An Oregon Log Cabin
by Bill Hudson of Eugene, Oregon
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.