Home and Garden

My Cabin in the Woods

George's Cabin

In about 1973 I responded to an ad in the local paper advertising cedar fence posts. When I got to the farmer who was selling a stack of used fence posts I noticed an old log cabin that was almost completely covered with blackberry vines. I asked him how much he wanted for the cabin. He glanced at it and then at me and responded “Someone once offered me two hundred dollars for it but he never came back. If you want to pay that much you can have it.” I immediately wrote him a check for $200.

The cabin was built by an Icelander settler in about 1864 out of old growth hand split cedar logs. It is about 16 ft by 20ft and has but one room with a door on the front and a window on each side. It had no fireplace. The octogenarian who sold it to me said that it was on the land when he purchased the property and he lived in it with five children until he built the farm house that he was then living in. Soon, though, he would be moving to town as his land was purchased by a large oil company to become part of a parcel of land for a refinery. Accordingly, he was selling everything he could as all structures would be razed and the land totally cleared.

I cut back the brambles and stripped the cabin interior and exterior down to the original logs. I removed the rotted shake roof and removed the roof timbers. Then I numbered each of the logs and took many photos of the structure. I removed the caulking which was mainly clay although at times I would find cloth stuffed between the logs. I removed the window and door frames which had been modernized, probably in the 1920s. For the most part the logs were devoid of rot and were in solid condition. With help I then lifted down the logs, one by one. They were ‘dove tailed’ and the cabin walls were built with no nails, the dove-tail character of the log ends held the building together.

Once on the ground I now had the problem of getting the logs home. We had a 1970 VW bus which was used (abused) to achieve that goal. At the end of the task of getting all the logs to my home the back seat of the VW bus had a distinct sway to it and the roof rack also had a curve to it. I could not carry too many logs at a time so it took many trips to move them to Bellingham from Ferndale, a round trip of about 30 miles. I had a pile of old timbers from a railroad trestle that had been demolished not too far away from our home which I used to construct a foundation for the cabin which raised it about 20 inches off the ground. I found some salvaged 12 inch by 12 inch old oak or maple timbers that I used for framing the floor. Then I reconstructed the cabin on that base.

An old retail lumber company went out of business in town and there I found several very old windows that fit in the spaces in the cabin walls for the original windows. Originally I covered the roof timbers and framework with hand split cedar shake but the wet weather we have here in the Pacific Northwest combined with the fact that the cabin was in the woods and was in the shade most of the time caused the shake to be covered with moss and soon rotted. Eventually we replaced the shake with a metal roof that is now faded so it blends with the wooded environment.

Rather than use clay as caulking material I used cement. I hammered in lots of small nails near the space between the logs and then plastered the space between the logs with cement which, when dry, was held in place by the nails which were totally covered by the cement. This has held up well for over 30 years. I ran an underground electrical cable to the cabin from the house which is about 50 ft. away and brought it up into the cabin from beneath so it is not visible from the outside. Then I framed the inside of the cabin with two-by-fours and filled the spaces between with heavy insulation. The ceiling was framed for a drop ceiling and florescent lights were installed. An electric wall heater was built into one wall. I covered the walls with beautiful straight-grain 2 x 6 boards placed horizontally that I got as salvage material from a local manufacturing plant that made cross-ties for power poles. They were varnished rather than painted so as to keep some of the aesthetic of an old wooden structure. The floor was fully carpeted with a dark green tightly woven carpet. I characterize the job as having built a silk purse inside a sow’s ear.

The structure served as my wife’s weaving studio and has a bed in there for guests who are willing to ‘rough it.’ Grandchildren of the man from whom we purchased the cabin come from time to time to get their pictures taken in front of the old family home. I do not pretend that it is an original pioneer log cabin but rather characterize it as a cabin constructed with elements from an older cabin built by early settlers in this area. The original structure cost me $200 but I figured that I had spent about $2,000 reconstructing it on our property. I am sure it is worth much more than that now. Regardless of its putative market value we enjoy having it on the property as one of our ‘out buildings.’