Sunday, July 5, 2015

In case you have wondered where we are, we haven’t died of dysentery and we haven’t been scalped
and left for dead. We have been pouring tons of concrete, one bucket at a time…but that’s a different

Once we arrived in Erwin, TN we spent some transition time staying with Shane’s mom, Lyn. We
made an additional trip to our house in Knoxville, TN to drop off items in storage before setting up
“Base Camp”. “Base Camp” is located behind Shane’s brother’s workshop under a lean-to shed. After setting the tent and kitchen up we headed up to see the “Mud Hut”, a structure I had had only seen pictures of. For the record, I knew the “Hut” was in rough shape and had been sinking; I was not prepared for how crooked and unstable it actually was. One of the columns had sunk about 12” into the ground and the entire “building” was leaning about 20 degrees to the west.

But, we have amazing friends we know who could help us straighten and stabilize the structure we would be calling our home, and they were already planning to come over for a weekend. When Crockett and Elizabeth arrived the boys, Crockett, Shane, and Shane’s brother Aaron, (AKA “Rod”) stared ciphering and pondering on how best to stabilize the “Hut”while Elizabeth and I watched from the sidelines talking and tending to the dogs.

At this point Shane would be better able to recount what happened next.

So, dynamite probably would have been the best option, but we decided to press on with stabilization. With Crockett in the lead, we decided to “come-along” the columns to a tree and pull them back to “vertical” while temporarily shoring and cross bracing with 2x6’s. We then cut scrap 4x4’s as more permanent cross bracing and secured the columns in place with crazy long heavy timber screws. One column had sunk 10-12 inches
but somehow miraculously was left long when built, so rather than splicing the column and pouring a new footing, we jacked the beam up and cribbed it with 2 4x4 chunks 10 inches long. Ok, so it looks like hell, but the building is standing up now. I promise I wasn’t terrified for a split second that the leaky10 ton bottle jack would fail and drop a ramshackle pile of trees on my head. Not for ONE second.

Next for the gaping holes in the roof. Who knew you could carry a 40’ extension ladder on a 4 wheeler? We got the ladder up the hill and our gunslinger monkeyed his way up onto the sketchy-ass roof and tied the two ladder sections together at the peak making a walk-board for each side. Two pints of blood, a tube of silicone caulk and three scrap tin roof panels later, all of the holes were patched. AND Crockett got this done by 11 am Sunday morning!!!!!!!

We deserved a treat, and planned to head to Watauga Lake for a picnic. After a PBR and a snack at base camp, we decided to avoid the yahoos at the lake  and eat boiled peanuts and shoot beer cans with a red rider bb gun; For HOURS. Its pretty awesome being 12.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


It only took a borrowed Sprinter van, a bottle of whiskey, a super organized rock star BFF, an awesome family, and about twenty 500 mile trips up and down I-81 to finally get settled. 

Not really settled, but more like cozily ensconced in my brother's lean-to shed off the back of his garage. I mean, we have internet. And oil lamps and a coleman stove and a cooler. The dogs love the tent, and after a 12 hour day of moving boxes of semi-useless crap all over the south, so do I. 

Tomorrow is the first day of Mud Hut dedicated work. We will be clearing a vehicle accessible trail up the mountain and preparing to haul building materials the following day. And then bracing, jacking and shoring. The picture below tells a pretty grim story about what happens when you don't follow the footing details on the drawings that specify "compacted soil". 

This little adventure started as an escape plan from the traffic, debilitating cost, and hubbub of the DC metro region. A plan to buy a school bus, trick it out as a mobile dwelling, and then buy a piece of land halfway between Baltimore and Erwin, TN was put on hold by the opportunity to rehabilitate a camping "cabin" that i half built ten years ago. Called the "Mud Hut," an apt name derived from the intended cob and cordwood wall construction, it was never completed due to a totally unforeseen sailboat obsession that lasted about, well, ten years. 

Sailboats have been trumped by old time banjo and Appalachian culture. Lucky for us our rent free cabin happens to be in the epicenter of old time mountain music, and where my whole family lives.

If i can stop playing banjo and playing in the garden long enough to build something, maybe this will work out...