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.


Do-it-yourself Surgery, Part 3

Our Old Ranch House

We seemed to work cattle quite often and I seemed to always manage to either get slightly damaged or in the way.

This time, we were loading a truckload of cattle to haul for sale. Dad didn’t get the truck backed to the loading ramp very well, so jammed a log in the gap and I had to stand on the large boulder beside the truck and shoo the cows away from trying to escape out the side gap. Yeah, you can see this one coming. I didn’t.

I was busily shooing the cows back from the gap and getting yelled at for not keeping them moving faster when at least one cow stepped on the other end of the log between the bottom of the truckbed and the edge of the ramp. Wheeee! The end closest to me smacked me under the chin and flipped me backward off the boulder.

I came to a bit later, flat on my back on the ground, the sky slowly circling overhead. Someone was yelling at me and I tried to get up, but kept falling back. Finally I managed to get up and staggered over to the boulder and back up on it, shooing the cows back in the gap.

Finally the truck was loaded and we all got back on our horses for the ride almost 10 miles back to the house. Every step the horse made felt like a small hammer thumping my head. I couldn’t open my mouth to talk, even. My chin looked like a caricature of a lantern jawed prizefighter. The bruising was quite impressive, too.

I found that I couldn’t let anything touch my chin or it hurt even worse and I would get woozy and a little sick to my stomach. If I turned in my sleep and it touched anything, I woke up in pain. As the swelling went down, I discovered a hard small lump in my chin that wasn’t attached but painful if touched. Then I found I had a nick in my jawline about the same size. Evidently a small piece of my jawbone was free floating around in my chin tissue.

I eased it back into position, but it wouldn’t stay. Each attempt left me weak in the knees and ill feeling. Finally I decided enough was enough. No one was in the house, so I sterilized a razor blade and did some surgery using the bathroom mirror to see what I was doing.

Just as I made my cut, Mom opened the bathroom door and made a small screech. I jumped a little bit so have a bit larger scar than I expected under my chin. I did get the piece of bone out, convinced Mom I wasn’t doing a weird suicide thing and bandaged up my chin.

Life on the ranch was always interesting.

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.

Using Daddy’s Falling Axes

Dad by the Jeep

While we still lived near the Oregon coast, we depended on ourselves and our imagination to entertain ourselves as kids. The 5 kids belonging to our Dad’s Catskinner and wife spent most of their time with us, so there were several wild imaginations to cover just about any possibility.

Our Dad started out as a logger before chainsaws were in use in the woods so was a master at felling trees using a double bit ax or a two-man whipsaw. His axes were kept in shaving sharp condition and no one ever touched them. They were works of art, with the heads shaped perfectly and balanced to the nth degree for ease of use during an 8 to 10 hour day.

We first used a couple of Dad’s axes when we devised a new thrill ride. We had been climbing as high as we thought we could safely slide down the outside of cedar trees, but that was starting to seem tame. We then decided to draw straws to see who the loser would be that had to stay on the ground while all the rest climbed the tree. The loser then chopped the tree down with the others riding it to the ground, screaming all the way, then grabbing more straws to do it all over again. It was fun the way riding an extreme roller coaster is fun but didn’t last as long.

We were trying to figure out some way to warm up the creek we swam in so we could actually enjoy the process. The huge trees bowing over the stream seemed to mock our puny kid strength. I don’t remember just who decided we should fall some of the trees along the stream to remove the shade. We quickly decided to just fall all the trees. Those axes were so sharp it usually didn’t take very long per tree to see them fall against the other bank and we soon had the entire area covered in downed trees crisscrossing across the stream we had planned to swim in.

Finally one of the two older boys said he would get those trees out of the way. He climbed up into the tangled mess of trees, taking one of the axes with him. He soon stood up on one tree and started cutting the tree directly in front of him and it made a satisfying splash as it hit the stream. This stream or creek was considered a creek but most of the time it had enough water rushing down it to qualify as a small river. It seldom saw the light of day except through the leaves of dense forest overshadowing it. Taking a drink out of it could give a person a headache it was so cold.

Jerry proceeded to step back onto the tree behind him and cut the one he had just stepped off of and was making great progress on clearing the new swimming hole. The current was fast enough that the cut trees were immediately out of sight on their way to the ocean about 8 miles away with a 500 foot drop in elevation. As Jerry swung the ax, the tree under him shifted and he realized he was on the one he was chopping, it was the last tree to cut.

The tree started down, Jerry flung the ax and was also falling toward the water quite a ways below him. As he rotated, the sun glinting off the razor sharp edge of the ax kept glinting in his eyes. He imagined he was about to not only split the tree but his own head as he hit the water.

My Dad had come back to the house early that day for some reason, heard the chopping and arrived on the scene just in time to see Jerry, the ax and the tree hit the water. The roar my Dad let out scared the rest of us into scattering like quail. Jerry surfaced, saw my Dad and promptly dove for the bottom of the pool. By the time he ran out of air and surfaced again, my Dad reached over the bank and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, picked him up and said “the next time you surface, you better have that ax.”

Jerry did.

Idiots With Horns

Rosalyn On Sweetheart

Reaching the ripe old age of 17 without ever having to use a horse while working cattle, I was not a natural. After more horse related accidents than I care to remember, I finally learned to ride quite well. I sometimes even enjoyed it, but moving our herd of cattle along the main highway from one pasture to the next was never a favorite time. It wasn’t a hard part of moving cattle as they were hemmed in with fences along each side of the road. It was the cars on the highway.

Why drivers thought it would do any good to crowd the herd and the riders on horses or start honking their horns as they pushed their way through the cattle, I don’t know.

As Goldy and I worked the stragglers, keeping them caught up with the rest of the herd, one car kept creeping directly up behind us and almost touching the horse.

She was not used to working cattle, nor was she used to traffic. We had brought her over with us from the Coast and she didn’t particularly like the changes in her life.

The closer the car would edge, the jumpier she got and kept trying to see directly behind her. I was getting yelled at the keep the cattle bunched closer and pay attention to the cattle while the horse was trying to keep away from the car. The car edged right up behind me and the fellow must have just laid on the horn. That was the final straw for Goldy. She kicked back with both hind feet, right into the grill on the car and got the radiator, also. As soon as she stopped, I got off and was checking her hind legs for injuries. My Dad rode over to see why I was off the horse and not keeping stragglers caught up and must have taken in the problem at a glance. The prolonged horn honking had got his attention, too.

The car driver was looking at the damage to his car and started yelling about who was going to pay. My Dad rode close to him and said a few quiet words I didn’t hear and the fellow immediately got back in his car and was still sitting there as we rounded the bend in the road and down the side road that would take us to the lower pasture on the hill, away from the hay meadows the cattle had just wintered on.

I wasn’t sure, but thought I probably wasn’t going to be in trouble this time. Dad never said a word about it and as we stopped for the day, he did check Goldy over to make sure she really wasn’t injured. The car was not there, when we returned home that afternoon. I never heard any more about it.

Snipe Hunt

Eastern Oregon

We were all spending the evening at one of the neighbor’s houses which meant somewhere within 20 miles of our ranch. I had been invited, Linda invited herself and my brother came along just because he wasn’t doing anything else at the moment.

Earlier, we stopped at another neighbor’s house along the way and picked up LaV. as she was a friend of Linda’s.

Those two immediately started making pests of themselves, vying for one of the young men present at the party. He was not interested but was trying not to be just plain mean to either of them.

His older brother, my brother and I were talking near the door when he hid behind us and asked how to get them to stop it. We decided on a Snipe Hunt.

Since it was a lovely warm summer evening, we made it seem like a group effort and gathered some gunny sacks from an old shed, a few flashlights although the night was bright with moonlight and set off up the hill.

There was a nice little gully coming down the hill which the boys told the girls was a perfect place to set up their traps while the rest of us drove the snipes up the hill into their gunny sacks which they were to hold open across the little gully. We had disturbed some quail on our way up, and could hear the birds making little bird noises in the brush.

The girls were spaced just far enough apart that they wouldn’t be talking and figure this out too soon, but not so far apart to get scared and rush back down the hill right away. They could just see each other in the moonlight.

The rest of the evening went nicely, with everyone enjoying a quiet get-together. The boy’s Mom got home and she was so pleased to find us all behaving well with the lights all on, our dishes done and the place spotless as when she left.

While she was still in the kitchen, the two Snipe Hunters showed up at the door, not very happy with the rest of us. We managed to keep them fairly quiet, said a goodnight to the boys and their Mom and went home. It was a quiet ride.

The two girls weren’t quite so obvious in their pursuit of the young man after that. Nothing like a good Snipe Hunt to give someone time to think.

Uncle Bill, Again

Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill spent all of WW II in Japanese prison camps. Having been eligible for discharge for quite a while before Pearl Harbor but not allowed to return home, he was not in a very good frame of mind when MacArthur left them all to their fate while he left them behind. His “I shall return” speech did nothing to endear him to Uncle Bill.
Uncle Bill claimed they provisioned the enemy by half starving our own troops for the weeks leading up to war by cutting rations while guarding the caves filled to overflowing with food. Any soldier caught stealing food was executed. Later, after they had fallen to the enemy, they had to carry all those supplies along on the “Death March” while still being killed for stealing any of it to eat.
He always said he would cheerfully execute MacArthur if he were ever given the chance. He claimed every soldier there could have been evacuated long before the start of hostilities.
Once he survived the “Death March” he was placed in assorted prison camps, each one closer to Japan, each one more brutal than the one before. He worked for a very short time in a plant making ammunition and bombs which the prisoners delighted in sabotaging in any small way they could.
His skull was fractured at least three times for sure by rifle butts during beatings. Fingers, toes and ribs were fractured regularly on all the prisoners as they could still work with such trivial injuries.
Finally he was in a prison camp near the city of Hiroshima. During the day, the prisoners shoveled gravel by hand into buckets. At meal times, they had to stand at attention in front of the commanding officer’s building and watch him eat his meal with his pair of carved ivory chopsticks. The man delighted in making the starved prisoners watch him eat.
At one point, Uncle Bill told him that when he (Uncle Bill) left the camp, those chopsticks would be going with him. He earned another beating for such a threat.
However, when the camp was liberated, Uncle Bill said he would be right with them. He returned a short time later with a pair of hand carved chopsticks in his pocket.

My Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill

The first time I saw him, he looked so sad and heartbroken, I knew it was my job to cheer him up. He was sitting in a section of the old porch that seldom was bothered by the sun. I was being dropped off for my Grandmother to babysit.
My Grandmother plunked me down on a step of the porch and saying something about having work to do, we could take care of each other, she left us there.
He eyed me warily. After all, what did he have in common with a lanky 4 year old girl? He had only recently been allowed to come home after recuperating many months in a military hospital after being liberated from a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Japan.
This tall young American soldier was a survivor of the Bataan Death March and many long years of atrocities and depravation. Whether it was his mouth that always had to say what he was thinking or that he towered over all his captors, they delighted in bringing him to his knees in one way or another. His skull had been cracked several times by rifle butts and he had numerous scars and healed bones from their careful handling. Being deemed incorrigible, he finally found himself imprisoned on the homeland of his captors, working in a gravel pit outside Hiroshima the day it was the target for the first atomic bomb dropped, ever.
Leading up to that day, he regarded the Japanese women as the only reason he didn’t die. The women were told to parade around outside the fence of the prison camp, taunting and teasing the prisoners which they did. But they also dropped small rice balls as close to the fence as they could get. These rice balls were taken from their own family rations and shared with the skeletal prisoners that were reduced to eating any bug or rat that they caught within the prison walls.
He held a lifelong hatred of the Japanese men and didn’t always differentiate between Japanese men and any other Oriental male.
However, on our first day of meeting, he was uneasy being left in charge of a 4 year old girl.
I don’t remember exactly what all we actually did that day, but when my Grandparents and my Mom returned late that afternoon, they found us the best of friends, sitting in the two rocking chairs in the kitchen, feet up on footstools, leaned back with our hands behind our heads in identical poses, smoking huge smelly cigars.

Family Fun

Broken Top Mountain, near the Three Sisters Mountains where we camped

Mom probably had a right to be a little upset. She not only had her own 3 children but the neighbor’s 5 to look after up in a remote area of the Cascade mountain range in Oregon. She didn’t know how to drive so Dad dropped us all off up there and was supposed to be back in a couple of weeks to pick us up. We only had a small Jeep, so after stuffing all the camping gear, food and kids in it, there wasn’t much room for wiggling around. This was well before the lightweight tents and sleeping bags of today. Tents were heavy duty canvas, requiring heavy pipe poles to hold up. Anyone touching the side of the tent if it rained caused an instant leak. Now we were well into our third week on the mountain side with no grocery store in sight, now cash on hand to pay for it if there had been. After all, why would Mom need her purse out in the woods?
We had already done all the usual things we did out of sight of the tent and Mom.
Found the quicksand bog – check
Took turns jumping off the log into the quicksand – check
Saw who would chicken out and beg to be pulled out before the quicksand got completely up to their chin – check
Finally pulled the irritating one back out just before the quicksand covered the mouth – check
Found the old time log bear trap – check
Cleaned out the debris in it – check
Checked out the trigger device – check
Released the log door so the one that triggered it could escape – check
Tried to talk the irritating one into trying it – check
By this time, Mom was getting a little irritable, she had thrown in a 25 pound bag of split peas in the groceries and we were down to eating those, three times a day. We had picked every berry that we could find, tried to capture fish with our bare hands and chased a deer that wandered by but we couldn’t catch it. Still no sign of Dad.
I don’t know if the neighbors had noticed their children were missing yet or not or just were enjoying not having them around, but no one seemed to notice we were overdue.
Finally, Dad showed up. Things were very quiet and tense and he even took us to a café in Sisters, Oregon for a burger each which was unheard of. The several hundred mile long ride home was made in almost total silence. The atmosphere was so thick it could have been cut with a knife. My parents never argued or raised voices in front of us, but we all knew something wasn’t too kosher in the Jeep.
Nothing was ever said in my hearing, so I have no idea how that played out in private. The next year when we went for out annual camping trip, we smuggled a gun under the load.

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.
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