Why Small Houses Matter

In 1977 my wife Marcia and I were in our twenties. We had just brought Lincoln into the world.  He was two. We lived in a $1,000 used mobile home on a 5 acre south-facing,  piece of peace on the coast of Maine that we bought from Carol Frost for $4,500. He wanted the money to buy himself a brand new Honda 750 motorcycle. My friend Steve Horton knew Carol and encouraged me to move on the deal.

The trailer was in rough shape.  When we turned on the feed from our dug well the water lines took on the form of a sprinkler system because whoever used the trailer last ( We moved it here from Owls Head) never drained the pipes, which had burst when they froze. I replaced most of the the copper pipes myself. It was not a big place to live, and although the oil fired hot air heating system kept us warm enough, by the end of that winter more than an inch of ice had formed on the inside of the aluminum door that was in our bedroom.  The three of us had to do something.

Enter Pat and Patsy Hennin and the Shelter institute. I drove down there once a week, on Wednesday nights, for several months and learned how to build, in theory.  Then Marcia and I signed up for the design option and we hand drew one sheet of  plans to build a 20 x 30 post and beam house.  I had a small 16” bar Stihl chain saw that I used to cut down a few of dozen tall, straight trees that were part of the land here- big oak trees. I was scared they would fall on me, but somehow pulled it off, as you do when you are full of hope and energy when you are young.   This was before the Hazens moved in up the street.  Alan Davis was living in that house alone, after his wife divorced him. He was going downhill fast and close to  freezing to death. He owned a big old John Deere tractor, and volunteered to haul up the logs to the side of High Street for a case of beer.  We did it in one day.

Basil Pearse still had his sawmill going in Searsmont at the time, and drove down and picked up the logs and milled them out in his tiny sawmill next to Sprowl Lumber.  I had no idea how it was done, but figured if I cut roman numerals into the butts of the logs with the chain saw and gave Basil a piece of paper with what lengths and what dimensions would come out each numbered log it would work.  It did, and a week later Basil dumped a big pile of green oak 6 x 6’s, 6x 8’s, and even a couple of 7 x 9’s by the road.  He handed me a handwritten bill for $140 dollars and my oak frame post and beam saltbox was ready to be put up.

I had my grandfather’s 1940 John Deere L tractor then.  My parents gave it to me, as they were no longer farming in Massachusetts and it still had a bit of life left in it, at least enough to hook a chain to the back of it and drag the timbers down the hill into place.  My friend Lock and a real carpenter named Jay Leach worked with me that busy summer of 1978 to build the house. I worked day and night.   Basil Pearse also sold me sheathing, rafters, and the flooring.  I pried a few choice 24” pine boards out of the pile to floor our upstairs bedroom.  We are still here. Lincoln’s in Montana.  P1050104

I still remember what Pat Henin told me- “People who build small houses can afford to relax.”  I continue to be totally happy with our smaller house.  It is pure 1978 technology, and stays warm on 2 cords of wood a year.  The water is clean and steady from the 10’ deep dug well.  It’s easy to have a great vegetable garden, and this year I decided to start cutting and hauling my own firewood.

Small buildings are coming up out west, too.   I spent the night and resupplied in Dubois, Wyoming this summer on my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.

Ready to hitch back to the trail in Dubois

Ready to hitch back to the trail in Dubois

The town was first settled in the late 1800’s, more than 100 years after people were carving out an existence here on High Street in Lincolnville. Dubois is nestled in a valley between the Absaroka and Wind River mountain ranges. The Wind River meanders peacefully through town.

Look what they are doing in Dubois-  Frontier Tiny Homes !

Tie-Hack Fort

Tie-Hack Fort

I love it, and encourage any one who is thinking about a home to consider going small.

Marcia and I also have a tiny camp on Hobbs Pond nearby in Hope that she found advertised for sale in Uncle Henry’s.

Uncle Tom's cabin
Uncle Tom’s cabin

I think small houses are the best. Marcia is a big fan of tiny houses.

I have fantasies about cutting way back and living in our 328 square foot camp instead of this bigger house here.  Who knows what will happen?  It’s hopeful to live small.

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About tjamrog

I'm sixty-seven and live in the Maine woods. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, Vermont's Long Trail in 2011, and the Continental Divide Trail in 2013 . I am outdoors every day. I offer guided backpacking trips and classes in Maine, through "Uncle Tom's Guided Adventures".
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5 Responses to Why Small Houses Matter

  1. I loved this.

    I have got a bit of travelling ahead of me, but some day I want to come back to Maine and get a year-round camp.

    Joe

    PS “Uncle Tom’s Cabin?”. – too cute by half.

  2. Craig Bubba says:

    Good Stuff, impressive story! Check out Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka, she is an architect and used to write an article for Fine Homebuilding back in the day. I’m thinking my next house needs to be smaller too!

  3. Guthook says:

    Some day, some day, I hope to do something similar. I always love living in places that are just big enough, because as any through-hiker knows, you don’t need much to live happily. You’ve got it figured out pretty well, Tom!

  4. Carol gouett says:

    My name is carol hennin. My father was Alphonso son of Benjamin hennin. He had three brothers and a sister . They grew up in Windsor ontario. I am trying to do a family tree but historical data is sketchy. Any info you could share would be appreciated

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