Dream of building a log cabin? Voluntourism might be the answer
Have you ever wanted to build a log cabin? HistoriCorps volunteers are living that log cabin dream at Brolliar Park Cabin in the Coconino National Forest. Voluntourism, which is a term for using vacation days to volunteer in faraway places, is helping people live their dreams while giving back to meaningful causes. In this case, volunteers are helping preserve an historic log cabin on the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona.
Here’s how it works…
HistoriCorps provides opportunities for voluntourism
HistoriCorps, a non-profit organization, provides volunteers like you opportunities to save and sustain historic places on public lands. Historical sites like Brolliar Park Cabin where volunteers of all skill levels – you don’t need to know a thing about log cabin building – are helping save pioneer log homes and other historic structures.
HistoriCorps field staff work with you to learn preservation skills and put those skills to work saving historical places such as Brolliar Cabin that have fallen into disrepair. I decided to visit the Brolliar Park Cabin project site to learn more about this unique way to see off-the-beaten-path places and travel inexpensively.
You see, I recently learned that HistoriCorps provides all meals, tools, training, and equipment for volunteers who afterward, return home with a real sense of accomplishment.
Log Cabin Building the Old-Fashioned Way
The crew is hoping to start the roof the day that I arrive, but they are still putting up part of the gable and placing round-log roof beams. They move the hand-scribed logs the old-fashioned way – with rope hoists and wooden handle timber carriers, which make moving heavy logs a manageable, two-person job.
What I learned at Brolliar Park Cabin …
Tall stands of mature Ponderosa pine trees line the grassy meadow called Brolliar Park. Under their shade on the dry forest floor, large stumps stand as evidence of logging days of the late 1800s. The Brolliar Park Cabin was built after the early logging era, although the historic cabin has sat in this serene setting for more than 100 years.
HistoriCorps Brolliar Park Cabin Project
The west gable of the Brolliar Park Cabin was removed because the old logs were deteriorating from the southwestern exposure to the scorching Arizona sun. The historic log cabin seemed to be “melting away,” as can be seen in the photo above. The gable was reconstructed from Ponderosa pine logs harvested within 200 yards of the cabin and also from pieces of the original purlins that were no longer viable but had portions that could be reused in the shorter gable sections.
“My pry bar just ran out of juice,” announces Patrick Kennedy, Building Supervisor of the HistoriCorps project. He’s near the top of the roofless cabin trying to pry a log beam into its resting place, a notch cut on the top of the gable log. Workers on the inside of the log house hoist ropes that roll the round beam upwards.
Kennedy oversees volunteers that staff HistoriCorps, the nonprofit that provides volunteers hands-on experience preserving historic structures on public lands. I’m impressed by how well the team communicates to each other over the noise of the wind at the historic log house. For work safety reasons, they announce a toss of a rope or the start of a log lift.
Today’s Brolliar Cabin volunteer crew came together from Minneapolis, Minnesota; Jacksonville, Florida; Salina, Utah; and Flagstaff, Mesa and Prescott, Arizona, to help preserve the historic log cabin. Volunteers come in for a week at a time, and after their week is done, a fresh crew arrives. I’ve caught these folk on the fourth week of a four-week project, and they only have two more days to finish up and get the roof on.
Voluntourism after Retirement
“Volunteering after you retire – that’s what it’s all about,” says voluntourism champion Jane Jackson of Flagstaff. Three summers ago, the boomer volunteered at her first HistoriCorps project. That was at Palace Station stage stop on the Senator Highway near Prescott, AZ. She’s been back with HistoriCorps every summer since.
David Brolliar Used Non-Traditional Log Construction
The first thing that you may note about the Brolliar Park Cabin is its non-traditional construction. Most traditional log home construction alternates butts (the widest part of the log) and heads or tips (the narrowest part of the trunk) along each wall. In this log cabin building method, the direction of each log is rotated, as logs are layered to keep the wall roughly level. That log cabin building method is shown below in a replica of a cabin at Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania.
If you look closely at the photo of the Brolliar Park Cabin below, you can see that homesteader David Brolliar did not alternate the butts and heads of the logs as he layered up his log home. Instead, on each wall of logs, he laid butts in the same direction. To compensate for the uneven heights, he then set logs from the adjoining wall in the opposite direction. At the corner, the end of the wall with the widest part of the logs meets the narrow ends of logs of the adjacent wall.
Fat corner, skinny corner
“There’s a fat corner, skinny corner – it works a bit,” says Patrick, who traveled from Monterey, KY, to supervise this project in the Coconino National Forest. He’s been with HistoriCorps since 2012 and working with various log cabin building methods since the 1970s.
Al Osberg is the HistoriCorps crew leader.
Another Example of Brolliar's Non-Traditional Log Cabin Building Method
It seems that other log cabins in the region used this non-traditional log cabin building method as seen in the photo above of the John Hance Cabin located at the top of the Grand Canyon. The Hance Trail at the Grand Canyon is only 126 miles from the Brolliar Park Cabin near Mormon Lake.
Interestingly, Brolliar professed to be an associate of John Hance in a news article in the Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) in November 1919 edition.
Dave Brolliar, who had just caught up with his work on his ranch south of Mormon Lake and could thus spare time to come in for supplies, told Alf Dickinson at the Pine hotel on Friday: “Me and old man Hance [John Hance] is responsible for most of the scenery hereabouts. He dug the Grand Canyon, and I wheeled the dirt out on a wheelbarrow and made the San Francisco Peaks. (1)
Shortly after the American Civil War, the pioneer cattleman David Brolliar was born in Dubuque, Iowa; it was 1867. (2)
His parents are said to be of Amish heritage, which is confusing when you look at the French spelling of the family surname. Digging deeper into genealogy, I learned that his ancestors did indeed come from France – the Alsace region – about 100 years before David was born. Sadly, the couple who brought their young French family to the New World around 1769 died of Yellow Fever contracted in Jamaica en route. Consequently, at the voyage’s end in Philadelphia, city leaders took in the orphaned children. “It is believed that the children were then bound out to farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.” (3) Lancaster County is, of course, Amish country.
The story gets better…
Right Out of a Zane Grey Novel
David Brolliar lived in corn country until he was a teenager, and then, after his parents’ deaths, another generation of orphans (David and younger brother, Bert) left for the Arizona Territory to be with their older sister. The siblings lived in Stoneman Lake, south of Flagstaff, and later David became a skilled horseman, catching and training wild horses, and selling horses to the Army and markets back East. His life seems right out of a Zane Gray novel as the horse trader was even charged with possession of a horse “of disputed ownership.” Charges were dropped. (4)
Finally, in his early forties, cowboy Brolliar must have been ready to settle down because in 1910 he applied for a homesteading permit on a tract of land now called Brolliar Park. Brolliar Park is south of and about a 75-minute drive from Flagstaff, AZ. Unless you drive like my husband.
Brolliar completed building his log house in 1911. By 1914, he was growing oats, barley and potatoes on 23 acres as prescribed by the homesteading laws. Within three years, 138 head of cattle grazed in the park, and 50 acres were under cultivation with hay added to the mix of crops. After struggles with red tape, the government awarded ownership of the 158.42-acre property to Brollier in 1920. A barn with horse sheds, a chicken house, a box house and corral were reported as part of the property. (5)
The Pioneer Cattleman, a lifelong bachelor, died in 1938. His homestead is now part of the Coconino National Forest. (6)
Meanwhile back at the ranch today…
'Brolliar was not as picky as we were'
“We scribed the notches off the logs,” Patrick describes the prep work on the new, replacement logs. “Brolliar was not as picky as we were. In preservation work, you differentiate your work from that of the original. That way, people in the future can tell the different building phases.”
“We’re not restoring the cabin to its original construction. What we are doing is preserving it the best we can,” explains the log construction expert. The crew used the same log cabin building method – saddle notch cornering – as David Brolliar did back in 1911.
“We’ll add a magic preservative that sort of ages the new wood. It takes the pop off of the new wood. We used it in Kentucky for covered bridges,” Patrick reveals. “I hope to get the roof on tomorrow if it’s not too windy.”
I sit for a spell at David Brolliar’s horse corral and talk with Joy Smith, the volunteer kitchen helper. “Right in the middle of the doorway, I found a piece of china with a rose on it. They said it was pretty fancy for Brolliar. Why would someone bring china out here?” Joy asks, looking out across the vast meadow surrounded by hundreds of acres of Ponderosa pine trees. Joy gave the historic artifact to Flagstaff Ranger District Archaeologist Jeremy Haines and showed him exactly where she found it.
Why is that important?
Artifacts make up the cultural context of an historic site and tell the story of those who have gone before us. Moving the artifact or relic disrupts the story, and so it is crucial to leave found objects in their place. It would be like removing evidence or clues from a crime scene. Besides that, removing artifacts fifty years old or older from state and federal lands is illegal, so please respect our historic sites.
Where is Brolliar Park Cabin?
Brolliar Park Cabin, located 75 minutes from Flagstaff, AZ, is south of Mormon Lake in the Coconino National Forest.
Here’s how to do it yourself…
Here’s how to do a volunteer vacation yourself… OK, so if it’s like the voluntourism stints I’ve done in Tanzania and around Arizona, it’s not really a “vacation” as such. I’ll let the HistoriCorps website explain:
“No prior experience is required. HistoriCorps will provide all meals, tools, training, and equipment for volunteers on this project. Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation to and from the lodging site. If a project requires a commute, we will plan to carpool to and from the job site. … HistoriCorps does not charge for its volunteering projects.”
The next HistoriCorps volunteerism project takes place at the Pinedale Ranger Station in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest later this month. Anyone interested in helping out may register as a volunteer at https://historicorps.org/pinedale-rs-az-2019 for this volunteer vacation experience.
About HistoriCorps: HistoriCorps, founded in 2009, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides volunteers of all skill levels with a hands-on experience preserving historic structures for public benefit across America. Volunteers work with HistoriCorps’ seasoned professionals to learn preservation skills and put those skills into practice to save historic places. HistoriCorps works to ensure America’s cultural and historical resources will be enjoyed by generations to come.
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Wittig is an Arizona travel writer who encourages all – solo, female or boomer travelers – to live their dreams while exploring the world. Make your next adventure “UNSTOPPABLE” no matter what your budget by exploring more of Stacey’s travel tips.
(1) Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) November 7, 1919 edition, p. 3.
(2) Haines, Jeremy, and Stein, Pat; THE BROLLIAR PARK CABIN PRESERVATION PROJECT: CNF Report 2019-11A, 04/04/2019, p. 3.
(4) Haines and Stein, pp.4-6
(5) Ibid., p.11
(6) Ibid., p.12
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