Growing up, I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who did a lot of DIY. Probably the most impressive/fascinating/crazy thing about my dad is not that he teaches both microbiology and racquetball at North Dakota State, or that he is the youngest person I know (he’s currently in his mid-50s) who actually attended a one room schoolhouse. Nope. It’s that during the late 80s and early 90s, my dad built a Lincoln log-style cabin using reclaimed utility poles that had fallen during a Minnesota ice storm.
My dad grew up on a farm and had helped my grandpa on a few construction projects before tackling his own, including building a small cabin and the log cabin house my grandparents lived in throughout my childhood. (My grandparents’ place had an attached garage, detached woodworking shed, full basement, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fireplace – we’re talking about a real, year-round house here.) Let’s just say he wasn’t embarking on this project with a completely empty toolbox. Plus, those utility poles offered a source of very affordable construction materials. Here’s my dad’s story on those:
Regarding the collection of the broken utility poles…..it was after a late winter (March…~1977) ice storm, which coated the above ground wires with ice….the weight of the ice, coupled with wind…..causing hundreds of utility poles to break off just above ground level. [Your grandpa] and I spent most of my spring break driving around picking up the broken poles…..stacking them on a trailer, and hauling them back to the farm. Many of these were used on the original cabin, yet we still had some of them leftover for my cabin. We did actually buy some “retired” utility poles for my cabin…..paid $5 apiece…..the nice thing about the “retired” poles is that they were longer since they hadn’t been broken off.
my dad / my grandpa / the first log cabin they built
When an uncle passed, my dad inherited some money that he used to buy a lot on Red Rock Lake. This was long before I was born. For the first few years of construction, Dad worked on getting the frame of the house and the guts (wiring, heat, etc.) together with the help of his dad. My mom, brother and I, particularly once we hit toddlerhood, would go visit the site and sometimes camp out. As soon as the roof and windows were in, we’d stay in the cabin itself. We’d cook out on the fire, take rides in my dad’s fishing boat, go fishing, catch frogs, and we’d sometimes get crayfish too, which my dad says were delicious.
me on a homemade tire swing in front of the completed house, ca. 1996 / the finished dining room / mom, little brother and I on the stairs down to Red Rock Lake from the cabin
In the late 90s, my parents sold the little log cabin and our small first house, and invested that money in the larger home they live in today. I visited both my grandparents’ former home and my dad’s cabin a couple years ago for the first time in over a decade. Both are still upright, though the one on Red Rock Lake seems much smaller than I remember it from childhood. Funny how that happens!
Do any of you have stories about cool things your parents made back in the day? I’d love to hear about it!
Kim @ Yellow Brick Home
This! This is awesome.
Great story, love the cabin and the fact that the family built it! I am doing something similar. Have a look at my videos if you are interested.
That was a great story! I have been considering doing the same thing with poles. Did your father have a problem with the creosote treatment smell in the cabin? I’d really like to know!
Someone in Reddit asked a similar question, actually! My dad said the poles were cedar and had only been treated with creosote below ground level, where they’d snapped off. And I think there’s a toxicity issue with living in a cabin made of creosote wood, but I’m no expert on that. I can put you in touch with my dad via email if you’d like to ask him questions directly.