thing we know, two muscle cars come flying up over the hill southbound, racing. The first driver sees all these cars and people in the roadway, and he slams on the brakes, runs off the road and hits a tree while everyone scatters. The second car runs through the now-clear roadway and escapes unharmed. To cap the first driver's evening, the DPS wrote him a ticket. (He was uninjured.)

 Originally old CR172 was kept open as a detour off new CR172. (There were no gates.) You could take either road, although no one took the old road. I have mentioned how many cars passed by even late at night. After the new road was put in, no cars passed by, so at nighttime old CR172 became the prime dumping ground for all of southern Williamson County. The amount and types of material dumped were astounding. My brother bugged the county commissioner about it for months, and finally the old road was closed off, gated and locked. This was shortly after I moved out.

 When we moved into the house, Round Rock was still a country town. There was a feed store/co-op downtown. Old men played dominos under the shade trees. But the town had begun to change before we arrived, and today it is barely recognizable.


Since you say that there was no garbage pickup to the house, how was waste disposed of?

 Everything organic went into a compost pile. Everything recyclable was recycled. Everything else was burned in a 55-gallon barrel. Whatever couldn't be dealt with in this fashion was hauled to the county dump. (Something else you learn living in the country: burning trash in a barrel creates ash; rain on ashes leaches out lye; lye eats steel. So those barrels don't last long.)

During your stay on Quick Hill, was the windmill still there?  If so, were you also there when it was taken down?

The windmill was down when we moved in. I think it was replaced by the electric pump when the previous tenants lived there.


I take it that the house had running water and electricity?  And I also assume that there was no cable TV service?

 Yes. When we moved in the house had running water in the kitchen sink, and bathroom tub and sink, but no toilet. This was because the drain line connecting the bathroom and the cesspool (the house never had a septic tank) was concrete pipe, run under the driveway, and it had crumbled and was unusable. The former occupants had constructed an outhouse over the cesspool. One of our first projects was to dig up and replace the drain line with PVC, and reinstall a toilet in the bathroom. The washing machine drained to the other (southeast) side of the house into a greywater slough. I was well aware that the lack of a septic tank was a violation of state law, but no one wanted to hassle the landlord and get our rent raised.

 The water came from a deep well with an electric pump. The well was 300 feet deep. I know because I watched the pipe being pulled on two occasions for repairs to the pump, and I asked the workers about it. The well was a frequent source of problems. Pipes could freeze, a leak would cause the pump to overheat and shut down, fire ants loved the electrical control mechanisms and shorted them out.

 The house had only four electrical circuits. The old knob-and-tube wiring that probably dated from the thirties had been replaced by two-stranded insulated wire, probably in the fifties. Most of that was brittle and in need of replacing. I added an electrical plug on the screened-in back porch so that we could run a washing machine and a chest freezer, so I became well acquainted with the electrical system.

 There was no cable. None of us wanted it, if it had been available. To this day I don't have cable, and I'll wager my friends who lived there don't either. (I always say, "There's plenty of crappy TV on the airways, more than I care to watch. Why do I want to pay money for even more crappy TV? But then again, I do have a reputation as an irascible SOB, at times.) After I moved out my relatives put in a rooftop satellite dish, one of the little ones.


Quick Hill and the family house has often been referred to as a “farm house”.  Do you know if Quick Hill was ever used for farming?  If so, what was being raised?

 I don't know much about that. Certainly it was being farmed for hay when we lived there. They ran their cows on about half the property and grew oats and a type of grass called haygrazer on the rest. When the crop was ready they would turn the cows loose in it. Year round, but in the winter especially, they brought in hay to feed the cows. We agreed to let them farm the three acres in front of the house for more cattle feed. In return they gave us free run of their 96-acre lease, as long as we left the cows and the electric fence alone.

 Basing my opinion on the types of trees growing on the hillside and their ages (young mesquites and junipers), and the fact that there was evidence of limited terracing, I believe that most of the land was farmed at some point, though for what crops I have no idea.


I have reliable sources that state that marijuana used to freely grow on parts of Quick Hill.  Can you confirm this?

 I never saw any wild marijuana growing anywhere on that property. You can take that however you wish. Believe me when I say that if it had been growing anywhere, I would have known it. Those sources or someone else must have removed it down to the last stalk.


 Did you ever invite friends over and tell them of the history of the house?

 We had numerous and large parties. Everyone knew the story of the house. Sometimes groups of us would go see TCM. When Halley's comet appeared a lot of people came out to see that. Once we hired a teenage punk band from San Antonio to play at one of our parties. In later years my brother and sister threw some wild bashes that basically ran me out of the house for the night. It rained heavily the day of one of their parties and all night people tracked mud from one end of the house to the other, which took weeks to clean up.


 When you moved out of the house, was it because the house was in disrepair?  Yes or no is fine.  If yes, can you describe the problems you were experiencing with it?

 No, I moved out for personal reasons. I was thirty-four and had decided I wanted to get married and start a family. I wanted to move in together with the woman I was seeing, and she was unwilling to move into an aging farmhouse in the country with my cousin and my brother living in it. Perfectly reasonable. So we rented a house in South Austin not far from Zilker Park. A year or so later I got laid off and moved to Houston for a new job. (That woman is not my wife, but that's a whole other story. I didn't get married until 1992. As usual, things work out for the best.)

 I will describe a couple of problems in living in that house for you, though. I have mentioned the snakes, which were uncommon enough to not really be a big problem. Scorpions were everywhere, though. There was a scorpion in the bathtub just about every morning. Once I went to change a tire on my car and found a scorpion on the brake drum. Another time I was going to mop a floor, wet the mop in the sink and got popped by a scorpion in the palm of my hand when I wrung it out. The scorpion had been in the mop.

 Scorpions... we had a cat that had a litter of kittens in the barn. While climbing around in the hayloft looking for her hiding place, I got stung by a wasp on my left thigh. That night, I turned out my light and got undressed standing by the bed. My wasp sting was inflamed and itching. Suddenly I felt the same sting on my other thigh! I turned on the light and saw nothing. Lying down in the dark again, I had almost convinced myself this was some weird psychosomatic mind trick when I felt an insect on my arm. Instinctively I grabbed and flung it away. Hearing it hit the wall, I turned the light back on, found and squashed the scorpion. Thus I am one of the few people who have been able to evaluate a wasp sting and a scorpion sting, one in each leg, in the same day.

 One morning I awoke to find six angry sting marks, in a straight line evenly spaced about a quarter inch apart, up my right forearm. That was very spooky. My friends joked about how I must have been shooting up, but the only explanation is that a scorpion crawled up my arm while I was sleeping, and popped me every time my arm twitched.

 Then there were the rats. Wherever there are people there are rats, even more so in farmhouses. The rats would breed their population into such numbers that the sound of them fighting would keep us up at night. They did not often invade the inside of the house, but used the attic and foundation stones as living quarters. Once I stepped out the back door and splat! a rat hit the sidewalk right next to me, having fallen right off the roof (more or less emulating the girl's leap from the back window in the movie.) The rat picked himself up, about as stunned as I was, and staggered off into the brush.

 When the numbers got up, I would set some traps out and in three or four nights, a week at most, wipe them out. Many times I could catch two rats in one trap in a day - one in the evening, and one later. One thing I learned about country rats is that they are hungry, and much less picky than their urban cousins. When I discovered that a rat had been nibbling on a bar of Ivory soap in the bathtub, I began to bait my rattraps with chunks of it. It worked like a charm. Cheap and easy to use.


It has been reported by the actors and crew involved with the shooting of the film that the summer heat was almost unbearable in the house.  Can you describe what it was like to live the house throughout the seasons of the year and how you and the occupants coped with the elements?

 I would not want to be shooting a movie in that house in the summer. As you say, moviemaking involves crowds of people, many doing heavy work, in a closed space with hot lights. Any unairconditioned house in Texas would be miserable under those conditions.  That said, the house was actually quite livable for nine months of the year. Summer evenings and nights were very nice. The ceilings were eleven feet high, so there was plenty of air circulation.  Being on top of the hill, the house caught a nice southerly breeze every night, and we had lots of windows. In fact, the breeze on many nights would blow the covers right off the bed. My friend Bill lived upstairs in what we called "Grandpa's room." It was not as cool up there, but still pleasant at night. Mornings, the front porch was very nice. Even in the heat of the summer, I could go lie in a hammock under shade trees in the back yard and be comfortable. Of course the afternoons were too hot in July and August - any Texan who says they aren't, is lying. Naturally, the shaded southeast side of the house was cooler in the afternoons than the exposed northwest side. (And the rooms used in the movie were all on the hotter side of the house, or upstairs.)

 Really heavy spring rains would cause a strange thing to happen. The entire top of the hill would become a sheet of moving water, about an inch deep moving to the northwest and then down the hill. I only saw this a few times. The cow trails would become little torrents, further eroding the hillside. After one such rain the dam holding the smaller of two stock tanks eroded through and the tank emptied. It was never repaired.

 Winter, though - now that was another story. (Freezing his butt off in the winter was what drove my brother to move out – that and the summer heat.) The house had about 5 outlets for space heaters, none of them upstairs. We ran heaters in the bedrooms, the kitchen and the bathroom. In what we called the den, the large double room on the southeast side of the house (also not in the movie), we had a wood burning box stove. The house was heated by butane, not propane. It had one of two (that I know of) above-ground butane tanks in all of Williamson County, The gas delivery men referred to it as the "old Lone Star tank." Butane boils at about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, so if the tank is not below ground it requires a pilot light to keep the gas line flowing in cold weather. This means that when you know a blue norther is coming, you go out and light the thing before it gets too cold or too windy. Any thinking person has to get a little nervous at the thought of lighting a gas flame, however small, under a tank containing enough natural gas to blow up the entire house. Occasionally the light did not get lit in time or blew out. No gas. Then the only heat would be the wood stove, and we spent numerous three- or four-day stretches huddled around the stove, and sleeping in heavy clothes with hats on under several comforters. Even then I was cold until I learned to put a backpacking-type insulated sleeping pad under the sheet. No gas also meant it was likely the water pipes would freeze. (They would freeze even with gas heat if the temperature were cold enough.) No water meant no toilet. Now you get to go outside, dig a cat-hole latrine in the frozen ground, and squat, sometimes in the snow. Not the best memories of the house, but some of the most vivid. I used to tell people, "You haven't lived until you've walked into the bathroom in the morning to discover that the Tidy-Bowl man has strapped on his little ice skates." This was because the water in the toilet bowl literally was frozen.

 After I moved out my brother and cousin got rid of the butane tank and got a propane tank. (Propane boils well below zero degrees fahrenheit.) Even reliable gas was not enough to keep him from getting fed up with the cold.


I have noticed that there are several lightening rods attached at several places on the roof of the home.  Did lightening ever strike the house to your knowledge?  If so, what was the experience like?

 Lightning rods are a common feature of two-story farmhouses. Lightning did strike the rod in the front of the house, above the "chicken room," while I was home. (This room was my bedroom for the last five years I lived there.) It was just a flash of light and a very loud, simultaneous cracking noise followed by a boom. The heat literally melted the tip of the rod and it curved forward and over. Somewhere I think I have a picture of that.


On my web site, I have a picture of an abandoned car that was left on the side of the driveway that lead to the family house.  Do you have any knowledge of whose car this was?  If so, why was it left there?

 It was a 1981 Oldsmobile Omega.  I'll admit it looks pretty spooky in your picture. It belonged to one of my relatives.

 I had an old trailer made out of a pickup bed. Is that still up there?

 Yes, it is still there.  You can see it in a photo on my web site, as well as a photo of David Miller’s from his visit to Quick Hill.


 Lastly, I realize that what I have written makes the place sound pretty grim. In reality, I loved it up there. One spring day a scarlet tanager landed in the ash tree outside the kitchen window. I had never seen such a beautiful bird and felt that I had to learn about the birds on the place. I bought a bird identification book and in a few months I was a birder, an avocation I pursued intensely for some years. Although I don't do much real birding any more, I can usually name a bird as it flits by or flies from a bush. That’s one thing I got from living in the Chainsaw house.

 My immediate ancestors were all Texas dirt farmers, five generations of them on both sides of my family. Living there connected me to them in obvious ways. We raised chickens, rabbits and geese and had a hell of a garden. I learned to can food, how to keep a wood stove going all night, why you have to shut your chickens up at night, and many other pretty much useless things in today's world. I saw geese flying low and calling to each other in a snowstorm. I once snuck up behind a huge bullfrog at the stock pond and caught him by hand, amazing both of us. I let him go, and that evening we had dinner guests. I told them the story. They refused to believe it. So - off we went, the entire dinner party, down the hill. There was the frog. They watched as I did it again.  (Maybe it was a blind bullfrog, I don't know.) My years there were a succession of just such memorable events. Sure, there were problems, but they were different problems, not more problems, than the ones you get in the city - more fundamental problems, in some sense. It's a real privilege to be able to go out and just walk around a hundred acres of land, doing nothing, looking, listening. Great horned owls would land on the house and hoot in the night. You don't get that in town.

 And one more thing. The pictures the lady took before she moved the house are disturbing to me. The house wasn’t at all in that kind of shape when I lived there. I know it had deteriorated a lot in the last years, but it’s also clear someone had vandalized it, kicking out door panels, tearing wallpaper, etc. We have pictures!

 And Mr. Thomas is working on those pictures at this time.


I’d like to give my sincere thanks to Mr. Thomas in taking his valuable time in telling us his great stories of his experience in living in the house and Quick Hill.  Currently, he and I are working to provide more information that is not already documented in this interview to distribute to my web site.

If you would like to contact Mr. Thomas, please send me an e-mail and I will forward it to him.



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© 2004 Tim Harden