There will always be precious memories from 1992 of camping out in the Gateway Farm Cabin while the new house was being built just a few yards away.
The cabin started out as a renovation of the old meat curing house, many decades old, built on a log foundation. Much work was needed to create a clean place to camp out on weekends, with enough security to keep out the mice and snakes. The old gray barn wood siding had enough gaps so that weeds on one side of the building could be seen from the other side of the building, looking through both walls. The old metal roof looked very rusty but was still waterproof.
Removing the old barn siding was easy. Recycling the remaining wall material was a problem. The old oak studs were so tough they would not accept a nail or screw without a lot of frustration on my part. A new floor joist system was layered on top off the old log foundation. Everything between the ceiling rafters and the old log foundation was replaced.
Another change of plan. The cabin was needed for full time living because the house building was taking longer than planned and we had to move from our current location. Would this be enough room for an engineer, a nurse, two dogs and three ferrets for a few months, October through December? We were going to find out.
An 8′ addition was added to the original 14′ x 12′ cabin to make space for a queen size bed and two closets and a bathroom. The bathroom included a SunMar composting toilet, a cattle watering tub for bathing and a tiny bathroom sink with medicine cabinet above.
Design of the roof over the new addition was to complex for my amateur talents, so we asked the building crew, Jim and Joe, to break from house building and help finish the roof.
The cabin main room had a small kitchen sink, a recycled RV gas stove/oven, a futon and small kitchen table.
As I look back to that time it really was good. It worked well. Never would I have thought that two adults, two dogs and three ferrets could all live in such a small space.
Reflecting back on that time in the cabin, my biggest issue was that the wife enjoyed watching TV and I found TV watching to be very irritating. I could not put enough distance between me and that programming device. Bathing was not an issue. It was fun taking a semi-shower without pressurized water. One person would sit on a plastic stool inside the cattle watering tub while the other poured warm water from a pitcher. The Sunmar composting toilet worked great. Peat moss was used as a cover material. Odor was never an issue. Other cover material was also acceptable. The Sunmar instructions said pretend there was a rabbit living in the toilet and feed it.
The main house was completed in time for Christmas and we moved out off the cabin.
One day I received a surprise visit from a very old Mr. Harris who owned the farm decades ago. As he supported himself with a shaking hand on a walking cane, Mr. Harris told a story of the farm when he was a young man. The old meat house had a dual purpose. That is where Mr. Harris made his whiskey during prohibition. As he departed, escorted by his friend Mr. Rogers, Mr. Harris took a quivering hand, pointed to the small mountain behind the meat house (cabin), and advised me to do the same thing he did. Go up there and make some whiskey.
Seven years later the wife split, the house sold, and I found myself renting the cabin from the new owners during the winter off 1999-2000. Winter living in the cabin presented some new challenges. Other things changed as well during those years. A conventional flush toilet had replaced the composting toilet, and my two best buddy dogs, Bubba and Fuzzy had replaced the original two canines. I could not leave Bubba and Fuzzy for more comfortable accommodations and rent elsewhere. Fortunately the new owners of the house allowed Bubba and Fuzzy to continue using the large dog pen the dogs had been using while I rented the cabin a few feet away. In Spring I need to move, an agreement with the new owners.
Bubba was an 80 lb Lab/Chow mix. Fuzzy weighed 110 lb. His dad was a Rottweiler and his mom was a hybrid wolf. Both were excellent Frisbee catchers, proficient with mid-air interceptions. Bubba and Fuzzy had a wonderful life here on Gateway Farm and lived longer than most large dogs. It has been more than five years without them physically here now. Yet every day I’ll talk to them, sing a made up silly song to them both and shed few tears of joy, so appreciative of all the incredible joy we shared.
Back to the cabin.
How was I going to adapt to the new changes? The cabin did not have running water and I had no one assist with bathing and pour water. Very little electricity was available from the solar powered main house that I no longer owned. Necessity is truly the mother of invention. Another 100 gallon cattle watering tub was purchased and placed on the cabin porch to serve as a water reservoir. The toilet could be flushed with a bucket. Problem #1 solved. But how would I bathe? A propane fueled 6 gallon deep fry turkey cooker was purchased to serve as a hot water heater. The cooker took about 7 minutes to heat water to temperature suitable for a shower. The bucket of warm water was moved into the bathroom where a battery powered 12 volt Shurflo agricultural pump sent water from the bucket to a conventional kitchen sink dishwash sprayer. Problem #2 solved. Winter temperatures sometimes put a few inches of ice on the water reservoir, but usually I could break through.
Again looking back on my experience in the Gateway Farm Cabin, I think about what would I do differently?
Lesson Learned: Although I really enjoyed both stays in the cabin, a small travel trailer would have been more practical, less expensive than the cabin modification, and would have had more conveniences built in. When no longer needed, it could be sold.
In the spring it was time to leave the cabin and move Bubba, Fuzzy and me to a part of the original farm that was still mine. A well was drilled, a septic system installed and a park model RV purchased. This site would become Sassy Lilac my new tiny house only 621 square feet.
Before house construction could get a good start, debt needed to be discharged and money saved. A few years later Sassy Lilac was started and finished a year later. No longer needed, the trailer was sold. The cost off living in the RV, based on the purchase less the sale price, divided by the months lived in, was only $100/month.
Bubba, Fuzzy and I had our happy new home.