Our First 10 Years

Well, we got the contract, not because of the quality of our product, our huge log inventory or all the great things we said, but because we were the cheapest. The arrangement was to send four shipping containers with a cabin in each, and a fifth that had all the various, miscellaneous products. It was loaded with windows, doors, roofing, hardwood flooring, kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, furniture and woodstoves with chimney pipe. “Don’t tell me we forgot the kitchen sink?” They had purchased round trip airline tickets for Shane and I and we agreed to work ten days, building two of the models and training two crews. I felt that if we could make these first few log homes work out smoothly, I was sure they were going to order many more cabins.

We had never loaded forty foot overseas shipping containers, so it was all a learning experience. Basically, we made all the banded units three and a half feet wide by seven feet high, put them in through the doors, than plunged them forward with a long pole. We would put in two more units and jamb every available space with log siding and lumber. The shipping company would give us two hours to load each container and then they were trucked back to the port of Portland. Each trailer would get fumigated, aired out and loaded on a barge for the Far East. Because Japan was sending the U.S. so many TV’s and electronics, containers were piled up all along the West coast or sent back empty. The shipping costs going to Japan were very inexpensive. It was a back haul and Harumi took advantage of it.

Shane and I were excited about our trip and considered it an adventure in a supervisory role. Unfortunately, it turned into a marathon of hard, physical work. And our car salesman was not that accustomed to hard work, or anything beyond riding in the back seat listing off that year’s model’s features. I remember that on the ten hour plane ride to Tokyo I was seated next to an Oriental college student. Right off the bat I asked him if he was going back home to Japan for the summer. In a very angry tone he responded “I’m Chinese” and never spoke another word on the flight. “Sorry about that!” Our first day was spent unloading and organizing the fifth container. After loading a truck, we had to drive it to one of the jobsites and unload it. In Japan you drive in the right seat, shift gears with your left hand and drive in the left lane. It was like backing a trailer down a boat ramp using only your mirrors. All of the roads were way too narrow and some corners had fisheye mirrors on posts. You know, like in the supermarket or at Seven Eleven. I still don’t know how we weren’t involved in a fatal car wreck or at least ended up head first in a rice paddy. We had to keep reminding each other…”Wrong lane, wrong lane!” The next four days were spent hand-packing logs with a helper and a toryo, the head contractor. I remember asking the toryo to help out with the rafters by climbing up a ladder to the ridge beam. Instead, he showed off by shimmying up the main post and pulling himself up on top of the beam. His web-toed carpenter shoes helped him grip the log with his feet and toes, plus he had the agility of a monkey. To my surprise, he gave me a new pair of them on the last day to take back to Oregon. Mine don’t seem to grip as well as his did that day, but they still looked cool.

From there we drove half way across Japan to the site of the second model home. As we’re driving through some rice fields a small creature suddenly dashed across the road in front of us. Shane asked Harumi what in the world was that animal. And she replied it was a Japanese squirrel, common to the area. Shane said jokingly, “My wife makes the best squirrel pie!” Again, it was “Ah so, very good.” No wonder I’ve never seen a Japanese stand up comedian on TV. Harumi’s son, Brian was in high school in California, but was spending the summer with her as our helper. His ability to translate our instructions to the workers on both jobs was priceless. Plus, we got a better idea of their customs and the attitude of each toryo and their helpers. On the drive through Tokyo, Brian was determined to eat lunch at a McDonald’s restaurant. We searched for over two hours to Brian’s disappointment, but couldn’t find one. Harumi suggested Japanese fast food and we pulled into one. It was a buffet line, but all the food was raw and Shane and I were getting nervous. We filled up our plates with all sorts of raw meats, vegetables and cooked rice and then went through the cashier. Fortunately, at every table there was a built in Hibachi grill and exhaust hood. You’d cook everything at the table dipping the meats and veggies in various sauces, while the entire restaurant filled with smoke. It was all you could eat and we were in Heaven thinking this is the greatest place ever. We ate like grunting pigs. Harumi said they only stay in business here, because the Japanese eat mainly the rice and vegetables. We Americans, would eat it to Chapter Eleven bankruptcy within a month, and we tried.