For years, Linda Roberts gazed at the old log building that once served as Carlile’s post office and dreamed of what she might do with it. She thought about transforming it into a crafting area, a guest house or bed and breakfast and finally, when the stars aligned and the building became hers to do with as she wished, her ideal family home.
Like most dreams, of course, the project grew bigger and more ambitious over time. Eight years and endless elbow grease later, every inch of Linda and Gene’s new home bears not only the fingerprints of her hard work, but the fruits of a century of family history – including material from a total of four historic family buildings.
“When I met Gene, he lived at Carlile and so did his parents and on their property was the old Carlile store and post office. There it sat, just storage, and here I am thinking that I would love to do something with it,” Linda recalls.
“I was going to clean it up and have a weaving loom and a wood cook stove in there. It was going to be my playhouse, but that never materialized and then it started to leak.”
When Gene’s parents passed away, it seemed as though the cabin might be lost when the land was sold. Fortunately for Linda, the sale went through without the building.
“That was Gene’s first mistake, right there,” Linda grins. Right away, she began to make plans to move it.
“I numbered all the logs and each section had ear tags, which come in all kinds of colors. Each section also had a letter, so you’d have red log P3,” she says of the precision that was needed to move the building without losing track of the layout.
“I was so persnickety I even drew diagrams of each side and log and number and tag color.”
Even at that stage, Linda was determined to do the majority of the work for herself. As she had never before tested her hand at most of the skills that would be needed, it was also when her personal mottos began to come into play.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way – and if I don’t know how to do something, somebody out there knows how to do it,” she says.
Before the cabin could be moved, for instance, the shingles needed to be removed. “I would stand on the back of the pickup on a ladder, as far as I could get, and got as many as I could with a big old ice scraper,” she says.
With the help of neighbor Doc Decent, Gene began to move the logs to the Roberts’ land. It wasn’t the first time the building had been moved; first constructed as the Langenbacher homestead at Cabin Creek in the early 1900s, it was moved to Carlile in 1931 and bought by Gene’s parents, David and Mercedes Roberts, in 1964.
Once the logs had been moved, son Tony Barton and his crew prepared the foundations.
“Gene was not going to put the logs up, he was done – they were just going to sit there. Then, one day, he and Doc went for coffee at the Carlile store and Doc said, we just can’t let those logs rot,” Linda says.
With that done, she continues, Gene had had quite enough and was tempted to burn the whole thing back down. Fate intervened, however, and the scale of the project began to grow.
“Gene’s great-grandfather’s homestead was also up Cabin Creek, it was a house and a bunkhouse. The house had been dozed in but the bunkhouse was still standing,” she says.
“I didn’t want to ask him, even though I really wanted it, but four days later, he said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but what would you think of adding on with great-grandfather’s logs?’”
Linda headed right over to the homestead with a pickup and chain and started dragging the hewn logs from the pile. They were so heavy that it eventually took the help of a logging truck to move them.
The Blakeman homestead was where Gene’s great-grandparents, William Arthur and Anna Rose Blakeman, settled after moving to Wyoming from Madison County. After living in a dugout for a year, the hewn log home was built in 1902 and the bunkhouse was added for the couple’s sons after they went to fetch firewood in Cyclone Canyon and came home with logs too good to be burned.
And then came a third building, another homestead, and a fourth. “There was a log barn that was built by the Blakemans, hand hewn, and everything is exactly eight inches,” says Linda.
Though fusing so much of the family’s history in one place was not part of the original plan, it meant Linda could envision a larger and more comfortable home. Tony convinced her to add a framed addition for the bathroom, porch and kitchen with his help.
It even gave her the opportunity to think about the interior design. Some of the logs were transformed into beds, including hand hewn wood to match the walls in the room the family now refers to as the ‘Blakeman bedroom’.
“If there was any paint on anything, I called them ‘designer boards’ and they were used in cabinets and so on. We brought sanded boards in to Mike McInerney and he built the cabinets,” she nods.
From the chinking of the wood on the exterior to the five-foot elk horn chandelier that represents more than four decades of Gene’s hunting expeditions, Linda had a hand in every part of the construction.
“I guess I would call myself the general contractor. Gene was for just a little while and then gave it right back to me, and Tony was there too, but I knew what the next step was going to be and that while I was doing this I should also be doing that. There was method in the way I was doing it,” she explains.
“I enjoyed every bit of it. I’ve spent every spare minute of the last eight years working on it. My neighbors said they never saw me for eight years and it was true.”
Each step took up to three-and-a-half months of meticulous handiwork. The walls themselves, for example, required extreme attention to detail.
“From the inside to the outside, I have done something to the walls 17 times – insulation, spray foam, chinking and so on. I wanted it to be warm and it is nice and cozy,” she says.
“We sanded everything – the whole house has been sanded three times and clear coated three times, except for the rafters and the floor underneath.”
A perfectionist from start to finish, Linda did the vast majority of the chinking herself. Only one person, a visitor from Denmark, passed her chinking test and was allowed to help out.
The interior doors were custom built in white pine by Mike Gaffield of Colorado to fit in with the early American style Linda was aiming for, while the knobs, hangers and other fittings were purchased from eBay to match. Even the exterior doors, made of white steel, are finished to fit in with the theme.
“Each side of the door, we’ve done something to it eight times – and they look like wood grain, they look real,” she says. “I figured I would get it as perfect as I could make it.”
For most tasks, Linda learned the skills she needed from scratch by reading magazines and books, watching DIY shows, calling experts – even by watching YouTube videos.
“I’ve done a lot of research. My inspiration was a book called ‘Walden Log Homes’, a company out of Tennessee that tears down buildings, puts them back up and chinks them,” she says. “I looked at them and thought, that’s not synthetic chinking. I called and they gave me the recipe for what they used.”
An expert from Colorado helped Linda figure out how to build the chandelier, while another gave her lessons on building the fireplace using rocks from around the ranch. When she saw zinc countertops on a DIY show, she asked a neighbor to teach her how to solder.
“I built the fireplace – I didn’t know how to do that. The elk horn chandelier – I figured that out,” she smiles. “For me to start working with the horns, my brother-in-law showed me how to do it.”
The finished result is everything Linda hoped for; an ideal family home, replete with memories.
“It’s just perfect. It’s just so nostalgic, it almost takes you back in time,” she says. “We’ve got all the modern facilities in there, but still it just takes you back.”
Memories permeate the building, from the logs that housed generations of the family to the cancelled letter Linda found hidden behind a wall in the old post office.
She’s not the only one with fond recollections of the building. One visitor to the open house last week remembered buying his first ever candy bar at the store; another was the descendant of the only one of the 13 Blakeman children to actually be born in the homestead.
A century of family history and almost a decade of work later, the Roberts family home now awaits a new generation of memories.