The Making of Bad Beaver Farm, Part II Plumbing: Salvaged to the Kitchen Sink
Note: All Materials Are Found, Scrounged, Gifted, and Re-Purposed
As I said at the end of my last installment, the next project after the cabin was done was the outhouse…finally! I told my husband, Tom Lajoie, that I was getting just too old to keep digging holes in the woods anymore, especially in the middle of winter, literally freezing my butt off. Finally, after a lot of pitiful nagging on my part, Tom finagled an excavator and we commenced building the most awesome Shat Shack this past spring.
First, we sited the outhouse. We agreed the only place it could possibly go was to the North of the camp. The east side is too low and potentially wet, the south side is where our (real) house is going to be someday and the west side would be in the driveway, so, not much discussion there. Tom dug a very deep hole in the woods with the borrowed excavator, but then decided while he was at it; he would dig a six foot deep trench from our new artesian well to the camp and a gray water system for the camp’s kitchen sink. (Of course he did.)
We’d had an artesian well drilled in the dead of winter, probably the coldest day possible, around the end of February. Well-driller John Gilbert from Ellsworth was very professional and somehow got his rig in from the long way, as our front driveway had a ten foot high ice and snow bank plowed in front of it, courtesy of the Ellsworth Highway Dept. It was many degrees below freezing, so the guys all stood around drinking coffee and hopping from one foot to the other to stay warm, while the rig drilled. They went down 110 feet and got decent water, so Mr. Gilbert and company were gone by noontime, leaving behind a tsunami of gray silt.
This spring, Tom dug a trench below the frost-line from the well to the camp. The rubble from this was about six feet high and looked like hell. It looked like a bomb had gone off in our front yard, so I was crabby. I left to go clean our other cottage in Surry and when I got back, not only had Tom filled it all back in…he covered the scar with wood chips from our Mo-Bark chipper, so it looked fabulous. That man has such unbelievable survival instincts.
Tom put in a frost-free farm hydrant so we can have running water all year round. He hooked this up under the camp to a gas water heater and pressure tank that someone had given him, cast off from a job. How he knows how to do all this stuff, I will never know, but I’m not complaining. I could hear him under the camp swearing as he bumped around down there. He had copper pipe fittings and propane torches and plastic tubing and myriad gizmos all over the side porch, but in the end, I had cold and hot running water to my reclaimed kitchen sink!
I love my kitchen sink. This past winter, Tom and I had been visiting our forester to see his new piece of land on a mountain in Holden. Up the mountainside was a dilapidated old shack that I went to investigate. The shack looked like at one time it had been cunnin’. It had little shelves over the windows for bird’s nests and a rose arbor arching over the front door. Kids had obviously been partying in the place since it had been abandoned. It was full of trash and bottles and was ripped to shreds.
I poked around in the mess and realized that underneath some wet, decomposing, fallen plasterboard was not a dead animal but, in fact, was a moldy old mink stole…a woman had lived here! I found smashed mismatched, floral china plates and delicate pink and white demitasse cups with the handles broken off. In a cardboard shoebox, I found the woman’s personal effects. From an old black and white photo, a lovely dark haired woman smiled back. She was sitting on a rock by the ocean holding an alert looking wirehaired terrier. I found canceled check stubs dated 1973. Her name was Lula Cram.
How had she ended up here in this desolate place? Did she live here alone? Why? What happened to her? Was she crazy? (Later, I Googled her name and found she died in 1999 at the age of 93 and was buried in the Millinocket cemetery.) I said to Tom that I wanted to know more about her pioneering spirit, I wanted something of Lula’s to remember her by. I looked around the hovel. The only thing that was still intact was Lula’s huge old white porcelain cast iron sink, the kind of sink with a long drain board on one side. I cleaned some leaves and debris out of the sink to check its condition. Tom was eyeing me warily. I said I wanted Lula Cram’s kitchen sink. Tom said that’s what he was afraid I was going to say.
We got permission for the sink from our forester and we hiked back up the snowy trail to get it. The sink was still attached to the wall, but Tom managed to free it with brute strength. It weighed at least 200 pounds. Now the problem was how to get it down the mountain in the snow back to the truck. Tom had the great idea that we would simply slide the sink down the mountainside. He pushed it with his foot and the thing took off like a toboggan, careening completely out of control. Tom and I went running down the hill in the snow after it, shouting at the sink to stop. It came to rest in a snow bank about six inches away from the passenger side door of Tom’s white pick-up truck.
But I digress. Back to the outhouse. We have some terrific banks of gravel on our land and Tom nailed one in his excavation for the new Pooporium. Perfect for drainage. Over this he placed a crib he’d made out of pressure treated 6 x 6’s that he had left marinating in the field. The foundation of the structure is 4 ½’ wide x 7’ long. He built up from there. I have to tell you right here that Tom sawed all the boards for the outhouse from our own trees with his portable sawmill. He really did. I know this makes him sound like a seriously manic overachiever, but what else can I say? Truly, I get exhausted just writing about this, but he sawed the lumber from our downed pine and popple trees in the morning…and the boards were on the outhouse that afternoon.
He made the seat of the throne from flawless, pure white popple. I found a gorgeous red oak toilet seat and the end result would make any Home & Garden Crapper jealous. Tom announced that he was going to do the honors of trying it out for size. Alrighty then, go for it. Almost immediately after this, however, Tom dropped his measuring tape down into the hole.
We looked at each other in disbelief. I told him he was definitely on his own with this one.
Personally, I would have gone to EBS to buy a new measuring tape. But, nooooo, he had to retrieve the tape. He took a steel rake and tried to lean down into the Loo to scoop it out, but it was too deep. He enlisted my help. I held onto his belt loops while he dangled in, his legs flailing in the air as he fished around in the depths. I asked him if he wanted me to send in the oxygen.
He got it though. He held up his tape measure proudly. I told him he had to put his initials on it with a permanent Sharpie because I never wanted to touch it by mistake.
As I did before, I designed the placement of the windows and door—and left it to Tom to figure out how to frame it all. It goes like this [see photo]; there are two windows on either side of the structure. The windows came from a 1920’s lake house in NH that was torn down to make way for a McMansion. The door is a beautiful old solid wood door that I painted the deep dark green that I’ve used on all the trim. Tom decided to put a shed roof on the structure with a slight pitch to it for snow melt.
I found we had some shutters in a shed that fit the windows perfectly. I painted the shutters the same trim green and Tom put up a little plant shelf under the window that holds a crock planted by my mother. I found some elegant lace curtains in a thrift store that I hung in the windows. The great thing about lace that I’ve discovered is that you can easily see out …but it’s really quite difficult to see in. I love sitting on the throne looking out in the forest and watching the birds hopping around on the bird feeders in the trees.
The last thing about the outhouse that makes it so spectacular is kind of embarrassing, only because this makes me sound spoiled rotten. Tom and I were walking in the woods one day when we saw a huge boulder that had been cleft in half by a glacier. This left it with a beautiful enormous flat face. I said wouldn’t this be a fabulous step for something? Yep. While I was in Ellsworth grocery shopping, Tom and his brother, Lee, picked the boulder up with the LULL and deposited it as near to the outhouse as they could get. Then they wrestled it in place in front of the door with steel rollers (I am not kidding). See, this does make me sound pathetically bratty, doesn’t it? I told you. I planted perennial Lily-of-the-Valley that my sister had discarded, around the behemoth boulder and up along the path.
The final piece of plumbing that Tom did this summer was he put in an outdoor shower attached to the back of the cabin. This is a most excellent personal hygiene method, although I’m afraid it might get a tad nippy come October. But right now in early September it is glorious. The days are crisp with brilliant sunshine. There is just a hint of chill in the air but the water is yummy-hot. I can stand on the wooden shower platform and look out over the field to the beaver flowage where the swamp maples have already turned prematurely red. A great blue heron flies overhead and squawks like a prehistoric Pterodactyl.
I think…truly, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Carol Leonard is a writer and a midwife. She has just published her memoir, Lady’s Hands, Lions’ Heart ~ A Midwife’s Saga [www.badbeaverfarm.com] Bad Beaver Publishing, 2008. Her husband, Tom Lajoie, is a phenomenal economy of motion builder. The first chapter in The Making of Bad Beaver Farm was published by Down East.com in spring 2008.
- By: Carol Leonard