Squaw Creek: Our Washington State Homestead

Ronald L. Engeland talks about his family's rural Washington State homestead, including moving and establishing a homestead in the dead of winter.

| November/December 1975

  • 036-034-01
    I'll admit right at the start that the middle of winter is not the most appropriate time to move everything you own onto some raw acreage two miles from the nearest backroad. Still, it can be done.

  • 036-034-01

North–central Washington State — a mountainous area with a normal growing season of 70 days, where frost can strike any day of the year, where summers are hot and dusty and winters are supposed to be killers — may not seem like the ideal homestead site . . . particularly when one's only shelter consists of a huge tent. Nevertheless, my family of five came through our first year on the land with grace and good, positive feelings. Here's how we managed our Washington State homestead.

I'll admit right at the start that the middle of winter is not the most appropriate time to move everything you own onto some raw acreage two miles from the nearest backroad. Still, it can be done. Five years of preparation and hard work — with a wide variety of tools and people, in all kinds of situations — began to pay off on March 1, 1974, when my partner and I negotiated a fully loaded 2–ton flatbed to within a quarter mile of our property and began to haul the necessary materials across the snow on a 4 feet by 8 feet sheet of plywood. Yep, it can be done . . . but if you have a choice in the matter (we didn't), it's better to wait for spring.

Squaw Creek: Our Washington State Homestead

Our first shelter — a frame of 2 by 4's set in a stand of trees and swathed in clear 4–mil plastic — took only a few hours to build. The covering held the heat of the wood cookstove well enough to maintain an indoor temperature in the mid–60's as long as the fire was going. It also rattled like mad in even the slightest breeze, afforded a 100% view that took some getting used to, and was shortly succeeded by a canvas–covered pole framework. Or, rather, by three such structures . . . since my wife and children soon arrived, closely followed by my brother and his wife. We owned four big canvases among us, and every family or unit bad fun building a private shelter.

In spite of its drawbacks, though, our earliest home did serve us very effectively and we decided to experiment further with the idea. Come the first week of May, we turned (by hand) a patch of ground 50 feet by 10 feet and erected a frame for a temporary greenhouse. The new structure faced south, stood 5 feet high at the back and 2 at the front, and was covered with more clear plastic — 6–mil this time — which we placed over the frame on a fine sunny day. Then we buried the edges of the film . . . and within 15 minutes the building's interior temperature rose to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The problems of overheating and ventilation were solved by arranging the two narrow ends to open and close as needed. Last — and this should really have been done first — we dug a trench 2 feet deep lengthwise down the middle of the greenhouse, to serve as a walkway and allow a little head space without an unnecessarily high roof.

Frost continued nightly right up until June. . . but not in the greenhouse. Although nighttime temperatures under the plastic weren't really warm, they never dropped to freezing. With this three–week head start we actually harvested tomatoes from seed planted outdoors (unheard of in our area, with its 10–week growing season).

A note on building with plastic: The best way to nail down such a covering is to fold the edges over three or four times and then sandwich the extra thickness between the frame of the structure and a smaller, lighter stick of wood. Then, once you've worked all around the outside, you'll probably want to add a few reinforcing strips in the middle of the wall so that the whole section doesn't billow in and out in the wind.


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