Our First 10 Years

Our first log home was quite an accomplishment and a learning experience. The chainsaw mill was way too slow and not that accurate. We had to spend too much time hand planing the flats of the logs afterwards to blend the heights in with one another. The tractor we had bought had a set of forks in the bucket and a 50 gallon drum full of water on the back so it wouldn’t tip over. It could only pick up a couple of logs and was useless once we started making logs into units and loading trucks. But we finished our first home on time and pre-assembled the wall logs for him to look at. The owner loved it. We loaded all the logs on a semi-truck piece by piece with steel stakes holding it all together. When we got to LaPine he was so excited I thought his head was going to explode and die right there on the spot. We unloaded his kit by rolling each log one by one off the truck and into a big pile… what a mess. Then, hand-packed each log over to the sub floor and up on to the wall. Good thing we were young and strong because the logs weren’t that dry and were extremely heavy. The first lesson of our being in the log home business was… “Strong back, weak mind.” I can remember us packing the ridge beam, a green Douglas fir 6×12, on our shoulders up a ladder. An OSHA nightmare, for sure. Each log rafter went up the same way. Who could afford a boom truck? Fortunately no one got hurt and we had our first satisfied customer. Remember, this was one more than the snake oil salesman from Anderson had. We got our final payment once the logs were up and had money in our pockets and solid food in our bellies.

On the way back from Central Oregon we picked up a copy of their local Pennysaver classified magazine. In it was an ad for a mobile dimensional circle saw mill for sale in a town called Christmas Valley. You may have heard of this real estate scam aimed at innocent buyers from L.A. in the late 1960’s. The brochure showed tall pine trees in heavily wooded lots, with one to five acre parcels for sale for around $2000.00. In reality, it was nothing but wheat fields as far as the eye could see. And this place was a hundred miles from the nearest town and the nearest pine tree. “Can you spell remote?” Could this have been the snake man’s first business venture, before he got into log homes? Anyway, we couldn’t stand the thought of walking along pushing that chainsaw mill any longer. So, the next week we headed over the mountains to Christmas Valley and took a look at this contraption. The owner had welded a 50 year old circle mill to some I-beams and put it together on some old rusted truck axles to pull into the woods. His idea was to bring the mill to the woods and cut railroad ties, leaving a big mess once he was finished. Then, move on. I think he was up to no good being a pirate on the high seas and got caught stealing logs from the forest service. “The parrot on his shoulder should have given it away.” We made him some kind of offer of one of our cars, some cash and some payments. We had no idea of what we were getting into, but he took our offer. “Aaaargh!”

The carriage and sawmill were vintage cast iron parts of an old American #1 sawmill. The power plant was an old Wacusha industrial gas engine that connected with all kinds of belts and pulleys. It was the same sawmill you see in those old faded black and white pictures from the historical society and logging museums. I’m sure there were captions about donkey punchers, whistle punks and rigging slingers. “Hey Mom; that college degree you paid for, bet you never thought I’d be a donkey puncher?” Part of the negotiation, thank God, was to have this guy set it all up at our log yard in Jacksonville. Good thing, because we’d have never figured it out, being so mechanically gifted and everything. Now, when he fired this beast up and engaged the giant saw spinning like no tomorrow, we looked at each other like a deer looks in your headlights. No way any of us were going near it. “Did I mention there were no guards, plexi-glass or encased steel mesh protecting the operator?” When he asked who of us wants to mill the first log, we all took one step backwards and looked the other way.