I met Glen Trayer in the fall of 2008. We were engaged in January of 2010 and decided to look for land in the Northwest.
In March we put an offer on a piece of property in northern Idaho. It was tucked back in enough that the realtor expressed concern. He said, “It would take special people to want to live in such a place.” To this day I think it is safe to say he still thinks of us as “special.”
Glen and I learned early in life to take advantage of opportunities and enjoy the good things in life. When something comes to mind we don’t waste any time making those thoughts a reality. We left many people shaking their heads and placing bets in the rural Pennsylvania farming community in which we resided. We were living on a 150-acre farm at the bottom of a 2-mile long lane, surrounded by cornfields with a river running not 200 yards off of our front porch and at the foot of a beautiful mountain.
We had both grown up on farms and this was a beautiful location, but we wanted something more.
Glen had traveled as a professional bull rider for 11 years, worked in Cody, Wyoming, guiding pack trips into the wild backcountry and guided hunts in Saratoga, Wyoming. He knew his heart’s desire.
My dreams were the same. Having experienced the traditional farming lifestyle, I yearned to share a more remote version with my son, Austin. The wide-open space of the farm had helped his high functioning autism and given him a place he felt comfortable enough to venture out of his autistic shell.
On April 4th we gathered in front of our families on the farm where Glen was raised. We celebrated Easter Sunday, his 30th birthday, and we wed.
On April 12th we closed on our property sight unseen in the northern Idaho wilderness. We may move fast, but we do our research and were relentless in making sure everything was in order.
On May 1st we held a reception to celebrate our wedding and to say farewell to all of our friends and family. On May 16th we pulled out. Glen, his cousin Jonathan, along with the two dogs, were packed tight in the GMC, pulling a heavily loaded down 24-foot gooseneck trailer. Austin and I along with Mr. Bear, his hamster, were nestled in the loaded 26-foot U-Haul. Five days later we arrived.
WAY OFF GRID
We met up with our realtors for the guided tour back to our property for the first time. The disbelief was written on their faces. They just couldn’t believe we intended to stay on our property so primitively while we built our home. Asking us one last time, they said, “Are you sure about this? Remember there are no power, water or phone lines!” To us it was the perfect overgrown wilderness home.
Our land was better than we could have ever expected. Our goal was to live off-grid as traditionally and as self-reliantly as possible with horses, chickens, a greenhouse, an orchard and bees, utilizing the land, plants and resources around us.
We backed the trailer onto our land, detached the truck and had dinner. Our first night we slept in the back of the trailer with temperatures in the chilly 30’s.
Our 8′ x 14′ canvas wall tent was erected and would remain our temporary lodging until our home was built. The woodstove was much appreciated, making our tent cozy and warm. The coyotes were music to our ears and sang us to sleep every night.
On day four we picked up the backhoe to dig our footers, septic holes and hole for our satellite internet. I am a bit of an oxymoron. I am a pioneer, living traditionally off-grid and I own my own web design business. The benefits are that I can work anywhere there is an internet connection. I may not be able to leave my property in every season, but I will be able to provide an income for my family.
Glen is a master craftsman and has a brilliant mechanical mind. He put his traditional furniture and blacksmithing business, Rocking GT Designs, on hold until our building projects were complete. His chainsaw went to work immediately as he cleared our building lot and Austin assisted in the construction of the outhouse.
Although cooking on an open fire would have been nice, there were too many responsibilities so our grill with a side burner worked great for quick, but healthy meals and the necessary coffee. The food was unpacked in the mess tent and a tarp was placed over the cooking area because northern Idaho is known for its rainy spring season. We built the shower house, which has now become the trapping shed.
We had already purchased a 375-gallon square water tank and two 55-gallon drums and they were waiting for us. We would drive into the closest town 20 minutes away and fill up the drums and about 15 or so gallon jugs for drinking. Because the yard was so muddy, Glen had to build a wooden sled to pull the water drums up to the catapult he created to gravity-feed water into the square tank that we used for showering and washing dishes.
We adapted immediately to the primitive living. It was hard work, but gratifying and we knew that our future home and lifestyle would be our reward. We worked hard, but we played the same way, enjoying our wilderness surroundings. What we considered play most people would consider work, like building our split rail fence from trees on the property.
My home office moved with the weather and my power was the portable solar, the truck or the generator. Glen was the mechanical building mastermind and heavyweight and I was the researcher, organizer, materials locator, pickup woman and the extra set of hands. Austin was maturing and learning many new skills as well as helping wherever we needed him. Our blue heeler was security.
As soon as the weather eased up we started to work on our home. It is a glorified pole barn—100 percent steel, both roof and sides and has a loft and basement. We did everything ourselves except for drilling the well and hauling the septic tank.
The roof was the most grueling part of the project. After the trusses and purlins were in place, Glen engineered a contraption to pull the plywood up to it. A friend helped and the plywood was secured. To beat the rain, Glen laid tarpaper by the light of the moon while wearing a head lamp. Then we started putting down the steel roof. I punched, clamped it and guided it while he pulled the steel to the roof.
In October Glen’s parents paid us a visit. Glenna helped by picking up the last of the building supplies, and I ordered all the lumber and insulation to be delivered before our road became impassable. Dennis helped with the high steel, soffit and doors. We raced against the elements.
Glen designed and installed the rotating solar panels just in time—snow arrived on October 25th. We built our utility room to put the solar components in place, house batteries and our water tank. We worked feverishly on the house to get the second floor beams and flooring into place and the septic lines run so the utility room could be completed. Glen completed the wiring, flipped the switch and we were officially running off-grid. The last component was getting the woodstove in place.
Meanwhile camp living got tricky. Our eggs were bouncing off the frying pan and the canned food was frozen solid. While we worked on the house, Austin was responsible for making sure the fire in the tent was fed throughout the day, enough firewood was in the tent and enough was chopped and waiting. The tent remained warm, but the cold days working outside wreaked havoc on our bodies.
HOME AT LAST
On December 11th, 2010—with a foot of snow on the ground—Austin received the best birthday present ever. We moved into our home; a 30′ x 36′ open loft with a plywood floor, several oil lanterns and a woodstove. Our home was perfect and to us a simple pleasure. Glen was now able to relax. Electric lines, water lines and the cosmetic work that lay ahead were simple tasks compared to meeting our winter deadline for getting into the house.
Our first winter we were pleasantly stuck in our wilderness home for 8 1/2 weeks before we could drive out except for an occasional hike or snowshoeing trek into town. The interior still requires cosmetic work, but it’s taken more time than we thought to build a woodshed, a smokehouse, a chicken coop, and manufacture a sawmill so we could put up a log cabin last summer. We badly needed a place to house family and friends.
4 ½-WEEK CABIN
When we realized that we needed a guest cabin we thought it only fitting to raise a log cabin. We were intrigued by some of the square cut log cabins. Our dead standing timber was a real bonus, eliminating the concern about log shrinkage with green timber and avoiding the lengthy time necessary to dry the timber.
We decided the cabin would be 20′ x 15′ with a small temporary porch at the front door. Next year we will build a full 20′ x 8′ porch. There are two large windows centered one on either side of the door and one centered in the back wall of the cabin. A loft will be added in the future.
Because of all the other projects we had scheduled to complete during the summer, we had a mere 4 1/2 weeks to build our cabin. Family and friends showed up to help and make it happen. I quickly learned how to cook for an army as our wilderness crew grew.
We replaced the old foundation posts where a structure once stood on our property with nine new concrete pillars enforced with rebar. The sills were drilled and placed over the 6-inch steel posts extending from each pillar to help hold them in place.
We felled, skidded, carried and rolled many dead trees, then individually placed them on the sawmill with the can hook and digging bar. Using the square cut logs makes for a very tight fitting structure. Glen focused on using as much of a tree with as little waste as possible. The floorboards also came from the dead timber.
The sills were notched so the 2-inch floorboards would rest directly on them. When the next layer of wall logs was put in place they would secure the floor, making it even more stable. The floorboards were shiplapped together, making the floor neat and as air tight as possible.
Next we placed each wall log precisely to give a tight fit. We used sub-floor adhesive between each log to aid in insulating the cabin and keep everything air tight and drove steel spikes into each log as it was placed to keep it from moving.
The last wall log put in place supported the rafters. A vertical beam was placed in the center of the cabin with a horizontal log that was run into the last wall logs on the gable sides. The gable ends were built up in a taper to support the ridgepole.
One vertical post was placed on the center beam to support the ridgepole and the 6″ x 6″ rafters. The peak ends of the rafters were cut at an angle to butt snugly up against the horizontal ridgepole. One-inch thick horizontal boards were run across the rafters. We laid tar paper and put down a forest green steel roof to eliminate maintenance and to blend nicely into the tall timbers. Three and a half weeks after we started, we finished the cabin, just in time for hunting season and guests.
The only expenses we had building it were some nails, concrete, steel for the spikes, which we already had, a window, sub-floor adhesive, fuel for the sawmill, and tar paper, steel and screws for the roof.
GIVEN A GIFT
We have found our way of life to be a tremendous help to our son, eliminating most of the challenges that made life stressful for him and us. Before we moved here Austin experienced auditory delays that affected his ability to communicate, he had problems with fine and gross motor skills and his surroundings over-stimulated him. Since we moved here, he has overcome 98 percent of those struggles. To read more about autism and the things we did to help Austin, visit spectrumkidsandtheoutdoors.com. Pay the Trayers an e-visit at givenagift.com.