Saturday, June 19, 2010

Swamp Builder

It was early in 2000 when I was contacted to build a cabin for some folks in the Susitna Duck flats. I agreed to do the project without a site visit first. Not a good idea.
I flew down with the owner in his Cessna 185 on amphibious floats and landed on a small lake near the building site. We couldn’t taxi all the way to the shore because the lake was too shallow so we had to wade from the plane to the shore. The first thing I noticed was the smell. It had the rotten egg smell of stagnant water and bird poop. (Thousands of noisy seagulls inhabit the area.)
The building site, as it turned out, was at least 100 yards from the lake and it was all swampy trail. The cabin we were to stay in had large holes in the roof but there were areas in the old shack that were dry and it was slightly better than a tent so what the heck.
We contracted with Rust’s Flying Service to fly the materials. Since I knew a lightly loaded 185 couldn’t taxi to shore, a loaded Turbine Otter wouldn’t even get close so I sent down some Styrofoam float logs so I could build a raft to shuttle material from the plane to the shore where we could pack it another 100 yards to the building site.
I went out on the first load to build the raft and get ready for the following loads. We basically had to unload in the middle of the lake and unload the plane onto the raft, push it to shore, unload it and push it back to the plane for another load. This took some time but by the end of the day we had material on the shore.
Paul Holmes and I were going to do the actual construction so I agreed to pack material while Paul did the building, at least for the first two days. If you’ve ever packed moose meat through a swamp, you can imagine what it was like packing a cabin through the swamp. It took two full days to get the material to the building site. Paul worked in his bare feet because It was so muddy on the ground that it was making a nasty mess on the floor. We both slept well for those four days despite the bugs, noisy birds, mud and the rain but we got it done.
From this job we were able to develop better estimating procedures for hand packing materials in a swamp. Up to that time I didn’t really know how to estimate the cost for building so far from the lake in the swamp. Now I do, but there hasn’t been much call for cabins on the duck flats lately.

. The only job where you start at the top, is digging a hole.
- Anonymous

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