Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Big Sky Rejuvenation

Looking South on  Ennis Lake from my neighbor's land

My father's family arrived from Germany around 1908 and settled with the rest of the Germans in Wisconsin.  My great grandfather was a simple carpenter, and worked with his hands all his life.  Not finding the jobs in Wisconsin, he left the family behind and hopped the train West.

When the train stopped in Whitehall, Montana, he looked out the window and saw the smoldering remains of what had been the main block of businesses in town.  The entire block had burned down the night before, and he understood that there might be work soon to rebuild it, so he set up shop.

For the next 20 years he operated a mill and sash shop, and sold construction lumber as the Interstate Lumber Company.  His shop had a large painted sign on the front, which reflected the philosophy of the day, "A Square Deal."  In the center of the shop stood the prize piece of woodworking machinery, the Crescent Universal Woodworking Tool.  This belt driven tool was a large single chunk of cast iron, weighing over a ton.  It included a 36" band saw, 16" jointer, 12" table saw, spindle shaper,  and a hand operated mortising chisel, all driven by a leather belt running under the floor.  My job, when I was very small, was crawling under the floor and lubricating the bearings of the belt.

2,300 lbs of American Cast Iron and Ingenuity 

You can imagine why I am not that interested in using power woodworking tools after that.  When I finally sold the workshop, I managed to move the tool across the street to the Jefferson Valley Historical Society, along with the sign from the front of the shop, "A Square Deal."

In any event, as I was born in Southern California, the visits to Montana were annual and rather short, depending on the weather.  I am not interested in snow.  However, I love the smell of the mountains, and the open sky and fishing.  I also love finding deer, moose, mink, sandhill cranes, rabbits, owls and other wildlife wandering around the property.  Not so much the beavers...who think my creek is their swimming pool.

The Miller Cabin, after 90 years

Fortunately, my family had the good sense to purchase a couple acres on a lake, 60 miles from Whitehall, to set up a vacation cabin or two.  Actually, there are three cabins, all from the 1930's and still furnished with all the furniture, dishes, wood stoves, guns and fishing rods, and vehicles from that time.  Really a simple "turn key" operation.  The first cabin was a simple building, which was built inside the workshop in Whitehall. Then it was taken apart, placed on a Model T flatbed truck and driven over the dirt road to Ennis, where it was put back together.  It is a wonderful cabin, completely wood inside, with all the conveniences of "modern" life, except plumbing, and insulation.  I helped install electricity in the 1960's so we could have a refrigerator and lights.

I have enjoyed these cabins with my family and friends for the past 60 years, and find it essential to return there for a different "perspective" on life.  Like Thoreau before me, I find solace in the simplicity of life, when you live off the land.  Chopping wood, getting water from the artesian well, catching fish, and just watching the environment as it changes over time is a full time activity.

Each year there is a lot of timber which needs clearing, as the weather is fierce and the trees are old.  Last year and this year I lost two of my largest willow trees, and it took a fair amount of time to clear out the wood.  I must admit, I am rather good with a double axe.  I really enjoy using it to cut wood.  It is such a different aspect of woodworking from the usual job I have, cutting minuscule pieces of exotic hardwoods with a 2/0 jeweler's blade.

Nice Chain!  Need a Pull?

Reliable Transportation since 1946

There are also several vehicles which are waiting for us and ready to go when we arrive.  The best one is a 1941 Dodge Power Wagon, which was built for the medical corps during the second War.  This truck was purchased by my great uncle in 1946 and refitted for mountain camping purposes.  I learned to double clutch on this truck and it is a wonderful thing to drive...anywhere you want.  It has been on top of all these mountains around the cabin many, many times.  By the way, the paint job is perfect camouflage.  In fact, rust is a color!

There is always a bit of culture shock when I return to my workshop.  It soon wears off, as I begin to get back in the "groove" of work.  The good news is that I am constantly reminded of where I came from and it keeps me humble as I work on the wonderful things which compose my life's work.

I like to think that I remain true to the family business, "A Square Deal."

Cooked on a Wood Stove

POSTSCRIPT:  Those of you who live in the Northern States know about the cold front which just moved down from Canada.  I heard that the temperature in Denver dropped 40 degrees in 2 hours.  Ennis Lake is at 5,000 feet altitude in a narrow valley which runs North and South.  Let's just say that it can get cold fast at the cabin.  Today I received a photo of the lake from Tony Forsythe, who lives just down the road from my cabin, and found my photo of the Army truck on my blog.  Since he recognized the old truck, he was able to contact me through the web.  So, here's a photo of the same lake from essentially the same spot only a month after I took the shot above.

Looking South on Lake Ennis after a "light" snowfall

Here's a photo of the front of my cabin taken by Mike, my next door neighbor, last year at about this time.  Snow is very beautiful in a photograph.  Not so much when you have to live in it.

This is a "medium" snow fall