making it “campable”

All along, our goal was to have this place “campable” by memorial day weekend. We decided to sell our loved Fleetwood Element pop-up camper to fund part of the renovations, so we wanted to make sure the cabin was at least as usable as the camper by summertime.

For us, this meant not sleeping on the ground, and when our air mattress met demise thanks to a nail, we knew a bed was in order. With the addition of a mattress and a pendant light to the bedroom area, we’re all set for summer!

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Things I’ve learned about George

It’s funny, the things you learn about the person who lived in a house before you. In our case, the cabin is just a getaway, but the previous owner, George, lived there year-round for 25 years (according to the realtor).

During this renovation process, I feel like I’ve gotten to know old George a little bit thru the things he left behind and what he’d built. I’m not sure I’d like the guy — in fact, I am fairy confident that we have very little in common — but I do admire his ingenuity and flat out moxie.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about our neighbor in time.

1) Dude loved to hammer. If George built it, sturdiness was the number one priority. We’ve ripped out bookshelves held together with 4″ nails designed for decks, and wood paneling attached with dozens of nails per piece when two would have done just fine. He was either single-handedly propping up the nail manufacturing industry or one day he stumbled upon the nail sale of a lifetime. I guess if you live alone in the woods, you need something to keep you busy.

2) I’d like him with me if I was stranded in the desert. Originally built as a campground community, few of the older style cabins nearby have running water… it was camping, after all. But George figured out how to run water from the natural spring across the road into a cistern under our deck so we have a continuous freshwater supply. He trained a small waterfall to flow into a cement bowl, into which he embedded a water line that runs under the road. A mini well pump under the kitchen sink and a small hot water heater completed the system. Let’s not talk about plumbing codes, but it’s a genius use of existing resources that would make MacGuyver jealous.

3) He wasn’t ready to leave. One of the things that most struck me when we first saw the cabin was that it was frozen in time: clothes in the closet, toothbrush in the medicine cabinet, and half a cup of coffee on the kitchen counter. It’s rare to get a snapshot into a stranger’s life with such intimate detail. From this, we guessed that George fell suddenly ill and never was able to return to his home in the woods. The realtor shared that he had moved instead to Georgia to be with relatives. I hate to think that a survivalist like George was taken down by something so routine as a heart attack or stroke, but I suppose even the mighty must fall. Godspeed, Georgie boy.

Better to see you with, my dear

Jen mentioned that we’re behind on the blog, not for lack of working. Every weekend, we get up early and make the 75-mile drive up to PA, then work ourselves to death until the sun goes own and we can hardly drag ourselves back up the stairs to the car. Then the next day, we do it again. My weekends have never been so exhausting.

Last week, we took some time off and actually slept at the cabin. (More on that adventure another time.) What a relief. You know you’re exhausted when an air mattress feels like Stearns & Foster pillowtop.

We had big plans or three solid days of work, but as we are discovering, everything we do takes seventeen times longer than we expected. Being a two-hour round trip from Home Depot takes some getting used to. In addition to much, much building and much, much burning, we managed to put in eight new windows (and when I say “we” I mean Jen while I sat around and was more or less useless). This project, delightfully, was much easier than we thought. Score!

We’ve been dragging our feet on replacing the windows at our house, mostly because our decrepit asbestos siding crumbles into bits if you do much as sneeze in its direction. The windows at the cabin are all at ground level, right in front of our face, and apparently held in with just a few rusty nails. They came out easier than kids who hear the ice cream truck. We did our damn best to compensate for the fact that nothing at the cabin is level, square, or plumb, and Jen got creative with the shimming. A little silicone caulk and they’re firmly in place. About 30 minutes per window!

Here’s a snap of Jen getting ready to put the last one into place.

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…and where is that grid, exactly?

We set out for the cabin Saturday morning with high hopes that the power would be on.  We had plans to stay all day, even after the sun set, to take out the inside wall and had even invited people to help.  People!  It was a great plan.

Pulling into the parking space (which is a term I use VERY loosely), we were relieved to see that the cabin hadn’t burned to the ground. Whew.  Inside, we opened the dusty fusebox and flipped the big switch. Silence. Is it on? I flipped a few switches. Nope. I plugged in the old Pizza Hut-style light that the previous owner had left in the kitchen. Nada. Jen flipped the switch again in the hopes that we’d not thrown it far enough. Zippo.

Fast-forward 30 minutes, and I’m on the phone with PECO.  Props for being open on a Saturday afternoon, but we learned that the power company came to visit (or so they say) but couldn’t find the so-called address. Oh, you mean 0 Trails Road, plot 47S or whatever you have in your system? Really? Please hold while I contain my shock.  But you didn’t call? No, of course not.  That would be logical.  Personally, I think the electrical guy took one look at the off-road trail we call a road and packed it up.  But he’s coming back on Monday (or so they say) and Jen is GOING TO BE THERE so they can’t weasel out of it this time.

you can do it – put your back into it

Except for the most mentally disturbed, most people dislike cleaning.  It’s even more unlikable when you’re cleaning up after someone else.

Our cabin needs a lot of TLC – from a deck that needs replaced to throwing out the previous owner’s toothbrush, we’ve gone through a lot of gloves during our weekend of cleaning.  Beyond the PBR advertising paraphernalia, not much of the stuff left in the cabin is very interesting – all of it is headed to the dump.

When you live in a townhouse, the only hurdle would be how to get it to the dump.  However, when your property sits at the end of a long and steep trail, the difficulty is getting a truck to the it.  We found a nice fellow through the local paper The Delta Star who was willing to brave the trail to the cabin.  After a long, grueling trip in reverse with his trailer, he and his co-worker made quick work of the piles I had prepared.

After they left with my trash and my check, it felt a little easier to breath in the cabin.

Next tasks are to replace the door, remove the plastic from the windows, wash the windows, wash the windows again, and start working on eradicating everyone else who had been living in the cabin the past three years.

I’ve started another pile for them…

getting the cabin “back on the grid”

I admire the folks who want to live off the grid and pride themselves in all the innovative ways they “get back to nature.”  I admire the thought and planning they put into ways their cabin and families are self-sufficient.  There are several blogs devoted to just this subject.  That’s not me.  I have power tools, a vacuum, want a refrigerator with cold beer and a frozen pizza… but above all, mamma’s gotta charge her iPhone.

Getting the cabin back “on the grid” has been a little more work than we anticipated.  According to the power company, it doesn’t exist.

Well, it might.

But not at the address we have.

Our little cabin in the woods is one of the 2M homes served by Exelon’s Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, a two-unit nuclear generation facility located on the west bank of the Conowingo Pond of the Susquehanna River in Delta, Pennsylvania.

Electric Meter

PECO METER: When all else fails, give the power company the meter number

Exelon has a somewhat complicated process to turn on service at a residence that has been off the grid for many years.  Although I appreciate the website devoted to turning on service, if your address isn’t listed, they cannot help you.  It takes quite a bit of digging to find the actual phone number to call Exelon directly – and then once again it’s quite difficult if they don’t have your address in the system.

Several phone calls later with a photo in hand of the electrical meter at the cabin, I learn that our address is “Lot S49” and the power has been turned off since JUN 2009.  A significant period of time without a connection to the power company requires an inspection by a certified electrical underwriter prior to PECO powering the system – the electrical inspector performs electrical inspections that confirm compliance with the National Electric Code as well as state and local municipal codes.

Several additional phones call (thanks Janeé) and an inspector was located that a) works in our township and b) will brave the “road” to the cabin.

our first look

We made an offer on our cabin after a 30 minute walkthrough in the snow using only an iPhone for light and were quite anxious to open the door of our new abode after signing the papers.  The cabin was a “bonus” on our 3/4 acre waterfront slice of heaven and we had few expectations for the structure itself.

View of Muddy Creek

VIEW FROM THE DECK: Who doesn't want to eat their lunch here everyday?!

Cabin

ELBOW GREASE NEEDED

Built in 1963, the cabin was one of the first “camps” built on the banks of Muddy Creek in a new development called Susquehanna Trails.  The original intent of the development was for dozens of camps.  Overtime of course, buildings and structures take on their own evolution and many of the previous camps no longer exist and have been replaced by full-time residences.

The previous owner had lived in the cabin for 25 years before leaving in 2009.  We braced ourselves for a building who’s most recent inhabitants had a lot more fur than either of us.

I’m not sure I’ve ever driven so fast as the moment we left the realtor’s office to get to the cabin (after taking a brief moment to update our Facebook pages of course).  We picked up lunch at Ma & Pa Pizza in Delta, PA, grabbed the camp chairs, and settled on the deck to enjoy lunch with a view – it was beautiful.

Deck

CLEAN UP: Someone is going to need to bring their truck

After lunch we dragged ourselves away from the view to explore the cabin.

There were several quiet tense moments of disbelief and pushing down the overwhelming nausea of an impending project that is possibly more than you can handle.  Briefly, someone held out a garbage bag but they set it back down and we went back out on the deck to enjoy the view.

There is a lot of work to be done – and quite a bit of cleaning.

But hey, we bought a cabin.

DISCLAIMER: Please do not interpret this post as a recommendation to purchase a house, property, car, wife or anything else of significant value without first thoroughly inspecting the property. 

someone’s getting a cute cabin

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I only have Roy the anonymous craigslist poster who had a stream-front piece of property that lured me to the banks of Muddy Creek in Peach Bottom Township, PA to thank. Upon arrival I sent a one word text to home: Trouble.

I could spend time leading the reader into an intriguing story of mystery about the properties I went to visit but let’s just be frank: it was a bust. But in a surprise twist, Zillow led Mary and I to a one-room log cabin perched on a deep green cliff overlooking the stream. In an instant, I took the first step towards realizing my dream of owning a cabin.

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THE CABIN: Built in 1963, we are looking forward to calling this one room log cabin OURS

I’d like to tell you the realtor’s description said it all, but it really didn’t: “Rustic Log Cabin in the Woods Overlooking Trout Stream in the Trails- Private, Peaceful and Quiet Setting is Excellent for the Nature Lover, or Someone looking to Escape the Hustle and Bustle of the Big City – Log Cabin: 1 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Living Room w/Stone Fireplace, Kitchen Area, Wrap-Around Decking,.7308 Acre, 500 Gal Concrete Septic Tank, More – Sold AS-IS – Update and Enjoy!!!”

Text massage

Text message home: Janeé's response to the photos Mary & I texted to her after finding the cabin.

It left out “you’ll fall in love.”

I’d finally found Janeé that piece of water she’d been waiting for.