25: NOC, inevitable change, and devolution of an ideal

For anyone following this Blog Cabin saga, lulls in construction may test their patience. That is, if anyone reads this narrative, anyhow.

Without logs with which to construct walls, I remain at a standstill. I'll take drastic steps soon, if I can't find a way to fell some poplars. But in the meanwhile, random thoughts and side-stories, digressions that may or may not interest, will be spun herein.

Early days
This weekend, Sloan and I took 5-year-old Abel and 1.5-year-old Angus to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). It's a special place, whose (yes -- an appropriate anthropomorphic pronoun) history and mine intertwine. I recall first seeing it in its early years, sometime in the late 70's, from the Appalachian Trail, parking at the Center with my Dad, crossing the old, metal bridge on foot with packs, and climbing away on the infamous "Jumpup" toward Cheoah Bald. Later, in Boy Scouts and with the Greenville, SC paddling club, I would learn to kayak on the frigid Nantahala River, always spending time in the creaky old NOC outfitter's store, crammed with maps, gear that wouldn't be available for online shopping for decades, cool hippie experts, ice cream, books, hiking supplies, and a big iron wood stove. It was a unique, long building that looked like it wanted to fall into river right. I'd eat Sherpa Rice at River's End restaurant, an equally grungy, tradition-setting establishment behind the store. These places belonged, as if they evolved specifically for this Gorge habitat.

Working there in the 80's
Later, funded by the Boy Scout Camp where I worked in 1984, I'd take a swiftwater rescue clinic from Slim Ray, well before he broke his back on the Green and really not long after the Chattooga accident that inspired him (a good friend of mine swam under another rock a few feet downstream this month, but that's another story). While I worked at Perception Kayaks in the 80's, I moved onto bigger, steeper, harder rivers, but the gorge remained an oasis of sorts. Then, I started working there in 1988 as a river guide. I completed the ACA instructor certification course alongside Greystoke, Slim, Bob Hathcock, and Andrew Punsel. Although I never moved into instruction, I learned much from fellow students as well as from training instructors, finally "checking out" after working as an assistant for Chris Spelius and then Tom Decuir. Although I pulled stints on the Ocoee and on the Chattooga, I remained tied to the main center, living at Hellards # 9 with extraordinary river photographer Chris Smith and eventually getting pulled to full-time trip leading on the Nantahala by 1992. Finally, NOC and I will forever be linked in serendipity because of the people I met or got to know.

Here I am, leaving home to work at NOC in 1988:

The people
It used to be you couldn't walk around the center without bumping into larger-than-life people. Watching a massive 72' Olympian (Angus Morrison) walk around in the yard barefoot and throw three thwart rafts onto a bus by himself. Seeing founder and official resident philosopher Payson Kennedy around the parking lot and working on trips led by him, his daughter Kathy, or Jim Holcombe, or Horace Holden. Learning life lessons from elder statesman Ray Mcleod. Checking out on the Chattooga with BR and Beaz (I didn't check out the day I flipped BR in 7 Foot Falls). Spending most of my paycheck on paddling stuff and Patagucci clothing in the NOC store and hanging out with passionate gear-heads and experts like James Jackson and John Dolbare, the summer before his tragic death on the Meadow.  I still miss that guy.  Meeting literature and food lover and amateur naturalist Kevin Padgett and cementing a long friendship initially built around a common passion for cycling. Co-leading a domestic adventure travel bike trip on the Natchez Trace parkway with world-class adventure racer Julie Dauphine, or just taking a kids mountain bike clinic next door to Tsali for the day. Trying to keep up with legendary Rand Perkins on the Whittier ride. Climbing the Road to Nowhere or the Winding Stairs on my bike, with Kevin, my friend and NOC facilities genius Lance Ingram, or later with bike industry insider Kent Cranford. Hanging out with college student guides, full-timer older friends, boaters, cyclists, climbers, hikers. Environmentalists. Activists. Creative, free-thinkers. Self-described "fun hogs." Beautiful people too -- carved multi-sport athletes working or training on the river, carefree, Teva-wearing, clean-living, educated, eclectic, independent, interesting folks from all over sporting polypropelyne couture. Lots of folk had "dropped out" of mainstream, urban, corporate lifestyles, but they had done so on their own terms, without a complete disconnect but with enough distance to create a unique community that set its own standards and values.

Ultimately, NOC impacts my present life because I met my future wife, Sloan, while training a new TL, Robin Pilley, who would become head guide in future years. Robin was in charge and in control, as would be the case for years to come. As the silent trip leader, I paddled sweep and had time to talk to the guests -- Sloan was a lively, beautiful, Lake Junaluska camper sitting on my left, and we were married three years later. It may not be rational, but I feel indebted to NOC, always. Robin remembers that trip and how we met to this day, which somehow validates the memory. Sometimes fairy tales do come true, and I can prove it this time.

Here we are, 8 weeks after we met in August 1992, when I took Sloan and her brother Slade to go rafting on maybe our third date. The 4 women in front were guests. Angus actually put me to work leading the trip that day...

It may still be a great place to raft, paddle, or hang out, but...
Since we very intentionally moved back here to the WNC mountains, I've renewed some contacts and we occasionally visit the center. I've noticed things -- at first, long-time employees, people whose names have been component parts of the community that for me defined the center, for various reasons: not there. Nor does their type seem as dominant, although that's merely my perception and opinion, partly colored in nostalgia and partially based in subjective observation. The center of the Center is slowly becoming hollow, like a still beautiful, outwardly stalwart but aging tree. Admittedly, now, I'm looking in from the outside. The campus just feels like less of a ground-up, employee-driven culture and more like a management-run environment focused more on profit. Garish, cheap-looking brightly-colored signs instead of natural-looking wood crafted ones. It's true that things seem to run efficiently, but efficiency isn't everything. We heard yesterday while dining at River's End that the staff meal plan may be a thing of the past because of in part the low profit margin it generated or the costs it created -- perhaps I was naive, but I perceived that profit was never an objective when it came to feeding or housing staff, back in the day. And in my work, in higher education, common dining experiences have always been a part of creating intellectual and vibrant communities. NOC may be throwing more away than they know.

Nevertheless, NOC will remain an important place, one that we'll visit and where I'd love for my boys to work. Granted, it'll never again be like the place described in this tribute by Charlie Walbridge, and that might even be a good thing. But now there are cell phones and Wi-Fi that work in this previously dark corner, corporate-style management, and seemingly less tolerance for disparate opinions about mission, liability-taunting antics, or other irregular attitudes. If you read the latest and hunt for the old vibe, it's a bit obscured by the priorities of selling stuff and marketing theme-park-style fun. NOC is generally becoming a bigger place in a smaller world instead of a refuge from a big one, so it wouldn't be my experience that they would live -- but some sense of history and culture will survive, and working on the river will still be cool. Maybe they'll meet a pretty girl; maybe they'll develop some new skills; or, maybe, they'll still grow to love it as I did.

Here's a screen shot with an excerpt and a metaphoric sunset logo from NOC's website. It says nothing that isn't or hasn't been true. I just hope the statement about quality of life, staff, and the community survives in a corporate atmosphere among other priorities in the 21st Century. These things don't create immediate profit, but they certainly are core principles at the NOC that I know:

Follow-up articles:

24: just waiting on some logs...

Here's our friend, Risto, posing with my new mallet and favorite slick. Notice the cedar stain I used on the floorboards. I treated those boards since it seems it'll be a good while before we get a roof up -- probably all summer.

I'm at a bit of a standstill, waiting on a time when I can fell some trees -- it's a bit frustrating to be in the middle of the woods but with no raw materials. To paraphrase Coleridge, "Poplars poplars everywhere, but not a log to notch!" As soon as I can cut 20 or 30 fourteen foot logs, we'll be in the debarking, notching, wall-building business.

23: Handtools -- adding a striker!

Only posts that describe some sort of action or motion (not mere reflection) toward the cabin's actual progress will be preceded by a title prefaced by the words, "Cabin Chapter..."

Afraid my other wood hammer might break (I made it from a piece of firewood, which could split), I set out to make a proper striking mallet.  I also have two big chisels, or slicks, and I'd like to have a "guest mallet" to entertain friends when we start notching logs.

So I cut a piece of dry oak to length, used a carpenter's saw to outline the handle, took long chips out of the handle end with the big slick, the one that's 8 pounds and that I could shave with, and rounded it off with a drawknife.  Since taking these shots, I finished it some more and bathed it in danish oil.  Weighing more than the slick, it fits nicely in the hand, balances well, and drives a controlled wallop.  If I can drop one or two trees and get the bark off, maybe I'll get a chance to play with it this weekend.

22: More on the name...

I've always loved the word, "holler," and use it when I describe where we live.  However, I had no idea that Gary Carden already had a blog named, "Hollernotes."  Different for sure, and names in these mountains are often replicated -- I live near Wolf Knob, and there are maybe 50 of those...

So here's an acknowledgment and recommendation -- if you like folklore, literary sparkle, eclectic curiosity, and generally great writing, all set or inspired by our local mountain setting and culture, go to his blog.  Here it is:


21: It's legal -- here's why!

Because I'm (a) a stickler for rules, and (b) kind of paranoid, I'm sensitive to questions regarding rules, like neighborhood covenants and county building permits. So, as readers may imagine, I've thunk them things through. I've also consulted folk who matter.

First, while the log cabin will be clean, well-built, and comfortable, it'll always be used as a play house, a gazebo, a writing room, or some similar such thing. If I ever build a second home on the property, the cabin will remain in use for those purposes or become a storage building, tool shop, or other outbuilding, all allowed by our covenants. Most importantly, it will never be used as a permanent or temporary residence, which would require it to be permitted and greater than 1000 square feet. Regarding the county, since it's not going to be a residence, and since it's not going to have water or electricity, it falls into the same category as those large storage buildings sold in the Lowes parking lot.  The interior space is less than 100 square feet.  And, I'm spending waaaaay less than the $5000 threshold over which homeowners and builders of larger buildings must apply for a permit.

In case anyone was worried...

This particular concern of mine is somewhat incongruous with the more historical setting and context of log cabins in Appalachia. The Scotch-Irish settlers were notoriously independent, private, self-reliant within their small communities, and distrustful of outside influence or control. Just think of the resistance to revenuers and the feds during the moonshine era. Even now, the thought of telling anyone their business or being told how to live will raise tempers among folk who have lived here for generations. Politicians get elected on this platform. We're in strong property-rights country.

The Horace Kephart stuff at WCU's Mountain Heritage Center (http://www.wcu.edu/library/digitalcoll/kephart/aboutproject.htm) helps one understand. Here's just one excerpt:

20: Revisions and surprises

For anyone who reads this, please know that I'm a helpless captive of the revising process -- self-publishing can be liberating, but it also presents the opportunity for never-ending editing, adding, striking, and changing of text or pictures. You'll notice frequent tweaks (as if anyone would read one of my posts more than once) if you look. I just added a great link in the "Why Build a Cabin?" post.

19: What's in a name? That which we call a holler...

by any other name would still be fun to build a cabin up in?  Maybe, maybe not.  I like the whole "holler" shtick -- makes it fun and old-timey.

Like my dangling preposition?  I'm a rebel.

Why "Cold?"  Our holler faces north -- it's above 3000 feet.  It's only about 4 miles from WCU but about 5-7 degrees cooler than Cullowhee 12 months out of the year.  We often have many inches of snow when the practice fields in front of the Ramsey Center are dry, and the roads in Webster are clear.  In the summer, it's cool and shady, deep shadows folding over our home by 5pm.  The cabin site faces a bit to the west, so it does get another hour of sunshine.

I'd be interested in what folk think of the name of this blog.  Naming a book, a business, a kid, a song, a road, a pet, a blog, or anything else is always a head game.  It's too easy to think about what might have been, as the feller says.  I'm feeling quite clever about my apt quote and paraphrase, at any rate.

Maybe I should have called it "The Blog Cabin Project."  Juliet would have liked that for sure (what woman wouldn't love my blog and log cabins?); and, it doesn't use a snooty word like "postmodern."

I actually like my use of "postmodern." I'm using a combination of materials, hand tools, and power tools, and techniques. I'm not slave to woodworking tradition or pre-modern processes, nor am I building a modern, improved, purely perfected and defined-by-function dwelling. I like to think it's a highly individualistic endeavor. Borrowing desired (and attainable) materials, methods, and aesthetics from the past, and some function-first ideas from both the recent and immediate present could help it meet some definition of "postmodern," right? 

Any thoughts from the gallery? 

18: next steps

We're at a brief stopping point now, regarding the cabin building (not life, which is pretty busy). It's raining and windy, so dropping trees doesn't seem very likely. Also, my wife, Sloan, teaches at the local University, and we're entering finals week. Watching Baby Angus and also Abel while she grades leaves few hands-free moments to do heavier work. I'll try to get out on the class 2 Tuckaseegee today just for a while, to rehab my shoulder in the hope of getting back out on some fun stuff soon. The Tuck is only four miles down the road, so anything's possible.

Next up on the cabin, maybe this week or maybe next: making saw dogs! With plenty of leftover locust, I'll use the chain saw and some lumber screws to fashion two, or maybe four, low sawhorse type things with notches on top, to keep logs from rolling off. These will come in handy as I debark all the logs that'll comprise our walls. It'll also be useful for hewing beams, if I decide to do that with an adze instead of picking them up at Ralph's cool, rustic sawmill down the valley. Nobody likes to work on the ground...

The locust sawdogs will make perfect legs for a nice bench later on, after we're done hewing and debarking logs.

17: Abel, cutting the tails

Look closely -- there's no battery in the skill saw -- please don't report us to social services!  From now on, mostly handtools - adzes, hatchets, chisels, and slicks.  I should have used a crosscut saw here.


16: Why build a cabin?

It may seem odd to many that I'd spend time doing something like this, but you'll find reason behind the madness.

First, I love projects -- I always have, since I started building model ships when I was a young boy, or GI Joe villages out of cardboard boxes. Inspired by a painting, I once built a 2' Roman-era sailboat, fully carved and rigged, from a 8x16" block of balsa wood, and cluttered mom's kitchen counter with it for a month. That won a school Latin project contest in 7th grade, but winning really wasn't the point. Since becoming a homeowner, I've built decks, porches, a bedroom addition with a vaulted ceiling, hardwood flooring, workshops, and even a tree house with a 192 sq' climbing wall, complete with overhangs. With work, family, intensive hobbies like bike racing and kayaking, it would seem unlikely that I'd have immersed myself in such things. But, once I conceptualize a project, I begin planning each phase in my head, and it's only a matter of time before I launch the first step. After that, sometimes at the expense of those around me, I feel compelled to preserve momentum and see things through to the finish.

Second, I grew up playing in the 19th century outbuildings and barns at my close friend's farm. Now, with 2 small boys, it's easy to find the motivation to create a playground out of our mountain property. They'll love having a cabin. Wouldn't anyone? We haven't had television reception or satellite since 2002, before either boy arrived to play in the holler. We're taking a stand against video gaming as an acceptable way to spend time at home, too. Not luddites, we do use the computer and watch videos on Netflix, but beyond that, the rest of the time, I hope our boys will thrive in their woods. Having a cabin, a climbing wall and treehouse, bike and foot trails, creeks, and a whole mountain to explore will help. Here's hoping.

Third, I was an English literature major and grew up around books. I also grew up in a Sierra Club family, hiking and then paddling in these mountains. Thoreau always appealed.  He said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."  My cabin in the woods "teaches," as building it has been a lesson in many things both concrete and spiritual, and it may prove to become a place (or process) of self discovery.

Here's his cabin:

And here's another Walden-inspired cabin, in the words of its creator on the House of Fallen Timbers blog, "Truth is there are tons of good reasons for building an outbuilding but when the project is as (unique shall we say) as mine a lot of people think you're strange. Then finally one day I answered the question. Without thinking about it or falling back on my laundry list of practical uses for the cabin I simply said ... "No computer, no phone, no T.V., or any other source of tragedy, anxiety, or hysteria."

For the first time ever I got the feeling that the person I was talking to was completely satisfied with the answer. With this in mind I thought I'd share the following video. I think we all need a "Walden Space" in our lives." 

And here's one of the more rustic Appalachian Trail shelters that actually pretty much resembles what I'm building (from www.nps.gov), another sort of experience that formed my youth:

Then, a friend, Tobias, exposed me to One Man's Wilderness -- nice blog reference to it here: http://blindflaneur.com/?p=2588.

I'm not delusional regarding any sense of true independence or wilderness, but these books still inspire. Also, actually, my own building projects differ from these two stories of self reliance, Waldensian and Alaskan, in that they always serve to remind me how generous and helpful friends can be. It's most enjoyable to make something by yourself, but it's even more pleasurable to share the experience with folk you like and respect. Combine these sources of motivation and satisfaction with the perfection of our mountain cove setting, and a log cabin seems like a natural, good thing to build.

Fourth, I love learning new skills. I'll try to use hand tools as much as possible and reap as many natural products from my own land or local sources as possible.

Photo of Boy Scout log-cabin-appreciators provided by an old friend who is 1st on the left (I'm 3rd from left), taken on the way to the 1983 World Jamboree in Calgary:

Fifth, I grew up in the Boy Scouts, learning scout crafts and working at camp. Got my Eagle. It's been a while since I played in the woods with natural building products, and I hope my relatively new experience with and propensity to use power tools doesn't interfere with the process. Fortunately, the cabin site is far away from any electricity. If it was for some kind of nonprofit cause, this cabin would make for a sweet Eagle project.

I'm in the green boat -- read on; this actually relates to the post...
Finally and maybe not as compelling as the other sources of motivation, I'm only 7 months out from major shoulder repair surgery after tearing my rotator cuff while paddling the Green River narrows, about an hour from here. I need a distraction that'll keep me off of the steep creeks and pushier rivers while my shoulder further heals. I'm capable of manufacturing a strong enough sense of denial and ill-conceived confidence, enough to make a bad decision and do too much too soon. This'll keep me busy until later in the summer or the fall.

Mostly, I'm building it because that's what I want to do.

15: Where we're located

Here, copied from http://gulahiyi.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html is an old topo map showing Panther ("Painter") Knob, and our house, which is one of the dots I can see near the tippy-top of a steep drainage, below the headwalls..."

We're in the Appalachians, nestled high up in a steep-walled cove called a holler, not on "good land" if farming and easy access is what you want. We have lots of water with two creeks and two springs on the property, and tons of shade because we face North. Our unique ridge is perpendicular to the tail end of the Nantahalas, inclusive of Wesser and Wayah Balds and being the Cherokee "Land of the Noonday Sun."

Here's a photo from http://www.thesouthernhighlandreader.com/tag/balsam-gap/ that shows closer up the ridgeline we look straight across toward.

We look off of our deck at the Plott Balsams and the Great Balsams, where the Blue Ridge Parkway rises over 6000 feet. Classic rivers and world-class steep creeks surround us, draining a multitude of other hollers and high plateaus like Panthertown Valley and the Highland/Cashiers/Toxaway areas.

From just a bit higher up the logging road above the log cabin, we can look off to the Northwest and see Clingman's Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail and also in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and the second highest point in North America, East of the Rockies. This photo from the top of Clingman's faces East, so somewhere in there you maybe could see the slopes above our house, if you knew where to look:

Stunning sunrise at Clingmans Dome by Carl Alan Smith, posted on the GSMNP Facebook page.

14: Progress report, time to rest for a while...

Cabin update: after I snap a couple of chalk lines and run my skill saw down the edges of the deck, it's back to chainsaws and then on to mainly handtools. There'll be an interruption to these updates until I find time to drop some trees.

Then, there'll be a slow process of using a bark spud and drawknives to prep each log -- anyone wanting to play with a razor sharp, 8lb framing slick can swing by to help notch logs as the walls slowly go up between now and late July.

At that point, we'll nail up temporary external braces around the door and windows, I *may* use a crosscut saw to cut the rough openings (if I'm rushed my Husky is hungry), and frame them in with rough sawn boards.

After prepping the roof beams and rafters, I'll put a call out for a huge roof raising party. After it's dried in, I'll seal everything and wait a winter to chink the walls this time next year -- they'll shrink some as the wood dries.

13: Finished subfloor!

Baby Angus is inspecting (look over my shoulder).

12: Building the deck...

In his efforts to "help," Abel brought Bob and I every available tool he could find...

Bob: "Work and life can really be tough without a great helper. Thanks Abel, couldn't have done it without you!"

Abel: "I couldn't have done it without this chicken leg I'm eating!"

11: Anatomy of a floor...

Here's where I "cheated" -- I figure since we'll never see it again, treated floor joists and hangers, bolted to the outer logs with timber screws, will be solid and sound for a long, long time. I'll cover it with rough sawn pine planks for a subfloor, and then later I'll layer rough sawn oak for as a last, final phase, after we're done chinking, in the fall. After the subfloor, it'll be mostly hand tools!

I may get a small solar kit that comes off the roof and only provides a couple of lights and one outlet -- maybe drill the top-plate and logs vertically in a couple of places, as I lay them, before bolting them down? I'll research what the kit consists of...

Wonder how it would do in partial shade -- the left side of the cabin faces west and gets OK sun in the winter and spotty sun in the summer. I'm not cutting the massive oak and other hardwoods that block some of the direct light...

For heat, I'm thinking more on the lines of this for winter cabin-time: http://www.basspro.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product_10151_-1_10001_10210207_325003002_325000000_325003000?cmCat=CROSSSELL_PRODUCT

And I'll build a small tank cabinet outside the cabin so that I can just turn off the gas and stick a padlock on the door. Maybe a bench cabinet inside for the unit itself and anything else I want to keep locked up (a cabin needs to have a small supply of good single malt). And smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

10: Building the floating floor, to get it level...

Outing myself here - this is where I cheated - using treated dimensional lumber as floor joists, with hangers. But you'll never see it unless looking up from below. The rough sawn 3/4" pine sub floor, walls, and chinking will hide the evidence. I'll cross the subfloor with more rough sawn planking, with edges beveled with a drawknife, to create a monster-thick, rock-solid floor. More on the floor, where I got the wood, and other stuff soon.

Note -- nothing like a little help from your friends. Here my friend, "Buster" aka Justin, poses with the "persuader" mallet I made.

9: 100yo hand tool from eBay!

Cabin update: This slick (type of chisel used for timber framing and working with logs) I recently bought is 2' long and 2" wide. It's not pitted near the blade. Hopefully, with a file and stone, I'll be able to get it sharp enough to shave with!

Forget a file -- I picked up a set of 3 (600/1000/3000g) waterstones and a jig.

Now, I need a cant hook.

8: Cabin dialogue

Cabin update: Today, I both cheated, and I taught myself a skill that altruists would applaud. Cryptic enough? The truth is probably fairly boring. I posted this on Facebook. My friend Joel, a colleague at the NOC Chattooga outpost in 1989, with whom I rode now-classic-vintage mountain bikes to a fire tower back in the day, with whom I recently reconnected while paddling the Cheoah River last year and then shuttling folk while I had a busted wing this fall weighed in.

Joel: "Underwear is most comfortable when worn right side forward."

Me: "Nope. Must be cabin-building-related, not one of my everyday challenges."

OK, so I'll keep the cheating a secret, but I did learn how to sharpen a carpentry hatchet. I could -almost- cut hair with it.

Joel: "I figured this was going to be something about glue and tape. Careful that you don't much up the temper doing whatever you are doing to a fine, precision tool..."

Me: "Ordered a special file and stone from here after calling and talking to a guy there (who ironically used to work at the center!): http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/index.aspx"

Joel: "don't cut yerself....when I helped Bob McDonough build Kurt Doetger's house, I remember how sharp those slicks were...youch!!!!"

Me: "And yeah -- I got the slick sharper than I got the hatchet."

Joel: "worked on the timber frame over the winter in the early 90's. We were located at the raft barn on the Nanny. Timbers were of green red oak. Shaved like firm butter."

Me: "And OK -- the cheating involves treated floor joists and some hardware. You'll never see the joist hangers after the subfloor goes in..."

7: Quality steel sharp things...

Discovered the joy of quality steel today -- after peeling bark with a prybar and framing hammer, I borrowed a 2 beautiful, 50+ yo drawknives today, and an adze, from my friend, Michael. The drawknife made short work of a 16' birch log. If the poplar I'm cutting next is even easier, the cabin is in business!

So,I bought this 2' bark spud, but it's not clearly going to be necessary now that I've borrowed a friend's two beautiful, sharp old drawknives. Wish I had it when I was peeling dry locust. But I did get a sharpening file and stone set, and a timber framing hatchet.

6: Setting the foundation beams!

Today, Joe Bill, Eric, Greg and I, with a little help from Big Nate and his friends, cut huge locust beams, notched them, and set them over the foundation posts!

Sitting on the beam, left-to-right: Joe Bill, Eric, Greg (with Sophus Bocephus on his lap), and me.

Cutting notches. I didn't have the awesome 100yo slick yet. From now on we'll do it right.

Greg is very strong -- after lifting a 12' locust beam by himself, he then bench pressed it, juggled all three, and ate the power tools. I should have provided more food...

Trouble (just for the record, the sawzaw has no battery and the chainsaw is *not* running. This is a supervised and staged picture, but let your imagination run wild)

Rose and Sylvia supervise while Joe Bill trots down the trail...

5: Leveling the posts...

Cabin building update: This is how we're leveling the tops of Abel's posts -- with a 2' level duck taped to the straightest board I could find...

4: Setting the posts...

Abel's already getting excited about his cabin. His friends, Cody and Wyatt, checked it out earlier in the day and helped hoist the back middle post into its hole, which was as deep as Wyatt's height. Here, Sam and Elias investigate. Everyone looks forward to the "clubhouse."

3: Thoughts on using locust in the ground...

I think the black locust posts are going straight into the ground, tamped in with dirt, instead of concrete. There's an old frame house deep down in the holler that was built around 1905 -- it's on locust in earth. No sign of rot or infestation (it did have a massive honeybee hive in the walls before Matthew restored it). Builder friends, any thoughts to the contrary?

Conversation with my visiting nephew:

Q: "you found a building made in 1905?"

Response: "Yes Jonathan -- lots of old farmhouses and cabins around here date back to around the turn of the century. Those built on strong, rot-resistant locust posts are often in great shape. Locust is a very hard wood that insects don't like to eat. It is often used in fence posts.

But when I lived in Charleston, near where you and your mom and dad live, I lived in a house that was built before 1800! It was built from stone and brick."

Q: "Cool."

2: local products

Ralph Morgan runs a little sawmill 4 miles down the road from my holler. If he had a steam engine, this set-up would have looked almost identical 100 years ago. He'll be cutting some rough-sawn oak planks for Abel's cabin floor, and he'll custom cut a 5x8 ridgeboard and rafters for the roof, too.

1: Stripping bark

The bottom pic shows Abel, this evening, helping strip the bark off of the locust posts on which we're going to build his log cabin. He worked hard with me for 45 minutes! Then, it started to snow -- the top shot shows him standing inside the footprint of the cabin... "Daddy, I need gloves and a hat!"

And my deck is 100% covered in snow as of 9pm. Maybe an inch? The road seemed to be holding off any accumulation, at least until dark.

Introduction: Clearing the site and cutting some locust for the foundation.

We'll just start.

Our friend, colleague, imminent scholar, Monty Python expert, frequent keynote speaker, and Englishman, Adrian, cradling a chainsaw for the first time and resting after cutting locust foundation posts for Abel's and Angus's log cabin.

In a January 24 journal note, I commented,
"Constantly -- thinking about where on my property I'm going to construct a log cabin. Father-son project for the next two summers. Here's the inspiration:


Here's Dick Proenneke, using a crosscut saw much in the way I may myself!

About Me

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I use this blog to chronicle certain aspects of my life near the Smokies. I'm building a cabin. I kayak. Sometimes I bike.