Amazing Fire Tower Cabin Stays True to History

Reader Contribution by Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications
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The following post is an excerpt from Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2012) by long-time Mother Earth News contributor Lloyd Kahn. In this book are some 150 builders who have taken things into their own hands, creating tiny homes (under 500 sq. ft.) — homes on land, on wheels, on the road, on water, even in the trees. Here is one of these builders, Mike Basich’s, story.

It was like “being hit by lightning,” according to the clients. Given 113 acres in Alpine Gulch in the Judith Mountains of central Montana, it was a dream come true for them, after searching for years for acreage like this.

The land already had a small log cabin on it. Located at the very bottom of the canyon, in a grove of old firs, it was always dark, cold, and claustrophobic. The clients wanted something else — light, sun and expansiveness. A forest fire that burned across part of the land in 1989 exposed just such a spot.

Sited about 70 feet above the valley floor, on the edge of a limestone ledge, the site has long views up and down the valley, seemingly hanging in space. But, it also has the intimacy of an aspen grove, and a meadow of wildflowers in the other direction. The cabin had to do a couple of other things for the clients: It had to relate to their cultural landscape, as well as the physical one.

One of the clients, a third-generation Montanan, and the son of a forester who graduated from the University of Montana in 1949, was raised with both the myth and the reality of the great western forests. The fire towers that guarded these lands represented a romantic ideal of life to his family as he grew up. Lookouts were always in the most inaccessible, most spectacular locations. They were a place where life and relationships were condensed to their essential elements, where nature overwhelmed and embraced those lives.

The cabin had to become part of those landscapes. Not just in form and material, but in time, as well. It had to look old from the moment it was finished. It had to look like 1939 — like the CCC had built it.

A lot of recycled material was used to accomplish this. Corrugated metal roofing came from a barn being demolished down the road. Beams, flooring and decking were recycled from an 80-year-old trestle, recently dismantled. The stone came from the site, and rock flooring was quarried in Idaho.

In contrast to the exterior, the interiors are archaic, but light, and anything but rustic. The ground level provides cooking, washing and storage, with sleeping for two. The upper level provides the connection to the views, with windows in every direction, and a six-foot square skylight at the peak of the roof to insure even more light. On the second level, there is also sleeping for two, and storage between the floor beams and in the furniture.

The cabin is powered by two 50-watt photovoltaic panels that provide 12-volt direct current power to outlets, lights, and the well pump. That power lets the client have a stereo, a TV/VCR, running water in the sink, and water to fill a wood-fired hot tub. A composting toilet provides sanitation.

The cabin has proven itself to the family and friends of the clients in the year since its completion. It’s become an icon in the canyon, and a gathering place, rapidly filling with memories.

Photos courtesy Shelter Publications

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny Homes, Simple ShelterTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitterand Facebook, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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