After we got the roof on the house with the help of all of our friends, the sun came out and we had very little rain after that. We still had lots of mud that eventually turned to fine dust in our yard. The problem of washing clothes and keeping clean was a big challenge.
But first we built a greenhouse out of old horse barn material that Bob and JT salvaged. They bent rebar over the top and covered it with Visqueen that made it look like an old covered wagon going across the Alaska prairie.
Bob and JT, you see, had quite the knack of taking an old horse barn and turn it into an almost livable greenhouse. Bob placed a piece of linoleum on the well worn splintery wood floor. He installed a radio-stereo system and we put his recliner in there, which I call his Velcro Chair. (Once he is in it – he cannot get out!) We spent hours in the warm sunny greenhouse the first year, listening to music and planning the next phase of building our little house (water and electricity.)
The greenhouse eventually turned into a storage area with just room enough for a few tomatoes to grow. It met its sad demise after about 12 years, by marauding bears, looking for who knows what, who pawed, scratched and tore the Visqueen to pieces, leaving our stored goodies exposed to the elements. They even, for some reason, completely demolished the flower beds in front that Bob had made out of rough pine slabs.
He had added a deck in front of the greenhouse, and built a place to grow flowers around the edge. At one time, we had a hot tub on the deck that provided hours and hours of relaxation for both of us plus neighbors and relatives. The hot tub was the old kind that was built out of cedar slabs with stays around it to hold it together. The heating element was a small wood burning stove that sat right in the water and heated up our “spa.” The biggest problem with the hot tub was that it took about a half cord of wood to heat the cold, cold water that came out of the lake. We spent most of the day shoving wood into the little stove to heat up the water so we could have a relaxing late evening. We deserved it! All that went by the wayside when the mama black bear and her 3 cubs destroyed our greenhouse.
Bob, the artistic part of our family and an ingenious inventor of helpful things, got real tired of me complaining about taking clothes to the laundromat 25 miles to Kenai. We had been given an automatic washing machine that resided in the yard on a palette. Bob devised a system and soon I had water pumping up the hill through a garden hose. I was so pleased that I washed everything in sight. I hung them on a makeshift clothesline that I still have. I would fill the washing machine with water and detergent, close the lid, plug in the generator, and wash clothes to my heart’s content. The water would spin out, and I would stick the garden hoses back in to fill it up, plug in the generator and clothes were then rinsed. It was an all-day job, once a week, but I did not mind one teensy bit. That was fun in the summertime but not so much fun in the winter, as I was back hauling clothes to Kenai. So our next adventure in the woods of North Nikiski was to dig water well.
Brainstorming in the greenhouse and around our ever-always present campfire, JT, the other inventor, and Bob devised a system to dig a well. First they had to build a drill bit. That took a couple of weeks. Then we decided where to dig the well, down the hill near the lake in a bunch of birch trees (and devils club and pushka.)
Bob drove his 1963 Ford pickup down the hill, backed it up to where the well site would be, took the rubber tire off of the back wheel, wrapped a rope around the hub, and the other end around a pulley. The pulley hooked to a tripod, and the rope tied off to a big drill bit that only JT could fashion! They let the drill drop, pulled back up with the rope wrapping on the hub, and let it drop again. And again and again!
Many, many days and weeks were spent making many revisions to the drill bit. With much aggravation and hair pulling on my part, the hole never got any deeper than 20 feet! It was sealed off by the gray inlet mud that turns to concrete if you want to put a hole through it.
With a switch of plans, a big hole was dug with a borrowed broken down backhoe. A pump was installed and a pipe into the lake. Now we were back to square one, pumping water up the hill through a garden hose.
Then rain reappeared for a couple of weeks, and the big hole filled up with rain water. Our golden retriever, Penny-dog, fell into the rain slick, muddy banked hole, trying to retrieve a stick floating in the water. I came home to hear her barking frantically to me. I ran down the mud slicked hill, and in the process of trying to save her, I almost fell in. I was laying on my stomach, half in and half out of the hole, holding on to a root that was sticking out of the bank. I had seen grandson Arleigh, earlier, when I came home. I yelled at him, to come save his Grandma, quickly! I heard Arleigh, being all of 5, come running down our driveway and to the top of the hill. He shouted at me, beating on his chest, “Don’t worry Grandma your HERO is here!”
He ran down the hill, grabbed my legs and pulled. As he was pulling on my legs, and to this day I do not know how this happened, but Penny swam towards me, I grabbed her ruff, she jumped up on my back and flipped out of the hole and sat next Arleigh. I squirmed, Arleigh pulled, Penny wagged her tail and barked. It was a struggle but Arleigh saved the day! We were wet, muddy, slicky and slimy, as we sat on the bank and hugged each other. This picture is forever ingrained in my head, because I cannot swim. Arleigh was and still is my Hero!
We eventually got running water into the house, but that is another long long story. Bob hooked up the pressure system after he got off work. We started the generators and we had running water! Oh what a celebration! We heated water on the wood stove and took baths in a dishpan. We heated water just to heat water! And then we read to each other by lamplight.
The next big hurdle was to convince the electric company that we needed electricity!
Next week – haggling with the engineers at the elctric company! And buying a toaster!