A tribute to one of my biggest fans

 

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My friend Nelton Maples

James Nelton Maples, 87, passed away on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at Huntsville Hospital, here in Alabama, after a battle with pneumonia and intestinal cancer. He was a husband, father, veteran, and friend. This is the second really good friend I’ve lost to cancer. It is a devastating blow.

I met Nelton after my tractor had a slow leak in a tire back in April, 2016. I was still dragging logs out of the woods – hadn’t even started my foundation. I had met his children, and they kept saying, “you ought to talk to Dad- he’d love what you are doing.”

I found out why after I met him.  It’s rare to find a friend who is into “doing” as much as I am. Nelton’s nephew commented to me the other day, “boy, if you’d have met him about 10 years ago, you’d have trouble keeping up.” It’s too bad, but I’ll take the two years I was given with him.

The man knew a lot about everything, unlike me- I know a little about everything. Let’s see if I can list the things and occupations he was involved in:

  • Phone company lineman
  • city surveyor
  • Police chief
  • farmer
  • engine mechanic (diesel and gas)
  • engineer
    • built a road grader from an old grain harvester by turning it backwards and putting a plow on it
    • built a sawmill for sawing logs for his son’s cabin
  • certified welding instructor
  • carpenter
  • electrician
  • concrete expert
  • horse trainer
  • pig & chicken farmer
  • Truck driver
  • guitar player
  • Sunday school teacher

I was always impressed with his knowledge. He mostly blew it off and said, “You do what you have to do to survive.” He built his own house back in the 1950’s, when you hand-mixed the cement- they didn’t have cement trucks back then. His father used to own almost all the land on Maple road- over 100 acres. And his Grandfather owned even more before that. They are founding members of the city. They built a cabin up on the mountain (near Paint Rock) as a vacation home. He has tools galore- mostly old fashioned, many he made himself (log tongs, forks for his tractor, a plow, a grader, etc.). The garage is always in a state of 12 projects going at the same time.

He gave each of his kids 5 acre plots- all together on the same block. It is quite a legacy.

His son Danny built a cabin back in the 1980’s. They hauled the trees for it from down on Hobbs Island Road. He built a sawmill to process the trees- they milled two sides flat, and spiked them together. It has a gable roof, and was the talk of the town back then- there were articles written and a news crew came out to ask them about building your own home.  Nelton can now chalk up another cabin that is the talk of the town, 30 years later.

He started by offering to let me park my tractor at his place at night after my critter cam was stolen, and the friendship and my admiration for him and his wife grew. They are old-fashioned, tough, gritty, and funny, with hearts of gold. Surely God created people like the Maples to watch over foolish headstrong people like me. After watching me from across the road tip the tractor up in the air while skidding logs one day, he said, “you might want to chain that log lower on the bar- if you chain it higher than the axle, you’ll tip up.”

He had a pacemaker, so he taught me to weld from his porch- away from the EMF that could disrupt the pacemaker. He would listen to the torch and tell me, “too hot” or “too cold”, or even “are you hungry? you ain’t welding right today – sounds a little shakey.”

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the golf cart pulls up…

I’ll never forget the 5 mph golf cart pulling onto my property, with him and bunch of tools to give me some advice on surveying, or just to say hi, and offer us something from his garden.

He mowed his yard every week- right up until about 2 weeks ago. I saw him on his little John Deer riding mower, his straw hat, and boots, tooling around. He also has a 1950’s John Deer 3-wheel tractor in his barn that he keeps up. He had me weld a step on it so he could get up in the seat. I also put a new hitch mount on his firewood splitter.

I picked his brain on everything. He had had a stroke, so he couldn’t talk that well. But he was a master teacher. From my blog post “stuff breaks”, while working on my tractor lift arms:

I welded the right side with the neighbor’s supervision- well, he has a pacemaker and can’t get near high voltage devices, so he sat on his porch and listened to the welder. When I was done welding the first time, I drove by on the tractor and gave him the thumbs up. I got across the street, backed up to the log that broke it in the first place, and immediately broke the weld. Limping the tractor back across the street, and I see the neighbor in the chair grinning at me.

“What?” I said.

“I knew that was gonna happen- you were welding it too hot.”

“Too hot?” (I don’t know anything about welding….I guess you can ‘hear’ when someone is welding too hot?)

“Yeah- when you’re welding hardened steel to cast iron, you gotta turn the heat down on that thing – otherwise, you’re not really welding it,” says the former certified welding instructor.

Oh.

Turn down the heat. Weld it cooler very carefully. Grind off the slag. Weld again. Grind off some more slag, adjust the heat. Weld again. The neighbor comes over to eyeball it. Gives me a nod. Off I go.

Back at the log in question. Start to lift it- “clunk!” <a few choice curse words>. Turn around and look- my weld is holding ok. Look at other lift arm: now it’s broke. <smile>. Drive back across the street. Neighbor is a little concerned as he sees me coming up the driveway. Then I show him what happened. Now he’s grinning, too.

“I’ve done that same thing before, believe it or not,” he says, laughing. Luckily, I bought a universal screw pin from Tractor Supply, and what do you know? It fits. And the weld has held up since then, too. Third time’s a charm?

When we excavated, we also had the guy move the culvert for our driveway. Nelton watched from his driveway. He said, “you see that little built up area in your driveway? Many years ago, my uncle was riding through that field, and his horse had a heart attack and died right there. They couldn’t move it, so they dug a hole and buried it right there somewhere on your property.  I was just wondering if you noticed anything while you were digging.”  I guess we didn’t get down that far.

They asked me to go to church with them on New Years, but my daughter was sick, so we couldn’t go. They were Baptists, while I’m Mormon. With the historical animosity between our two religions, I was afraid to upset the apple cart. “I go to a church in Huntsvill,” I kept telling them. But Joyce kept asking, so I finally told them I was Mormon.

“And what do Mormons believe?” Joyce asked.

“We believe in God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”

“Do you believe Christ died for your sins?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Well, then, you’re alright by me.”

He knew everybody – “I know his daddy- do you want me to talk to him?” when I was having problems with the permit people.

He wasn’t well- heat, cold- all of it affected him. “But don’t worry about me- I’ll lay down for a while, but then I’ll crank up again.” The last time I talked to him, was out on his patio. We talked about the rafters I was making. I was getting close to having all 28 of them made. He nodded his approval. I always look to see if him and Joyce are sitting out there in the shade, enjoying the breeze when I pull up to my property. Two beeps from my horn, and I always get a friendly wave. Joyce told me a few weeks ago, “We’ve sure enjoyed watching your sunflowers grow.”  I said, “oh, you should take some tomatoes while you’re there.” “no- we’ve just been watching them from here- we can see your garden from this little corner in our yard. We can’t wait to see you get the roof on your cabin.”

That chair is empty now. But I think there’s one in Heaven that has now been claimed…. probably won’t get much use, though- I’m sure he has 12 projects going at the same time up there. A mighty tree has fallen in the forest.  I’ll miss you, Nelton. We only got this far with you and Joyce’s support.

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I’m back on WordPress…

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Just finished peeling the very last wall log! Yay!

Hi everyone- I thought I had made my last post and was moving over to my other blog on google-owned Blogger. But with all the censorship over gun videos on YouTube (owned by Google, and they also own Blogger- where my new blog was going to be)  –  I’ve changed my mind again. I’ll explain…

The problem is that I have principles that I support – like freedom of speech- that are being attacked by the sites that host my videos and the other blog. They are now refusing to allow videos that show how guns are made and how to reload ammo. You may think guns are evil. That’s ok. But should they censor that content? Be careful- something you believe in may be censored eventually. I understand censoring child sex trafficking videos. I don’t understand infringing on the right to keep and bear arms by an American company.  Remember, they didn’t become so fabulously wealthy by opening their doors for business in some other country — they became fabulously wealthy here, in the U.S.A.. They live, do business in, and benefit from a country that protects their right to free speech and association.  And now they want to pay back the citizens of this great nation by censoring law-abiding individuals they disagree with? It’s like they are fighting against their own mother.  It’s un-American. Who does that?

The question for me is: should I allow YouTube, who is busily engaged in censoring “speech” that it doesn’t agree with, to make money off of my videos? They aren’t coming after me, so why should I care? Maybe they will. Maybe staying out of debt will eventually become hate speech.  I made a mistake, I think, in going over there to the dark side of blogging. I apologize. I didn’t think it had gotten this bad.

So I’m back to WordPress. If you like what you see, sign up to receive emails every time I post.

Progress of the build

 

Last weekend, I got the tractor stuck in the mud trying to move the 8,500 lb ridgepole, followed by getting the Landcruiser stuck in the mud to pull the tractor out. I called the neighbor who brought his loader over and pulled both of them out. Later the same day, Julie got some great video of me spinning my wheels again while we put up log #47. In the video, the log got stuck between two logs after it broke the 2×4 that was supposed to prevent it- a very frustrating situation.

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Today, I got my Honda Civic running again. My theory on what broke it: the crank position sensor got fried, causing the injectors to flood the engine with gas, washing the oil out of the cylinders, and causing complete compression loss. After replacing parts and letting two tablespoons of oil soak in the engine overnight, it sputtered back to life. Later, we went to an Easter Egg hunt in Hartselle:

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After the Easter Egg hunt, we decided to take the long way home and drove by the cabin. I finished pinning some logs, and then we decided to go ahead and put #48 up there, but didn’t pin it. We need to rotate it and pin it.  Julie counted the logs we have left and did some measurements- We are pretty sure we need 56 logs to complete the walls- fourteen layers. With #48 up, we have two layers or eight logs left.

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2016 May 05: My Grandpa

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Grandma & Grandpa Hill’s house (Thank you Google maps)

We are all products of our parents and grandparents physically; but I think we also carry within us some of their dreams, desires, fears, and abilities. Peeling logs gives me a lot of time to reflect on how I got to this point, so I’m taking a look back at where I came from. One of the largest influences on my life was my grandfather Charlie Hill, so I’ll start with him.

My grandparents house was huge- it had three levels and was kind of on a hill. You parked in the driveway, went up some stairs to the front yard, then up some stairs to get to the front porch. Out the back door was a covered deck I helped build when I was seven. Then more stairs to get up into the back yard. My cousin’s family moved in with my grandparents for quite a few years. My grandpa had an old trailer parked out there in the back yard, and while waiting for my piano lesson from my grandma, we would jump on the trailer and make the front bounce up and down on the ground. My grandpa was always grouchy and yelling at us to get off the trailer. Seemed like he had a perpetual frown on his face. He didn’t like being interrupted, either. We learned to tip-toe around him, and not wake him from his nap, or sit in his Lay-Z-Boy. I always thought it was my cousin making him grumpy, but looking back, it was probably just that he didn’t like kids that much. There were a few funny things he did, but mostly, we just feared him.

He gave me tools and camping supplies for my birthday every year. Sleeping bags, a flashlight, wrenches, a canteen, a knife, a mess kit, etc. It seems like I could watch what my brother got for his birthday in December, and expect the same thing for my birthday in January.

And every summer, he would take each age group of cousins out fishing- me, Aaron, and Spencer (we were sort of the same age); my brother and Matt; my sister and Tamary; etc. I think I caught something twice  while fishing. It was relaxing, though.

He always had a story to tell: “You see that post over there in that field?” he said countless times on one of our long trips down Redwood road out in West Valley, “Let me tell you a story….Many years ago, there used to be a farmer that was friends with my Dad….” Stories about the Army, working for the Salt Lake Tribune, how him and Tommy Monson (now President Monson of the LDS Church) used to know each other when they were in the printing business, how he won a rifle at the county fair shooting competition, getting hurt while deer hunting, keeping pigeons as pets, and many more. “Someday,” he said, “they’re going to turn this road into the bottom of a lake,” as we drove on the old highway that is now under Jordanelle reservoir.

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One story I remember from him: After the war, he drove a taxi for a while. One night, he picked up a guy at a bar. The guy was drunk. He started threatening my grandpa- that he was going to kill him, and asking where his wife (my grandma) lived. Suddenly, the threats became real- the man reached over the seat and held a knife to my grandpa’s throat, demanding that he take him to their home. My grandpa grabbed the guy’s arm, and broke it over his shoulder, and beat the guy up. Then he drove him to the police station, threw him out of his cab, and told the stunned officers what had happened. Then he drove away.

He and my grandma would drive us to see Aunt Sheila (my grandma’s sister) in Escalante. It was 60 miles East to Escalante from Cedar City. I’m not exactly sure why that town was created, but my great-great grandfather (who was also the teacher in town, and later became the superintendent of schools for the county) helped build the church, and when it was complete, he stood on his head on top of the steeple to celebrate. That town was always a magical place- nothing but slickrock and high elevation pine forests surrounded the town. Since there was no room in her turn-of-the-century brick home for me to sleep indoors, I would sleep on a cot out in the garden. I would watch the stars as long as I could before falling asleep.  And, in the morning, watch the sunrise through the canyon- the slickrock turning from purple, to red, to orange, then yellow, and finally white rock as the sun came up through a crack in the canyons.

My grandpa was born in Salt Lake City, and grew up in the Depression. Lived with his Aunt and Uncle out in Magna on the west side of the valley. I heard his mother had bad arthritis and couldn’t take care of him.  They grew vegetables, chickens, and whatever else they could sell during those hard times. His Uncle fell out of a tree one time, and hurt his back real bad, and I think it changed his personality to grouchy. I think my Grandpa just wanted to belong. He learned how to shoot a .22 rifle, and the city would pay him $0.05 a bag for rats from the city dump.

He joined the Army during WWII. He was stationed in England, and wanted to be a paratrooper, but had an accident during training. I think he became a medic instead. He married my grandma before he left, and my Aunt was born in 1944.

My grandma was from the East side- born into a well-to-do family (compared  to his). She had seven sisters. Her mother was Mary Hale Woolsey, who wrote “When it’s Springtime in the Rockies”, and was a successful playwright and wrote a few popular books in her day. My grandma could speak French and Spanish. I’m not sure if her and my Grandpa were the perfect match, but they stuck together. During the war, she played in a dance band while my Grandpa was away.

He survived a V-2 rocket attack while in a subway, and was involved in the D-day invasion. He never told me any war stories, but he was a sharpshooter, and the way I saw him split an apple in half with his bare hands- well, I’m sure glad I’m an American. I have a blanket from him with patches from German officers sewn on it.

When my first wife and I were going to get married, he asked what our plans were. I always wanted some acreage out in the country. My ex liked the fast paced city life. I thought opposites attract, but my grandpa told my ex, “Don’t get in the way of his dreams.”

‘Ha ha!’ we laughed at the time, ‘He is so last century. He needs to get with the program.’ Looking back, I wonder if he had dreams of the country life. Maybe he thought opposites attracted as well…Maybe he wasn’t so ‘last century’. Old people weren’t always old.

He and my grandma served two missions for the LDS Church- they were temple workers in Taiwan and genealogical gravestone photographers in Vermont. They eventually were temple workers at the Salt Lake City Temple. One time, they were walking one of the underground hallways that go between the parking lot and the temple. Around a corner, Thomas Monson was walking the other way. He stopped, looked at my grandpa, and said with a big smile, “Charlie Hill! How are you doing?”

My mom became so annoying during our engagement, that I moved in with my grandparents for a few months before moving into my own apartment near the University.  I felt really embarrassed to be moving out of my mom’s house. While lifting my dresser out of his truck, I tried to explain why I had to move out to my Grandpa. He smiled, and waved his hand to dismiss my explanation and said, “It’s ok, son, you don’t have to explain.” This wasn’t the grouchy old man from my childhood. They really didn’t have any rules for me while living there: let them know when I would be home.

I started to get to know him, man to man. We went shooting at the range a few times. As I said, he was a sharpshooter in the Army- I guess the precursor to a Sniper. He out-shot his own captain on a bet. He won shooting contests at the State Fair. One time, in Idaho, he proved that the rifle at a booth was purposely bent, and won a rifle to keep him quiet. But I didn’t get to know him enough, I guess. Part of it was his fault for being so grouchy when I was a kid. Memories are hard to erase. Part of it was me getting too busy with life. The last summer he wanted to go fishing, I had two full-time jobs, trying to save for my wedding and get ahead in school. He lived another few years, came to my graduation, but got to the point where he was dizzy every time he stood up. Fishing was out of the question, and he was never able to teach me to fly-fish.

Then came the point where I knew time was running out. My ex understood. She said, “Spend as much time as you can with him, he’s got about a year left.”  So I did. At the time, I was working in the finishing department at a cabinet shop. I sanded all the door frames for the LDS Timpanogas temple. He was really proud of me for that- used to mention it to people when we were out. The retaining wall was falling down in his backyard. He sat on a chair and directed me as I cemented cinder blocks and tied rebar to the structure. I put in a stair rail going into his basement. He mentioned that he’d been trying to get my dad to do it for years. I rebuilt the wooden stairs going up to his back yard, and leveled the pathway. Each time, he was sitting in a chair, telling me stories about the Depression, my aunts, life as a printer pressman, hunting stories, the settlement of the Valley, falling asleep on the Bamburger railroad as a kid, and waking up miles from home. We went out to breakfast. Usually at Denny’s on Redwood Road. He started giving me tools- I still have his speed level, a couple of hammers, some wrenches, a pocket knife. I never got the 410 over-under he promised me.

June 2001, my ex and I planned a trip to see the dedication of the Nauvoo LDS temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. Mormons bought the swampy land on a big bend in the Mississippi back in the 1830’s after being kicked out of Missouri. It soon became the largest city in Illinois for a time, complete with a University, lots of industry, farming, commerce, its own military, and of course, the temple. My ancestors were converted in Dresden, Tennessee, and moved to Nauvoo about three months before the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. Other ancestors of mine owned the Webb blacksmith shop- next door to John Browning’s shop.  They eventually moved west, and settled towns such as Orderville, Hurricane, St. George, Leeds (NV), Escalante, and many more.

The day before we left for Nauvoo, my grandpa was getting out of the car for some physical therapy for his dizziness, and fell down in the parking lot. He had a heart attack, but they were right at the door, so help was very quick. I went to the hospital to see him right away. There was a breathing tube in his mouth, but the staff assured us he could understand us. I told him I wanted to cancel my trip, but he shook his head, and insisted we go. They said he should be fine. He squeezed my hand with encouragement.

The temple in Nauvoo has an angel on top that faces west, instead of east. Brigham Young built the Salt Lake Temple with the angel pointing East. When the Nauvoo temple was re-built, President Hinckley said they would stick with the original position, so the two temples would face each other across the Great Plains.

“Today, facing west, on the high bluff overlooking the city of Nauvoo, thence across the Mississippi, and over the plains of Iowa, there stands Joseph’s temple, a magnificent house of God. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, facing east to that beautiful temple in Nauvoo, stands Brigham’s temple, the Salt Lake Temple. They look toward one another as bookends between which there are volumes that speak of the suffering, the sorrow, the sacrifice, even the deaths of thousands who made the long journey from the Mississippi River to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.” —Gordon B. Hinckley

We arrived in St. Louis, and I checked my voicemail. There was a message from my grandma that he had died that morning. I pulled over and called her. I checked the airline to see if we could get a flight back early. She said, “no, no, go on with your trip- he would have wanted you to be there for the dedication.” We took several tours, saw the jail, the red brick store, even went to Adam-Ondi-Ahman.

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I heard the funeral was awful. My dad and his sisters vying for who could say they did the most good for my grandpa. My dad tried to take credit for the handrail I installed.  He was never there on any Saturday when I was there. I felt like my grandpa was okay with me missing his funeral. I felt like spending time with him during his last year was better than just showing up for the funeral.

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Charlie & Vevedeen Hill

I wonder how much he wanted to get out of the city and live the simple life. He picked Peoa, Utah as the place he wanted to be buried. He never said why. But his eyes lit up when I told him I bought my first cabin in Idaho with 20 acres. I’m not really sure what he would think of me building a log home, but I’m guessing he would be very proud of me.

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Peoa, Utah Cemetery

 

2016 May 05: A “certified log home builder”

That means I took a class from the Log Home Builders Association (LHBA), and in so doing joined a worldwide network of thousands of other like-minded folks in various stages of building their log homes. We follow state and local building codes, volunteer labor to help each other out, share deals and sometimes tools to get the job done. But mostly, we get together on our private discussion boards and talk about….private log home builder stuff. Ok, we tell jokes, swap stories about the time Ed fell off the roof, or “remember when”.

We also believe in each other. I’ve never been involved with a more positive or tenacious group of people. I would have to go back to my LDS mission days to find a comparably positive atmosphere.

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Julie on one of her favorite logs
The summer when I was sixteen, my grandpa picked me up every day during the summer in his “puddle jumper”, otherwise known as a 1985 Chevy truck, and we went and fixed up one of his rental properties (what kind of person turns the heat up in their house to ninety-five degrees in the winter so they can walk around naked inside, and then climbs on the roof to cut the ice that forms with an axe, thereby causing leaks that destroy the ceiling, drywall and floors?). I learned to use a chainsaw, a table saw, a miter saw, scroll saw, skill saw, and hand saw; a chalk line, a level, sander, etc. I learned to roof, hang cabinets, hang doors, hang drywall, hang lights, do plumbing, electrical, insulation, lay tile, put in stairs, do concrete work. 

I have just never done all of them from the ground up.

It is hard, hard work, although my blisters have toughened up in the past few weeks. I could hire a boy scout troop, or ask for volunteers from my church, or even the LHBA, even though it’s just peeling logs for now. Besides, my wife and I are fiercely independent. We value our privacy. This is something we want to do by ourselves, if possible…..No, I don’t know why, except we’ve been surrounded throughout our lives by people who tell us we can’t do this, you’re not smart enough, strong enough, experienced enough, and on and on. You really find out who people are when they give you advice, if you just listen. There are a lot of “cants” out there in the world. We don’t want or need their influence while we embark on one of the biggest adventures of our life.

We have also experienced the backlash of closed-minded thinking.  It’s very strange to me how many closed-minded people there are out there.

The ability to consider an idea, evaluate it, and then either accept it or reject it is truly the sign of an open mind.

On a side note, I recently went looking for an internet test to determine the level of open-mindedness I have. I ended up on psychology today’s website for the “how open minded are you?” test, which consisted of a series of questions to determine how you feel about gay marriage, socialism, global warming (or is it cooling? I get confused), evolution, and whether God exists. I went through the test, incredulous at their belief that how open minded you are is directly related to how well you accept Progressive ideals, instead of the ability to consider new ideas. Seriously, they should try using some psychology on us….

But back to the matter at hand: the amount of influence the belief in your ability to accomplish a task has on your ability to accomplish a task. In other words, whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. It’s hard enough to do something you’ve never done before- without adding in all the “cants” telling you that you can’t do it. Thus the secrecy of the project up until this point. The power of positive thinking is a real influence.

If I think about the end result, and sitting on my porch, surrounded by logs out in the country, it’s overwhelming. I worry about squaring the foundation, making sure the walls are level and the right height, that the roof will fit, that the floors won’t squeak, the plumbing won’t leak, the lights will stay on, the windows will open (and shut), the thing won’t rot, leak, fall down (okay, I don’t worry about it falling down). But this is a huge project. I’m using hand tools to lift logs that are forty-five feet long and weigh seven thousand pounds twenty feet in the air. I’ll be working, at times, thirty feet in the air. I am using heavy machinery that can roll over and kill me if I don’t pay attention. The possibility of disaster is very real. Breathe. Do just one thing.

Today, it was too windy to cut anything (trying to play it safe), so I was cleaning up branches from the latest tree I cut, and getting the log up on the stacking logs. Tomorrow, I will probably find another tree to cut, if the wind dies down. Just do one thing at a time. Don’t try to eat the whole elephant in one bite.

I leave with a few photos of the property I used to own in Idaho. It was a cabin, just not a log cabin. But the scenery, ruggedness, and remoteness still inspires me:

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2016 February 08: My friend died a year ago today

I got a call last year on a Thursday from Cindy- she was asking if I could come help her take care of Ken on Saturday, who was in the final stages of colon cancer. He needed to be lifted and moved every few hours to help him with the pain, and she wasn’t strong enough to do it. It had been a long 6 months for her and him and their family. By that Saturday, he was gone. I got a call from Cindy saying I didn’t need to come over anymore. The family wanted to be alone, and needed rest before the funeral.

Six months before that, Ken was riding his motorcycle to his office at the hospital, and got in a wreck. They took him by ambulance the rest of the way to the hospital, and while checking him out, found the cancer. They did surgery, put him on Chemo, and my wife and I went to see him around Thanksgiving. He was in great spirits, said he was going to beat the cancer, but Chemo was awful. By Christmas, it didn’t look so well. He started giving his kids his final blessing, made arrangements for his funeral- asking me to give the closing prayer.

At the funeral, they told only good stories about him. He put all the trim up in our church when it was first being built. I only knew him the last 7 years of his life.

He was never rich. He owned a bath remodeling business for a while. He bought several houses, fixed them up, and rented them. But he usually felt sorry for his renters if they couldn’t pay, so it didn’t work out so well for him. He worked at the hospital as a technician. I think he fixed beds and equipment. I don’t think there was anything he couldn’t fix. I met him when he helped move me into my house a few blocks from his. He commented while moving the washer that he built the addition we were using as our master bedroom. I built the stairs into it and a walk-in closet. He said he loved what I did to the place, and the friendship was made.

When I went back to school, so did he. When he was going to drop out, I talked him out of it. I didn’t mean to- I just said, “you made it this far- what’s the harm? You never know what might happen if you get that degree.” He graduated with his degree the year before he died.  We carpooled. We talked about life. Divorce. Kids. Church. Societal collapse.

He bought his house for $15,000 at an auction. When they got the title and key and opened the door, they found the second floor had completely collapsed onto the first floor from being in such disrepair. He and his wife completely remodeled it. They slept there when they had no power to protect his tools from thieves while they worked on it. It’s worth close to $200k now, and is completely awesome on the inside. It’s over 3000 square feet, and it’s full of turn-of-the-century charm. kenshouse Eventually, his brother’s house (right next door) came up for sale. He bought it, and tried to sell it to us at a deep discount. We intended to buy it, and had a letter from the bank saying our credit was good.  I worked on it almost every Saturday for 3 months, and a lot of nights in between. I probably spent about a hundred hours on that thing sanding floors, painting, putting up walls, tearing out walls.  He was grouchy, funny, snappy, always in a hurry. He kept things simple. But we were tearing out a kitchen upstairs, running new electrical downstairs, painting the trim, having yard sales, deciding which closet would get the secret gun closet, and cleaning the yard at the same time. I asked him how did he keep up with what to do next, and he just showed me his list on a pad of paper: “Every time I finish something, I cross it off. At the end of the day, I make a new list, and anything I didn’t finish today gets put on the new list.  Eventually, everything gets checked off, and we’re done.”  Eventually, the bank didn’t like my contracting salary, which wasn’t too steady, so the whole thing fell through. I worked for free on the thing- sweat equity. He probably owed me money for labor, and I probably owed him money for customizing it for me, and then losing the sale.  He said, “I guess we should settle up. I think I owe you some money.” And I said, “I’d rather just have you as a friend. Let’s just forget the whole thing.”

He had a shed in his backyard, and I ran a computer cable for him to it. Then we hung some cabinets in there for him. One of them wasn’t quite level, and I said, “Ken, it’s a shed- who cares?” And in typical deadpan Ken-fashion, he responded “I guess you’re right. I guess I’ll just eventually go crazy from every time I come out here and see that cabinet hanging there all cock-eyed.”  So, we leveled it.

During the tornado induced week-long power outage in 2011, he came to check on us often. He was one of 10% in the neighborhood that made it safe. Eventually, we talked about moving out to the country. He wanted to build a log cabin. I sent him some info on the class I’m going to in 6 days, and he was very excited. He said he spent a week reading every story on that website, and researching every thing he could find on the method. He said it was the best idea he had seen for building a home. He actually fell behind in his classes studying it. We always wanted to go to the class together.

Family and his church were his thing. Man, was it his thing. He was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (so am I), but not always- he had his years of rebelliousness, driving fast cars, trying to meet girls. But eventually, settled on this church- and then threw himself into it with all his energy and heart. You might not like “Mormons”. Whatever- you gotta respect a man like Ken, who went all in, gave his heart and soul to what he believed in- that’s admirable, no matter what flavor of Jesus you claim.  His family had problems- lots of divorce, kids in and out of the church. Didn’t matter to him- he was completely even-handed with them, fair, and loving. You want a Christian? Ken was a Christian. He taught Sunday School. He fixed widowed sisters’ sinks, cars, houses, dug ditches for sewer pipes in January- whatever. You couldn’t go anywhere in the church without finding someone he had helped move, or build a fence, or fix a switch. And we’re not talking his neighborhood- he was everywhere. And he loved his grandkids- all of them. He talked about them all the time.

The funeral was a mess. People were sobbing. His wife was a complete wreck. It took all of her kids to support her. Literally. Her kids were literally holding her up.  The sight of her made me weep.  His whole family was there- and they would stand behind me on this one- said that he was the best one of them, and should’ve been the last person to get called home. People that had rented houses from him were there.  What kind of renter shows up to their landlord’s funeral? Or rather, what kind of landlord has renters that show up to his funeral? He was one of those people you think you are their best friend, until you go to the funeral. Then you find out he had a lot of best friends. Well, not a lot- he was like me- a few close ones, and that was it. But we all felt like we shared something special.  You felt like you were his only best friend because of the time he took to talk to you- like you had secret access to him that no one else did.

He was one of those people you call when your car breaks down at midnight somewhere, or your food dehydrator has some wiring issues, or you can’t figure out how to run a 3-way switch, or you found some cool new article about ancient Jewish temples, or you need to throw some renter out of your rental property and you need some back-up muscle, and he just says, “be right there.”  And that’s not just nice talk about the dead. He watched my dog while I was on vacation at my house. Came over and played with him and fed him and everything. The only payment he would accept were a plate of my wife’s chocolate chip cookies. He was one of those people who says, “come talk to me.” when he can see you’re frustrated. He was also one of those people when you were about to do something stupid and you’re all fired up- he could say, “Now calm down- let’s not get all crazy,” and you’d actually listen, and not get all crazy. I’m sorry, but when some people die, it’s not the same as when Ken died.

Now, he wasn’t perfect. Boy he had flaws. He was short with his wife at times. He lost his temper more than once around me. Course, that’s what we liked about him, too. He was real. And he was man enough to apologize, too. He believed in repentance.

When Ken died, that was it. My wife and I both said, “There isn’t another one of those guys on the whole planet.” I don’t have a lot of friends-only 1 or 2 close ones. I’m talking about friends that have seen your faults and tell you to fix them kind of friends. The kind of friends that say- let’s buy some property together, build two houses for our wives, and live next door to each other till we die kind of friends.

I fly to Vegas this Friday to start the dream you never got to finish, Ken. R.I.P., my friend, I got some work to do yet, I’ll see you when it’s done. Yes, I do know which end of the hammer to hold. Yes, I’m sure that cut is supposed to be 1/8″, not 3/8″. Yes, I measured it twice already. What? Ok. I’ll measure just one more time for you.

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2016 January 01: More on the Log Home Philosophy

log yard.jpg

Log home owners are a different breed. Mavericks, square heads, stubborn, romantic, dreamers.

A look back in history at the log home: according to Wikipedia, the first log homes were built in 3500 B.C., although Scandinavia is the traditional home of log buildings.  As Scandinavians and other Europeans migrated to North America, they brought the traditions with them. The peak of complexity was reached with the Adirondack style. Each region of the country had its own tweaks, depending on what kind of wood was available, and the skill of the builder.  Abraham Lincoln is probably the most famous log home owner, and the trend since then has been either pride in the fact that you were born in a log cabin, or derision about the fact that you were born in a log cabin. Since I was not born in a log cabin, I guess neither applies.

But the appeal of a log home doesn’t attract everyone. Here in the South, there are a few hewn oak cabins in museums…..My wife didn’t even think anyone still lived in them. Out West, where I’m from, if you own a vacation home, it’s probably a cabin, because there aren’t very many resort towns with anything else in them. Even if it is made out of brick and is on the side of a golf course, you call it a cabin.

But back to the main point- that log home owners are a different breed: according to the Chicago Tribune:

Owners “tend to be individualists, people who want something a little different.”  The houses are certainly not for everyone, but their owners love the rustic atmosphere, with the overtones of self-reliance and natural living.

That’s it for me: self-reliance and natural living. I have a theory that everything civilization needed for survival and comfort was invented by the mid-1930’s. Everything after that is just, well-, “fluff”. But what about computers? Meh- they are nice, and speed things up- but I don’t think they are “necessary”. We sent a couple of guys to the moon using slide rules, for the most part…..

But I think the biggest turning point for me was a book on my great-aunt’s shelf in Escalante, Utah, that I was bored enough to read one day while a teenager on summer vacation.  I don’t remember the title, but the point of the book was that you could grow or raise everything you needed on 1 acre of land. I was completely fascinated. I’ve always felt like I was born 150 years too late. My great-ancestors pulled handcarts across the plains with Brigham Young, and some of them settled the harsher climates of Utah- St. George, Escalante, and Leeds, Nevada. John D. Lee, the owner of Lee’s Ferry (which is still one of the only places you can cross the Colorado River in Utah), is among my ancestors.

Building a log cabin is about as close as you can get to settling the West these days. And as I just saw on Facebook:

if-your-dreams-dont-scare-you-they-arent-big-enough

I’m scared….and a little excited.  Happy New Year!

2015 December 22: The owner-built Log Home Philosophy

images.duckduckgo.comThis post should have been first, but the anvil was hot on the other topics. Reading through them, though, I realize I haven’t even discussed my philosophy. Why am I so interested in a log home? Why not a brick home or a traditional frame home? Why not a stone house? How about straw-bale, cinder-block, timber frame, trailer (hey- they are cheap, if nothing else)? And why not just buy a traditional home that someone else built and save myself the trouble?

I think it boils down to a few things:

1. Finances

Most Americans’ financial path looks something like the following:

live off parents (0-20+) ->  get a minimum wage job (16-20+) -> go into debt for a cell phone and a car ($10k-$20k) -> Go into debt for college ($20k-$60k) -> Get married (go into debt for ring – $2k, honeymoon- $6k) -> go into debt for a house – $180k, credit card debt – $40k -> go into debt for a minivan – $20k -> get a blue or white collar job and hopefully break even by the time they retire.

From the point they go to college until the point of retirement, they live in debt- something like 45 years of debt, and anywhere from $300k to $350k of debt. Student loan debt, car payments, credit cards, home loans- by the time we’re done paying off our homes, we could have bought two of them. Why do we (as a country) follow this path? Why doesn’t the path look like this:

live off parents, learn how money works -> get a minimum wage job, save for college or tech school -> go to school debt-free, while working and save for a home and drive a crappy car -> get a job, save even more for a home -> hefty down payment on home, go into debt only $100k – $150k -> able to use leftover from small house payment to maintain a modest car, or save for a nice car -> pay off house early, set up investment accounts -> retire early -> enjoy retirement.

The answer is really and simply: easy credit. It is getting easier and easier to borrow money.

A few years back, I was living the dream like I described- all except for the car payments, credit card debt, and student loans. But while my job paid well, I was in debt for a house, and was going to pay for it for the next 30 years. My then-wife (now ex-wife) was also working, so we had a bunch of extra cash. We decided to buy a vacation home near a lake (Bear Lake, Utah). It was great- 20 acres and a cabin. Then we got divorced, and had to sell. In the middle of selling it, I got remarried and moved to Alabama. When the cabin finally sold, it sold for more than double what we paid for it. After paying off the loan, and giving my ex her share, I had just enough to buy a fixer-upper hud-home. So we were still debt free. But I was having a hard time getting ahead financially- the economy wasn’t my friend.  After going back to school for a second degree – this time in Mathematics, and a scary sidetrack as a teacher, I ended up finding a better job as a systems support engineer.

My credit is awesome. I should get a loan….Which brings me to my principles.

2. Principles

“Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation. … Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.”~J. Reuben Clark, famous attorney, and prominent leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church).

Being a slave to debt: I would like to avoid debt as much as possible. If I should suddenly kick the bucket, I do not want my wife to have to go get a job to support the family, or pay off the house or debts. After my LDS mission, I had a goal of “be debt free by 35”. I actually reached that goal….and then went back to school (and into debt)- that was a mistake. I could have probably saved in between each semester and paid cash for my classes, but my income from contracting fluctuated wildly, and it was hard to determine ahead of time where our next meal was coming from. But the house was paid off, and so were the cars, and we had no credit card debt.

Of course, the idea is to earn interest, not pay it. Still working on this one. The stock market- over the last 8 years at least- has been funded by funny money from the U.S. Treasury, so land or gold seems to be where it’s at if you want any security.

3. Practicality

This is where it gets interesting: just look at the layers on a brick home: you have bricks, some kind of moisture barrier, maybe some OSB, some 2×4 framing, insulation, drywall, and then paint. A stick home is worse- instead of bricks, you have vinyl siding or something, moisture barrier, OSB, then the 2×4’s, etc. All of those layers require a specialist- a brick mason, siding person, a framing person, someone to insulate it, a drywall specialist, and a painter.  How about a log home? Well, you’ve got logs….and that’s it. I actually think you use less wood for a log home over a stick home by the time you cut all your 2×4’s and OSB, but that’s probably debatable. At the very least, logs require far less processing than 2×4’s. Why isn’t this more popular? Well, it takes longer….

How about special skills for building a log home: the ability to follow directions, the ability to sweat a lot, the ability to finish what you started. Little 90 lb women are building these things with a block and tackle.  As far as I can figure, you lay out your logs so that a big end will alternate with a small end. With the butt & pass method, you don’t have to “cope” or carve the logs to fit- just butt them up against the corner of the other one. Then spike the whole thing with rebar every 2 feet. Add a ridge pole and purlins or support beams for the roof, add decking and shingles or tin, then chink as necessary. Put in floor, stairs, interior walls wherever you want (the interior walls are never main supports- the outer walls hold everything up). Plumb, do electrical, HVAC, counters, appliances, finish and enjoy. Lots and lots of work, but when it’s done, it costs literally 10-15% of what a home of similar size (but not quality) would cost you.

4. Philosophy of life

So, how do you avoid going into debt and still buy a house? Building your own home does not seem possible to most people. But why? My two favorite reasons:

  1. It seems complicated- Permits, engineering, materials, tools, heavy equipment, labor, inspections, and general know-how seem to be just out of reach for most people.  I’m lucky enough to know which end of a hammer to hold, so half of those issues are not an issue. What’s weird is that when you go to college- it’s just as complicated- maybe more so: you have no idea how to pay for it, you don’t know what to expect from each class, everything changes every semester, you have to learn what each professor expects, you have to juggle your schedule to get everything done, not to mention if you change your major (which everyone does). So what is the big put-off? I believe it’s reason #2:
  2. Media/commercialism: the media tells us that you get a loan to buy a house. “It’s my money, and I want it now.” It seems easy- just get a loan, and then pay for it for 30 years. I was thinking that way, too- until my cabin tripled in value (yes, I only sold it for double what it was worth- that was in 2007- looking back, I’m lucky I sold it when I did). I could sell it after 5 years and make a profit because the market had changed, and it was suddenly worth 3 times what I paid for it. I didn’t have to remain in debt.

Doesn’t it make sense to – if you could – spend 3 years building a house, and then the next 50+ enjoying the fruits of your labor? What if you could get it all done debt free, but the price was 3 years of your life? Well, the alternative is: it costing you 30 years of your life, which is the Master Mahan principle- turning life into property: the bank turns 30 years of your life into their property (interest). Enter the Skip Ellsworth log home method.

I’ve looked at log homes ever since I bought my cabin. The guy who built it was in his 70’s when he started building it. It had a rock-pile-and-cement foundation, gas lighting, a loft, a living area, and a kitchen. But it wasn’t a log cabin-it was framed in. I started looking into how to build a log cabin- there were classes, methods, builders, dealers, kits. And everyone was saying it takes years to learn how to do it, and you can’t do it yourself. Hmmmmm. Then I found the Skip Ellsworth method. You do it yourself. In a nutshell, you find property, get logs for free or very cheap ($0.05-$0.10 per log – yes, really!), peel them, build a foundation, stack the logs, put a roof on it, chink it, finish the interior. A few have done it for $9,000. Most do it for under $60,000. A few end up at $100,000.  The quickest people get it done in 9 months. Most people take about 2-3 years. A few masochists really enjoy not finishing things they start, and end up taking 25 years (no. just no.).  Then, if you decide to sell it, log homes always sell for more than regular homes- most of the owner built log homes sell for more than $300,000. Yes. Spend $40,000 to build, sell for $300,000, profit = $260,000. And you don’t have to pay off the bank. Skip goes on to say that at that point, you can use the profit to build 4 more log homes, sell them, and now you retire. You’ve made your millions.

5. Summary

I think we’ve been duped as a country to believe that “that’s just the way it’s done” on waaaayyyy too many issues. They (whoever they are) have got us right where they want us: believing there’s only one way to do anything. I’m not buying what they are selling. I guess I’ve never done things the traditional way; maybe that’s been a mistake- maybe, if I put my nose to the grindstone long enough, I’ll get rich….but I think I’d rather build a cabin.