When Uncle Karl died he left his five hundred acre dairy farm to my cousin, Kaye. All except for forty acres of swamp and woods off in one corner. It was covered in cedar, poplar, a rocky ridge and deer moss-filled swamp. (Sphagnum moss) Not even the cows would graze on it. The blessing was mosquitoes wouldn't live in it, either. Kaye was a spiteful, hateful woman that did all she could to get me out of there. I refused to sell the place. It finally came down to a grudge. I didn't sell out because she wanted me to. Part of the deed included a right-of-way along her property's western-most fence line for one and three-quarters of a mile to the edge of my back forty at the south-west corner of that section. Over several years I had dump trucks full of gravel laid down to make a solid raised driveway and had the driveway fenced in as I could afford it. I paid twenty-two hundred dollars a year in taxes on the place.
After six years the driveway back to my home site was finally completed and would support a heavily loaded delivery truck. A forty-by-forty gravel pad was also laid out. I had a well pounded and a very expensive set of foundation piers dug out and concreted in, for a forty-by-thirty foot cabin/house The well was inside the wall layout. I wasn't going to have electricity run to the place. I was going with a manual pump. I gave up drinking and most every other form of entertainment to pay for that place. When I finally could afford it I had a load of lumber dropped off. I went up there prepared to work like hell. I brought along a small gasoline-powered generator, a heavy contractor's power cord, a hammer drill and a rotary power saw. I went to town on those foundation piers. I drilled out holes for half-inch retaining bolts in the six-by-sixes I wanted to use for edge beams, then I dug out holes for retaining bolts and epoxied them into the piers after tapping the bolts through the beams. I kind of built the floor backwards. I used joist hangers to string the floor supports from the sides to the center six-by-six on twelve inch centers, then stapled vapor barrier to the bottoms of the beams. Then I filled the voids with fiberglass insulation and screwed one inch thick plywood over everything.
The walls went together on the ground and then were raised up with the help of a winch. I kept them from falling down by fastening them together with a cap rail, then screwed the wall segments together. I fastened the walls to the floor with big anchor screws driven into the edge six-by-sixes. Vapor barrier went on around the house, tucked underneath and fastened securely to the bottom beams with a treated one-by-four layer screwed into the perimeter beams, top and bottom. Then the walls were stuffed with insulation, a layer of visqueen went on to keep the void from breathing and paneling was screwed on over that.
Shorter joist hangers went on over the cap rails and a 2x4 ceiling went in at just about seven feet eight inches, minus the one inch for the thickness of the floor plywood. I used the screw gun to mount three-eighths inch plywood to the bottoms of the 2x4s, tucked visqueen in between the 2x4s and laid fiberglass insulation in the holes. Then another layer of half-inch plywood went on with screws over the ceiling joists to make an insulated sandwich. Everything went in on twelve inch centers, the walls, ceiling and the floor. I hired a couple of guys to put on the rafters, sheathing, tar paper and shingles. They nailed in the soffits and second story walls too. I laid out the inside into three rooms. The left side of the place was a large living room and kitchen, while the other half was laid out into two rooms. The front was a bedroom and the back was a bathroom-utility room. I got the walls primed, the doors hung and the windows installed before the weather packed in and I had to go back to work. I left the tools, spare lumber and generator there but I emptied the gas tank and brought the spare fuel can back with me. I'd taken all my vacation time in one big block, four weeks of it, to get the place together.
For several months nothing got me down, nothing griped my ass because all I had to do was think about that place in northern Wisconsin, just waiting for me. Sooner or later though, I knew that my boss would screw something up and it would come crashing down on my ears. I thought of him as wearing a superman suit with a button-up butt panel.
I saved my cash and watched for sales. I found a counter-top at a liquidation sale and a big square sink that would fit in the counter-top, even with the sink's edge molding. I bought white enamel paint and a couple cases of construction adhesive in applicator tubes. I contacted a sawmill up north that dealt with cedar logs. I made a deal for a truck load of slash wood--the cut-offs that come off to square off the logs before boards are cut. I wanted to glue them to the sides of the house to make it look more like a log cabin. Besides, it was cheaper than any other treatment that I could figure out, and it would look better than painted plywood. My vacation anniversary date was July first, so that's when I scheduled the slash wood to be delivered. I was a good boy and scheduled my vacation a month in advance.
When I got to the house I was pissed. Someone had spray-painted "White Trash Go Home" all over the place. I called the sheriff to come and take pictures. I wanted this documented. While I was in town I bought several "No Trespassing" signs which I nailed up at the property lines and at the foot of the driveway. I scraped the window glass down and re-painted the window frames, the doors and door frames with white enamel. The walls I covered up with the slash wood, glued in place. I had to true the edges with my power saw to get them to meet properly, but I thought that it looked pretty good when I had finished.
It was hotter than hell that July. I realized that I really needed a fan or two. I mounted a couple of heavy shelves in the utility room, got the counter mounted and securely propped up, installed the hand pump over the well head and went looking for batteries and twelve-volt fans. I wanted big, rechargeable lead-acid batteries. My little Honda generator had a twelve-volt output port and I was going to put it to double duty. Everything I saw was too damned expensive for my budget, so I picked up a few local newspapers, including one for Wausau. (Wausau is big for the area. It's not Chicago, but at 134,000 people in the metro area it was nothing to sneeze at.)
I found a couple of auctions that I wanted to attend and saw an ad for a week-day auction for a general contractor that was going out of business. Hmm. That looked promising.
I emptied out the pickup and headed into town. After a six A.M. breakfast at a fast food joint (burp) I got my bidder number and started walking around. Yep, they had big twelve-volt batteries for a fork-lift. They also had a big LPG tank that was going up for bid! Hell, I'd have to buy one eventually. If the bidding was slow maybe I could save some money. That was the kind of thing worth putting on the credit card. I checked with the business' office for any paperwork that they had on the propane tank. It was moved around a lot and had a good paperwork trail. The auction was well-attended for the generators, fork-lifts and roofing tools, but not so much for the supplies. I picked up the batteries cheap, four for fifty bucks each, and the five hundred gallon LPG tank for two hundred fifty five bucks, a quarter full. I paid a guy with a semi tractor retriever a hundred bucks to deliver it for me. I about got a hernia getting those batteries loaded into my pickup. I hit a farm supply store for the battery connection cables and a couple twelve-volt fans. I got big slow ones so that they'd be quiet and would fill most of a window. I figured on cutting holes in the interior walls to get the heat to circulate so I bought four total. The wiring was low-amp stuff and was easy to install. I used surface channel since the walls were full of insulation.
My floors were pretty ugly the way they sat. I bought every rug that I could find at the farm auctions, along with a kitchen table, a decent chair and a couch. They were pretty expensive, but Lowe's had twelve volt high-output sticks of LEDs available cheaper than Home Depot or Menard's. I bought four for thirty five bucks each. I put one on a gooseneck stand with a shade for a reading lamp.
I needed a bed, but the couch would get me up off the floor. I needed cabinets and drawers for the kitchen, a stove and a furnace. A water heater sure would be nice to have. So would a composting toilet. It was illegal to dig or operate a pit toilet any more, and a hostile neighbor would be certain to turn me in, sure as shit.
Hmm. I needed a bathtub and a pipe run from the well head in the kitchen into the bathroom. That water was cold!
I looked around the place and sighed. I hated to leave, but my vacation time was about over. I took pictures of the place, inside and out, to print for the office. I needed something there to remind me of the place. I disconnected the battery farm, capped off the propane tank (since I hadn't gotten it hooked up yet), locked all the doors and windows, made sure nothing flammable was left behind and drove away. This time I padlocked a chain across the driveway as I left.
I printed the pictures that I took and had them framed. They decorated my office. I got a lot of comments on them. I had taken a series of outdoor shots showing the woods around my place. It made a nice panorama going across my wall.
.... There is more of this story ...