Welcome to a blog about people building a small cabin

This blog is here to detail the contruction of a small cabin in the woods, by a lake by a bunch of men with time on their hands and a hankering for some nature.

About five years ago, I was working at a international corporation that had spectacular pay and excellent benefits and the ability to suck my soul out, turn it into dust and blow that dust into outer space. So, to while away the time, I dreamt of buying a piece of land and building a house or cabin or cottage or even a chalet on it. I had the money, so I started looking where anyone who is looking for the pinacle of respected traditionality in real estate deals would look – eBay!

I found a piece of land there, about 6 hours north of Toronto, that seemed to suit my needs (basically that he financed the deal himself – I had declared bankrupcy a few months earlier due to my other expensive hobby – classic Cadillacs.) So, me an my pops took the drive up to see it, and met Gord Byers, a short stout and very dedicated real estate tycoon of epically minature proportions, and looked at the piece of land he had advertised.

It wasn’t all bad, but it was mostly bad. There was a public beach down the road, close to a big lake, electricity, but it was basically a mosquito bog off the side of the road with a bunch of yahoos on ATV’s buzzing back and forth. We walked around a bit and after being eaten alive, we told Gord that we didn’t think it was for us. He knew, like all good salesmen know, that we were getting away and he’d have to change tactics if he wanted to keep us interested.

So, he tells us about another piece of land he’s got – pristine, up the lake, water access only, no lectricity, no neighbours, faces crown land on a relatively quiet late, and is one of three lots. But the survey hadn’t been done yet, so he couldn’t sell it to us just yet. But with a 1000 dollar deposit, he’d give us first pic when the survey way done. His son agreed to take us up to look at it, so we all got in the boat and took the 20  minute ride up the lake from a public no-fee launch in Latchford, ON.

When we got there, we knew we had something. The three parcels were in a little bay on the east side of the lake, facing south east. Gord couldn’t tell us exactly where the land would be, but we had a fairly good idea – the terrain was mostly the same across the length of the possible area. As we had later found out from some of the geological surveys of the area provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the land was on a fault line, which explained the rocky craggy terrain that had an incredibly steep elevation. The parcel ended up being about 400 feet, and the elevation changed 80 meters from the front of the land to the rear. It’s steep. To put it in perspective, there is about 6 feet of elevation from the front of the platform we’ve built for our cabin, to the back. The width is about 16 feet.

So, we made a deal with Gord, gave him 1000 bucks – everyone from the family pitched 200 bones, and we waited. Three years later we got an e-mail saying the survey was done and we could go up and choose which plot we wanted. As none of us had the time to go, Gord suggested a lot, and we accepted. When we got up there later that year, we discovered that he was bang on, and that it was the pick of the litter.

We spent a few days, walking up and down the land. We walked the boundries that had been freshly cut by the surveying team, and we walked back and forth between the lines. We discovered a few areas suitable for building a little cottage, but didn’t make any final decisions. We found a small groves of trees, clusters of one species here and there. We bought a book on how to identify the different trees. We saw a snake. Lots of deer poop. We marked the boundries with stakes spray painted fluorescent orange to make sure we wouldn’t lose them as the foliage grew back. We talked about what we saw and what we imagined seeing. It was very edifying. I used my newly acquired machete a lot. Photos from this trip can be seen here:http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=26833&id=540544158#/album.php?aid=14151&id=540544158

The little piece of land we’re on is called Jumbo Point.

While there, we had rented a cottage and boat down the lake from a gentleman by the name of Wayne Conroy. He had about 10 cabins, but that was the last year he was able to rent us a place, because the township had mandated that all rental operations had to do water testing, and the cost would have bankrupted him, so he just closed the business. He’s a good guy and has helped us out a bunch with all sort of things.

The following year, after a winter of plan making and remaking, we headed up with a vision for construction. We would build a platform that would eventually hold a cabin. We didn’t know what that cabin would look like – we had discussed all manner of structure, including a traditional Mongolian structure known as a yurt, but hadn’t been able to come to  conclusion and were fine with that.

Before heading up, we’d secured a boat. Pete, my pops, found a 20 foot pontoon boat with just a wooden platform on the top for a deck – perfect for hauling lumber. It came with a trailer and 50 HP motor. The price was right, and he an my brother-in-law Dave headed out to pick it up. However! The trailer was kinda a mutant home-made dealy, and the wheels came apart on the drive home, on a holiday Sunday, making it nearly impossible to find the parts and get back on the road – but they did it – somehow. Hopefully they’ll share that story on this blog at some point, as it was a crazy adventure.

Only somewhat less crazy than the stuff we had to pull to get the boat up there for our first building expedition. My, Pete and Dan, my brother, were set to go for a week to do the contruction of the platform. We had all our tools, clothes, food, tents, sleeping bags, everything all packed up. Except we didn’t have a car that could actually tow the behemoth.

Years before this obsession, I was obsessed with an equally expensive hobby (the other ridiculously expensive hobby that replaced this was filmmaking – go figure) – the collecting and restoration of classic Cadillacs.  My knowledge of the intricate and arcane ways of the Ontario Ministry of Transport led me to a somewhat…involved…solution. We would buy a truck, get a 14 day trip permit which required no safety or smog test, and allows us to use the insurance already on a vehicle that we owned. We tracked down a ’96 GMC 1500 with a trailer hitch, dropped 1000$ dollars on it, with the plan that we would sell it as soon as we got back. We didn’t know that we would make 200 dollars on the sale to a guy who wanted it for a scrap metal collection business he was starting. That was nice surprise.

We took off in the early hours of the morning and took sideroads until we were well out of Toronto. 5 AM to be exact, to avoid detection by the police, as the trailer was still not street legal. We made it up without incident…except that as soon as we got there, it started raining on and off, in torrential downpours, for the next two weeks.

We stopped at the Home Hardware in Temagami and ordered up all our supplies. They delivered them the next day to the public launch in Latchford. We reserved a room in the motel in town because we knew we would be totally bushed by the time night fell (Latchford is about 6 hours from Toronto) We started carting the wood up to the land, and after nearly sinking the boat, we decided on smaller loads, and only two people would go on the boat at a time. It took about a day to get all the material up there, and probably about 75 dollars in gas.

Just to interject – the boat almost capsized because we slowed down too fast and there was too much weight at the front. It didn’t really capsize – with pontoon boats, there is virtually no way to capsize them, but the shape of the front plus the uneven weight turned it into a kind of sea shovel. Lesson learned. We only did it one more time.

The second night, we moved out of the motel and camped at a public campground – no charge. It was wet and there were a billion mosquitos. We absorbed out body weight in DEET those two weeks, let me tell you.By the time we had enough of the platform built to hold a tent, we moved our gear there.

You can see pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=26833&id=540544158

It rained so much, we strung a giant tent over the platform so we could keep working. We used a tiny generator we got for 150 dollars at CDN Tire to power our drill and circular saw. Everything else was done manually. We even ate manually off a BBQ we brought with us, and of course, the requisite Coleman stove.

Once, when we were boating back to the land from a trip into town, a terrible storm came in. There was no lightning, so we decided to keep going, but the water was hitting us so hard it felt like driving through a very stingy wall of bees.

The construction method we used was similar to the one used for building a deck. We used MetPosts, basically giant metal spikes with a bracked on the top to hold a 4×4″ piece of lumber, for the legs. There are about 12 of these in total. There were four beams, one on each end, two in the middle, all bolted to 4×4″ coming up out of these MetPosts. Then joists are strung from the ends and brackets support the joists. On top of that went deck boards, which we may now decide to remove in place of plywood flooring boards, using the decking for…a deck…in front of the structure itself.

So that’s it, so far. We’ve started talking about what the structure will look like, and the plan is to build either the first two weeks of August, or September, with me, Pete, Dan and Edward, the design lead on our project and close friend. Stay tuned for more updates!


~ by cabineer on May 13, 2009.

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