Stacked and Ready

The cottonwood logs are de-barked, stacked, and ready to wait out the winter under protective wraps until spring, when construction of the Elkhorn Ranch Cabin replica at the TR Presidential Library site will begin.

While the original plan was to start building the cabin this summer and fall and protect the unfinished structure from winter weather with a temporary roof, the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation (TRPLF) has decided to wait and build the entire cabin at once, saving time, money, and ensuring the structural integrity of the building.

A partial build posed unique challenges. Cottonwood is a soft, porous wood and is prone to cracking and twisting, especially as it absorbs moisture and dries out again. This tendency increases once the logs have been hand-adzed to shape what will become the cabin walls because the inner wood is exposed. 

This cottonwood log has been hand-shaped using a broad axe and adze. Like this one, the logs in TR's original cabin were squared on three sides.

If the cabin was partially built before its permanent location was established, it would either have to be moved or disassembled and then reassembled once the foundation was in place.

The sheer girth and weight of the cabin makes it difficult to move. The cabin measures 30 X 60 feet, and is seven tiers (logs) tall with each log weighing up to three tons. Moving it could cause the carefully fitted logs to shift.

“If the logs get damaged in an attempt to move the structure, we may be looking at starting over on at least some of the logs,” said Scull Construction Services Crew Foreman Richard Bickel.

He added that disassembling and reassembling the cabin carries its own risks. If the cabin were disassembled, the chances of the shaped logs warping and twisting increases substantially.

“Cabin construction is not like building with Lincoln Logs – once the logs are properly shaped and locked in, they don’t come apart and go back together again that easily,” Bickel said. “It’s much better for the logs and better for the cabin to build it on the permanent foundation.”

The location of that permanent foundation will be determined when site planning is completed for the presidential library grounds in February 2018.

The longevity of the cabin depends on starting on a solid foundation, both literally and financially.

“We are committed to being good stewards of the resources we have been given,” said TRPLF Board Chair Bruce Pitts. “The City of Dickinson has pledged funding for this project, and private donors have contributed. The ranchers of the Little Missouri River Valley have donated live trees for use in building it. If waiting until spring saves time, money, and is better for the cabin, then it’s only logical to take a more conservative approach in our timeline.”

During the winter months while the logs wait patiently for spring, fundraising continues for completing the Elkhorn Ranch Cabin replica while planning for the overall facility progresses rapidly under tight deadlines. More than half the money needed to complete the cabin has already been raised. To learn how you can help, click here.