Blood, Sweat, and Perma Frost…

So, you and a buddy just acquired a butt-load of lumber, enough to provide a really good start on the “huntin’ cabin” you have always dreamed about. Problem is, to get it, you have to completely dismantle a 40-foot long, 20-foot wide, wooden bridge; then load the lumber and cart it all out. And, oh yes, the bridge is perched cock-eyed and twisted on the bank of a creek a quarter-mile into a sandy cotton field. And, another thing, it is the middle of January in Oklahoma, and cotton fields do not have any trees – or anything – growing on them to stop the wind from sandblasting the top layer of skin from your face.

Bridge2

Tear this apart with pry bars and sledge hammers? Hell, let’s do it!

If the aforementioned scenario sounds daunting, that is because it is. I believe it would seem daunting even to the young and agile, much less for the middle-aged and, well, not-so-agile, like me and my buddy, Hoot (at ages 51 and 46, respectively, when this project began). Most men our age, I would venture to say, would have soundly refused such a task. In fact, looking back now, I would not have blamed Hoot at all had he taken that stance, and told me to go jump in a lake – or issued some other response with the same meaning, while employing more descriptive and much stronger language. To his credit, however, even upon personal inspection of the bridge on the morning of January 14, 2012, with the temperatures barely up from a morning low of 29°, Hoot was all in, saying, “Hell yes, let’s go for it! I think we can do this!” So, with that decision behind us, and our conviction to “go for it” in front of us, we climbed in his pickup and drove the 18-mile trip back home from the bridge site to gather the proper tools for the task, excitedly discussing potential cabin designs as we traveled.

Dismantling Tools

Can you say, “Manual Labor” boys and girls? Sure, sure you can.

Now, at this point in our story, one might be starting to formulate, in one’s mind, pictures of fancy power tools and the like, maybe even a tractor or fork-lift. I wish I could say you were right, but you are not – at least not entirely. No, growing up as simple (translated “poor”) country boys, the tools of the trade for such a task were always of the manual kind, and that had not changed much at this point in our lives – only that Hoot was the proud owner of a real, store-bought, eight-foot, pry bar. Back in the day, he would have had to grab a crow bar, or perhaps an old tire tool from a corner of the garage or, like me, an axle rod from one of my granddad’s old Model “A” or “T” cars. No, the tools we threw in the back of Hoot’s truck to tackle that huge chore on that cool, winter day were not fancy at all:

1 – 8 ft. Pry Bar (store-bought)

1 – 5 ft. Axle Rod (from old, Model “something” car)

2 – 3 ft. Crow Bars

1 – 10 lb. Sledge Hammer

2 – 5 lb. Hand Sledges

6 – 8 inch Concrete Blocks (to stack lumber on)

1 – Bottle Yukon Jack Perma Frost (Rheumetiz Medicine)

But we were pumped about finally turning all our talk and dreams of a hunting cabin into reality, and we were up for the challenge! Smiling, as “Mrs. B”, my lovely wife, would say later, “like a couple young boys about to build their first tree house”, we headed back to Stinking Creek bridge.

By now, the temperature approached the mid forties and the sun was shining, but the Oklahoma wind was gusting up to 20 miles-per-hour from the south. Our spirits still high, we jabbed the eight-foot bar under the first runner plank (the ones running the length of the bridge, serving as “runners” for the vehicle tires) and began to pry it upwards. But the large, ring-shanked nails holding the runner to the cross-planks below did not give and the edge of the board split off. Not to be defeated, I grabbed the ten-pound sledge hammer and beat the pry bar further under the plank. We pried again, and this time the nails gave. Sliding the axle rod in the pry bar’s place and moving the eight-foot bar down to the next set of nails, we repeated the process until we had our first 20-foot plank removed from the old bridge. As we carried the heavy board up the bridge to the stacking area on the edge of the field and placed it on a set of concrete blocks, I thought, “By golly, we CAN do this!” We were on our way and, by the end of that first day, had all of the runner planks from one side of the bridge removed and stacked, awaiting transport to our construction site.

Hoot stars in "The Grapes of Wrath"

Hoot stars in “The Grapes of Wrath”

The next day began at a brisk 26° and was, weather-wise, basically a repeat of the day before, with one exception – the  wind was blowing steady at 20-25 mph and gusting frequently to 30 mph by the time Hoot attached his 12-foot trailer and stopped by to pick me up. With the excitement still high, however, we quickly packed a lunch and a couple beers, grabbed our tools from my out-building, and headed out for Stinking Creek bridge, where Hoot and I beat, and pried, and hammered, and stacked lumber until we had removed all the runner planks from the bridge. Wind-blown and tired, we decided to call it a day, have a shot of Rheumatiz Medicine (see Granny Moses/Beverly Hillbillies, circa 1962) and then stack a load of planks on Hoot’s trailer and haul them to our future cabin site. We would tackle the chore of removing the “cross-planks” the next weekend.

When we returned home, my loving wife noted (nice way of saying “quipped”) how it seemed the boyish glow on our faces and excitement of that first day had been replaced by windburn and the fatigued look more typical of a couple fellows our age; to which Hoot replied, “Hell, yeah! This is damn hard work!” I could not have agreed more. My face burned, my right elbow ached from swinging the sledge hammers, and my body was tired – but my determination, our determination, was undaunted. We would get that bridge dismantled come hell or high water, though it was looking like the former might be the more likely.

The next weekend began much like the first. Hoot came by and we packed lunch, threw in our tools, and hooked my pickup to a sixteen-foot trailer borrowed from a friend to make hauling of the 20-foot planks easier – and less likely to get us a ticket from the Highway Patrol! Shortly after we arrived at the bridge site, Ronnie drove up to check on us. He was going to have to attend a birthday lunch for his mother-in-law, but might be able to give us a hand later on, if we needed it. Well, we needed it! It was considerably more difficult to pry the ring-shanked nails loose from the heavy, dense bridge beams and, after pouring out much sweat and blood over the course of a couple hours, we had only removed eight cross-planks (about one fifth of them) from the bridge. It was definitely time for a shot of Granny Moses’ Rheumatiz Medicine and a bite of lunch!

IMG_2997 (cropped)

Getting some help from Ronnie and John Deere

As we were eating lunch, Ronnie came down to the site again to let us know the birthday bash had been changed from lunch to an early dinner and he would be able to help us for a few hours. Observing our limited progress, Ronnie suggested he bring his tractor down while we finished our lunch and see if he might be able to use it to put some pressure on the planks while we pried them up. This turned out to be a most excellent (and welcomed) idea.

Reaching the tractor’s loader bucket over from the creek bank, we were able to get a chain, attached to the bucket, around one end of each plank. As Ronnie applied upward pressure with the tractor’s hydraulic system, Hoot and I worked our way from beam to beam, applying manual pressure with our pry bars to assist in lifting the planks from the bridge without snapping them into pieces. As a plank came free, we would run (literally) to the top of the creek bank to guide the plank onto the stack, remove the chain, flip the plank, hammer the protruding nails over, and run back to the bridge to hook the chain around the next plank. This process brought some serious sweat and blood from our old bodies, but it was working well and we wanted to get as much out of Ronnie and his tractor as we could before he had to go, so run we did! (Hoot would later say he thought he was “going to have a goddamned heart attack” before it was through.)

After placing the last cross-plank on the stack with about 30 minutes to spare before he had to leave, Ronnie decided to take a stab at dragging one of the eight-inch, by sixteen-inch, by 40-foot beams out of the depression in the creek bank and up into the field, just to see how his tractor would handle it. Well, it handled it quite effectively, thank you, and thirty minutes later, with me and Hoot again running to hook and unhook the chain, we soon had all eleven beams from Stinking Creek bridge lying in the cotton field at the edge of the creek bank amongst stacks of lumber that had once served as its planking. The bridge was now completely dismantled and, once the long beams were cut in half, ready for transport to a new home – and a new life…

© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days

The Gift of an Inland Hurricane…

The summer of 2007 was an unusual one for our part of Oklahoma. Due to the generosity of the August 18-19 appearance of Tropical Depression Erin, record rainfall amounts brought with them, – record flooding. The aftermath of these floods put most Oklahomans in the same mood towards Erin as Gilda Radner displayed to Jane Curtin back in the seventies on Saturday Night Live – when she said, simply, “Bitch”.

In some parts of the state, Erin’s spirit of giving provided up to eleven inches of rain, all in one fell swoop. As the event unfolded, the National Weather Service (NWS) offered the following alert the morning of August 19th:

“AN EXTRAORDINARY WEATHER EVENT CONTINUES OVER CENTRAL OKLAHOMA THIS MORNING AS THE REMNANTS OF TROPICAL STORM ERIN HAVE INTENSIFIED… RESULTING IN WHAT AMOUNTS TO AN INLAND TROPICAL STORM.”

hurricane-erin-lg

“Hurricane Erin” over central Oklahoma
(Photo Credit: Weather or Not)

At 3:15 that same morning, the NWS released the following:

“HOUSE AND TWO VEHICLES REPORTED WASHED AWAY BY RISE IN STINKING CREEK… ALTHOUGH OFFICIALS COULD NOT GET TO THE LOCATION DUE TO THE CONTINUED FLOODING. FLOOD WATER IS 5 FEET DEEP AND STILL RISING /AT 415 AM/ NEAR LOCATION OF THE HOUSE.”

And at 3:20 a.m., NWS updated this posting with:

“WATER RESCUES OCCURRING APPROXIMATELY 1 MILE S OF HWY 9 ON COUNTY RD 2420. A 0.5 SECTION OF HWY 9 STILL CLOSED. STINKING CREEK OUT OF ITS BANKS.”

bridgewashout

The flood waters produced by Tropical Storm Erin washed the old, wooden bridge spanning Stinking Creek from its pylons, sending it out on another journey in life…
(Photo Credit: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/?n=events-20070819-flashflood)

With Stinking Creek officially out of its banks and raising hell, The Daily Oklahoman had this story to tell:

“Stinking Creek, which feeds into the Washita River near the Caddo and Grady county line, is out of its banks and is blocking State Highway 58. Dustin Kays, a state Transportation Department worker, said he’s been keeping traffic away since a little after 12:30 a.m. He’s seen cows and calves floating by.”

Though Stinking Creek was certainly not the only waterway that said, “The heck with you!” to its banks, it was the one that played a significant role in producing the materials that provided the subject of this blog. For it was the flooding of Stinking Creek on August 19th, 2007 that sent a 40-foot long, 20-foot wide, single-lane, wooden bridge a mile and one quarter downstream to rest on the creek’s bank where it passed through a cotton field owned by Ronnie, a co-worker of mine.

Bridge2

Perched high up on the creek bank 1 1/4 miles away from its former home, Stinking Creek bridge awaits a new fate…

Over the next few years, Ronnie tried in vain to get the county, or anyone, to remove the washed-up bridge from the creek bank at the edge of his cotton field. The presence of the bridge, perched cock-eyed on the west bank of Stinking Creek, was beginning to create a washout. With every ensuing rain, soil from the cotton field was flushed down the depression created when the bridge slammed against the bank. The county was not willing to spend the money it would take to dismantle, load, and haul away the old bridge, and simply offered that it was Ronnie’s to do with as he pleased, saying, “burn it if you want”.

At one point, a few years ago, Ronnie thought he had the bridge given away to another co-worker. Alan was going to use it to bridge a narrow section of the river that ran through his property. Alan always had to take the long way around to get to the far side of the river where it ran through his bottom-land, and the bridge on Ronnie’s place would provide the material to alleviate this problem. However, dismantling, relocating, and then re-building a 40-foot long bridge over a river is a goal that is easier imagined than accomplished. As it turned out, Alan’s imagination only provided visions of more time and labor than he was willing to put forth to tear down and relocate the bridge. And so it remained, stuck in the sand on the west bank of Stinking Creek, a mile and a quarter downstream of its original home.

Then, in early January of 2012, my and Ronnie’s boss mentioned a desire to have some large, reclaimed wooden beams to accentuate the interior of the new home he and his wife were building. Thinking of the heavy, eight by sixteen inch by 40-foot-long beams that supported the three by twelve inch, 20-foot planks of the Stinking Creek bridge he could not seem to get rid of, Ronnie offered them to our boss, saying, “I’ll bring you a picture of the beams tomorrow.” Hearing about this for the first time myself, and being a lover of wood, especially of the rustic nature, my ears perked up. With a hopeful tone, Ronnie continued to address our boss, “I think they are going to be just what you are looking for.” Secretly, I hoped they were not.

The next day, Ronnie showed our boss three pictures he had taken of the bridge using his iPhone (featured above and below) and, to my delight, they did not produce the exuberance Ronnie had hoped for. Trying a bit of salesmanship, Ronnie attempted to convince our boss that the beams would clean up and look great in his new home, but finally gave up as the conversation changed course. It looked like Ronnie would have to take the county’s suggestion and put a match to Stinking Creek bridge if he was ever going to stop the erosion on his property.

Bridge1

The old bridge would have to wait a bit longer for its rescue…

Later that morning, I approached Ronnie privately with the idea that, since no one else seemed interested, I might be willing to take the old bridge off his hands. At the moment, I was not sure what I would do with it, but surely I could find a use for the lumber on our ten-acre ranch. Seeing my sincerity, Ronnie expressed that he should check with Alan one last time to be sure he had definitely changed his mind about using the bridge for his river crossing. He would let me know as soon as he confirmed Alan was no longer interested.

By the time confirmation came that, indeed, Alan no longer wanted the bridge and I could have it, I was already tossing around a few ideas of what to do with the lumber. Maybe I would build a decorative walking bridge from our back porch over to a point that protruded to the northwest, where we had a sitting bench overlooking the woodland below. Hmm, now that would look pretty cool, but it would be a lot of work, and the point already had erosion issues. Oh well, I could always cut the beams to eight-foot lengths and use them for corner posts. The fence around the ten-acre ranch could stand to be replaced anyway. But the bridge would provide way more lumber than the fence repair project would require. Why, there was probably enough lumber in that bridge to build a small cabin. Cutting the beams for fence posts would just be a waste of a lot of good lumber.

Bridge BeamJPG

Close-up of a 3″ x 12″ x 20′ bridge plank nailed to an 8″ x 16″ x 40′ beam.

Just then, my prior thought sunk in. A cabin! That is exactly what I would use the bridge lumber for! I recalled how, countless times, my hunting partner, Hoot, and I would dream aloud of one day building a structure that would serve as our camp kitchen. Then, we could prepare meals in comfort and not have to put up and cram our gear into our little cook tent each year. Hey, possibly we could make it big enough to provide room for a couple of sleeping cots as well! Let’s see, what would materials for that size of structure cost? Ooh, that much? Well, maybe someday…

Excited about now having an opportunity to eliminate the larger portion of the expenses associated with building our dream cabin, I emailed Hoot the following message:

Subject: Did you say Hunting Cabin?

Sent: Friday, January 13, 2012

Hoot,

We are officially the proud “owners” of a wooden bridge (photos attached). I thought this would provide excellent structural lumber (and I think plenty of it) for the hunting/cook cabin we have always talked about building. The bridge is located on the private property of a coworker of mine who is selling it to us at the cost of our own sweat and blood necessary to dismantle and remove it from his creek bank. He is even willing to help with the loading and such.

I thought we could stack the lumber at camp. Let me know when you want to go take a look and make a plan to tackle this chore.

Forrest.

I was not sure of the response I would get from Hoot, but I guessed he would share my excitement, at least to some extent. And, surely, he would be game for what lay ahead…

© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days