A few weeks ago, I went to a local discount store called Ollie’s with my wife and mother-in-law. This is the kind place that has a wide selection of junk, overstock items from other stores, some damaged things, some cheap things, and so forth. You can find some good bargains if they happen to have something you need that day and you have the patience to look through it all.
Within a few minutes, I had already made it through all the tools and garden items and taken a quick look through the rest of the store. My wife and mother-in-law were still about half way down the first aisle. They are both the type to pick up every item, turn it over, look at it, put it down, discuss it, pick it up again, look at it, then maybe move to the next item. I can’t get them out until they have physically touched every item on every shelf in the store. That means I was done but still had about two hours to wait before we could leave.
Lucky for me, the store also has a book section, so that’s where I spent my time. I brought several books home. One of them is Log Cabins: How to Build and Furnish Them by William S. Wicks, originally published sometime around the turn of the last century. Mr. Wicks was the Buffalo Parks Commissioner from 1897 to 1900 and he died in 1919.
Even though it is billed as a how-to manual, you will not be able to build a log cabin following instructions in this book. Still, I highly recommend it for a couple of reasons.
Like many really old books of this nature, it gives very general statements on how to do something without getting into step-by-step details.
The book starts out with site selection, then covers building walls, joists, floors, and roofs. These chapters are several pages long and give some level of discussion on these topics, but far from enough to actually accomplish the construction. The next chapters discuss interior partition walls, chimneys, fireplaces, windows doors and so forth. These chapters drop to about one page or even less each. You definitely will not find the step-by-step directions that will help you accomplish these tasks. Finally, the book closes with a number of furnishings and a series of pictures.
The lack of specificity is actually what I enjoyed about this book, and what I like about most books of this vintage. Modern how-to books usually go into excruciating detail on every step of every process, because authors seem to assume that their audience knows nothing (and they are usually right). A hundred years ago, an author would give instructions like: “just take one these, and grab a couple of those things over there, put them together with a what-cha-ma-call-it joint, and look – a finished chair.”
The reason they could write this way then is that people actually had some basic skills and knew how to do things. Comparing this book to modern how-to books really gives you a sort of commentary on differences in people then and now. It is a statement on how far we have come (in the wrong direction) on self-sufficiency.
The other thing I like about it is that it just gives some insight into the way the old-timers thought. In this book, Mr. Wicks talks about building a temporary shelter to live in while one built the main cabin. It was just a normal course of action, as if everyone then would do it that way rather than find a place to rent or demand a house ready to move into when they arrived.
Pick up a copy of Log Cabins: How to Build and Furnish Them and give it a read. You won’t actually learn how to build your cabin, but I think you will enjoy seeing how people thought and did things a hundred years ago.
Now leave a comment. Has anyone read this book? Do you enjoy reading this kind of old books?