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.

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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.

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.

Big Ben

House we were building

Big Ben was just what his name implied. He was a very big man. My Dad was 6’3” and at that time usually around 190 pounds of muscle. Big Ben towered over him. When we still lived in Mapleton during the war years, Big Ben lived with us as fuel was rationed and he had to be closer to his work which was tree falling as the spruce on the Oregon coast was needed to build airplane frames out of.

After the war, we moved up Ten Mile Creek, north of Florence and had an 1800’s type of growing up. No electricity, running water, phone, radio or mail delivery, just like I live now.

Big Ben lived out closer to the ocean about nine miles from where we now lived and would come visit quite often. He and Dad liked to walk up the dirt road, looking for game to shoot and bring back for dinner.

One time, as the crossed the bridge over the north fork of Ten Mile Creek, Big Ben spotted a nice sized buck deer drinking, just under the edge of the bridge. He decided against wasting a bullet by just jumping off the bridge onto the buck’s back and cutting its throat.

Almost everything went as planned. He climbed to the top of the railing without the buck even hearing him. He pulled out his large skinning knife and jumped. That’s where the plan fizzled.

The first thing the deer knew, some huge heavy thing landed on its back and grabbed it around the throat. The deer didn’t just meekly stand there. From that point on, it was a fight. Big Ben soon was trying to get away from the deer. By the time the deer allowed Big Ben to get away, Big Ben was completely stripped of his heavy clothing. The neck and collar of his work shirt was still around his neck, his socks were on his feet, the cuffs of his pants were around his ankles but all the clothing and a good portion of his skin was shredded and hanging in tatters between his collar and cuffs. The deer not only used his antlers to good effect, his hooves slashed and cut their way all over him. He said that was the first time he knew deer were so flexible and double jointed.

They walked the mile back down the road to our home. Big Ben stayed just out of sight of the house as he didn’t have anything to cover himself with. Dad walked on up to the house and got some clothes for Big Ben to wear. They cleaned up most of the hoof and antler slashes and none required medical attention and they were used to patching themselves up in the woods anyway. He decided not to stay and went home. He also decided to never save a bullet and use a knife to hunt with.

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.

Improvise, darn it!

Charlie & Me, Sketch

I wake up at 2 am to a freezing cold house. What the heck? We just had fuel oil delivered and what can I do now?
I jump out of bed and check the lights. Yes, we still have power, so that isn’t the problem. I pull on a winter coat, some mittens, a heavy hat and head downstairs to see what is wrong with the furnace.
Two weeks ago, I took and passed a State of Alaska Boiler Operators test so according to them, I was a qualified Boiler Operator and our furnace is a hot water baseboard heater. I should be able to figure this out. I can do it.
I look at the large black lump in the corner of the basement. It doesn’t make a sound although at least the circulating pumps still have to rapidly cooling water moving through the pipes. If not for that, I would already have a worse problem as it is a balmy 56 degrees below zero outside.
I click the reset button which usually fixes everything. Nothing. I click it a few more times in frustration and because kicking a many hundred pound chunk of cooling iron is really hard on toes. Yes, that was my first attempt at repair. Quit laughing.
Finally desperation sets in. Yesterday was Sunday. My husband is hundreds of miles away working on the Slope. I don’t want to think about what a furnace repair man would charge to come out in this temperature at this time of day.
Finally the shivering gets bad enough and I am worried about the water pipes and baseboard water lines so I stop acting like an idiot and start thinking. I pull the burner unit out of the furnace. Yes, it leaves a good sized opening. I shine my light around the inside of the firebox. Just maybe there is hope.
I manage to drag a 100 pound propane bottle over to the furnace from the garage. I put the weed burner on the bottle and fire it off. After I adjust the flame down a bit, I stick the flame into the opening left into the firebox and find the balance center to keep it going without it flopping out on the floor and burning down the house. Yes, that would warm the house up, but there are limits.
I stay by the furnace for an hour or so, to make sure it really is going to work and the pipes have started feeling warm, both the lines from the furnace and the return lines. Soon I can even feel a bit of warmth seeping through all the layers of clothes I have piled on. My breath is no longer making a cloud in front of my face and my nose has thawed quite well.
I check the thermostat and the temperature has started inching up a bit. I gently lower the flame a bit more on the weed burner, I don’t want to end up making steam and blowing the house up, either.
I fasten the weed burner to the furnace with stovepipe wire and go back upstairs to bed. I don’t think I slept much as I really was worried I was either going to burn or blow the place up. I wait until 8 a.m. and call a furnace repair man someone had recommended to me.
As soon as he heard I was Charlie’s wife, he almost hung up on me. He thought I was the other one. Then he said I didn’t sound like ——-. I said no, my name is Rosalyn. Then he became friendly and asked how he could help.
I told him the furnace had stopped during the night and he immediately had visions of a frozen up house and the mess associated with that at the temperatures we were having.
He must have broken a few speed limits getting there and was surprised when he walked in and the house was not really cold, just a bit cooler than most people keep their homes.
When he saw the weed burner set up, he scratched his head and asked whatever made me think of that. Desperation, pure and simple.
He repaired the electrodes and the furnace worked fine with no frozen pipes at all. Charlie called that night to see how I was doing. It was my first winter by myself in this house. I told him about the furnace, a moment of silence then laughter. “I knew you could handle my kids. I never expected you to have to deal with something like this, also. Wait until I tell the guys about this one.”
Just one more reason why I loved him so much. He was always proud of me and let me know it.

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

BrokenTop
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.