Building Two Debt-Free Abodes With One Leg

With only one good leg, Bill Poupore built two welcoming, green and debt-free homes, a log cabin and a straw bale abode.

  • Priscilla Poupore, the author, and her husband, Bill, used reclaimed telephone poles as support for their straw bale home’s roof.
    Photo by Priscilla Poupore
  • Though drought made straw scarce in Texas, the Poupores sourced enough to build their straw bale home.
    Photo by Priscilla Poupore
  • Bill did a lot of work on the Poupores’ debt-free homes, despite a leg injury that led to a later amputation.
    Photo by Priscilla Poupore

In the deep woods on the south side of little Olson Lake some 30 miles inland of Lake Superior (as the crow flies), Bill hammered another piece of metal roofing near the 20-foot peak of his little log cabin. The head of orthopedics at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque had called to say the X-rays showed that he had broken the titanium rod that held his left leg together. The doc had told him to be careful and take it easy. Bill agreed, shut the cell phone, stuffed it in his pocket, and went back to hammering and laying down the next ten-foot sheet of roofing metal, dangling his useless leg.

Ten years before, we had given up our dream of sailing around the world in old “Sea Yawl.” Bill wanted a cabin in the woods. It was June in the upper peninsula of Michigan — cold and buggy, and we were living in a tent in the Northwoods, borrowing electricity from our neighbor, Finlander John. Bill’s brother came up one day to help clear the giant birch and maples to make a place for a house. He took as few trees as possible and used them for construction. Bill watched as his brother pulled a log out of the woods with a chain attached to his pickup truck. Without warning, the chain that pulled the log broke under the pressure, whipped around, and hit Bill’s left leg, creating a life-changing comminuted compound tib-fib fracture. Between hospital stays and doctor visits, we acquired a pickup truck and a camper.

Bill continued to haul and peel logs for ten autumns, standing them vertically, which he could do alone with the good leg and a good amount of fortitude. Two years into the project, the township officials said he had to sink in cement pillars, so he started over. He laid logs east to west on the pillars, then laid flattened logs on both sides north to south, notching them to fit with the east-west logs below. He notched the bottom of the upright wall logs to fit on a board and then nailed them together. He built a gable roof with a 30-foot log at the peak. We hired a guy for five days to help with this and the roofing.

Financially, the Olson Lake land is not completely debt-free, but we paid for the log cabin as we went along. Construction expenses were minimal (except for the roof which cost $3,000), as he used local logs from the property, rough-cut lumber from small local sawmills, and reclaimed lumber wherever he could find it. We found a 1950s gas/woodstove for the kitchen, bought a new refrigerator, picked up a thick pine log free at the lumber mill that we used as a kitchen counter, and gathered garage sale items for the rest of the furnishings. He constructed a Rumford-style fireplace using local rocks that we hauled to the cabin. Michigan recreational land taxes are very high, so that has been a burden.

Meanwhile, back at the farm in West Texas, our camper was resting on the foundation of a cabin my grandparents built in the late 40s. We decided to build a straw bale house on the same foundation. In 2004, we mustered up $4,000 to lay a new concrete pad over the old foundation plus a bed and bath area — 1,100 square feet in all.

The farm had been used for horticulture, Herefords, Durocs, Nubian goats, truck farming, oats and various other less-than-profitable ventures. It sits on a hillside at the northernmost outbreak of the Edwards Plateau (Texas Hill Country). It doesn’t rain very often but when it does — oh boy! The water comes gushing down the hillside and right over anything in its path, including our foundation. We rented a ditch digger and jolted our teeth through the hard caliche and limestone on the west upside, and then put holey pipes down at the bottom and filled it with gravel — a French drain.

11/8/2015 5:31:18 AM

I want to see more pictures of the finished buildings!!

8/2/2014 10:10:42 PM

Why is it that when i sign in ,I try to read the articles that are present and I can't get to the second page or even when I press next. What's up ?? Thanks.



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