Starting the Cabin

40 years after my family bought Heiser Hollow, we’ve finally decided that its time to build something permanent here. Maybe its a bit bigger than most people would think of when using the word ‘cabin’, but its certainly going to be a lot smaller than many English ‘cottages’. The shell will be made from rectangular logs, with dovetailed corners, and even if the chinking is only cosmetic, it will at least be reminiscent of many local and Appalachian cabins. Unlike virtually everyone’s experience with Lincoln Logs, we’re pretty sure that we bought enough to finish the entire building.

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After almost a year of investigation, planning, and negotiation, and after about 4 months of delay due to unseasonal rainfall, Sam, our Amish builder, started clearing the site last week. The stump at the lower left of the above photo is approximately the front left corner of the future porch. The half acre pond, 35 years old, and still holding most of its water, is barely visible to the right. The white area to the right of my blue Subaru is the dam.

Sam had rented a large chipper, and the plan was to feed it all the leaves and small branches. That turned out to be problematic, so the fall back position was to return the leaves to the CO2 from which they came, starting with a can of kerosene and a bale of straw.

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Sam and James, with the able assistance of Sam’s skid steer loader, and a Stihl saw, chopped down the trees and cleared the site in a couple of short days. The tourists assume that all Amish have a horse and buggy, but what truly characterizes an Amishman is his Bobcat. Its an amazing little workhorse that not only pulled all the logs out of the site, but also smoothed the driveway, much rutted after this year’s unusual rainfall.

After Sam graded the drive, Elizabeth’s new friend, Diane the dumper, brought in 15 ton of crushed limestone, leaving such a smooth spread of stone that it looked like it had been painted. We’d always used local river pebbles, which look very authentic, but don’t hold up as well as the more angular limestone. Given all the traffic we expect, it made sense to go with the sturdier material. Right now, the driveway looks uncharacteristically white, smooth, and perhaps unfortunately inviting to curious ATVers. I’m hoping it fades to a utilitarian gray.

Today, Sheldon the excavator and his young sidekick spent a solid 8 hours burning up diesel oil with a Caterpillar excavator and dozer. Sheldon doesn’t so much drive a Cat as he plays it, deftly manipulating the joy sticks and practically standing the excavator on its head.

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In the shot above, he’s using the smaller of the buckets to dig out the stumps, while his assistant pushes them onto a discard pile with the bulldozer. After pulling a stump free from the ground, Sheldon uses the excavator to violently shake the stump, like a terrier killing a rat. This knocks the soil loose so that the stumps will rot faster.

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Sheldon took over the controls of the dozer, and quickly began to change the local topography. As the side of the hillside flattened out, and a drive back to the cabin site began to appear, it lead to multiple decisions about elevations, locations, and the removal of additional trees. A couple of the most difficult trees had been left until today, so the excavator could be used to nudge the things in the right direction.

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Sheldon is fast, and reminiscent of Mike Mulligan and Maryanne–the dirt flies and you don’t really know where they are until the smoke and dust clears.

At this point, I think we’re ready to start digging foundations tomorrow. The cabin still goes where we always thought it would go. The pole barn/garage is a bit more problematic, with a slope issues that might translate into a 50% increase in the cost of that auxiliary building. It’s decision time at 7am tomorrow.

Cabin: “a small house or cottage, usually of simple design and construction.”

 

[This is the first blog entry in the Building the Cabin series.  The next entry is Excavation.]

 

8 Responses to “Starting the Cabin”

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