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Field Program

[Image Description: Two MCC members taking a brief break; one is sitting on a rock, the other is standing nearby. They are both in their uniforms, looking out at the expansive, mountain view surrounding them.]

We Jacked Up a Cabin

A side view of the cabin with supports underneath it

Crew #2 of the Northern Rockies, typically the Spotted Bear Green Mountain Crew, was gifted a change of scenery for this last hitch. Not to be dramatic, but we may have just returned from the single coolest MCC project of all time. Our regularly scheduled programming of digging all day every day was interrupted by a historic restoration project. We showed up at Swift Dam trailhead on Monday as the sun was setting over the plains on the east side of the Bob. The 8-mile mule team was already camped there as well as our two foremen, Carlos and Caleb. The crew laid out a tarp and got a few hours of shuteye under the stars before an early start packing the mules the next morning. Those critters were hauling concrete, lumber, and tools, as well as our monstrous amount of food that always seems to run out on the last day.

We set out on the 16-mile walk to Sabido Cabin. It was a long and beautiful day. We arrived shortly before the team of 20 mules that were allowed to run free and get up to all kinds of mischief around the campsite. The next morning, the project commenced. The goal for the week was to get the 120-year-old cabin jacked up off of the ground. The cabin was originally built by Basque shepherds in 1903, attempting to make a life in what is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness. They ended up abandoning it due to the harsh winters, but the cabin remained. The cabin was used by hunters and hikers and later by the forest service. A heroic forest service employee in the 60s refused the directive of his superior to burn it down as was the practice with many of the old cabins fallen into disrepair at the time. Today, the cabin is sinking into the ground. Rotten sill logs, rotten floor joists, and a collapsing floor prompted Spotted Bear to allocate money and resources to get it brought up to snuff this summer.

To make this happen, much prep work had to happen. We spent time digging drainage trenches, digging out under the walls for jacking points, and shoring up the walls. We had to remove the existing flooring and joists, demolish the existing porch floor, and cut an immense amount of blocking for wall supports to be inserted during and after the jacking process. I have experience in construction, so gaining an appreciation for the painstakingly human speed that this kind of thing used to take was really special. When it was finally time for the cabin to come out of the mud, it was all hands on deck. Every man had his post and at the speed of about an inch per hour, we lifted that thing off the ground a quarter turn at a time.

We then removed the rotten logs, leaving four walls and a roof floating above the dirt floor that had previously been beneath the wooden floorboards. Now it was time to do the prep work for construction. Felling trees and stripping bark for new sill logs and joists. Building wooden forms with rebar for the new concrete footers. Taking homemade wooden stretchers down to the river to haul rocks for more column supports. A side project of digging a new outhouse hole. Everyone was busy. Between four different packer groups that came through with supplemental materials, we saw 40 different mules and horses in 9 days. Everyone had a really great time and felt a sense of accomplishment from working on such an impactful project. By the last day, we were exhausted and were ready for the 16-mile hike back out.