Friday, February 26, 2010

Cabin Tales From The Darkside

You can't be in the remote building business for very long before you have a story or two about how things didn't work out as planned. This particular event occured in 1985 and is an excerpt from my book.
Ken Bunch from Glennallen sent a radio message to me in late July asking me if I would do some assessment work and cabin repairs at his gold claim at Calamity Gulch in the Wrangell Mountains. In order to keep a mining claim active one must do a certain amount of work on it each year and register the work with the claims office. Many people simply send in a phony assessment work claim instead of doing the actual work. But Ken was a very honest man and wanted to make sure he was keeping up with the assessment work as the claim was in the newly formed Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and he wanted to be sure and keep the claim active. We agreed to meet at the May Creek airstrip and he would try and land me with the Super Cub on the mountain above the claim to save me from a day’s hike.
This trip would be another one where everything went wrong from the first few minutes. The first thing to happen was my newly welded tail wheel broke loose from the tubing at May Creek. Then Ken’s pilot, Bernie, who was flying fuel to May Creek with the 206, forgot the staking posts that Ken had left for him.
Ken decided to fly up on the mountain to see if it was safe to land. When he came back he said it was too dangerous so I jumped in the Cub with him and we flew up to the mine and dropped the staking posts that Bernie had gone back to town to get. I could see that the posts had not landed in an easy spot to find and I wasn’t sure if I could find them when I got there on the ground or not.
When we got back to May Creek I strapped on my backpack and headed for Calamity creek, fifteen hard miles away.
I was on top of the ridge above the mine in about three or four hours and decided to take a shortcut down to the mine. Instead of walking down and around the valley I made the decision to slide down a shale slide, thus saving myself at least an hour. It was so steep I lowered my pack in front of me using it as a front brake. Somehow I stumbled and lost my grip on the pack and it started tumbling down the thousand foot shale slide, bouncing and spinning like a boulder dropped on a steep hillside. All I could do was stand and watch.
Not wanting to end up like my backpack, I slowly picked my way down the slide to where my pack was, lying in a small creek. Great, now all my gear was soaking wet, including my sleeping bag. My pack had been bent up a little but was in remarkably good shape considering what it had been through.
I picked my way down the small creek to Calamity creek, which took an hour or so, to find Calamity creek was raging high and I would have to criss cross down the creek because there was no way to walk on the side. It took another hour or so to reach the mining camp and I had fallen in the fast moving creek several times while trying to cross. I was soaking wet, cold, hungry and bone tired. The cabin was a welcome site and I just wanted to rest. When I got into the cabin I found that someone else had been there in the five years since I had been there. The windows were broken and the door had been torn off but it was better than nothing so I hung up my clothes to dry in the breeze blowing through. I was so hungry but too tired to cook. I had been thinking about the food Jim Kohring and I had stashed seven years earlier in the barrel in the attic. I climbed into the attic, reached in the barrel and the first thing I picked up was a can of stewed tomatoes. I opened the can with my pocket knife and ate the tomatoes right there in the attic. Nothing had ever tasted so good!
Being tired and wet I decided to take off all my clothes and hang them on a wire so the air circulating through the broken windows would dry them out at least partially during the night. I then crawled in my wet sleeping bag and immediately went to sleep.
During the night I dreamt that a breeze was blowing gently through the cabin windows causing my wet jeans to slap against the stove pipe they were hanging near. I soon awoke and realized the sound I thought was my wet jeans slapping against the pipe was a more ominous sound. Something was in the other room of the cabin rummaging around. I knew it had to be a bear. My .44 pistol was lying on a table about six feet away so I lunged out of my soggy sleeping bag, grabbed my pistol and climbed the ladder into the attic in one clumsy motion. Here I was, totally naked, sitting in the pitch dark attic with a pistol while a bear was in the other room. I didn’t have a flashlite but I figured the blast of the pistol would light up the room if only for an instant. I crawled as quietly across the attic until I could see down into the other room which had originally been a kitchen. The wild creature was knawing on something and didn’t seem to hear me. I finally shot the pistol out the window and was able to catch a glimpse of a dark furry animal. At first I thought it was a black bear sticking his head up through a hole in the floor but after some time I realized it was a porcupine. With some relief I climbed down out of the attic and chased off the porcupine and went back to sleep.
The next morning I built a fire in the yard to finish drying out my clothes, while walking back into the cabin I accidentally disturbed a nest of hornets near the door and they chased me back into the yard. After while I was able to get back into the cabin and retrieve my gear. While I was looking for the posts that Ken and I had dropped a day before, I had crawled into the underbrush on the hillside behind the cabin. I saw something orange lying in the brush several hundred yards from the camp. There was no reason for anyone to ever come to this place so I couldn’t figure what it could possibly be. When I finally got to the spot of orange I found it was a small orange back pack with the name “Morehouse” on it. It contained some miscellaneous tools in it and appeared to have been there for some years. It dawned on me that Ralph Morehouse, from the F/V Alaska Eagle had mentioned working a gold claim on Calamity creek and that he had air- dropped some stuff that he never recovered. He was going to be surprised when I returned it to him.
I re-staked the claim and did some simple repairs around the cabin and headed for May Creek where I found that Ken had left me some hose clamps and bailing wire to fix my tailwheel so I could fly home. I fixed the tailwheel, spun the prop and headed home, thankful that all projects weren't like this one.

"You cannot be mad at somebody
who makes you laugh -
it's as simple as that."
Jay Leno

Friday, February 19, 2010

Spring is Coming!

With all of this warm weather it is easy to get lulled into thinking that spring has sprung. Don't fall for it, it's a trap.
The spring and summer building season will be here shortly but we still have a lot of winter work to finish. The warm weather actually is not a blessing for us if it lasts too long. Trails get slushy and it makes it difficult to transport materials by snowmachine. Lakes get slushy and nasty for landing planes.
If you are considering a building project this season; now is a good time to let us know and start planning. This season is shaping up to be a very busy one but we still have several start dates available for the summer and fall. We are hearing that this season is busy for everyone which is a good sign.

The more a man knows, the more he forgives.
Catherine the Great

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kits at Last! New page Preview

Friesen’s Custom Cabin Kits
Over the past twenty years we have been asked over and over if we produce kits. We always said that we only build on your lot. Well, now we are producing kits for those who want to do the work themselves and save some bucks.
With our kits you can easily and quickly erect your cabin and enjoy it right away. You can use the money you save to finish the inside.
Each kit will come with a complete inventory list, drawings, directions and an instructional video. We also offer support over the phone or through email. If you run into trouble and need assistance with the project we have carpenters available to send out to your site at extra cost to lend a hand for a few hours or a few days if necessary.
Our packages include:
• Pressure treated 6 x6 pilings
• 4 x 12 floor beams
• 2 x 10 floor joist (pre-cut)
• ¾ Tongue and groove osb sub flooring
• 2 x 6 top and bottom plates ( pre-cut and layed out)
• 2 x 6 studs (pre-cut)
• Tyvek Housewrap
• 5/8” T1-11
• 3/1/8 x 12 loft beam
• 2 x 8 second floor joist ( Pre-cut)
• 2 x 8 rafters (pre-cut)
• 7/16” roof sheathing
• 15# felt roofing paper
• 29ga. Painted metal roofing (Pre-cut)
• Metal roof flashing
• Pre-cut ships ladder
• Pre-cut insulated window headers, trimmers , cripple studs and cedar trim
• Vinyl Windows
• Insulated metal door with deadbolt and lockset
• Framing hardware, nails, staples and roofing screws

Plan #1
16 x 20 Plan #1: $10,995.00
16 x 24 Plan #1: $12,995.00
20 x 24 Plan #1: $15,995.00
20 x 28 Plan #1: $18,595.00

Plan #5
16 x 20 Plan #5: $8,995.00
16 x 24 Plan #5: $10,895.00
20 x 24 Plan #5: $11,995.00
20 x 28 Plan #5: $13,995.00

The advantage to choosing us for your kit is our thirty plus years building in Alaska. We have built in every area of the state and can help you with logistics and planning.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Introducing Our First Kit Cabins!

We at Friesen's Custom Cabins have been toying with the idea of Kit Cabins for almost 20 years. Somehow we have never taken the step. Perhaps we weren't listening closely enough to our customer base. We have received countless phone calls and emails over the years about kit cabins and we're now offering our first kit cabin starting March 1.
Our first Kit will be a 16 x 20 plan #1 and will include foundation pilings, pre-cut floor joist, headers, plates, studs, rafters and metal roofing. The kit will also include four windows, door, steps etc. A short instructional video will also be included as well as an optional site visit from one of our staff to help with any questions.
The 16 x 20 Plan #1 Kit will be priced at $10,995. The advantage of buying a kit from us is our knowledge of construction and logistics. We will be able to assist in organizing remote transportation and finish products as well.
If the first kit is popular, we will introduce more kits as requests come in and offer custom kits as well.

Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Anonymous

Monday, February 8, 2010

Remote Building II: Construction Phase

Most of the problems in remote building are in the transportation. Construction in remote areas is much the same as on the road system but with a few complications. Below are some considerations for the constructioon phase. None of these situations are serious by themselves but they all add to the cost of construction. All of these things need to be averaged into the cost of doing business over the years or a contractor will never survive. We don't plan for mishaps and emergencies; we do however, plan to be ready for them if they arise.
1. Are there existing quarters for the crew or are we bringing our own tents and cooking gear?
2. Is there good drinking water available? We don't want anyone getting sick. We have seen crew members get sick and require an extra charter to get them out and bring a new crew in.
3. What about restroom facilites? This may seem silly to consider but it can be extremely uncomfortable in certain areas.
4. Are we in bear country? Many times we are working in bear country which calls for special measures. Bears can obviously do a lot of damage to a campsite.
5. What about communications? Do we need a satellite phone?
6. Do we have an emergency plan? Construction involves working with tools that can be dangerous and we need to have an extensive first aid kit and a plan to evacuate a crew member if the need arises. (We have had to implement this evacuation plan on more than one occasion.)
7. We need a back up for every tool, especially generators.
8. What if material arrives damaged? Sometimes materials are damaged in shipment and replacements need to be shipped. (Twice we have had helicopters drop loads in the middle of nowhere)
9. Weather can be a limiting factor in some areas. Some days are too extreme to work in and the crew has to take a down day. Too many down days and the crew will be looking for a job in a better environment.
10. Most crew members want to work overtime when out of town. This adds considerable labor costs to the project and has to be added into the estimate.

These are just a few of the issues to consider when estimating a remote project.

"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out."
-Walter Winchell

Monday, February 1, 2010

Remote Building Costs I: Transportation

We have been building in remote areas for over thirty years now but every year we get a surprise or two when estimating off road projects.
Whether you are a mile from a road or four hundred miles from the road system; there are special considerations.
Most projects on the road system are relatively simple. You order your materials and have them delivered to the site, give your crews directions and meet them at the site and start the work. Off road projects are more problematic.
It really isn't so difficult to build off the road system. It is extremely difficult to build off the road system and make a profit.
There are many things to take into consideration when estimating a remote project; I have a couple of stories for every question listed below that I will address in future blogs. These are a few of the questions we ask or confirm before starting on a remote project. After building over 500 projects statewide we have run into many obstacles that can be career ending if you figure wrong.

1. Location of the jumping off spot; ie, the staging area. How far is it from our base? The crew will need to be compensated for their time traveling.
2. Is there adequate space for material storage at staging area? Do we need to provide equipment ie. forklift for loading the plane or boat.
3. Is staging area secure or do we need to have someone watching the material while we are transporting. Can we leave equipment there overnight or do we need to take it with us?
4. Is there lodging available near the staging area?
5. Is there fuel available or do we need to bring our own?
6. How far is the site from the staging area?
7. What method of transportation for materials?
8. What method of transportation for crew. (This might seem obvious but if you are barging your materials to Western Alaska; it is doubtful that you will want your crew travelling on the barge.
9. If you are going overland in Winter; What are the trail conditions? Is there any open water or overflow to be concerned about? Do you have to cross any private property? Is the trail wide enough?
10. Is there room at the site for storage of materials?
11. If you are flying materials you may have to provide crew to load and unload.
12. Is there a good landing spot at the building site? How far from the landing site to the building site. (This is very important) What method of transport from the landing site to the building site? Is there legal access from the landing site?(we have faced this before where there was no legal access to the building site from the airport).
13. If you are flying materials on floats; Is the water deep enough to taxi to the shore? Is there any protection from the wind? We have landed in water so shallow that we had to unload the Otter in the middle of the lake onto a raft; push it to shore and unload, then carry the material 100 yards through the swamp to the building site. On this project the transport was almost as much as the construction.
14. If you are flying materials on Skiis; Do you have a way to pack an airstrip for the plane? Most pilots flying heavy loads will want a packed strip, that means a snowmachine or snowshoes.(Lots of snowshoes)
15. If you are hauling by boat; is there somewhere safe to park your truck and trailer? Are there launch fees? Do you have to wait on tides?

These are just a few considerations to make before estimating costs on a remote project. Once you know the conditions, you use experience to figure the costs. More to come in Part II

"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better"Abraham Lincoln