One wouldn’t expect to follow a rebuilding project in the Ninth Ward by building a log cabin in Fields, Oregon, a town in the desert two hours’ drive from an interstate. Yet there we were, near Jeff’s childhood home amid hayfields, mountains, cattle, and sagebrush, building a family’s dream home with a kitten, a birddog, two dachshunds, several hundred mother cows, and all the school kids in the community as helpers.
Given the remoteness of their ranch and pioneers’ independent mindset, Lorin, Kathy, and their son, Joe, hadn’t bothered hiring a general contractor. They bought a log home kit that was delivered on a semi-truck with a set of blueprints and a sort of paint-by-numbers guide to stacking the logs. They persuaded a builder to travel out to erect the logs and timber-framed structure. Following that, Lorin figured, what was left but putting something on the walls and installing cabinets? That’s where we would come in; he coaxed us to make the cross-country drive so we could trim the place and do a few of the other knickknacks involved in finishing a house. Despite suspicions that Lorin had underestimated the magnitude of those ‘knickknacks’, we were eager to escape another summer in the New Orleans humidity, so we took our tools north and west.
After a 2500-mile-drive, we showed up and got to work. We put the roof on, stained the exterior, completed the framing and back deck, installed windows and doors, and built an increasingly Egyptian-looking apparatus to get the mason and his rocks all the way up the chimney. Then as autumn neared, we hung drywall, insulated, installed no end of blue-pine paneling, designed and installed the trim, and finished off the electrical and plumbing systems. After first snowfall we moved on to sanding and staining the interior woodwork, flooring, tiling, building cabinets, painting, and… In short, the two of us did just about everything in the ten months between our arrival and final inspection.
But the most remarkable thing about the job was the communal investment in its completion. It wasn’t your ordinary collaboration between architects, general contractors, subcontractors, and the homeowner. Jackson and I played several roles. We also became members of the family, since we lived on the ranch during the job. Every morning and noon for all ten months Kathy and Lorin prepared our meals. Lorin designed and built the handrail for the stairs and loft, and he was always pleased to give engineering consultation. Kathy learned how to apply American Clay plaster to the walls and did most of the painting. A neighbor, past his physical prime, taught Joe the basics of masonry, so Joe built a thirty-foot tall chimney and an artistic hearth. Two other neighbors, both retired contractors, pitched in some of their spare time to help us with the rough plumbing, electrical, and tiling. Other family members and neighbors dropped in to hand up roofing material, tractor out stumps, pass tools into the crawlspace, or contribute decor.
And everyone in the region had all sorts of comments and admiration for the house. Near the beginning of our time there and again after completion we invited everyone around for southeast Oregon’s first and second Louisiana-style crawfish boils. We took it as a sign of the project’s all-around success that by the second year all those cattle ranchers were willing to eat the mud-bugs we offered them. We helped put a landmark in Fields, Oregon, and we’ll never forget the people who helped us do it.