Thursday, November 4, 2010

10th Posting - New Excavation and Ready for Winter!

One more posting before winter! Wednesday, November 3, we took advantage of fantastic weather - sunny and 70 degrees - to get one more work day in. Our friend Roger brought his Bobcat out and excavated another smaller area adjacent to the cabin for another eventual room, half the size of the cabin itself. It's not that we're making so much progress we had to get ready to start building more walls, but we needed more DIRT!! Roger carefully took off the top layer of sod and dumped it up behind the cabin and then created huge piles of beautiful, clean dirt which will make filling bags to finish the cabin much faster. Mounds of dirt never looked so good! Then I got the cabin ready for winter, covering all the bags with tarps to protect them from the sun, which would deteriorate them before spring.
All the walls now have 9 or 10 rows of bags, and once the weather warms again in the spring, building should go faster. The beautiful fall weather we've enjoyed resulted in wild phlox blooming again! So until next spring "Lion Cliffs Ranch and Castle" will have a long winter's nap!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

9th Posting - The walls continue to rise

This is obviously going to be a long-term project and I don't expect to get the walls done before winter, but they keep going up. My friend Ruth from Indiana came out for 5 days of good work and we got the walls up to the 8th and 9th layers. My sister Val made a 'box' to go in the root cellar opening and Ruth and I had to force it into place with sledge hammer and brute force - those bags are solid!! My friend Nathan helped me build a frame for the 3 X 5 'kitchen' window which Ruth and I put into place and got one row of bags up on either side of it.
Notice the splotchy green color spraypainted on the door and window frames. This is to camouflage it from the road half a mile away. It works. Ruth still can't pick out the cabin from the road!
After a garage sale a week ago there was a pile of 'free' stuff in the alley. There was a bucket of wire insulation attachments and I've been using them to further attach the bags to each on the corners and buttresses. I straighten the curved end and make a hook to match the other end and pound both ends into the bags solidly. The photo shows one of them just lying on the bag to show what the original wire looks like and also a couple of them pounded in to the bags.
Another photo shows Ruth at the picnic table where we have lunch, and yet another frames Ruth in the 'kitchen' window on the south wall.
Sunday we took a break and went up to Palisade Falls south of Bozeman. It was beautiful and Ruth just wanted to stay there. (Why would she go back to Indiana!?)
Tamping the walls is by far the hardest work in the project. Now that the walls are higher it's too difficult to raise the tamper above my head, so for now it's easier to walk on the walls to tamp. Probably a scaffold will be in the near future out there!
The last photo in this posting is the sunset facing directly west from the picture window frame. That will be a nice feature of the cabin. The Tobacco Root Mountains are off to the southwest and the Big Belt Mountains are to the north. The site is just surrounded by great views.
Saturday I have to take off on two tours back to back, but hope to work on the cabin the last two weeks of October before leaving for South Africa the first of November! Any volunteers to help with the cabin are welcome!!

Friday, September 3, 2010

8th Posting - Building resumes after week of rain and mud

Nearly a week of rain (and snow over the mountains) slowed the work schedule, but we used time indoors to build frames for the big picture window and two smaller windows. Rachel hosted the construction in her garage. Rachel, Valerie, Austin and I went to my land Tuesday, but muddy, soupy roads made us walk the last quarter mile. At least we got some work done. Thursday Austin and I went out and installed the frame for the big picture window and filled more bags.
We now have most of the bags covered with tarps. Water doesn't hurt them in the least (on the contrary, it just makes the bags set up harder!), but sunlight will disintegrate the bags after about three months of exposure. So unless the cobb (adobe) is going on soon, bags need to be protected from the UV rays.
Next photo - Austin levels the picture window frame and then pounds the dirt into the bags. Now both doors and the picture window frames are in place and the walls are continuing to rise slowly. The last picture shows the view I'll have through the front window!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

7th Posting - Larry's Earthbag House, My Inspiration

Across the hill from my cabin live Larry and Lea Van Arsdale. They are building a BIG earthbag house thirty feet in diameter and thirty feet high! They started a year ago and are still working on it, but they've been living in it since last fall. So far it's two stories high and they plan on building the third story next summer. Right now they are scrambling to "cobb" the rest of the exterior before winter. That means applying the cobb, or adobe, to the bags which make up the wall.
In the picture you can see exposed earthbags on the right. Just to the left of that is dark area that has been freshly cobbed. The larger gray area is what the cobb looks like dry, and the white area to the left has been coated with a mixture of lime and horse manure(!) to seal in the cobb.
The size of the house is deceptive. When you walk in the front door (around to the left) you walk down about 5 feet to the floor, so much of the house is underground.
The earthbags have to be covered with tarps until they are cobbed, in order to protect them from the sun. Rain won't hurt them, but in the sun the bags will disintegrate in about three months!
Larry has been my source of information for the building process and gives me all kinds of advice and hints to make things work better. They live there full time and are off the grid, using solar and generator with big battery packs. The house is wonderfully cool in summer and warm in winter. So anyone who comes out to help with my house will get a tour of Larry's!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

6th Posting - Farewell to Lynn & Jerry

Today Lynn, Jerry, and I worked on the cabin until about 2pm and then I took them to Kalispell. In the morning they will board the train in Whitefish to return to Illinois. I don't know how they can leave me to finish the cabin myself! They really should be staying a month. Anyway, it was great having them here and they were a huge help in getting the project going!
Yesterday Rachel and Val worked on framing and got an incredibly solid frame in for the front door. It was intended to be temporary, but it's so good we'll just have to leave it and use it for the actual door when the time comes. They'll be doing some more framing for another door and a few windows.
Austin helped me lay barbed wire between rows of bags and he also helped filling in dirt between the walls and the hill. Even Joshua filled a few bags.
Toward the bottom are a couple photos of our progress at the time Lynn and Jerry finished up.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

5th Posting - Cooler!

Sunday night we had half an inch of rain and we woke Monday morning to new snow on the mountains! The high was only about 70 so it made for a perfect day for hard work on the cabin.
The shadow on the wall is as close as you'll get to see of a photo of my two Amish helpers, Lynn and Jerry, but the results of their labor are more conspicuous.
We put plastic between the wall and the dirt where the cabin is set into the side of the hill, just to add a little extra protection against water intrusion. The last picture is of our progress through Tuesday evening.

Monday, August 23, 2010

4th Posting - A Day Off!

Sunday we went to early service and then headed for Yellowstone where we soaked our sore muscles in Boiling River for a couple hours. What a great way to relax! Then we walked around the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces as well for a bit, including my secret hot spring, "Fantasy Cassel Spring!"

Saturday, August 21, 2010

3rd Posting - The Beginning of the Walls

Friday and Saturday, Lynn, Jerry and I started building walls. The work is fairly simple, but labor intensive! Filling and tamping, filling and tamping... After the bags are stapled shut they are placed on the wall and when a row is complete they have to all be tamped solidly flat, which virtually locks them into the adjacent bag. When the tamping is completed, two strands of 4-point barbed wire is run the entire distance of the row to 'hook' in the next row above. Tying down that barbed wire is probably the most dangerous part of the job! Of course we had to put in temporary frames for doors and later we'll do the same for windows. The door in the back of the room is for an eventual root cellar or tunnel into the hill for natural 'air-conditioning'. Not that A/C will be necessary with this construction method! You will also notice extra bags added in strategic places along the wall and corners. These are buttresses to add extra strength to the vertical position of the walls. The buttress on the back wall will actual be a bigger formation with benches all the way around.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

2nd Posting - The site is leveled

The top photo is the view from my land across a square mile of state land and off to the Tobacco Root Mountains in the distance.
My friend Sam brought his Bobcat out and did some leveling and a little more earth-moving so we wouldn't have to do so much with the shovel, although you can see my sister Val doing some adjusting. Then the work started on the bags. Gaylene is stapling corners of the bags. We fill them with damp earth and tamp them solid with a baseball bat. After the tops are stapled shut they will be laid like bricks into the wall and then tamped hard and solid into a flat, level surface. Over a couple months time the bags will harden like bricks.
Today I drove 300 miles to Malta to pick up Lynn and Jerry, my Amish friends from Illinois. We'll see how much work we can get done on those walls over the next week!