In 1953 our family project for weekends and vacations was to fell trees and build a log cabin from scratch. My contributions were age appropriate, and being only ten, I got to haul things, and collect firewood.
We had one acre on the top of a hill next to the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. My parents liked the area because they had spent their honeymoon camping out at the park in 1932. We were the only ones there, and it was purchased for about $50.
First we had to clear a road up to the property, so we clear cut the sugar pines along the fence uphill from the end of Moran Road. At the foot of the five hundred foot hill was a watering trough for the free ranging cattle, and our only source of water.There was never any thought to put in a well or power lines for utilities. We used kerosene lanterns and a gas operated butane stove and refrigerator.
Mainly we cooked on a wood stove using a salvaged boiler fire box until the cabin was built. All my summer vacations were spent up there at the top of the hill where we had books and our imaginations for entertainment. At dusk we watched bats, and once was treated to the sight of Mt. Diablo at sunset. That was a rare treat as the valley pollution was rising even then.
We considered ourselves somewhat of a pioneer family, and used hand tools throughout the process of felling trees and notching log ends. Every tool that was used from the big two man crosscut saw to the smallest planer was later seen in various farm museums, so I was totally familiar with all the tools in my dad’s toolbox and what each was used for.
My brother Lee and my dad cut down the trees, split them in two with mallet and wedges. I helped chop off small limbs, hauled native shale for the steps and fireplace opening, and hauled water up from the trough in plastic jugs.
Our 1928 Model A Ford sedan was our work horse to get lumber and the bed springs up the hill, and when we had to stay for a week our food was usually home canned or dry staples like bulk macaroni. For fresh protein we once went fishing in Dorrington, and had corn meal fried trout for breakfast. Otherwise we took a live pullet and tied his leg to a tree until it was time to have it for dinner.
Our pets were not neglected, in that we always had a dog along. Once our “Mama Cat” had kittens during our summer schedule and our neighbor could not take care of her, so we took them along with us in a box. This was after we bought our stretch model De Soto, which in a previous incarnation was a taxi in Sqan Francisco.
We hauled everything in that car, and even used fire break roads from the official camp grounds to drive up the ridge the easy way. There were no four wheel drive vehicles in those days for us, but we pretended our Ford was one anyway. I learned to drive on Moran Road in about 1956 in that Model A.
For sanitary facilities we dug a hole near a big pine tree with a canvas screen overlooking the valley which in future years would become the home of golf courses and condos. It had a great view, and got me prepared for primitive facilities when I toured Yugoslavia and later Tibet. Our attemps at installing a real flush toilet led to failure, as the pipes soon collapsed and were never repaired.
that seemed to be a pattern in our family. Once an ambitious project was instituted there was high enthusiam, but it took contiuous maintanence which was not always present.
Our main house went without a finishing stucco coat for twenty or more years, a new septic tank hole was started and never completed and left open as a play space in the sand. Second log cabins for the acreage in Brentwood was planned but never even started. Instead, a condemmed house in Oakland was barged down the river and erected whole on the site.
The mountain cabin used to loom in my memory as a place of deprivation and parental tyrrany. I would just as soon have gone to Disneyland as to haul water up a hill and dig out large rocks. Now it makes me glad to think that something that I had a hand in building still stands. At one corner under the eves is the inscription in the cement chinking that reads: This cabin was chinked in 1953, by Roy, Sharron and me. Ruth Stemler
We made a home movie of the project which is in the State Parks collection in Sacramento,Ca.