The Building of Camp Kwitchabitchin (Part II – in which we almost kill Casey)

Tom and Casey after the near miss

Tom and Casey after the near miss

As I have said, I left it to Tom to figure out the framing part. He is a true genius. He framed all the walls on the deck and then raised them up with pump wall jacks. I have to admit that the 2×4s were store bought. The way I squared that was I emptied out Tom’s change drawer that he had emptied his pants pockets into after work for the past twelve years. The change weighed 140 pounds. I put it in a rolling suitcase and rolled it up the handicap ramp at the bank. The bank tellers looked delirious to see me coming. Some of it I had to bring home to wash in the dishwasher because it was too disgusting with gunked-up sawdust. Guess how much 140 pounds of change comes too? $1,500.00. That covered the cost of all the 2×4s and then some. (Like the cute acorn exterior light fixtures I found at Lowe’s.)

Tom made fast friends with our forester, Dave Warren of Surry. Dave knows a tremendous amount about the Maine forests. He also had stacks and stacks of sawn lumber from our local woods in his back field. Tom finagled a deal with Dave to exchange the boards for our cabin in return for installing Dave and Jeannie’s new kitchen and bathroom. It worked out swell. We covered the frame with Dave’s funky pine boards before the walls were jacked up. Tom taught me how to use an air nail-gun. At first I had lots of “shiners,” but soon I was keeping up with the best of them. To temporarily finish it off, Tom covered all the walls with a weatherproof “rain-jacket” material that really does keep the elements out, even in the dead of winter.

I didn’t care much for the pump jacking up of the gable ends. It made me squirrelly nervous. The whole structure wobbled ominously when it got about half way up. Tom said to keep jacking for godsake, so I just closed my eyes, took a deep breath and trusted him that the whole damn thing wasn’t going to come crashing down and squash us like Junebugs. Once the walls were erect Tom braced them with twist-outs. When the last gable was up, Tom put a small fir at the peak for good luck.

Tom and Carol's cousin, Al Homstead of Surry, pump jacking up the east side

Tom and Carol’s cousin, Al Homstead of Surry, pump jacking up the east side

We were only able to work on our cabin on weekends. Tom’s left-hand man from his construction crew in NH, Liam “Casey” O’Brien, came up to Bad Beaver to help with the roof — thank god. I never could have done it. The ridgepole is a huge 10×16×24’ long composite beam that had been sitting outside, marinating, in our field for a couple of years. It was swollen with moisture, so it must’ve weighed about 1000 pounds. There is a fabulous oak tree smack in front of the cabin, directly in the way, so the LULL was of no help here.

Tom put a bowing plank across from the sleeping loft to the Catholic window and was trying to slide the ridge beam across to the notch in the gable end. I was down below taking pictures and praying. Casey was at the other gable/loft end, when the beam fell and hit Casey. Judas Priest! I had visions of Casey permanently in a wheelchair. Casey is a quick, wiry guy, an avid rock climber. Somehow he managed to twist out of the way of the crashing behemoth, the beam only just grazing his left shoulder.

Tom doesn't usually miscalculate but this is an accident waiting to happen. Here is Tom with the killer beam that almost took Casey out, minutes before it fell (Casey is at the other end)

Tom doesn’t usually miscalculate but this is an accident waiting to happen. Here is Tom with the killer beam that almost took Casey out, minutes before it fell (Casey is at the other end)

I thought at this point we would go to Plan B, but noooo, those two kept right at it. No stinking, 1000 -pound beam was going to outsmart them. Tom tied a rope around the beam, threw it over the gable end, and told me to go outside and hold the rope. I said if the beam fell again and I was holding this stupid measly rope, it would catapult me into the beaver pond. In retrospect, I think Tom thought all the screaming was not helpful.

Because I was banished to the outside, I never did get to see how those two managed to get the beam in place, but they did. There it sits, comfortably in its notches. I see it overhead, first thing when I open my eyes every morning. The killer beam that almost took out Casey. I have a great photo of the two of them afterward, sitting on the porch drinking a beer, looking totally exhausted.

The behemoth ridge beam currently snug in place

The behemoth ridge beam currently snug in place

Tom and Casey managed to get the entire roof done in one weekend. They worked like dogs. They got the roof rafters in place, then we covered those with more of Dave’s funky pine boards.

Dave would stand there watching and would say about a particularly wide board, “That’s a Civil War pine right there, by jesus.”

Casey was outside with a skillsaw, cutting the boards to length. Tom was balanced up on the roof rafters air-nailing the boards in place. I was running in between the two of them, from Casey cutting, up a ladder to the sleeping loft, handing the boards up to Tom on the roof, then scrambling back down the ladder again to Casey. Every damn board. By the end of the day my thighs and arm muscles were screaming/burning. I was about to complain when I looked up at Tom miserably sweating buckets in the blazing sun. I decided to keep my pain to myself.

We placed a great louvered cupola with a curved verdigris copper roof that Tom brought back from a job as a crown on the new roof. I had an old copper ram weathervane kicking around the house (I did, honest.) He, Hector the Protector, is now up there pointing out the direction of the wind with his butt. It is cunnin’.

The ancient apple tree at Bad Beaver

The ancient apple tree at Bad Beaver

To be continued on Thursday… The Building of Camp Kwitchabitchin, Part III, The Interior and Salvaged Finishing Touches


Carol Leonard

About Carol Leonard

Carol Leonard is a midwife, a writer and a licensed beaver trapper. She was the first midwife licensed to practice legally in New Hampshire and has attended close to 1,200 babies born safely in their own homes. She was a co-founder of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) representing all midwives in the US, Canada and Mexico. She was elected as the second president of MANA. Carol is the author of the best-selling memoir, Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart, A Midwife’s Saga, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2010. Carol is currently building a 400-acre farm in Ellsworth, Maine with her husband, Tom Lajoie. Her blog BAD BEAVER TALES: Love and Life in Downeast Maine, chronicles their informative and funny journey building their dream homestead on 400 acres of wilderness in Downeast Maine. Carol and Tom are also raising about a hundred beavers there that they argue about on a daily basis. These blog posts will be a collection of tales not just about Bad Beaver the place, but stories that meander around in her life, past and present—at the same time, Bad Beaver is where it all leads. As a writer friend says, “These stories from Bad Beaver are, at turns, brave, beautiful and just plain badass.”