My 1992 year end letter where I write about living in a leaky trailer with no electricity or running water while trying to build a cabin in rural Oregon.
Dear Friends and Family:
At the beginning of the year I moved from a four-bedroom town house on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to a trailer in the boondocks of Oregon that’s sitting on land I now own. The trailer has no electricity and the only running water is what pours in through leaks in the roof.
Considering the leaks, the trailer wasn’t in bad shape when I arrived. A few days of vigorous scrubbing with Pinesol and liberal doses of Love My Carpet® room deodorizer, scent #4–wildflowers, and, if you have a good head cold, you might not notice the sell of mildew.
I bought the trailer for $1,000 last fall before I went back to D.C. to settle my affairs and pack. The man I bought it from used the money for a much-needed operation and he died on the operating table, so I really can’t complain.
In one of the drawers I found what must have been the promo for the trailer in the first place. It showed a young couple wearing polyester and platform shoes. Consequently a friend gave me as a trailer-warming gift a pair of her old maroon platform shoes from the 1970s. They now hang on my front window.
At night by lantern light I read lots of diaries and journals of pioneers and homesteaders for my work as a naturalist with the Forest Service and I try to console myself that my situation could be a lot worse. For instance, I could be sharing a wagon with nine kids. Instead, I’m sharing my trailer with two kittens, Nate and Kate, and a mouse.
In the spring I began hand digging the 150 feet of line I will need for my septic field. By summer I began to view this as the greatest trenching project since World War I. After one particularly exhausting day I heard the mouse rattling about 2:00 am. When the useless kittens gave chase she ran across the floor with a mousetrap pinned to her tail and a super absorbent tampon clenched in her mouth. She got through the pet door before I could give her the pamphlet about toxic shock syndrome. I had been unsuccessful using the tampons to block leaks in the roof.
I had planned on starting to build a cabin as soon as I arrived, but I’ve had a series of setbacks. In order to get a construction loan I need water. I drilled two wells and hit salt water both times. The driller believes that the water is fresh, but is flowing through a salt dome before getting to my property. Consequently I bought an adjacent acre with a different slope, but now I’m broke and can’t afford to drill another well. Fortunately there’s a creek flowing through my new acre, so I can get water from that. Unfortunately, the creek is down hill so I need a pump to get the water and I don’t have electricity to run a pump. The power company won’t hook me up until I have a building permit and I can’t get a building permit until I get a construction loan and I can’t get a construction loan until I have water. The homesteaders had it easy.
At least my trip across the country was much easier than theirs. It’s estimated that nine out of ten women who traveled the Oregon Trail either got pregnant or gave birth or lost a child on the way.
A friend of mine, Sheila, flew out from Oregon to do the trip with me. “We’ll bowl and cross country ski across America,” I said as enticement.
U-haul’s slogan is “Adventures in Moving.” That’s why I went with a Big Yellow Ryder Truck. Who wants an adventure when you’re driving a strange vehicle the size of a small whale?
Our first night out found us lost in the hills of West Virginia.
“We’re lost,” I said to a man.
“Could you direct us to Route 654?
“Where ya headed?”
“OK. Franklin’s that way,” he said pointing up the road.
“Franklin? Is that on Route 654?”
“Don’t know. It’s the only other town I know about.”
“Does Franklin have any bowling alleys? We’re bowling across America,” I said
“No bowling alleys. Lots of churches. Don’t drink alcohol in your hotel room if you plan on spending the night there.”
Kentucky’s roads were lined on one side with beautiful stonewalls built by slaves, and on the other with fencing made by Sears. We looked in vain for the site of what is claimed to be the first gun battle between the U.S. and space aliens.
We figured Indiana would be one of the states we’d bowl in, not ski, but then for about 100 miles we kept seeing signs that read: “Ski the Peaks of Paoli, Indiana.” We thought it was a joke. We reached Paoli on a sunny balmy day and about 10 miles out of town there was a blip on the flat landscape: the Peaks of Indiana! I actually had to put the truck into low gear to get to the top. When we reached the clubhouse Sheila and I wondered if we dared to enter. Afterall, these were probably the beautiful people of Indiana. Were we fashionably enough dressed? Did we eat enough white bread at lunch? People were skiing on artificial snow down a hill into neatly plowed fields where Holsteins grazed. No one was selling “Ski Indiana” T-shirts with a cow skiing while wearing spandex. What a wasted marketing opportunity.
In Colorado and Utah we did some great skiing, but we both agreed it wasn’t like skiing in Indiana.
In American Falls, Idaho, we created the travel maxim: “Never stay in a hotel that advertises it has carpeting.” Hotels routinely advertised that they had cable TV or Direct Dial Phones, but this was the first place we saw that advertised it had carpeting. And that was about all it had–all that is except a huge hole in the wall through which we could hear the TV in the adjoining room better than the one in our own.
When we reached Oregon, a mere 400 miles from the coast, I read a sign about the Oregon Tail that said, “Wagon Train Pioneers usually found the last 400 miles to be the hardest.” I guess they too must have had rental agreements on their trucks and were trying to get to their final destinations before they had to start paying penalty fees.
By the time we reached Newport, Sheila and I were exhausted, and we still had to unload the truck. In theory the truck only held 650 cubic-feet of stuff, but I somehow must have crammed 1,300 cubic-feet of stuff in it because my storage unit holds 1,200 cubic feet and I had 100 cubic-feet left over, including my beloved couch.
We drove around with it for a few hours trying to find somebody who’d act as a foster parent. It’s now residing in my friend Kyleen’s barn.
Here’s hoping you and yours are well and you have a great year.