Christmas in the Cabin

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

There is something about celebrating a holiday with your family that establishes a place in your heart as a home. Although we’ve owned Heiser Hollow for 4 decades, perhaps the lack of heated bedrooms and showers had always discouraged us from overnight trips in the winter. Now that we’ve finished the cabin, this year seemed like a good time to spend Christmas in the woods.

On Christmas eve, Elizabeth and I drove to a local tree farm, cut down a spruce we particularly liked, and threw it in the truck bed, in the hopes that the new tree stand would actually work.  It turns out that even with an emphasis on acorns, wood, straw, and other ornaments either made from or depicting natural things, we had more than enough baubles to hang from the tree. We included 3 ornaments that Mom made from scratch when she and Dad were first married, the cardboard  “Santa’s Breeding Farm” ornament that I made in the 2nd grade (or 12th—the details are dim), some early work by Kirk, and what may well have been the highlight of our short time in Indian Guides, three glass balls with paint dribbled on the inside.

Kirk drove in from college, and Mom & Dad drove across the county, and lacking any convenient attachment points near the chimney, we hung our stockings with care on the bannister.  After a couple of drinks, we all nestled snug in our beds.

Christmas Cabin

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

No, we’re not spending the holidays at the cabin, but yes, that’s a plume of smoke coming out of the top of the chimney. The heat pump has been delayed by a supply chain problem on the part of the manufacturer, so in the meantime, our carpentry crew decided to warm up the inside of the cabin with the fireplace. Elizabeth dressed up kitchen door with a Christmas wreath, so even though the cabin will be spending its first Christmas alone, at least it looks festive.

My parents report that the cement has been poured under the front porch, and yesterday they watched the cement crew putting the finishing touches on the barn floor.  Once the doors arrive and are installed, we can finally park the Kubota inside. My parents also report that the Killbuck has flooded again, closing Route 60 again. The TV meteorologist says that Cleveland is 10 inches above its normal rainfall, an unprecedented level of rainfall that is likely a once in a lifetime experience. Let’s hope so.

[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry is Geothermal: the green cabin.]

Cold start last January

Saturday, November 5th, 2011
We put the first stake in the ground into the frozen ground on a cold Friday in January that dawned at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) and never managed to get above 22 (-5.5 C).

We climbed up a hill  overlooking the pond, pushed some brambles out of the way, and Sam the Builder pounded a pair of stakes into the ground, indicating the future front two corners of the  cabin.   A further stake or two suggested where the front of the porch would end up.

Then we chose approximate locations for the new driveway, up from the meadow to the new cabin, and the accompanying barn. At that point, we were still envisioning a 24×36 polebarn.

After that, we stood around stamping our feet waiting for Sheldon the Excavator and Glen the Septic Engineer, wondering if that truly was the optimal building spot, if it was too far from the pond, too far from the well, or too steep a hillside. We didn’t expect that it would be another 6 months before we saw Sheldon again and finally removed the stakes.

Once we were done with Sam and the Subs, we gratefully hopped back into the car and drove back to the Comfort Inn in Millersburg, stopping along the way to capture a couple of snow shots.

It turned out that this would be the first of two snowy visits stays in Millersburg.


[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry continues last winter’s preparation activities with Beating the Bounds.]

The Original Log Cabin

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

My parents bought the Hollow in 1972, and it came with a cabin that had been occupied by the Fortune family until about 25 years earlier.  It was a small building for a house, with a single large room on the first floor and a steep stairway leading up to a low-ceilinged second floor.  Apparently having been heated by a stove, it was not blessed with a large number of windows, but the door on the face was matched by a second door on the rear.

The walls were constructed of hand hewn rectangular hardwood (chestnut?), dovetailed at the corners, and chinked with a yellowish substance that seemed to be cement.  The roof was sheet metal, with a masonry chimney poking out.  When we took possession, the ridgepole had lost integrity, and part of the roof was open, but it was possible to climb the stair up to the partially collapsed second level. Local celeb Mad Marshall Jacobs, whose flagpole-sitting marriage had been covered by Life Magazine, visited once to look into a restoration, but determined that dry rot made this impractical.

Over the years, the old cabin just sort of mouldered away at the far end of the meadow where our little travel trailer was parked.  After the pond was built in 1976, our center of gravity moved towards a different part of the property, and the cabin was mostly left to collapse on its own.

In Fall of 2010, the remains of the old Fortune place are still visible.  I’ve scavenged some of the cut sandstone foundation stones, but there are still at least 6 more to collect. There are various bits of rusty and broken trash, some apparently from the time it was inhabited, and some later, and looking at the picture from 40 years ago, I find myself wondering just where the chimney ended up.

Surprisingly, 4 logs remain connected in the original position, dovetailed over a foundation stone in the SW corner.  A bit of chink is still visible, along with some of the rusty old nails that once peppered the exterior.  The dovetailing is surprisingly sophisticated–many Appalachian style log cabins only use half dovetails.

Shielded by the collapsed metal roof, at least one of the old hand hewn logs still seems to be solid enough to be useful, although both ends are dissolving.  I’ve thought for years that it would be nice to salvage a log or two and do something with them, but I’ve never taken the initiative to do something about it.  I guess its now or never.


[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry jumps back to the start of this project with Cold Start Last January.]

Winter arrives, the motorhome leaves

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Mere words cannot express my disappointment at not sharing in the digging of the septic system, which was delayed at least a week because of mud. Besides the excitement of watching Sheldon and his excavator, I really want to know how all the systems function. Given that I’ll be maintaining this place for the rest of my life, and assuming that will be long enough for things to break, I’m very curious about where everything is, and how it is constructed. I’m afraid that the underground utilities will be a mystery to me–at least until one of them fails some day.

After a week’s vacation on the building site, we returned to Virginia on the heels of last weekend’s unusually harsh and early winter snow. At least we had a chance to meet with Sheldon last week, and discuss where we wanted to put culverts under the drive, and how we wanted to leave the earth contoured around the cabin and barn.  We had a visit from the phone company. We had a long visit from the electrical coop, and agreed with Sam where we’d put the meter and how where we’d run the power. We had a very long visit with Conrad the tile guy. Elizabeth had a longer visit at Artfind Tile, a surprisingly sophisticated store located just off the town square in Wooster (no web site–how funny is that?). We also had a long and entertaining visit with Ed Erb at Erb’s Stove Center near Berlin (he’s Amish–they usually don’t have web sites).  He sold us a small Dutchwest Cast Iron Non-Catalytic Wood Stove for the office.  Sam will pick up the stove and ensure that it is installed.

We had frost several mornings, along with heavy fog.  The leaves aren’t completely down, but they are getting there.  There were still a few brave, or late, crickets chirping at the beginning of the week, but within a couple days, nights were silent, save for the occasional hoot of an owl. The last week of October was probably the last one that Elizabeth and I will spend in my folks’ motor home.  For weather and utility reasons, my parents drove it out of the Hollow on Sunday. Not only was the well head not configured to provide water in freezing temperature.  Even if it was above freezing, the motorhome wouldn’t have water, because the well head needs to come off.  A ditch will be dug between the cabin and well, and the Yoder brothers will install a pitless well adaptorto the well casing below the frost line.

The report from Sheldon and Sam today is that ditches have been dug, conduit with power lines have been run to the cabin, and a water line now connects the new cabin to our 30-year old well. Weather permitting, Sheldon should be able to finish the septic system, some driveway work, and hopefully, recapture the spring, by Friday. Sam expects that the electricians, plumbers, and HVAC subs will be working in the cabin this week, and as soon as Sheldon finishes, Yoder Geothermal (a Yoder with a website) will be able to drill in support of the geothermal heatpump. Hopefully, the cabin exterior will be stained within the next two weeks, but that may be delayed until spring. As soon as Sam can get him pinned down, the mason should arrive to do fireplace and chimney.


[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry is The Original Log Cabin.]

Porch Railings

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Today dawned wet and cold. Although sunrise was at 7:51, the builders arrived at 7, while it was still dark. They immediately started in on the small porch that will be at the main entrance in the back corner of the cabin, putting a pair of pressure treated 6×6 posts on top of the concrete pads poured yesterday. Then they built a platform attached beneath the back door, and attached a pair of 6×6 posts at the front corners.


Then they used the chainsaw to cut mortise slots, and cleaned out the mortise with a chisel. After cutting another mortise slot on the other side, they cut a pair of 6x6s and installed them between the mortice’s and the tops of the posts.


The porch still needs a roof, railings, and steps. Meanwhile, Daniel was bringing a pallet full of spindles for the front porch.


After cutting the cedar rails to length, Aaron fits together a set of spindles and rails, which were then pounded tight, and screwed into place, top and bottom.


The porch is really starting to take on some personality with the rustic railings in place.


The porch will be screened, with a door on right (above), with stairs down to ground level, that will also use the cedar rails and spindles. The carpentry crew built a door frame for the screen door, and put a series of cedar boards between the 6x6s holding up the roof, and the tongue and groove above it, and also built triangular walls at each end of the porch. After the cabin has been stained, they’ll install rectangular panels with insect screens on the sides and behind the railings.


They also installed cedar trim on several windows, sealing the interface between log wall and window frame with a metallic gummed tape.


Elizabeth spent the afternoon making detailed graph paper drawings of the details in the bathrooms, and we drove up to Millersburg to copy them, and then we continued to Winesburg to meet with Conrad the tiler. It seemed like we were there for hours, but he had a lot of practical ideas on shower configuration, and at this point, Elizabeth is happy. We came back through Berlin, and decided to stop at the Farmstead for dinner, where we’d eaten earlier in the summer with John and Buffy.

[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry is Winter arrives, the motorhome leaves.]