Living the Good Life in a Mortgage-Free Cabin

The Wagners worked for several summers to complete their log house, which they now live in. They spend a lot of time on the property with family pressing apples for cider, hunting mushrooms, and tapping maple trees for syrup.

  • As they mostly worked during summer, Geraldine Wagner, the author, and her husband spent several years cutting and preparing the timber for their home.
    Photo by Geraldine Wagner
  • Friends and family pitched in to help the Wagners make the house livable.
    Photo by Geraldine Wagner
  • The Wagners’ family loves visiting them in their debt-free home, which is surrounded by woods and trails.
    Photo by Geraldine Wagner

For some time, we looked for land that we could afford, and that had the natural resources (tall, straight pines) to build our log house. We finally settled on a place that was farther from work and shopping centers but was beautiful and inexpensive. We paid $11,000 for 27 1/2 acres in 1978. So we did pay the owners about $71 per month.

We spent several years cutting the pine timber, limbing it, barking it and stacking it to dry, as well as scraping and washing the logs. At the time, we had little to no money, so we used a $40 attachment for our chainsaw, called a “Lumber Maker,” and ran it down the length of the logs to flatten them on both sides. When we had some money, we bought oakum and huge spikes to put the logs together.

We paid a young man from the neighborhood and one of our daughters to help us one summer with mixing cement and using a wheelbarrow to move the cement to the foundation forms. Friends and family came by often, and when they were there, we were usually working on the house (while living in an old rehabilitated house that was on the property; we spent the first summer making that livable), so they would usually pitch in to help. The house really isn't "done" today, some 35 years later. A few little things here and there were left to do when we moved into the house, as we moved in a little earlier than anticipated.

While we were building the log house, our little rehabilitated house next door caught fire in a big storm and burned down. My husband had just gone back to work that day. We typically had summers off and would save up enough money to live on over the summer. When he went back to work, we had $3 between us! He had to come home very quickly, though, when he received a call from a neighbor that our house was on fire.

After the fire, neighbors let us live in their house down the road. Their father had recently passed away and they were getting ready to move back into the house after some refurbishment. There were dishes, pots and pans, towels, and firewood that we could avail ourselves of, and then there was a concerted effort to finish up the log house so we could move into it. We were up there every day after our two older kids got on the bus to school. An insurance settlement gave us the money to purchase a furnace and appliances. We moved into the cabin in 1983 and had a big party for everyone who had helped us.

We had two more children by the time we moved into the house. We moved just after our youngest child's third birthday. The other children were 9 and 4. Often, our parents would take the kids overnight, especially in summer when we did the bulk of the work on our house, so we would have full days to work.



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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