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New Life For Old Trees

A couple near Killarney has been busy using the past to make a future for their family.

Don and Linda Chatham,

who own and run Chatham Seed Cleaning, have been sawing, peeling and scraping logs for three years with their two children Cody, 15, and Nicole, 13, to make a new home in the country. Now nearing completion, they are hoping to finally move into it this summer.

The family, who rents a quarter section of land near their home, wanted to make use of the mature spruce trees that lined the lane and which were falling down each time there was a gale. Planted in three rows by some of the area’s earliest settlers, the Chathams wanted to see a more dignified end for the magnificent trees than simply firewood.

“These were 101-year-old trees,” said Don. “Every year there was a bunch of them blowing over, and every time there was a windstorm, they would block the driveway. Some of them were slowly dying from red-rot; that’s when the wood inside turns red and mouldy. We had always liked the look of a log home, and we had been thinking about it for a few years. We wanted a better use for the trees that were at the end of their natural life.”

In January of 2006 they started cutting down all of the 250 trees, giving the good ones a year to dry out and cure. That summer the whole family spent hours peeling bark off the logs.

“That was probably the worst,” said Don. “It was a really sticky job. It took a month of on-and-off peeling, but we did have friends who helped out, too.”

By the winter of 2007, the log structure was underway, with construction help from an experienced log builder. Using the Scandinavian scribe method, the family used saddle notches to cut and fit the sanded logs, which measured from 16 inches to two feet in diameter. The biggest ones were used for cross-beams, while crooked logs were sent to a local sawyer to be made into timbers and planks for interior walls. Last winter the structure was 12 rounds high, and it was time to move it onto its foundation.

Taking it apart, drilling through bolt holes and electrical holes, and marking the number of each log was next. Attaching a crane to a front-end loader, the finished building was moved piece by piece to the permanent site to be reconstructed, and a few months ago the asphalt shingle roof went on.

“The style is all rustic inside,” said Don. “We have 1,200 square feet on the main floor, 800 feet in the loft and 1,200 feet in the basement. We have electric in-floor heating on the main, and in the concrete floor in the basement. It will cost us under $100,000 when it’s all done. Our biggest cost was the basement foundation, which cost us $30,000, because we used Styrofoam block walls, and the plumbing and electrical. And the logs have a lot of sweat equity.”

Later this summer, the family will be picking up and moving from the original family home, which is just 20 feet away. This home, purchased by Don’s great-grandfather in 1907, was built in 1885 by other early settlers with a few additions put on in the 1930s. Linda and Don have lived in it since they were married, but it too has reached the end of a long and fruitful life, just like the trees from the windbreak, which have since been replanted with new stock for a future generation.

“It’s getting pretty rickety,” said Don. “I expect we will take it down this summer or fall. Linda is pretty anxious to move into the new house, and the closer it gets, the more excited we are. This new house has used the spare time for the whole family for the past three years.”

– Kim Langen writes from Holmfield, Manitoba

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