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An Oregon Log Cabin

by Bill Hudson of Eugene, Oregon

Winter 1949
Winter 1949
SW view

From the Desert to Oregon.

In 1945 we moved from the California desert to an old homestead in Oregon, about ten miles up in the woods north from Cottage Grove. It was a great place for a 13 year old boy to live and explore. Two creeks to play and fish in, lots of woods, old logging roads and a water flume to explore.

There also were several old post and beam homestead houses in sad repair (falling down) with lots of old antique stuff laying around to examine and play with. If I had is all now I could make a small fortune selling it.

Two years later we were facing the the reality of being homeless because the house we were living in was being sold out from under us. It was the end of WWII and housing was nonexistent. After looking within thirty miles of us the only thing we could find was a little log cabin and two acres on my Uncle Robert's (my dad's older brother) place about three miles North of town. The cabin was near a hundred years old and it was very small and in very sad shape.

At some time earlier an attempt had been made to tear it down. The piers had all been pulled out from under the cabin but it had refused to fall. So it lay there, sort of molded into the side of the hill -- the south side about two feet lower than the north side.

All the sawn lumber had been gutted out of it by my uncle to build his small saw mill. There was only the log shell with a roof that you could see lots of daylight through. For a floor: just boulders, rocks and dirt because the floor boards and timbers had also been taken out.

Having no other options my dad bought it and the land from him for $500 and we immediately set in motion plans to rebuild it.

Bill Hudson
Me - Easter 1948, 16 years old.
This is the SW corner of the cabin. The vertical post was put in the ground to hoist the stringer logs on top of the piers. The large end of the log showing by the post is one of the stringers we hauled with the Model A.

~::~

Gotta Start Somewhere.

First of all we had to get it back up on its feet and also needed to replace some rotted bottom logs on the north side.

The next day after the papers were signed my dad and I went up into the woods behind the place and fell several small fir trees (poles) to replace the rotten logs on the north side and for new floor beams. At this time chain saws were very new and expensive so we fell and barked the trees with a hand saw and ax and spud. I was about fourteen then and had the job of peeling off the bark from the trees with a bark spud while my dad fell and limbed them.

A bark spud is a concave chisel-like tool with a heavy handle about five feet long. It is pushed under the bark lengthwise to the log and the bark is peeled off in long strips. I had learned this process earlier in the spring when I had a job at peeling poles for a man logging telephone poles with horses. Only in the spring the bark came off easily as the sap was running. But it was now late summer and the bark was really stuck.

After getting the logs all felled, limbed, trimmed and barked we yarded them down to the cabin with our Model A car. They slid quite easy with the bark off. Now to see if we can stand it on its feet without it falling over.

~::~

The Model A
Our Model A work horse in the snow of 1949

The Oregon Log Cabin Stands on Its Own Again.

The poles are down from the woods and now to raise the cabin. We decided to start first on the north end where there were a couple of rotted logs on the bottom.

First we dug ditches under the end logs (front and back) of the cabin. Then we ran a cable in the ditch from our Model A bumper, under the front logs, through the cabin, and under the back logs.

We snaked a log under the house from front to back until it was in line to support the bottom front and back logs (sills) about two feet from the north side. We placed flat rocks in holes dug under the new cross log and placed building jacks, under the log, at each end of the new log and on top of the rocks. Then we slowly jacked the north side up about a foot.

Since the south side was already two feet lower we feared the whole cabin would come tumbling down or fall apart like Lincoln logs. But it held.

We chopped out the rotten bottom logs and slid in new logs. The second log up we had to notch at both ends, top side and bottom side, to straddle the front log ends. The protruding ends of the front and rear logs are notched to support the side logs and kept them from falling down on us while we worked. It is like lacing the fingers of both hands together, the joints between the knuckles act like the notches and make a tight fit. This notching is what holds the cabin together and makes a very strong joint.

That is why it wouldn't fall down. We also notched the top ends of the bottom log and set it in place on top of several cement piers we had placed along the length of the side. Then we carefully lowered the cabin down on its new north footing. It held.

We snaked a second log under the ends at the south side as we had done on the north side and started to jack it up. Because we had added nearly half a foot of height to the north side we now were faced with lifting the south side over two and a half feet. At best each jack would only screw up about a foot. We had to take it up by making cribbing of 4x4s until we had the side of the cabin slightly higher than we wanted it. Then we had to determine the level of the south side of the cabin.

To do this my dad cut the fittings off an old garden hose and taped in two glass tubes. He wrapped tape around the tubes about half way down from the top as a marker. Then he filled the hose with water. He anchored one end of the hose to the log at the north end so that the taped mark was even with the bottom of the bottom log. At the south side he had a stake driven in the ground and he held the hose at the top of the stake and slowly lowered the hose until the water moved to the tape mark. He transferred this mark to the stake. He did the same at the other end of the cabin. Then he ran a string from each stake at the lines marked on them. This established the height we would need for the piers.

My dad ran the cut off saw (an eight foot in diameter circular saw that ran on a track across the end of a log chute) at the shingle mill and he got permission to cut up a small cedar log into the correct length for the piers. He took the back seat out of the Model A and stacked the pier in it to bring them home.

Once holes had been dug and filled with crushed rock, the piers were set in place and shimmed to the string. Then the cabin was lowered in place. Two more stringer logs were snaked under the cabin and set on piers.

By the end of the day the cabin was standing on its own, proud and tall.

~::~

Winter 1949
Winter of 1949 - My dad

Well we've just barely begun.

Yes the cabin is standing up again but it is also showing its age. The falling down of the cabin has caused some racking of the log frame. Another problem is that logs taper over their length. No where in the cabin is there a square or level place.

The original floor was supported by smaller poles (floor joists) running crosswise to the house. These poles had sagged over the years and probably were never level to start with. Now laying a floor over them would result in a very badly rolling floor. To solve this my dad and uncle sawed some new rough sawn 2 x 12 foot floor joists. These were notched into the side logs we had just installed in the last segment. Where they crossed the center support logs they were also notched in. Then they were spiked to the old joist poles. All the new floor joists were leveled to each other as they were installed. This give us a level starting place.

South side view

New 2 X 10 foot floor boards were laid over the joists to make the sub floor. On top of the sub floor we laid felt paper and then 3/4 inch plywood. This ended up being our finished floor as time was against us to install a finished floor over the plywood. This made a very stable floor and in all the years living there it never squeaked. It also stayed quite warm in winter. (later my mom shellacked the plywood and then put a very nice wax finish on top).

Unfortunately by installing 12 floor joists along side the old pole joists which were only about six inches in diameter we raised the floor height by about six inches. Consequently also it lowered the ceiling height to about six feet to the bottom of the ceiling joists. The ceiling joists were never removed form the cabin. The ceiling joists had been set in on top of the log wall making it nearly impossible to tear out without taking the whole roof off so we had to go with them as is. This posed a real problem for me, a growing lad who had nearly reached a height of 6 feet 4 inches.

details

For a second story floor we first installed finished 1/4 inch plywood, face down on top of the joists leaving them as exposed beams. It was designed that way just for me. It was decided that it would ruin my posture if I could not stand up straight once in a while. I could walk across the room with my head between the ceiling joists or duck to walk the other way. There were many times I forgot to duck when getting up from a chair forgetting there was a beam above my head. I ended up crashing down on the floor many times. To finish off the upstairs floor again we put in a layer of felt paper topped with 3/4 inch plywood. But I am now getting ahead of my story.

Okay, let's step back to where we had just finished the main floor. The next order of business was to install windows and a door.

Front view

The original door was just a plank door hung on a flimsy frame with leather straps. It didn't fit now that the cabin logs had shifted from all the moving and raising. The raising of the floor meant also that we need a shorter door. My mom insisted we have a real door but none were available locally. Then I remembered several doors in the old falling down homesteads on the place we were leaving. My dad and I drove the old model A back in to the best of the two houses to see if we could salvage one or two. We found a couple of old doors still in pretty good shape. We also found some windows and even some with glass still in them. We hoped to use them in the cabin. We loaded the windows in the back seat and tied the doors on the top of the car to haul them to the cabin.

My dad and an old logger friend of his hue out a couple of 4x6 timbers to install vertically for the door frame. He also hewed and fitted a header to support the log above the door. These were mortised and tennioned in place. The new door had to be cut off at the bottom and rebuilt a bit. It had a nice detail below the window. The original glass had been etched but it was broken, in our haste, too badly to use so I got my first lesson in installing and caulking glass into the door. Uncle Robert showed me how to remove the old glass and putty then how to cut a new piece of glass to fit.

Then we placed a light layer of putty in the frame and pushed the glass in until it almost all oozed out the inside. Then we pushed some little brads in to the frame to hold the glass in place while we puttied the glass in place.

The cabin had only one small window beside the door and one way up in the back gable end. Mother of course stepped in insisting on more windows.

Again Daddy brought in his logger friend to cut some openings for windows. One large one was planned for the South side, for light and view, in the living room. The little hole in front was enlarged to a much larger front window in the dining room. A little one was cut in on the north side where the ladder went up to the second floor. For a while we had a screened box on the window to keep food in. later it was turned into a window when we finally got electricity. The final window was in the my parents bedroom just off the living room.

They had to chop out the first part of the opening with an ax then used a small cross cut saw to cut out the rest of the logs. Then a heavy frame work was built for the windows. We learned right quickly that the cabin shifted almost daily. The first windows we installed cracked by the next day. To solve the problem my dad used a product that was made for chicken houses. It was a cloth mesh covered with a plastic coating. It was quite flexible. Mother of course would not have that stuff in the living room and dining room where guests would see it. Finally Daddy figured out a way of making a smaller frame for the glass that floated inside the main frame. He packed in rubber gasket for car windows between the two frames and then covered it with molding. It worked and my mom got her nice large windows for her living room and dining room. For the little window behind the ladder (which was soon taken out to install a cool box in its place) and in their bedrooms and upstairs they left the mesh windows in.

Our next order of business was to finish off the inside. First we needed to seal out the outside form coming in between the old logs. We did this by chinking the inside. First we stuffed heavy moss between the cracks. Then we mixed clay and straw to make the chinking. This was the job for me and my sisters. Daddy dug a large pit then filled it with water and mud. Betty, Anita and I tromped the straw into the mud with our bare feet.

Anita didn¹t last too long. She was quite little then and was recovering from a bad bout of rheumatic fever. The mud mix was pushed into the cracks to fill the voids. Then it was smoothed out a bit. On the outside we pushed pieces of bark into the mud to slow down the attack on it from the rain. But it started raining the next day and it set in hard and wet for the rest of the winter. As you can see in the photo, it still washed out. We had to re-chink it once in a while.