Building a Log Cabin

When the Williams family's home was destroyed by a tornado, and the insurance company refused to pay, they decided to build a new home on their own. Log by log, they created a 4,300 square foot home, even though they had never done construction before.

| April/May 1995

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    Step by step, a pile of rubble was converted into a brand new home.
  • chainsaw
    After a tornado destroyed their home, the Williams family decided to build a new one. And they didn't let a lack of experience stop them.

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  • chainsaw
" If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost," Henry David Thoreau once wrote. "That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."  

Thoreau's words came back to me with doubly renewed emphasis recently when I read an article in the Charlotte Observer about a series of "dream" houses in the Queen City. To me, the dream was a nightmare: the "everyday" house in the development costs $400,000, while the "middle priced" house sells for $739,000!

But, the article went on to say, there is much more than mere house at these prices: the buyer also gets, in addition to the 3,500 to 4,500 square feet of living space, a 0.7-acre lot with an impressive view and a guarantee that someone will not put up a mobile home next door.

At that point I put down the article and announced to my wife Elizabeth and our 17-year-old son that we should all go out and hug as much of our house as we possibly could. The truth is that we did hug the house, in bits and pieces.

A Life Interrupted

You see, we built our house recently from trees that were uprooted by a horrible tornado that, in passing, also demolished the pre-Civil War house we had lived in for the past two decades. When the high winds had left the scene, so had our home insurance company. Not a cent did we manage to collect on the house, furnishings, personal belongings, or out-buildings. So what we had left to show for our labors was a heap of debris (which the Federal Emergency Management Agency decreed was not a total loss) and a heartful of memories—and the crying need for a new house.

We reasoned, not originally, that if we should make lemonade when life gives us lemons, we should also make log hoses when life gives us storms and uprooted trees. My wife wanted to know if I had ever built a log house, helped to build one, watched one being built, or read a book about building one. When I answered negatively to all four queries, she demanded to know why I thought we, as inexperienced carpenters and totally novice house builders, could in fact construct a log house.

"There are only two major requirements," I said facetiously. "You must have a sharp chain on your saw and you must be smarter than a log." The truth is, I was scared to death.

But as we stood among the debris of our former house, and our son Robert asked, sadly, what we were going to do, I pointed to a battered old chain saw that had survived the storm and reminded Robert of his favorite poem by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling advises that if we can bear to hear the truths we've spoken "twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools," or watch the things we gave our lives to, broken, and stoop to build them up "with worn-out tools," we'll deserve the title of "Men" and, in my wife's case, "Super Woman."

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