Serenity and Relaxation, Campbell’s Ferry Style

In 2014 we embarked on a project to renovate the interior of the back room of the historic cabin here at Campbell’s Ferry. Although we had done our best to clean it up at various times through our years of ownership, those attempts were largely ineffective. What was needed was nothing short of a full renovation. When Doug and his partners got the place in 1990 it had been empty for several years, except for the army of mice, pack rats, marmots and other critters who had claimed the place. The ceiling of the backroom FrancesBedroomWallwas sagging under the weight of dirt, leakage from the roof and rodent scat. The ceiling was removed and in 2013 we replaced the roof but no changes had been made to the interior. It was impossible to keep the room clean due to gaps in the walls and floors, allowing egress to insects, spiders, and rodents galore.

When we arrived for the 2014 season Doug and friend Greg Metz began to cut down some of the bug-killed pine trees on the property to mill into lumber for the project. By “milling” I mean using what is called an Alaska chainsaw mill – basically a small metal rack that holds the saw horizontally so the log can be cut lengthwise, with the grain, to make boards. It is a painfully slow, but effective way to make lumber.

Bedroom3MummyEarly that June Doug and a visiting friend moved everything out of the back room and started removing the old stained, chewed and buckled wallboard. We knew that the room was not original to the 1905 cabin but had no way of knowing when it was added…until we looked behind those walls. There were decades of old wasp, mud dabber and bumble bee nests, more rodent feces, and a desiccated mummified rat next to a photograph of Clark Cable! Don’t you wish you had been there for the unveiling? But along with these charming finds there were old tattered and chewed issues of Life Magazines and Saturday Evening Posts dated 1937-1940 so now we knew the room was tacked on in 1940. That was the year Frances Coyle arrived. We could picture her saying, “If I’m staying here, I need more room.” So Joe Zaunmiller, the owner at the time, scabbed together the addition. He grabbed piles of old magazines and glued them to the walls, a common form of insulation at the time. He must have been in a hurry. We discovered there were no real supports holding up the roof, in fact the entire construction was scary. We had our work cut out for us.

The next week we flew out and went to Boise to collect construction supplies and a very generous family group who had volunteered to help us with the renovation. We borrowed a friend’s trailer and loaded it with a queen-sized bed, 2 night stands, coolers of food for the work crew and construction supplies from Home Depot: insulation, flooring, vapor barrier, table saw and more. We spent the night of June 12 in McCall, Idaho where we had scheduled a book signing and a book presentation.

I keep a daily journal at the Ferry. Whenever people remark about peaceful and relaxing our life is in the wilderness. I think about Friday, June 13, 2014. Below I have an edited version of my journal entry for that day. Apologies to the few friends who have already suffered through this story.

June 13, Friday

Today was a day to remember…as if I could forget! We launched into the day planned by General Patton (aka Doug Tims). We met a log home restoration guy for breakfast at the Pancake House in McCall for a consultation on a planned 2015 project before driving north to stop in New Meadows to meet with a historic window restorer (also 2015 project), drove on to Grangeville to rendezvous with the Head family (our volunteer helpers) and a truckload of lumber coming from Lewiston. TrailerWe had to unload the trailer so we could load it with the lumber and then reload all the things we had just unloaded. When we were finished the entire entourage was beginning to look like a disreputable traveling circus. Suddenly it started to rain. The wood and bed and other furniture we had on the trailer were covered, fortunately. We started the drive from Grangeville to White Water Ranch (about 90 miles) followed by the Head family in their vehicle. We were on a narrow mountain road that is very steep with hairpin turns, challenging for pulling a large trailer. The last 20 miles were on a narrow one-lane dirt road with constant switch-backs. Raining harder. By the time we got a few miles onto the dirt road the mud got serious. We met a large fuel truck coming from the opposite direction…fortunately not in a place that would push us off a sixty foot cliff…and managed to navigate around it. The fuel truck had stirred up the mud even more. We started down the very steep grade for the last six miles with the heavy trailer trying to push us like a luge runner. Doug managed to keep it in control but it was hair-raising through the ruts and slick mud. I read my Dave Barry humor book so that I could keep my eyes off the road and not be clawing at the air and grinding my teeth. We finally made it to the bottom an hour and a half behind schedule. Heinz (our jet boat driver) had waited for us (Thank God!) but now the fun was just beginning. Jetboat Doug backed the trailer down to the beach and we started unloading the trailer and loading the boat. We hauled stuff between the truck and boat through wet sand and rain for about an hour (wood is now uncovered). The jet boat ride was cold but quick and we arrived at the Ferry around 6:30 PM, soaked and sandy. Now the real fun began! Because of the water level Heinz could not drop us off at the bottom of the steep trail that goes up to the dirt road that the tractor can navigate, so we must get off at a place at bit upstream. Unfortunately, there was no way to get to the trail through the brush along the river so we had to forge a new trail and ‘mountain goat it’ up to the road. So there we were, carrying all this heavy stuff across a field of river boulders, then wet sand, then up a steep muddy brushy mountainside, crawling over downed trees in a rain storm. We had our personal gear, coolers, rolls of insulation and about an eighth of the lumber up when it got too dark to continue, so the remaining wood, the bed and the rest were tarped and left on the beach for the night. Fortunately I was able to bail out of the hauling earlier than the rest so I could come up to the cabin and prepare dinner for the eight of us. We finally sat down to dinner about 9:30 PM. Don’t you wish you had been here to share this lovely relaxing interlude in Ferry history? By the way…still raining.

The next day was spent hauling the rest of the supplies up the still muddy slope to the tractor and on to the cabin. Fortunately, the Head crew included a young man who was a finish carpenter. He took one look at the room and remarked, “Hmmm, looks like we’ll have to get ghetto on this.” But it turns out that over the next four days the crew worked from dawn to dark (we never ate dinner before 9:30 PM) and did a remarkable transformation job. It was an adventure.


We have more and larger renovation projects scheduled for this year. Stayed tuned for more serenity and relaxation at Campbell’s Ferry.

Sweeping Feathers

When we tell people that we live in the wilderness for six plus months of the year the three most common responses are:

“Oh, how peaceful and relaxing that must be,” spoken with a dreamy sort of envy.

“What do you DO with all that time you have out there?” asked with concern and disbelief.

“Why?” said with a sense of horror and pity.

When I hear the first response I try to imagine what the speakers are envisioning.  Do they see Doug sitting quietly on the river bank watching the water flow past?  In their minds am I in a meadow lying in clover in the company of gently swaying trees?  Are we perched on a hillside with a glass of wine watching the sunset?  If so, the answer is Yes, we do all of these things…occasionally.  Well, OK!, in all honesty the wine and sunset happens almost every evening but what about the rest of the time?

In answer to the second response…have you ever tried to sweep feathers?  Not the bigger, stiffer kind but the tiny, soft neck and breast feathers of a small bird?  When we first entered the historic cabin this spring there was a pile of just this type of feathers under the table in the main room.  No other parts of a bird were there, no beak nor bones nor feet nor tail feathers, just a downy pile of pale grey feathers.  There was evidence that the bird had been alive inside for a while.  There were bird droppings on the floor, the furniture and on nearly every window sill.  It is unclear how it and its unknown assailant managed to get inside but the cabin is 105 years old, hastily built and despite our best efforts, it is porous.  It was depressing to think of the small bird trapped inside and struggling to escape only to be devoured in the end by “something,” so I set about getting rid of the evidence.  Taking a broom from the next room, I brushed it into the feathers under the table.  Immediately I was in the midst of a feather tornado.  Feathers flew around me, out into room, scattering everywhere.  “Hmm,” I thought, “This would be a good job for a vacuum.  I didn’t have a vacuum, just a broom.  I tried sweeping the broom more gently.  The feathers swirled around my ankles and darted into darkened corners like tiny frightened animals.  I experimented with various sweeping styles, none of which were very effective, but about twenty minutes later I felt comfortable that I had most of them corralled and out the door.  During those twenty minutes I started to think about this feather experience as a metaphor for the work we do here.

What DO we do with our time?  The glib answer is “Anything thing we want!”  But the truth is we have to do almost everything for ourselves.  In the first place we have to do everything that anyone does at home: cleaning, cooking, washing, gardening, etc.  The difference is that it must all be done with fewer conveniences so it is a lengthier and more physical process with no options to hire any assistance…. and we are dealing with an eighty-five acre property.  If anything breaks down, which it does, one cannot call out to schedule a repairman to drop by.  One (meaning Doug) must read the manuals, learn how to take the dang thing apart, find whatever part is broken, try to repair it or somehow create a new one out of something, put it all back together again to see if it works and, if not, repeat the process.  This includes things as diverse as the tractor, the propane refrigerator or the cherry pitter.  As you know from an earlier post there is also the water issue…the ongoing water issue.

DitchAll our water comes in ditches from Trout Creek.  We control the flow of water by moving stones.  When we first return each year the ditches must be cleared of debris, including large trees that have fallen into them, and repairs made for any breaks that may have (always) occurred.  Then rocks that have closed off the ditches for the winter must be moved to allow water to be diverted.  Once the water is flowing we find where the real problems are.  If (when) there are problems the water is shut down and we begin again.  After all the ditch issues are solved the water must run for at least 12 hours to let the sediment settle.  It is only after the water problem is solved that we can begin to clean…the cabins and ourselves.  Did I say solved?  Bad choice of words, dealing with water is ongoing.  If it rains too long or too hard Doug is back up on the ditch diverting water before it overflows.  When it is dry and hot we are back to moving more rocks.

There are fields and pastures to be mowed; trees to be pruned and doctored; gardens to be planted, weeded, fertilized, and harvested; chickens to be cared for; noxious weeds throughout the property to be eliminated; fallen trees to be hauled away and milled for use in repairing the old buildings; firewood to be chopped; brush to be cut back.  These are just some of the regular, ongoing chores.

PartnersIn addition between June 15th and August 30th we regularly have two to three groups of visitors a day.  Of course there are some that come before and after but those months are the busiest.  There may be days when no one shows up but we have had as many as eight groups in one day.  Typically a group size is 10-20 people.  They come up from floating the river to see the historic cabin and learn about the history.  Doug or I will stop what we are doing to greet them.  If they want to have a tour and history talk we are happy to do that because we care about the history and legacy of this place and love to pass it on to anyone interested.  It is the same reason we wrote our book, “Merciless Eden.”  Talking to a group typically takes at least an hour.  Actually it is a pleasant diversion from some fairly grubby chores to be able to sit in the shade of the walnut tree and talk with interesting folks.

Lastly there are the projects.  Last year we renovated the back room of the historic cabin.  I will dedicate an entire blog to that process one of these days.

Sign1This year our first project was to install three interpretive signs (like you might see at national parks) so that visitors can read those if they don’t have time for a tour.  We (mainlyDoug) worked on the signs last winter and had them designed/manufactured.  Doug used the backhoe to dig the holes and built 10″ diameter cylinders from old fencing to form a hole for concrete around each of the six posts. I helped back fill around the cylinders with rock, mix cement and install the stands.

The second project was to repair the old chicken coop. Our neighbor Greg (7 miles upstream) came to help Doug build a smaller, more secure enclosure inside the old coop. At the end of this month Greg and Sue will bring us six hens from their flock.

Eyesore1The third project was to clean up an old dump behind the blacksmith shop on the property that had been there for decades before we bought the place.  The area was a mess of old trash, what seemed like a mile of old rusty fencing and posts, rusty old cans, broken bottles and window panes, broken tools, hundreds of old nails and screws, and many pieces of unidentifiable junk.  There was no other way for people to deal with their trash out here.  No garbage trucks or recycling organizations were coming around to pick up refuse so people burned what they could and threw the rest into a pile or over the hill.  There are about five of these old dumpsites on the property.  This one was just the most visible eyesore.  Eyesore2Today we still separate our trash into burnables and the non-burnables are taken by plane or jet boat for appropriate disposal whenever we go out.

The fourth project, which starts next week and should take about a week, will be to re-chink and treat the logs of the historic cabin.  We have a grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust to cover half the cost of materials and an expert on historical chinking will be coming in to help along with two of our friends. This will help to preserve the cabin and make it less porous.

The fifth project, also partly funded by a grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust, is to replace the old broken windows in the historic cabin with new windows that are historically accurate.  The windows have been made by a woman who does this type of historical work but we will be installing them ourselves with help from friends.  Probably another week’s worth of work following the cabin chinking.

The sixth project, scheduled to begin mid-June, will be huge…the remodeling of the little one room cabin where Doug and I live.  During this project which should take about a month we will be having a construction crew living here on the property with us.  Doug and I will be moving into the historic cabin during this time.  That project will probably end up as several blogs.

So, that is an example of what we DO with our time in the wilderness.  It does seem like sweeping feathers…every stroke accomplished creates a whole new set of tasks.  There are always more feathers hiding in the dark corners.

In answer to that third response I referenced in the beginning, “Why?”  That will be another blog.


Caught In The Act…Houdini Bear Takes Inadvertent Selfie

My beautiful pictureThe barn workroom was in shambles.  We had flown in to Campbell’s Ferry only hours earlier.  When Doug unlocked the barn door he was greeted with devastation.  His neatly organized shelves and tool racks were a disaster.  The jars holding nails and screws organized by size and type were broken and their contents strewn across the floor.  The area for garden storage was ripped apart.  Sacks of fertilizer and garden soil were torn open and partially devoured.  The spray containers, empty planting pots, and garden tools were torn off the shelves, scattered and showed teeth marks.  Only a very few things throughout the barn were in their assigned spaces.  Walking gingerly through the wreckage, Doug found his way to the back of the workroom.  The huge, stout locked storage bin, which we had always thought to be invincible, had a gaping rip through its heavy boards.  An empty torn 31 pound bag of dog food lay on the floor next to a large ravaged bag of dry cat food and a 15 pound bag of chicken scratch.  The evidence was clear…BEAR. Searching the space, Doug could not figure out how the bear managed to get inside.  The outside door was locked, all the walls and floors were intact.  Although there is an opening at the top of a ten foot high wall, there were no claw or scratch marks to show that the bear had scrambled over the side.  It appeared we had a Houdini-like bear who could suddenly materialize inside the barn and then disappear without a trace.  In the midst of trying to get our water supply going, Doug had to stop to repair the damaged feed bin to safeguard the remaining pet food inside.  He quickly repaired the hole with the existing boards and went off to deal with the water system.

The next morning Houdini had struck again.  The repaired bin was torn apart and more bags of food were torn open, eaten and scattered on the floor.  Although he still had the water system to work on, Doug took the time to put up thick new boards and secured the lid of the storage bin with 3 inch screws.  There was no time to clean anything up so the thick layer of dog/cat/chicken food remained on the floor.  Now Doug was really getting annoyed.  He went on-line to buy a bear tag.  We knew that the bear was returning to the scene of the crime around nightfall so, after dinner, Doug set up a stake out at the barn and waited…and waited.  About 8:45 PM he returned to the cabin without seeing the bear.  No more than 20 minutes later I was standing at the sink doing dishes when I could just make out a bear-shape coming out of the woods.  Doug took his gun and quietly moved toward the barn.  He saw the bear slipping behind the barn wall and followed.  Just then the bear stuck his head around the corner, spotted Doug and took off for the woods.  Doug fired after the bear but it is hard to hit a black bear running through the woods at twilight.  In any case, we figured the bear would be scared enough to think twice about returning.

My beautiful pictureWe figured wrong.  If he thought twice he must have thought it was worth another try.  The next morning…deja vu all over again…the new repair job was in splinters. We were now moving past the “annoyed” stage.  Doug repaired the bin again, set some old traps that had been hanging on the barn wall since the 1940s and buried the the traps in the food mess the bear had left on the floor.  They weren’t really large enough to capture a bear but they might make an impression if they clamped shut on a bear nose or paw. A game camera was positioned in the barn.  Motion-activated, it would capture a mug shot of the perpetrator.  That night Doug set up an unsuccessful watch in the barn for several hours. We went to bed hopeful that we might be awakened by a surprised howling if Houdini stumbled onto a trap.  Unfortunately, our sleep was uninterrupted.

But, in the morning it was just like “Groundhog Day”, the bin was torn open but Houdini had managed to avoid the traps while setting them off.  No spare bear parts were in evidence and not a drop of blood.  Doug brought the game camera back to the cabin and there were the photos…a profile of Houdini inspecting Doug’s repair work with what must have been, by now, an air of contempt and a full frontal inadvertent selfie.  We had evidence!  That bear could never get away with proclaiming innocence.  That night Doug set up another stake out.  It was close to dark when I heard a single shot ring out through the stillness.  Doug returned to report that Houdini was last seen fleeing over a ridge headed to the next county with the not so pleasant sting of #6 birdshot from a 20 gauge shotgun to remind him that the Ferry was not the best of lunch stops.

For now at least Houdini has done a disappearing act.  The storage bin has been intact and undisturbed for over a week.

We never have figured out how he was getting in and out of the barn.