Me? Build a Cabin?

First Cabin

First Cabin


I never expected to build a cabin. I really thought I was going to be a Rancher’s Wife and not even one of the ones that helps out, outdoors, either. I was going to be perfect Susie Homemaker, keeping the house spotless, the meals on time and maybe do the gardening. Of course children would be the perfect ‘seen but not heard’ kind, coming along 2 or more years apart at least 4 years after I got married. As babies, they would sleep a lot. Ha.  God is really laughing about all that.

As I thread my way through the clutter in my home, I think of how clueless I was. It is probably a very good thing I could not foresee the future. I did get to do a lot of gardening, so there is that. Besides, perfect children would have been so boring. I got interesting children instead. Children that thrived on 2 hours of sleep a night.

My first experience in using a hammer was to build an Arctic entryway on the house the Toad and I owned near North Pole, Alaska. Surprising enough, it did not collapse or fall off the house.

My second experience in building was a semi-underground log cabin. (See picture above) I was still extremely afraid of ladders, so built, placed vapor barrier, insulation, dirt and built on some more until I could step off the bank onto the roof. Yay, no ladder needed on the entire project. It was a case of build or lose the property as it was a Homesite.

My third experience in building was a frame cabin. 16’ x 20’ with a partial loft. It was supposed to be the first of many small rental cabins with the rent paying for construction of the next cabin and so on.

I started that project in January 2001, after a warm spell about 45 degrees F. made it possible to start my old Dozer. I cleared the snow and brush away from an area not in the way of anything else planned. A Pulaski and muscle made semi-level pads to place pier blocks on as a foundation. A small sawmill in Fairbanks provided rough cut lumber at a reasonable price so I made the floor deck of 2×6’s, then insulated between the joists and added a plywood deck.

Well, that wasn’t so bad now, was it? The Grouch stopped by a couple of times and helped out but usually told me how it was never going to work, it was all going to slide down the hill during break-up and other helpful tips.

I kept on going. Using rough cut 2×4’s, I built the wall frames. A friend helped me raise the beam across the top of the walls to support the loft floor. I used 2×4’s 12 inches apart for the floor upstairs as I didn’t have the money to buy any more 2×6’s. Then it got scary. I needed to use a ladder to work on the upstairs. I was really running out of supplies by this time, so only built one side wall, 4 feet high, then the end gables, using a ridgepole for rafter support. I was able to get rafters and the same friend did help out by putting the rafters and metal roofing on. I house wrapped and insulated it without any siding on the outside.

The small sawmill had rough cut slab boards that I bought to use as siding on the outside walls and it sturdied up the building a lot to have some nailed up all around the outside. I couldn’t reach very high, while holding each board, so would place a nail in just enough to hold one end of the board while I nailed the other end in place, nailed that one and pulled the nail to use for the next board. Once I got to the highest I could reach, that was it. No more siding, just house wrap above that. The windows were easy to place. I had some on hand and used their measurements while building the walls, then just slid them into place. I bought 6 of them and one was given to me. I started sheetrocking the downstairs, even though I dislike sheetrock. It was very cheap, less than $4 a sheet.

A lady and her daughter came up from Florida to visit and my Granddaughter was staying with me, so the two girls taped and mudded the sheetrock.

I made a spiral staircase for the small loft. It was a royal pain as I hadn’t a clue what I was doing but it is still working, 14 years later. I put part of it up, The Grouch and his son did put the rest of it up.

I nailed plywood up for the ceiling. That was fun. I played tour Guide for a nice man visiting from Utah with his son, taking them to Valdez fishing. When we returned, they build a small bathroom downstairs and sheetrocked it, too.

The cabin wasn’t even finished when The Grouch moved in and has been in residence ever since with a brief bout of moving back to Pennsylvania, never to return, although he was back here quite soon. The first 3 1/2 years he was on payroll so the cabin was part of his pay. When he started getting a monthly check, he paid rent a few months.

Since that third cabin, I seem to always have some sort of building in progress. Mom sold her house, sent the money up and we built her a home. Then I built a shop, then we built my Daughter a house. We are still working on my Grandson’s house. We are also still working on a small gift shop, a very small rental cabin, both using mainly salvaged materials. I kind of like building. I still don’t like ladders but I use them anyway.


“I am Fine, I am Okay”



   The Guide I worked for took 3 of our clients out on horseback while I took one of the clients that was as fond of riding a horse as I am, out to glass another valley on foot.  We spent a pleasant day and had camp to ourselves all evening as the others were doing a spike camp and would be back tomorrow evening.  I listened to his hunting stories a while, then we turned in for the night.

We were up early and returned to the hillside we were using as a base to glass the lovely valley below.  By late afternoon, we spotted a very nice bull with a couple of cows moving into the valley to feed.  It was getting late and too far to stalk before full darkness so we headed back to camp, determined to be waiting for them in the morning at first light.

No one was in camp yet, when we arrived but we prepared a nice evening meal so it would be ready when they arrived.  We were almost finished preparing the meal when we heard the horses coming in.  The client went over to see if he could help them and see if they had any luck.

He soon returned, helping one of the riders to a seat beside the fire.  The man was obviously injured, but trying very hard not to let on that he even felt any pain.  When I looked at him, he said, “I am fine.  Really.  I am okay.”

The smell of dinner did perk him up a bit and soon he had a plate of food in front of him and started eating.

Everyone else straggled over, picking up plates and filling them as they passed the Dutch oven on the edge of the fire pit.  We asked how their trip had gone and they mumbled a bit between mouthfuls.

The Guide was done eating first and started the story of their excursion.  They had covered a lot of ground and saw some nice bulls but nothing that excited them.  It was still early in the hunt and they wanted to see if they could find something larger.  The injured man was only along for the ride as he was a non-resident alien and it would have been very expensive for him to get a license and tags.

As they turned to come back, the horse he was riding must have gotten stung or something because he went completely crazy, bucking and finally falling and rolling on the tundra.  The man riding him was still in the saddle when the horse rolled.

Everyone was stunned by the suddenness of the event and the poor horse was thrashing and screaming in pain.  The Guide threw his reins to one of the other clients and was over, pulling the man out from under the thrashing horse and trying to calm the horse when he saw that the horse had a badly broken leg.  He pulled his handgun and shot the horse.

He turned to the injured man, laying there on the ground, gasping for breath and also in pain.

“Are you okay?”

The man looked up at him, looked at the horse, looked at the gun still in the Guide’s hand and stammered out, “Yes, I am fine.  I’m okay.”

As we sat around the fire, whenever anyone would look over at the man, he would still hold up one hand and say, “I am fine.  Really.  I am okay.”

A One Eared Elephant


I was on the phone to Charlie who was working up north at the time when a friend stopped by the house. He was in a very good mood and wanted to go celebrate the very first contract of his new construction company. He had invited everyone he knew that had encouraged him and helped make it happen and needed a designated driver, too. That would be me.

Charlie and I had helped out as much as we could and we were both happy for our friend. Charlie told me to go ahead and go, enjoy myself and tell him all about it later.
A lady friend was living in our basement apartment at the time, so she came along also as it was going to be an enjoyable evening out for everyone. The fact that it was around -40 degrees and heavy ice fog didn’t dim the mood of the celebrants.

I made sure we had enough warm clothing just in case of any problems with the vehicle and we headed over to the Pump House on Chena Pump Road.

This is a nice restaurant (President Reagan ate there) and most of the people invited were already waiting for us to show up. We were seated in the middle of the main dining room and the place was crowded. Just because it was a very cold night didn’t mean people didn’t go out on a Saturday night.

The food was great, drinks flowed freely and everyone was having an entertaining evening but the instigator of our group decided it was too dull. He wanted some dancing and music.

The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to extend the evening and enjoy being entertained. Finally he jumped up on the table and started telling jokes. Several people at other tables started clapping and hooting, encouraging him to greater lengths. He did a few dance steps but no one would get up on the table with him to dance.

He finally couldn’t think of any more stories or jokes to tell and decided to ask the growing audience if anyone there had ever seen a one eared elephant. No one had.

He pulled one front pocket of his jeans out and fanned the material out nicely, then started to unbutton his pants.

Several of us managed to get him down off the table and hustled out the door as management was on the phone even as we bundled him out the door.

The slap of the freezing night air hit him like an actual slap to the face as we stuffed him into his winter coat and then into the pickup. He tried to convince us he could drive but we overruled that immediately and he gave in.

The backseat was full of tools and winter gear, so all three of us had to squish together in the front seat.

I only had to pull over once for him to hurl and we were almost to my house, when the flashing red lights appeared behind us. I pulled over immediately.

The Officer was very nice, but there was a tail light out on the pickup. He got a recap of the entire evening from my passengers, he asked if he should follow us home and assist us into the house. I told him I thought we could get in the house okay, but I would appreciate him following us in the heavy ice fog with the back light out.

We made it home okay and the officer was kind enough to wait until we were in the house before he pulled away.

Road graders, really OLD Road graders

Nothing to do with the post, just my favorite toy.

Nothing to do with the post, just my favorite toy.

I was building a road to the Homesite Charlie had won in a drawing while he worked up north. A friend was having some difficulties and no longer in the construction business so told me I could use the old Road grader he owned. The stipulation was, I had to start it and drive it away. No one offered assistance and I found there were 3 shutoff switches between the batteries and the starter. That part alone took me almost all day.

I did get it started and luckily for me, the blade was raised already so I didn’t have to try figuring that part out, just yet. I found a gear that it would move in without killing the engine and headed out toward the Homesite location up the Elliott.

I took the back roads as I didn’t know what the regulations were for someone driving something like that on public roads without a clue on how to operate it.

That weekend, Charlie was home from working up north and we went out to do some work on the Homesite. He admired the old Road grader, started it up and had me get up in it with him to ride along, I thought.

He drove it about 100 feet, raising and lowering the blade, tilting the whole deck and using all the array of gears and levers like a maestro. Then he stopped the Road grader, jumped down, told me to have fun and left. Sheesh, if I had known I was supposed to be the operator, I would have been paying attention.

Road graders are a lot of fun, but the newer ones are not be as rough on the Operator. The one I ran was gear driven, an OLD Wabco 440. No hydraulics but many levers and pedals. There were levers on the dash and ones up through the floor that you used your knees or thighs to press side to side while working the dash levers with your hands and the foot pedals with your feet, of course. If you didn’t release the knee levers quick enough the lever beat the insides of your legs black and blue. Gear driven is immediate pain for neglecting to pay attention.

Charlie tried to convince me to try operating a dragline, but after watching them on the river bank tipping up when the bucket snagged something heavy on the river bottom, I said “no thanks.”

Life Alone

Best picture of me, ever

Best picture of me, ever

I never planned on living alone. I was never a very social person, but I also never planned on having a life alone. Well, I also never really had a plan.

If ever a life has been lived in the moment, mine is it. I didn’t plan on being a cowboy as a teenager in Oregon. That just happened. I did learn a lot, but it was not on my list of things I wanted to do.

For a very brief period of time, I considered going to college and becoming a teacher. Then all the Laws started changing to the point that a teacher could not spank or do much to correct one of the little monsters, so I figured why should I spend 4 more years going to school which I always hated, anyway? By that time I had my choice of scholarships and refused them all. I was done with school. Don’t get me wrong, I think school is important and I would hate to go to a doctor that had not bothered to attend one.

Then by some bit of insanity I found myself married and not to a rancher. I had some passing thoughts about marrying a rancher and eventually maybe having some children, but it wasn’t a firm decision. Yet here I was, married to the least likely to ever be a rancher or even steadily employed. Talk about someone that had no idea what to look for in a husband, that would be me.

Given enough time, we finally divorced and I would have been alone, except I needed to babysit to pay my rent and work to pay for the divorce. Once that was all taken care of, I was invited to mine for a summer and by the next year, I was married yet again.

For once, I got it right. I loved being married to Charlie and we enjoyed our life together. Then he died and I was back to being alone. This alone was painful and debilitating. I didn’t function well and was not in a good frame of mind, at all.

I had read the Bible as a child, in school as there was one in the library and every year I read all the books. It took me ages to get through all the begats. There were a few stories, fictionalizing some Bible stories and I enjoyed them very much. We did not have any religious instruction at home and had never been near a church.

I met someone and thought it was going to be good times again, but I was not thinking correctly on that one, at all. It dragged on too long, but I have always been stubborn and hate to admit when I make mistakes. This one was another doozy.

I bought some property, my Mom sold her house and sent up the money, so I, with some help, built her a house. She couldn’t be alone and I didn’t want to continue the failed relationship, so we moved into her new house.

My daughter’s house sold and she also came out and we built her a nice house also. It has been a learning experience all the way around and I guess most of life really is.

Mom and I were both baptized the same day by my sister’s husband, in our Church. It was great. Then we went up to Chena Hot Springs and had a lovely swim. What a wonderful day.

Things were going well, Mom was feeling better than she had in a long time, when suddenly she became ill and we rushed her to the hospital. She died after a 5 day stay and I came home to an empty house.

Yes, these last few years since Mom died have been by myself but I am alone, not lonely. There is a major difference.

Feeling like a Fool


Have you ever been doing something and knew you should be paying more attention, but since you had done it successfully many times before, you just ignored that little voice of reason niggling in the back of your mind?

Most of the time, it comes to naught, and another disaster or accident is averted through no thought nor action of our own.

For me, today was not one of those days. Today my inattention and taking a shortcut when I definitely know better caught up with me.

Before starting work on my grandson’s small house, I needed to build a new cart for my generator. The flimsy cart I have used for years was cracked and I could no longer bring the generator in the house during the day to be warm enough to start in the evening.

I took the casters off the old cart to reuse on the new one as they were sturdy and still in good condition. I cut a heavy duty piece of ¾ inch plywood to use as a base. Not thinking ahead to what I intended, I cut the whole piece off at once instead of cutting the thin strips I wanted along the sides to keep the generator from sliding off the base if I pulled too firmly on it.

My battery powered skilsaw has a faulty sticking blade guard and I usually pay better attention, but wanting this job done before the kids came out to help on the house, I rushed through cutting the strip of wood into smaller strips of wood.

The saw kicked back and feathered across the inside of three fingers of my left hand. Oh, shit. Instant mess.

My hand closed into a fist immediately to shield my eyes from what I knew would not be a pretty sight. The fact that no blood sprayed out and the entire finger was still on each space it was supposed to occupy did help a bit. No nausea indicated I had not hit bone.

As the cold air hit me when I stepped out the door, I immediately had to use the outhouse. Logistics of undoing jeans, pulling them down, wiping, pulling them back up, fastening them are better left unsaid.

I walked over to my daughter’s house and asked her if she had any band aids.

“Mom, what did you do now and do we need to get to town?”

I told her, “No, we didn’t need to go to town, I just needed to do some cleaning, looking and repairing, but I think band aids will do it, maybe some peroxide and some Bag Balm would be good, too.”

She found the band aids in the knife drawer (handy, that) while Paul got the peroxide. I opened my hand up and it looked nasty. I wiped it fairly clean around the affected areas and sprayed it down with peroxide. No pain from that, so it probably isn’t all that deep. I wiped up the mess and it was welling more blood out, but one good thing about minus 2 degree weather, it slows bleeding quite well.

Kara opened band aids, I glopped some Bag Balm on all three fingers, even though two are barely through surface skin, and put the band aids on. Two of the fingers only get one each, the index finger gets three band aids as it continues to look a bit icky and wells out more blood.

To keep from bending the finger too much until it closes up better, we duct tape the index finger to the middle finger on my left hand which makes wearing gloves out of the question. Now, through the decision of the 4 year old great grandson, I have glow in the dark Batman duct tape wrapped fingers.

We went back over to the cabin, I tacked the narrow strip down and finished cutting the strips I needed. Paul put the casters on the cart and we came down to put the generator on it.

It works perfectly.

When we finished for the day, I came home, made a cayenne capsule to help keep it from bleeding again and kept ice packs on it as I had done off and on all afternoon. A zip bag of snow makes a wonderful ice pack.

Weathertight, at last!!

YAY!!!! No more worries about working on a ladder on the metal roof. Today we finished with that part of the cabin project. Metal roof is on, all the screws in, the chimney is now installed after I cut out a hole in the floor and built a support for it. As we started insulating the ceiling, it began snowing. What timing. We finished insulating the ceiling and put up the foil faced foam board over the insulation over the stairwell. Good. We only had enough foamboard for that but at least I won’t have to worry that John, the friend that came out to help on the roofing, will be gone before we get more board. Since that was all going so well, the boys brought out the door my daughter had painted in her livingroom so it would dry, not just freeze. So, the roof is on and insulated, the door is installed and the building holds heat as we did start up a propane heater downstairs to dry the downstairs out from the rain and then the snow we had while building the 2nd floor.
Driving down to my house, I stopped and cut a load of wood from the logs I had dragged up a couple of months ago during a rare sunny day. I need to get on that so they are all gone before I have to plow. What a day.

My Autobiography

Book Cover

My book is now available at the link at the bottom of this post.
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
302 pages
R.E. Stowell
ISBN-13: 978-0692260326 (Custom Universal)
ISBN-10: 0692260323
LCCN: 2014914191
BISAC: Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs

I was born 9 months, 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor, so it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what brought me about. My father wanted to leave behind a male heir when he went off to fight. I didn’t turn out to be male and he didn’t get to go fight. He never quite forgave Uncle Sam or me.
I didn’t know it, but my childhood would give me the skills I would need to survive and to thrive in Alaska, many years later.
If you want to read about the perfect Alaskan woman, you have the wrong book. This book is about me.
CreateSpace eStore:

“Where did you get those bears?”

Bears in the yard
A couple of years earlier, one neighbor had been shooting bears all summer and I asked him if he would let us have one for sausage. He said he would. One morning, he woke us up, he had a dead bear in the back of his pickup, and did we still want one? We said” Sure” and he dumped it by the cabin.
My daughter and I dressed and were just started skinning when the neighbor was back. Do you want another bear? We said “Why not?” When he was walking back down to his cabin, another bear ran around the corner and almost ran into him. He shot it.
We skinned out both bears, her first time skinning anything, and quartered them. We spread clean sheets on the backseat of my old crewcab and loaded the meat, salted the hides, rolled them and put them in the back of the truck and headed for town.
Charlie was working at Pump Station 7 at that time, setting up the power house. In camp, the men had a habit of starting rumors in the morning and see if they could recognize their own rumors that evening. That very morning, Charlie told the group at his table that I had woke up in the night to see a bear in the cabin by the stove and shot it from bed, then as I started to get up another one came through the back door and I jumped up on the bed and shot it as it ran by. No one questioned how he knew all of this, as there were no phones or radio between our areas. They just laughed and said “Sure, Charlie”, as they knew I did mine on out the road another 80 or so miles.
Before noon, I pulled up at the gate where the security guard was stationed to have him let Charlie know I would be at home that night. He looked down into my pickup from his perch and spotted the hides in back and the fresh meat in the backseat. His eyes got a little bugged out and he asked what I had. I told him, “A couple of bears”.
That man didn’t even wait to let someone take his seat in the guard shack, he took off running down the hill into camp, yelling, “It’s true, it’s true.”
By the time Charlie came home that evening, I had all the meat ground up and in three piles on the counter and was working different spices into each pile. I made summer sausage, pepperoni and salami. Charlie eyed the meat but didn’t say anything.
The next morning, I took him out to work and as I was coming home, the rest of the crew were honking and waving at me out their car windows as we passed. Very friendly bunch.
By that evening when I drove out to pick him up, even the large trucks were honking at me as they met me on the road. Hmmm, they are always friendly, but not quite this much.
By the time I was done making sausage and went back out to mine, almost every rig on the road was flashing lights and waving at me. I sent some of the sausage to work with Charlie to share at camp.
Just before Christmas, one of the men that had worked at the camp that summer stopped by our house in town. He asked if we had any of that sausage he could send to his elderly father for Christmas as his Dad had always wanted to try bear meat.
Charlie went down in the basement to check in the freezer for some and while he was gone, the man told me, “You know, when Charlie first told us that story, we all thought it was just another rumor getting started even though it was better than most.”
For once, I didn’t spoil Charlie’s stories and kept my mouth shut and just smiled. I didn’t have a clue.
After the man left, Charlie looked at me and said he probably should explain what the man meant? Then he told me what he had done. We laughed a little and I started getting dinner. He looked at me a minute or two, then, “Just where did you get those bears?”

Sew Long

My Sketch

A couple of years after I started spending summers at the mine, a fellow started a kennel for racing about a quarter mile down the hill from the cabin. By road, it was about a half mile. He kept pretty much to himself and worked very hard to establish his kennel and support his dogs. More dog mushers moved into the area and for the most part, were fairly compatible with gold mining. We used our roads and trails in the summer and they used them in the winter. They got a little testy when we moved one of our roads and started mining the area and what had been a trail became part of our dam.

We managed to keep things on an even keel and when the fellow below us married and started a family, his wife started doing a community pot luck once a month. It was very nice and we enjoyed it. She was an excellent cook and it was nice for both groups to get together socially. Most drank a bit and some smoked now and then. Since I did neither, I usually went home fairly early in the evening.

One night, everyone imbibed a bit freely and when one of the old time Miners and a lady musher fell asleep on the huge couch, the rest decided to pull a small prank on them. They moved both people until they were side by side, then using a large needle and heavy thread, they sewed their clothes together. From neck along the shoulder and down the arms, then on down the sides up the inseams and so on, both sets of clothing were firmly sewn in place. Everyone sat around waiting, but the two victims slept on. Finally everyone wandered off, either to their own homes or to bed and asleep.

Later, the lady woke up and attempted to brush her long hair away from her face, only to find her arm was very heavy and another hand smacked herself as she tried to rub. She got her eye open and found as she moved her arm, another arm moved with her.

She got both eyes open and discovered a sleeping face inches from her own. She tried picking threads loose, finally giving up and wriggling out of her clothes and then picking threads loose, glad that the elderly Miner was a sound sleeper. She redressed and went home.

A couple of years later, she was trying to attract sponsors and the old Miner happened to be at her place when the representative arrived. She was nervous and the old Miner jumped in to ease the tension by telling the guy about their getting sewn together as by that time he had heard the story many times. She wanted to punch him. She was trying to impress the man as being a good family oriented icon to represent their products. They did go ahead and sponsor her, in spite of the story.