Can a city boy build his dream homestead on a mountain, by himself and with no mortgage?

a solitary man

Everytime I get back home to LA after working on my cabin, I end up being completely wiped out. Now it’s true, I AM over 40 (barely) and I’m not as spry as I used to be (so maybe I enjoy a beer or two now and then), but after a weekend working up on my mountain, my ass is grass.  At what point will my body just get used to all this manual labor?

I really need to get the front wall’s siding up and I’m still unemployed, so off to the lumber yard I go. I decided to use 1×6 spruce shiplap siding for the front wall. It’s more affordable than the cedar I dream about and really, I’m gonna stain the life out of it anyway. $124 to the grumpy old guy at Stock Building Supply and I’m on the freeway before noon.

The weather is spectacular and the air is clear as I hit 4000 feet on the mountain roads. It’s going to be a grand few days! First thing I do is start to clear all my supplies out of the cabin. Tools, stains, sawhorses, screws, nails, all of it. Getting in and out of the cabin is tough, there’s no steps and the door is 18″ off the ground. Could THIS be the source of my tired, aching legs and butt? I go in and out of this cabin constantly, heaving my manly frame up and back down over the threshold. I really need some steps.


I’ll build a stoop, a mini-deck so I can step gingerly onto it, then into the cabin! My sore glutes will be gone forever!

I have a good pile of 4×6, 4×4, and 2×6’s that I’m saving for the deck. I already have some Olympic solid stain in Autumn Brown that I bought, I can use this for the deck boards. Since the weather is blustery and I need to paint all 6 sides of each board, I decide to paint them first, before heading into town for supplies.

It takes an hour to paint all 15 deck boards and the 4×6 joists, then I head down the mountain to the local hardware store for Simpson connectors and concrete footing blocks.

$30 for connectors, blocks, a $10 dinner and 90 minutes later I’m back on the mountain.


I grade the area with a shovel and hard rake, lay the footings down, level them and pour some gravel around for stability. I put down some pressure-treated 4×4’s to keep the joists off the concrete (or they will rot). Check my level again, all is perfect!

I bought 4×4 Simpson connectors to attach the 4×6 joists to the 4×4’s. They are cheap (about 4$ each) and make the deck rock-solid stable.

The deck boards nail down and VOILA! A stoop is born.

Before I can put up the siding on the front wall, it needs to be stained with 2 coats and sealed on the back side (heeh heeh, he said “backside”). In this chill weather, I need 24 hours between each coat so I lay the siding out and stain away.

I notice that in the eaves over the large glass windows, there are 2 bird’s nests. Now I love all things feathered, fuzzy and furry but I’d prefer that critters not share my cabin with me. I’ll need to close in the eaves before the siding goes up. Back into town for some more lumber.

I decide to use 4×8 composite siding panels for the eaves. They’ll look more consistent next to the panels already installed, plus it will be simpler (and WAY cheaper) to install than tongue and groove pine boards. $60 for 2 4×8 sheets and I’m back.

I measure and cut the panels to fit under each eave, tomorrow I’ll paint the un-primed backs with semi-gloss trim paint in case water seeps in (I don’t want the composite fiberboard to warp).  I paint the back of the spruce siding with Olympic clear waterproof deck sealer.

Once this is dry to the touch, it will be 24 hours since the first stain coat and I’ll re-coat the spruce siding with more Olympic Oxford Brown Semi-Transparent stain. They look gorgeous!

Sun is setting, temps are dropping (already in the 40’s, brrrr!) time to head into the trailer for the night.


Morning is tough, I’m groggy and sore. I spill coffee grounds all over the trailer floor. The grey water tank is full, the battery is drained. Uhghh.

I cook up some sausages on French bread, mmmmm. The birds are singing, rabbits are hopping, sun is shining, I cheer up.

The eave panels install easily, if by easily you mean hanging them upside down, 12 feet in the air, dangling off a ladder (alone in the remote woods) holding a screw gun in the same hand as the panel. I slap some trim paint on everything and it looks pretty darn great!

I do the rear eave easily and it looks great as well!

In order to close in the side eaves I’ll have to install an inner surface to nail the panels onto. This will be a 2×12 laid horizontally across the roof supports and nailed onto the siding. I have no desire to do this. I’m tired, it’s hot and I wanna get home to a warm bath and my giant plasma screen TV.  I wuss out, clean up and take my tired butt back to LA.

Building this cabin by myself is teaching me several things…

#1, I really can do anything if i set my mind to it.

#2, The devil is in the details

#3, There are LOTS of details and…

#4  This is taking WAY longer than I ever imagined.

I started clearing and grading the land for this cabin last September. I need to be done with the darn thing by this September. Am I getting discouraged? No. I’m simply getting tired and although it’s beautiful up there, I get lonely all by myself. My mates all work during the week and can only come up for a day or two now and then. With a round trip costing over $120 in gas, I need to be practical.  I really need to spend at least 2-3 days there and get as much work done as possible. That kinda makes it difficult for my buds to join me.

Once the cabin is finished, there will be a comfy bed to rest my tired back (maybe even a 12-volt TV), but until then it’s just me, my unemployed aching bones, my dwindling pile of pennies and a dream that just doesn’t seem to die.

Viva la Cabin

E. aka UrbanRancher

10 responses

  1. Don’t feel bad, it’s taking us forever to finish our tiny house, too! It’s exciting to see your progress.

    May 3, 2010 at 7:14 pm

  2. Thanks April, btw, I LOVE your blog! Next time I’m in Idaho, I’ll def drop by the restaurant…it looks wonderful!

    May 4, 2010 at 9:37 am

  3. Dave

    I’ve been following your blog for awhile – I really like the design and you’ve done a great job of detailing every aspect of the construction process. I have some land in Yucca Valley-I’d like to build something similar to your cabin. Did you go without permits and stay to a size that wouldn’t get noticed by the building department?

    May 5, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    • I camp out in Yucca Valley whenever I can, I’m a big fan of Joshua Tree as well. There’s some great land out there!

      I’ve been very careful to avoid any problems with the county. I’ve spoken to my building dept and I keep copies of all the local regulations. They do not require a permit for any structures of 120 sq ft or less as long as they’re not connected to any utilities or have any plumbing. The cabin is designed to stay within the letter of the law at exactly 10’x12′. I plan to eventually build a slightly larger, permitted building with a kitchen and bathroom, the cabin will then simply become the bedroom.

      May 5, 2010 at 10:24 pm

  4. I’ve been reading the blog for awhile also. It’s really starting to look good. love that front stoop idea. Better than just small steps.

    May 5, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    • thanks RD, I’m going to expand the deck across the front of the cabin this weekend

      May 6, 2010 at 9:38 am

  5. John

    As added motivation, it is blogs like yours that keep those of us that can’t yet start building motivated to keep saving the pennies. The cabin looks great! You have done a really good job. Thanks!

    May 6, 2010 at 5:30 am

    • thank you for the encouragement John,

      One thing that has helped me move along (in addition to saving my pennies in a big jar) is to squirrel away free materials whenever I find them. I have another large (free) window/wall in storage, also a pile of free lumber (covered with breathable tarps). Whenever I find free wood, I add to the pile. Most of the upcoming wrap-around deck will be built with free lumber, the rest will make a lovely fire in the upcoming outdoor fireplace!

      So far I’m in for about $3200, less than HALF of what the local shed companies charge for a 10×12 with my upgrades! I’ll post my budget soon. Since I did all the work myself, it was fairly cheap to get the building up and sheathed. Much cash has been spent on upgraded materials and finish work (metal roofing, fancy door, shiplap siding).

      May 6, 2010 at 9:52 am

  6. DG

    Looking good, I’m in a similar situation. I have been using 20×20 Carport Kits, pouring a 4″ slab, framing them in and adding electrical. Do it all myself, saves on labor and keeps me in shape.

    I have been unemployed and underemployed for the last 2 years in a Suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico USA. Shooting out resumes and lame networking is not working anymore. Time for Plan B.

    December 2, 2010 at 12:26 am

  7. Pingback: WordPress gives us an end of year “Wow”! « UrbanRancher's Blog

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