The Worst Cabin Design I’ve seen

July 15th 2012, another trip to the Cowiche Mountains

Worst Upper Deck

Worst Upper Deck Design

I’m back from a wonderful four day stay in the Mountains some 30 miles due west of Yakima. Four wonderful and peaceful days used to reflect on lessons learned, and mistakes made.  At 64 years old, I fully understand I am a student and always will be. Learning from other people’s mistakes is a way to save money.

Going through our cabin log, I found and entry made in the summer of 1988. I read it as I sat on our deck watching chipmunks, and the latest crop of youngsters exploring their domain and living within 140 feet of a Kestrel’s Nest with five hungry chicks to feed!

One of Five Kestrel Chicks, two days prior to first flight.

On that day in 1988, we were enjoying the deck, and watching the Chipmunks. My guest looked over at me, and exclaimed… “Chipmunks are ground animals, and they don’t climb trees”.  As we sat there that day, I was watching two different Chipmunks carry off sunflower seeds from the deck to a tree, they climbed more than 30 feet high and hide them among the clusters of pine needles to snack on a later date.

At the time, I reflected on comments I’ve made in the past that were none too wise. I measured the value of correcting my guest, and considered it would only be at my loss to do so.  I was now on the same deck 24 years later, and I’m still only a student in the study of Chipmunks. I looked out about 75 feet, and saw that there were three young chipmunks looking out the round hole of a bird house set about 12 feet off the ground on the north side of a pine, they had moved in, and likely thought it the best home.




A permanent book on the shelf at the cabin is ‘Walden, or Life In The Woods’, and on this day, I just happened to be reading a chapter called ‘higher Laws.’  Thoreau wrote: “He who is only a Traveler learns things by second hand, and by the halves, and is poor authority”.

Ahhh.. I reflected.. my guest is no fool, he charges a tidy sum for his work, and has never been un-employed a day in his life, but a traveler he is. 

As a side note… I am sure that Thoreau also recognized how much more memorable first hand mistakes are, no doubt the second hand ones are far cheaper, but no wheres near as durable. 

Our deck faces east as per design, at one o’clock, the sun is fully off the deck, and this is a time I normally think about something cool to drink from the ice chest.  As I returned to my comfortable chair, open log, and book, some very noisy Kestrel Chicks had left their nest for  first time.  I had been watching the Parent for several days, and to watch a bird that can both soar on a thermal and cross a meadow like a bolt of lightning is a treat, to witness it from the comfort of our deck, a rare gift.

I think about the Cabin not far from here.. the planning that didn’t go into it, and then I  think about this bird. The Falcons are a product of intelligent design, refined beyond the understanding of most travelers.  Falcons score highest on tests designed to measure the intelligence of birds, and I think a good mind is a bonus for any pilot.

But then my thoughts turn to piloting, and the thought we all should start out on wings far less challenging than the narrow and fast wing given to the Falcon. These are all things understood by the greatest designer of all.  No matter how good the mind, that fast and narrow wing takes practice, and this designer knew best.  The fledgling is given far longer flight feathers for his first year of flight. This is the equivalent of a broad wing, more like a Hawk’s wing. Our fledging falcon pilot gets a full year to hone his skills before he’s given a wing that makes him the fastest creature on earth.  

I came down from the mountains thinking about my own flying, that bag full of fabric, and it was yesterday that my friend would have had another birthday, this is the second one I mark off on the calendar without him.  Just like the Falcon, he had the best of minds, we enjoyed a lot of the same things.  He was an Engineer, he graduated at the top of his class, he had the reflexes of a cat, and a full 10 years younger than myself, but the wing he flew that day was new to him,  not so broad, and not so forgiving, and the task turned into an unexpected challenge.                   

You might remember an old article I wrote years ago called Cabin Building Mistakes. If not, here’s that article.  I did make my share of mistakes, and 30 years later I have a list of things to do differently.

After years of studying mountain cabins… I think I’ve found one with almost all the mistakes included.   A friend who designs expensive homes tells me this is a testament to the strength of wood.  This structure sits on top of a hill at about 4700 feet elevation.  It looks as if someone has robbed the window frame from the first floor this last year. possibly metal thieves.

 Yes, those joists out front were once part of a deck on the second story!   The sheets of ply you see scattered were on top of the joists.

Worst Door
















It’s always best to crack a book before building, at least read a few pages about basic building before you start.  We all  learn along the way, and part of that learning is to know the difference between an inside door, and one designed to be an exterior door. Still it took 25 years for this interior door to fail to this point, and two or three years ago, it still looked like a door.

One of the best ways ever to learn basic construction techniques is to watch a home being built, and learn why it’s done that way..  People get crazy with designs, but after hundreds of years, there’s little more efficient, and easier to live in than a square box of suitable dimensions, with a simple roof with gables, the hip roof is stronger, but many of us ‘pitch up’ the gable style roof and use it for a sleeping loft.  

Learning about cripples, and bird blocks, learning how to make a strong truss, or what’s required to make a strong building if you use rafters is key.     

Worst Foundation A

The land prep was interesting, close examination suggests that not a spoon full of dirt was moved during the effort to lay out the pier blocks, if the block tilted a bit, what the heck? What’s remarkable is this structure has survived some pretty strong winds for many years. 

Worst Foundation B

Another view of the pier block and post job.

It was another great stay in the mountains, and so much of the story untold.. like meeting a big Female Cougar and her cub at a nearby spring, what a rare treat.. we have lots of cougars here, but this is the first I’ve seen in all these years.

At 64, I’m just starting to learn the basics. One thing I am sure of.. all to many politicians are travelers, and there’s so much that Thoreau understood so long ago.






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4 Responses to The Worst Cabin Design I’ve seen

  1. Charles Beiswanger says:

    That cabin looks an awful lot like a two story shack that some of us kids built, up in northern Wis. Used whatever scrap wood we could find around town, it even had siding in some places. Fire department finally burned it down for practice, my dad was a member, and finally had enough of the eyesore. Was built into sandstone for foundation, windows, wood stove for heat, along with collection of adult reading materials. Another group of kids built a one story that was insulated, had siding and was able to be slept in the middle of winter, it might even have had electricity, but my memory is getting faulty. I wonder if kids today would ebven think of building things like that, of course most places have building codes and code enforcement to keep things like that from happening.

  2. George B. says:

    Oh.. those days of draging stuff to a camp site and bending over nails! We started at about 9 years old in my neighborhood. I do remember the bigger kids had a real neat place.. complete with secret trap door and hidden basement where they stashed their contra band.

    Charles, the world is now a far different place.. even here high above, and far away from City Hall. Aerial photos assured this structure was put on the tax rolls shortly after it was built, and only because of some technical details was it allowed to stand.
    The owner pays the taxes, but never makes it to the hill… certainly.. Thoreau thought this was only an example of one of the many durdens placed on a land owner.

    As I write, there are still a few Americans that don’t pay property taxes. a friend of mine who has witnessed the Progressive nature of taxes and then near complete control of his private property here in the State of Washington moved off grid to a place in lower Alaska. As of this date, he is working full time to educate the people there on how it works once the Camel’s nose is under the tent. There is a push in Petersburg to install the framework of taxation, those in favor are aware they might have to move in a few more people who have little or no vested interest in land.. the promise of free stuff might eventually win out.. and of course there’s the more typical outsider, who wants to bring the ways of the lower 48 with him..

  3. bob g says:

    thoreau’s “walden” ought to be mandatory reading for every kid in middle school, and again in high school, and again in college, and …

    everytime i reread it i get something more out of it.

    funny how much he had figured out all those years ago, and funny how i was 50 years old before i discovered his work! i often wonder how different my life might have been had i read it and actually made an effort to study it as a young man.

    my thinking is maybe i might have bypassed some very expensive paths i took, that is for sure.

    bob g

    • George B. says:


      I had a friend comment on Thoreau’s use of the word ‘traveller’, He said he always thought traveling was a good thing, a way to learn….

      ‘A Traveller’ has different meanings, but I’m sure Thoreau’s use was all about a person who didn’t stay in one place long, a person who would have little chance to become well versed in what goes on near the pond, or when the fish bite best.

      As I mentioned, …. that entry in my journal from 1988, and the remark about the traveller,…. the pages actually touched! Had this not happened, I might not have been drawn in.

      I spent a week in the Mountains alone once, I was prepared to be bored, it was a great time… actually a fantastic time. Fact is, I didn’t tell my loved ones how much I enjoyed my time alone.

      I’m sure there will be other days when a passage from this book rings like a bell for the very first time. I’m sure I’ll be ‘in the woods’ again when it happens 🙂

      As of late, I’m not so sure it will be legal be be in the woods alone in another 30 years. We have changed so much from the 1950s.. I’m pretty sure about half who serve in Washington DC today would have been found fit for a firing squad. I liked what we were then, but of course.. I was young then, and likely oblivious to what really went on.

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