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 was 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.
Early 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. We 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. 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.