Our First 10 Years

My neighbor in Jacksonville had heard about our adventure and offered his five acres to us for $50.00 per month, payable whenever. “Our kind of deal.” It just happened to be the site of an old Chinese sawmill in the 1880’s. Jacksonville was the center of a huge gold rush in Southern Oregon as miners headed north from California’s gold rush. The property was not very flat, but who’s picky? All the logs were delivered and unloaded and we were in the business of making log home kits. We had seen an advertisement for a chainsaw mill called the Nordic Prince at the local saw shop. The chainsaw was suspended on a framework of steel that moved up and down and side to side on a ratchet and set of gears. It was mounted vertically and rolled down a twenty foot steel track. Each log was held in place while you walked the saw and made a lineal cut from one end to the other. Our wall logs needed to be two-sided and the rafters and floor joists, one-sided flat. At the time, it all seemed like one big experiment, somewhat similar to what Dr. Frankenstein went through, only more complicated. “Wrong brain, Igor!” Even with a special skip-chain for the chainsaw it was extremely slow and exhausting. It took us over twenty days to mill the logs for the fist cabin and we were working ten hour days, six days a week. Good thing you could buy ten Top Ramen noodle packages for a dollar.

At this time there were only three of us, Dave, Tom and I on the payroll with a few of our friends helping out when they could. Brian was busy remodeling homes and couldn’t afford the cut in pay to work with us. Joe and Randy were childhood friends of Tom and were always hanging out with us. Both of them enjoyed the outdoors work and our stories of having hundreds of log home dealerships up and down the West coast. “Rich I say!” I think we paid ourselves a salary of around $450.00 per month and were each barely surviving, and so was the company. I’m sure we all thought this would be a fun summer project and then head back to the real world. One sunny day a kid showed up from Portland, had heard about our operation and wanted to work, building log homes. He claimed that he had built a log home in Alaska the year before with a friend and had log building experience. It was way more than we had. Plus, we were a little behind on what I had promised this first customer on his delivery date. I remember that on his first day of work, as we’re peeling the logs with old-fashioned drawknives we started laughing that he was holding his knife upside down, with the beveled edge up. He remained quiet. We ribbed him about it again and joked about how much experience he really had building log homes? He still remained quiet, pulling the bark off with each stroke. Calmly, as he looked to the ground, he told us that we were the ones holding the drawknives upside down. And we were. “Hey, don’t these things come with instructions?”

Our log yard was about two miles west of Jacksonville, up on Wagon Trail Drive. Every day that I can remember working there, two old guys would walk by. Once in the morning and back with supplies in the afternoon. It was another half mile up to their ramshackle cabin, so quite a walk for these two. One was about sixty and looked just like Abe Lincoln without a beard, but more lined and weathered. The other was a spitting image of Rip VanWinkle, only bow-legged and much sleepier looking. They’d wave at us, but never stopped or came by to talk or anything. One afternoon as I’m reading our Medford newspaper, there’s a feature article and pictures of these two. Apparently, they were both prospectors and drawn together in pursuit of gold abandoned a hundred years ago. In the 1890’s the Chinese laborers had their own gold mine up this canyon and had kept it a secret from everyone in town. There had been an attack on their camp with most of them killed, but nothing was ever found. The locals assumed they buried it in a deserted mine shaft higher up the ravine, and these two guys were determined to find it. In the article they both bragged that they were close to finding it and all the townsfolk would know when they came driving down the main street in a brand new Cadillac convertible. I never saw any Cadillac driving up or down our road, but you never know. Heck, I don’t think either of them could even drive a car. We always considered the both of them a little eccentric and not firing on all cylinders. “Just a little eccentric?”