During the winter of 1976 I began sledding logs in for the construction of our Alaskan fishing lodge which would eventually be called Talaheim Lodge. (Tal being short for Talachulitna River and heim meaning home in German.) Logs for our walls and lumber were hauled in by snow machine. Traveling through the woods in March is ideal as the snows are deep, covering up the brush, and the days are somewhat warmer with lots of daylight.
At age 20, I had worked for a guide who I helped build a couple small log cabins. He built stockade, which means he stacked the shorter logs upright instead of horizontal. Through the years this type of log construction would be my specialty.
Now to put things straight, I was just 23, newly married, broke, but with lots of dreams. I couldn’t afford to fly out all sorts of lumber, so I milled most of our lumber from our “chainsaw sawmill.” I would continue making lumber with chainsaws for twenty-five more years until I purchased a real ban sawmill, which I still use today.
When the snow melted in the spring of 1976, I started building our first log cabin lodge, about a 24’ x 20” log building. I had help from my new and only neighbor – Trapper Jim – who forty years later would still be a great neighbor and a master carpenter who always helps me with every construction project. Our first building went up like a kid’s tree fort.
After building the first cabin, my new wife bought me a book on how to build a log cabin… great timing. The first chapter was all about “picking your site” and don’t ever build on clay. Later I found out we were on top of a 150-foot layer of gray clay. From season to season we never knew which direction our building might slide.
During those early years of Talaheim Lodge we just had our main lodge building, which we added on a small dining room. Then we built a 12’ x 14’ guest cabin with two bunk beds, a small sauna for cleaning up, and of course an outhouse or two for you know what!
Our early fishermen didn’t expect much. However crude our construction was, my wife made our lodge so very homey and made a lot a great food.
Fifteen years into our business, we constructed our first log guest cabin with full indoor facilities and suddenly I added “plumbing” to my resume. Back then all our buildings were supported by log pilings so I figured that maybe I would use this luxury guest cabin with its fancy toilet in the spring. So I dropped the drain pipe 12 inches into the ground underneath the cabin and ran it into a crude septic tank (which, I’ll have you know, is still working today). Next spring, I looked at our toilet and it was sitting eight inches off the floor. I later learned that anything put into the ground tends to heave up as the ground freezes.
The owner of a remote off-the-grid fishing lodge who hasn’t inherited millions must gain skills in the likes of plumbing, electricity, carpentry; not to mention law, psychiatry, medicine, and cooking. Then there’s the aircraft and boat mechanics, piloting skills, and oh, I forgot: fishing skills.
As years moved on, all the old buildings except the first modern guest cabin have ceased to remain. Our tree fort style buildings were replaced with better built buildings. Wood pilings have been replaced by cement footings, all guest cabins now have indoor plumbing and two diesel generators, inverters, 16 batteries, and 16 solar arrays supplies us with 24-hour electricity. This electricity powers guest’s mini frig (stocked with Alaskan Ale daily), and the occasional hair dryer or nose hair cutter. We may be in the Alaskan bush, but we’ve still got standards.
We also have two tractors that help maintain and build our ever-growing airport runway, two helicopters, a Cessna airplane (that we’ve had for 40 years), a handful of boats lining the river, and a kitchen that has every device imaginable. We even have one of those fancy blenders that makes smoothies in the morning!
And don’t worry, we still maintain two fully functioning outhouses just in case a morning smoothie is too much fiber for you, and all my plumbing skills suddenly collapse.
In conclusion, all I can say is that a young man with a dream, and a lot of hard working friends and wives, helped me carve out a first class wilderness lodge out of Alaska’s wilderness. I have been blessed to weather the hardships, the clay, and the freezing pipes. But it’s all worth it. Because I don’t know of any place on this earth where I can play Daniel Boone and carve back a piece of land and make it a place where I can earn a living and pass it on to the next generation.