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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Up North 4

Chapter 4


Heading Back

   I found a froe in town. I didn’t really have much hope of finding one at all since I don’t think there used that much in Alaska. For those of you who don’t know what a froe is if like a big steel blade with a circle on one end where the handle goes. The way you use it (for shingles) is to stand a block of wood on its end. The froe is sharp on the bottom side with the handle sticking up. You place it on the sharp edge on the wood and drive it down with a hammer. You can move the handle back and forth to change the direction of the split if you need to. When you get a piece split off you turn the block over and do the same thing from the other end. This gives you shingles that are tapered on each end. Up north they tend to make shingles out of cedar about 16” long down home we make most of them out of oak and they are about two feet long. Since I was going to be using spruce I was going to try and make them like we do down home. I’d have to think about that I did know where there was a couple of big cedar trees on the place both of which were already blown down so they might not be too hard to cut.

   The other thing I found in town was a little box stove and stove pipe. I was planning on having a fireplace in the cabin but the way a box stove is made you can pull a great out of the top and cook with it. I also picked up some seeds that the guy swears will grow in Alaska including some seed potatoes and onions. I would have to see since I have no idea what the growing season is. All I know after this shopping trip is I am totally tapped out. About the only thing I don’t have is meat and I’m planning (hoping) that I will be able to supply that through hunting and fishing. So here I am again camped out down the river a little ways from town. The canoe is even more over loaded than it was the first time and I have the thirty mile trip ahead of me. At least this time I have an idea of what’s in front of me. I have really mixed feeling right now part of me is in a hurry to get home and the other part is just as worried about the trip down.

   Back to the cabin at last. The trip back here ended up taking me six days total. I came down really carefully. I didn’t take any chances with any of the rapids. I packed all the supplies around each one of them including the stove which about killed me. That stove took a trip all by itself around each rapid and on one of them it took two days just to get it to the bottom. That thing better warm the entire cabin and cook meals by itself.

   The cabin was in fine shape and the only thing I saw out to the ordinary was the squirrel and mouse turds scattered around. I did find some claw marks on one of the trees out by the cache. I don’t know how dig the bear was that made them but when I measured them they a right at nine feet above the ground. I really don’t want to meet up with that bear. I got everything packed away in the cabin and cache. I built a nice fire and relaxed with a hot cup of coffee happy to be home again.

   The next day I planted the garden. I didn’t have any idea how long the growing season was but I knew there were warm days now and hadn’t been any frost for awhile. It wasn’t going to be a big garden anyway only about twelve feet by twelve feet of so. I picked a spot not too far from the cabin and closes to the creek in case I needed to haul water to it during the summer. Most of the rows went down just the same as you would do them here. I had had some beans, well quite a few beans both green and pinto. I also had peppers, lettuce and tomatoes plus the onion sets. The one thing I had to put extra work was my potatoes. I wasn’t at all sure these would grow up there but I worked my butt off building a dozen mounds for them since I had to haul dirt from another place in five gallon buckets.

   Now it was time to get back to work on the cabin. The first thing I did was to deck the porch using small pine trees. It wasn’t the smoothest in the word but at least it was a porch and as soon as I got the roof finished off it would be a great place to sit and enjoy the day. Next I needed to work on the door. I took three planks I had cut from the spruce logs and planed the edges down so they would fit tight together and be a little over three feet wide. On the inside I nailed three more planks across those one at the top, one at the bottom and one across the middle. On the front side I did the same to the top and bottom but this time I nailed one at a diagonal from corner to corner. I know this isn’t the way the pioneers would have done it but it was strong and good enough for me. Once I got the door hung the cabin really started feeling like home to me. I carved a simple drop latch to hold it closed for now but I was already thing about how to carve a wooden lock for it.

   It was time to start on the roof. The tarps I had put there were doing fine at keeping out the rain but I knew there was no way they would last through the winter. I started off by sawing some of the logs I had into two foot lengths then I took my new froe and tried splitting then into shingles. While this may have worked well down home using oak it didn’t seem to work to well using spruce. For one thing they were really hard to split the full length for another the ones I had were only about nine inches thick and it would take me most of the summer to get that many split. So the next morning I took my ax and saw and headed over to the cedar trees.

   The trees I went after had been blown down by a storm. They weren’t dead by any means there were still a lot of live branches on them and those were what I had to take care of first. I spent the first four hours getting all the limbs off and out of the way. The one I had pick was between two and three feet across and I’ll tell ya, when I started to make that first saw cut I had a whole new level of respect for the guys that did this way in the old days. That thing must have been at least a hundred feet tall and I was trying to cut it into eighteen inch chunks and that makes a lot of chunks. I kept at it until it was dark the just dropped my saw and staggered back to the cabin. I was sore tired and sore that there wasn’t even any supper that night. All I did was take my boots off and crawl in the sleeping bag and die.

   It wasn’t much better the next morning. I was sore in places that I didn’t even know could be sore I moaned and groaned around the cabin fixing me something to eat while wishing there was anything else I could do that day besides go back to that tree. In the end though I had no choice, I had to finish up that log or I’d be sleeping under that tarp the rest of the winter so off to the rock pile I went. Maybe my muscles loosened up during the day or I just ignored them but by the time it got dark I was almost finished. Back to the cabin I went for another dead sleep. I was really lucky that no bears came around for those few days because I don’t think I would have known one was there until he started chewing on my ankle.

   Now believe it or not I was kind of looking forward to the next day. I was still hurting the next morning but that was the day I was going to try splitting the sections into shingles. I knew how this was supposed to work from some books I had read I just wasn’t sure how it actually would work. According to everything I’d read cedar was supposed to be easy to split but since I’d never split and I wasn’t sure what they meant about easy. I do know I was really hoping it was going to work because I didn’t have a backup plan to finish off the roof.

   For once the books were right. I peeled the bark off one of the smaller ends with my splitting maul. Then I split it into quarters so the wood grain would run across the shingle. I put my froe on top and with two hits from the maul I had a tapered cedar shingle just like the books said I would. I did the happy dance around the clearing holding up that shingle like I had just discovered gold and as far as my roof went, I had. After that it was just buckle down and get er done. Once I really got the hang of it, it was surprising at how many shingles I could whack out in a day. Every evening I’d carry as many as I could back to the cabin and I took every third day off to put the shingles on the roof. At the rate I was going I would have the entire roof done in less than two weeks. The great thing about doing it this way was that if I ever needed to repair or replace any shingles it was just a short walk to get more.

   On the day I finished the roof I had a little celebration party. I took my fishing pole and wondered down to the river where it only took me about five casts to catch a nice trout. I fried him up with some onions from the garden and cooked him with the box stove I had installed while I was doing the roof. It was really relaxing sitting out on the porch knowing the roof problem was taken care of and watching the world go by. I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible because the next day there would still be a lot of work to do.

   The first thing the next morning I had to start on something that I had been putting off. I had been sawing planks from logs every time I had a little spare time and not I had a pretty fair stack of the by the cabin. One of the other things I’d been doing in my “spare” time was watching for good rock along the river. I was looking for something that was about six inches wide and flat as I could find on the top and bottom. I had it in my mind to build a fireplace at the end of the cabin. This was another one of those things where I really had no idea what I was doing but I had seen pictures in a book. Back to the planks and the reason I needed them. One thing I hadn’t built was an outhouse. I had tried to build one using the end of the cabin logs but it was just too small to notch logs for. It had taken me awhile to get around to it because it’s hard sawing planks from logs. I had made a couple of saw horses from some small logs (I screwed up three of them trying to get the angles right for the legs I ended up cutting the notches for the legs then cut them off to the right length after I put them on) I would lay the logs on the horses and saw down the log about three times the width of the saw. I would then remove the saw and drive a small wedge in the cut and move over another inch and make the same cut. After I had the entire log spread out like the fingers on a hand I’d go back and lengthen each cut to within an inch or so of the end of the log. Then I could saw the log off just above the ends of the cut. I had tried just sawing all the way down the side but it was harder to hold a straight line that way and the planks tended to split at the bottom. The outhouse wasn’t that hard to build since it was only four foot by four foot with the one bench. I think it took me longer to dig the hole than it did to build it. I did run into a little problem with the door. I had brought a pair of hinges for the cabin door but totally forgot about the outhouse. It took me two full days to figure out how to make a couple of wood hinges. After I had them made and on the outhouse I wished I’d have thought of that for the cabin as they added that pioneer look to it.

   Next up was to build a bunk and get my butt up off the floor with that sleeping bag. It was going to be a simple bunk. Over in one corner and made from a log frame with a small log deck. I may not be the most comfortable in the world but it at least it would be a bed and with the ground mat and my sleeping bag it should work. I also took some of the planks I had left and built a counter top and a couple of wall cabinets. The place was starting to look more like a home every day. Another problem I was going to have would be my window. I had picked up four 6” x 9” glass window panes while I was in town. They were all double paned units which I thought would be better for the winter but I didn’t have a frame for them. I had use most of the wood working tools and skills I had for the last few days trying to make a window frame that would hold all four pains. I had to split four pieces of spruce to make the outside frame plus notch them with a chisel so the edges of the pains would fit in them. Those weren’t too bad since they were about three inches wide and the groove was right down the middle. The next part was going to take some work. I needed to make a frame for the inside so I split four pieces about an inch square. There was one long one that would go all the way across the frame and two short ones that would be the verticals. The hardest part was carving the grooves for the panes on both sides the doing a mortise and tenon to join the two together. I filled up the kindling box for the stove before I finally got one to work but I did get it and now it was time to cut the opening in the wall. I really hated cutting holes after all the work I done on those walls so I ended up measuring the opening, sitting on the bunk staring at it, re-measuring it again, staring at it some more. I ended up doing that so much I had to wait till the next day to actually cut the hole. It wasn’t as bad as I thought once I got going and I had it cut, framed and the window in about four hours. Now I could stand at the counter and look out at the creek and what do I see but a big ole sow grizzly with two cubs walking between the cabin and the creek which is only about ten foot. I ducked down and crawled over to shut the door then watch them to make sure they went on down to the river.