Since the largest wildfire in Texas history, an affected Bastrop County couple has worked to harvest, transport, mill, and are currently rebuilding their home from the timber on their Lost Pines property. With a creative and pioneering spirit to construct their home from the scorched trees, they are personally rebuilding from the ashes. Blessed by the relationship with a local sawmill, they are maximizing the wood resources in as many ways possible for construction and finishes.
With the help of Stephen, Cody and another volunteer, we got off to a good start on Sat., Nov. 17th, by getting half of the exterior walls framed up. The following weekend, the Thanksgiving holiday gave Rob the opportunity to work on the other half with some assistance from Jamaica. The 9' walls with truss beam pocketsare constructed with 2"x6" studs on 16" centers, with2"x10" headers over 5 windows, a side entry door and a double patio door.
We have officially begun the construction of Phase 1 of our new home! Work on the house will primarily be done on the weekends when Robert is available. We are tremendously blessed to have the help of good friends that will assist us along the way...and we can not thank Stephen Wusterhausen enough!
On the first day of construction, the guys set and leveled the dry-stacked piers, laid the pine girders, assembled the floor joists, and decked the sub-floor. They made a very impressive pace for one days work and it is a very exciting beginning for us to finally make this project a realization!
"TEXAS COUNTRY REPORTER" TRAVELS TO THE LOST PINES
Bob Phillips has traveled the backroads and told the stories of real Texans -
ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Texas Country Reportercelebrates the history, emotion and beauty that make
Texas and Texans so unique. Every week you're
invited to hop in and travel with Bob as he reminds us that the backroads isn't
just a place, it's an attitude." - www.texascountryreporter.com
Today we had the privilege of meeting a Texas favorite, Bob Phillips, "The Texas Country Reporter." In September we submitted our story to his production team and were contacted because our story was "very compelling". They would like to document our progress several times as we move into the construction phase of our rebuilding efforts, and will include us in a TCR story!
They spent the day visiting with us and interviewing Robert about his efforts to harvest, mill and rebuild our home with our woods. They filmed him felling a tree and working on our lumber at the mill. Mr. Phillips said that Robert was a great interview and a genuine character (ain't that the truth). The Texas Country Reporter has been producing the show for 40 years; and as a native Texan and artist, it is a really cool honor to appear on the show.
Country Reporter" is a highly-acclaimed TV program that celebrates the
history, emotion and beauty that make Texas and Texans so unique. Since
1972, Bob Phillips has traveled the backroads of the Lone Star State
and shared the stories of real Texans. From artists to cowboys,
hobbyists to musicians, "Texas Country Reporter" explores the passions,
interests, and lifestyles of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Every week you're invited to hop in and travel with Bob as he meets
the folks that make Texas such a special place. Bob Phillips, Jason Anderson, Ryan Britt, Brian
Hawkins, Mike Snyder, Dan Stricklin.
Here's a 3D rendering of the floor plan we are preparing to build. It is our own custom design...1660 sq.ft. with 392 sq.ft. of covered porches, 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, a loft, and timber trusses in the living room side. In an effort to take this thing in stages, get out of this 400 sq.ft trailer and double our living space as soon as possible, we have made the decision to divide our construction into two phases...We will start by building the living room/kitchen side first. The trusses on that side create an independent roof line separate from the other portions of the house. We will begin with this 20'x40' space, build it out completely and live in it while we finish out the rest of the house.
It has been quite a journey on this road to recovery with the efforts to mill our burned timber, and we are so fortunate to have had supportive media attention about our story. Our biggest exposure to date is our appearance on the A&E cable television show Shipping Wars. It is a good thing we can laugh at ourselves, because we certainly laughed out loud at many of the comments....our entertainment value comes naturally!The episode went by so fast we had to re-watch it to really decide if we liked it. I suppose to make for entertaining TV some things were taken out of context, but overall we
think it was pretty dang good. Of course, the show is primarily about the shippers and in this episode our "bad guy" shipper is turned hero- all while maintaining his contemptible persona. That's fine by us, because participating with the show gave us the motivation to assemble the transport help and deliver our logs to the mill in Elgin. Obviously, life took an unexpected turn...leaving us to take on an impromptu harvest and logging operation. Rob summed it up best when he said we're "winging it"- however, that shouldn't be confused for incompetency. Unfortunately, they did not share the really brilliant part of the story which is how we got all those piles of logs to the road in the first place (and no one was killed doing it!!!). Lucky for us, our creativity, hard work and good friends have gotten us this far..."reality" TV show or not. On the day of the filming, five trucks and trailers helped deliver 77 of the 20-foot logs to the mill.
We are very appreciative for the media opportunity and the transport assistance. We kindly thank all of the wonderful people who participated in our Log Pull Convoy, John Long, and S.A.W. Mill & Supply!
Shipping Wars is produced by Megalomedia for A&E Network. Executive producer is Jonathan Nowzaradan. Co-executive producers are Tom Mireles, Jeff Keels and Graham Davidson. A&E executive producers are David McKillop, Elaine Frontain Bryant, Neil A. Cohen and Devon Graham.
JAMAICA TELLS OUR STORY & OUR CURRENT EFFORTS TO REBUILD
What a cool honor and opportunity to tell our story about the experiences after the fire, and our efforts to harvest and utilize our timber to rebuild our home....Jamaica was one of 6 people from Bastrop County invited to come and tell our story to Story Corps as a part of their oral history project. Special thanks to Debbie Moore for joining Jamaica in this conversation.
Under the production of NPR, Story Corps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Recorded stories are archived for preservation in the Library of Congress. They are creating an "invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations". www.storycorps.org
Mid-July and the work doesn't stop in the 100° heat...transport
operations continue, and now we have a donated tractor and truck to
use as we continue to haul the logs to the mill! We are tremendously fortunate to have met Stephen at S.A.W Mill & Supply. He has agreed to let Rob and Cody save money by providing their labor to assist in milling our lumber. How amazingly awesome these men are...from cutting, logging, and transporting the trees, to then be able to process them into lumber so that they can personally rebuild homes for our families-- what a inspiration they are to be so strong, positive and resilient to the situation that was thrust upon them.
A national cable TV show (scheduled to air this fall) filmed and participated in the transport effort of our harvested timber to the mill! With a change in venue, we delivered our logs to a local mill in Elgin - a very wise decision on our part...because Stephen at S.A.W Mill & Supply is awesome...and, as it turns out, so is our Lost Pines lumber! From our fire scorched old-growth Loblolly Pines we milled Grade C-cabinet/furniture quality lumber! Once the green lumber was cut, we brought it home to "sticker" and allow to dry in the Texas summer heat. Our good friend, Cody Murphy, who
also lost his family's home, has been with us along this journey and is
a excellent carpenter, contractor and jack-of-all trades. Together with Robert, he has collaborated in all the efforts to cut, harvest,
transport, mill and now utilize these woods, and together we plan to
rebuild the two homes by ourselves. Going forward, we will continue to collaborate in our efforts and will soon begin the home building process. These homes will be built primarily from this lumber...the framing, the walls, floors, ceilings, and cabinets, plus whatever else we can think of. It is a lot of hard work and dedication to utilize them, but our loved and lost Loblolly Pines will live on with us in the form of a new homes for our families.
A soot-covered participant in theLost Pines Log Pull...breaks for lunch.
It is very nice that the writer included personal elements of our story, however I am not the one to play the role of "sad sap" very well-
and although this article doesn't feel like the positive solution-based
approach we hope to convey- it is our prayer that
our actions are effective in the message. Perhaps, the reality with the trees is that we are in a sad sap
situation and that sadly most will just rot and fall. We obviously have hopelessly optimistic attitudes, and remain dedicated to making the best of our situation. - Jamaica
Well, that worked!--Because the
Log Pull event was AWESOME!!!
Over the 2 day challenge, we had 15 log
pulling vehicles and over 90 people on property participating,
volunteering or spectating. The diversity of the participants was so
cool....of course, young guys with their big trucks, neighbors with
their antique tractors, but also 4 all-female teams, which included
senior ladies from the Episcopal
church in their 4WD SUV...Four trucks from the "Dirty
South Rigs" truck club came from Elgin; and we even had one man travel
nearly 200 miles Sunday morning from Crowley to participate in the cause
with his son.
1st PLACE- Scott Keen and his "Band of Rednecks" from Taylor - 1143 diameter inches pulled
Our winners of the challenge:
"The Band of Rednecks" from Taylor. Leading their crew was Scott Keen,
a Technical Account Manager with Dell Computers, who fabricated a
custom winch system in the bed of his truck for this event. His Ford
F350 with a 12v Cummins Diesel engine and crew were pulling 4-5 logs out
of the forest in one pass of the course. Both days, they were "in it to
win it" and operated like a 60 foot-long log-hauling freight train.
Their winning haul: 67 logs or 1,143 diameter inches. Their total
winning prize was $1,500 after we received an additional $300 from a
Everyone came with their own
story to tell- like Jan Riley in her Jeep Wrangler, "Nellie
Belle"....Jan, ran the course solo, hooking up and hauling logs both
days! Her husband passed away shortly after the fire. The two of them
often enjoyed off-roading together for
recreation. She assisted in our mission in the memory of her husband,
and said it was the most fun she has had since his passing; that she
wasn't in the field alone and his spirit was with her. From this
experience we have met so many new neighbors and friends who
participated in a desire to move forward in a positive direction and be a
part of the cause for the trees.
2nd PLACE- James Reed and his LS Tractor from Paige- 908 inches pulled, 120 points "Good Sportsman Conduct"
the Log Pull competition brought 237 logs out of our forest and out to
the road for accessibility. I estimate that to be about 44,000 board
feet! This Log Pull event successfully
pulled approximately one-third of our dead trees out our 7 acres of
In putting our story out and seeking
assistance transporting these timbers, we were recently contacted by national cable television producers. They liked our human interest story, want
to help, and are going to participate in the transport
these logs to the mill. As part of their show story line, they will
have a driver and trailer helping us make hauls Tuesday, June 12th.
We have put out the word and would like to form a convoy effort of
trucks and trailers to participate in the TV show filming and timber
transport. We will begin early morning at our home and will be making
25 mile hot-shot runs to S.A.W. Mill & Supply in Elgin.
3rd PLACE- James Denny and his "Dirty South Rigs" crew from Bastrop - 460 diameter inches pulled
Our initial intention was to work through Jim Leverett and Logs to
Lumber to trade out our scorched timber for milled lumber from a prominent sawmill
in Huntsville. We had hoped this arrangement
would be able to, at minimum, provide framing material for us and perhaps
others. When the time came to arrange transportation
logistics, many factors had us concluding that the exchange and transport to
Huntsville was not in our best interest. Committed to our cause, we decided
that our efforts are best spent by milling our timber closer to home. With our choice to mill
locally, Mr. Leverett introduced us to Stephen Wusterhausen with S.A.W. Mill
& Supply in Elgin. The Wusterhausen
family and business have a long history in Bastrop County and his family mill
specializes in wood siding, flooring, large timbers and trusses.
Shortly after the fire we had heard mixed messages about the
tree quality in regards to “construction grade”. We were not alone in our confusion and it
seems many were under impression that our Loblollies are not acceptable for
construction- due to the burn, their “softness” or grade. Not familiar with the industry terminology
and needing clarification, we spoke with our local mills who have been in business for decades right here in Bastrop
County, and they assured us we
could, in fact, build with the very pine trees from our property. As a result, we have decided that we will mill and rebuild
with the very pines and cedars from our property. Bastrop, Austin and
surrounding towns were built from these Loblollies, and Bastrop's great
historic structures are evidence enough to give us confidence in the
viability of our pines.
The pioneering spirit
that settled this part of Texas is the strength we
draw upon to reclaim our land from the tree hazards, rebuild our home and provide future
land management. Our trees were the only thing we had left to show from the fire, and for
us their death will not be in vein. It is a bittersweet experience to
move through the emotional process of losing them and labors of love to
utilize them, but what a great legacy we are creating for our family and
land to bounce back from this experience hopefully better, stronger,
wiser and sheltered.
The Log Pull is in one week and this whole
bonkers idea is yet to be fully realized....good thing we been flexin' our
tenacity these last 8 months. As it stands at the moment, it is either
the most brilliant idea we've attempted yet- or it is the stupidest-
either way it is definitely seems like our craziest. They say that God doesn't give
you anything you can't handle...we believe this to be true. We just
happen to currently be getting us a big ol' heapin' helpin' of
handlin'....but, when you ain't got nothin' to lose (literally), you
ain't got nothin' to lose.
Five years ago, my husband Robert
and I left the fast paced urban life for a quiet, simpler one. We moved from Dallas to follow our dream of
rural living, a beautiful place to raise a family, and pursue our artistic
endeavors. Just outside Bastrop, we
found sanctuary on seven acres of heavily wooded Lost Pines forest. Our home
was a modest two bedroom house and the perfect starter home. We settled in well
into our new life, made new friends, and quickly fell in love with all the
small town charms of Bastrop. Prior to
our first child’s birth in 2009, we made improvements to our property,
renovations to our home, and had built a sculpture workshop for our art enterprise,
MorzArt. Life in our Lost Pines home had become the peaceful life we had dreamt
up years prior. That all changed one
Sunday afternoon last fall when the Bastrop Complex Fire broke out Labor Day weekend,
and grew to be the largest property damaging fire in Texas history, which
ultimately destroyed nearly 1700 homes and claimed two lives.
September 13, 2011
Like many citizens affected by
the history making wildfires in Bastrop County, Texas, we were left wondering
what to do with over 300 dead standing pine trees that remained after the fire
destroyed our family’s home and art studio.
Picking up the pieces after losing one’s home certainly is an
emotionally challenging life event.
Combine that with 95% loss of our forest land and the cleanup measures
needed, the situation quickly seemed overwhelming. In an effort to not render our land useless
to tree hazards, we developed a strong desire to make good use of our loved and
lost Loblolly Pines. Through a friend, we learned of one local man’s mission; a
mission that offered us a new hope to the situation we faced regarding the
rebuilding of our home and a solution to our burned timber. We knew the timber was still viable, and our
strong desire to use them prompted us to contact Jim Leverett of Logs to Lumber,
Incorporated. What first started as a
desire has now grown to a mission compelling us to extremes… off-road extremes.
Jim Leverett founded Logs to
Lumber (L2L) in anticipation of and in response to the great need that would
arise as a result of the fires. His
organization is a grassroots, non-profit dedicated to “assist affected citizens
in the rebuilding effort by harvesting & utilizing the viable timber
resources of the Lost Pines.” Their
motto: “Our Resources Rebuilding Our Community”. According to the Logs to
Lumber website, “The mission of Logs to Lumber is to ‘find a way to convert
dead or dying trees scorched by the Bastrop County Complex Fire into something
that can be used to repair the damage done by that fire’. Logs to Lumber relies solely upon the
donations from caring citizens and volunteers to achieve this mission...donations
of timber, time, know-how, heavy equipment, and money help to achieve this
necessary mission for the benefit of our devastated community. The goal: Organize Logistics, Harvest the
Timber, Provide Lumber to the People.”
February 24, 2012
Upon meeting Leverett, we learned
that in the months following the fire, he had been working out the logistics of
timber donations, volunteer crews, donated equipment, and had worked out
arrangements with sawmills willing to trade out the burned timber for milled
lumber. The lumber generated will then be utilized in rebuilding efforts for affected
families. In a short time, Mr. Leverett had accomplished a lot of groundwork
towards his mission, and we knew that we had found the win-win solution that
was aligned with our goals concerning the arduous timber clean-up and
rebuilding of our home.
Leverett’s formation of an
impromptu logging operation was quite an ambitious undertaking, and with it, he
stressed the need for community supported efforts to achieve the L2L goals. Leverett has succeeded in bringing milled lumber back to
Bastrop, yet unfortunately he continues to hurdle obstacles related to
acquiring heavy equipment donations in order to manage the timber weight and
maneuver through the sandy soil of the forest.
With the massive need and quantity of acreage that Mr. Leverett has
access to, we recognized the importance of helping to him ramp up the harvesting
efforts. Believing in his mission, we felt that the L2L organization was not
getting the attention it warranted. With a limited amount of time to accomplish
the timber harvesting goal, we knew it was imperative to spread the word and
inform others of the Logs to Lumber’s important work within the community.
The challenge is a two day
competition to be held Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-27. During the “working hours” of 8:00 am to 6:00
pm, both days, competitors will be given the opportunity to work as little or
as much as they can to retrieve and deliver logs to loading zones. The challenge is a point-based competition,
where participants will earn points for logs they deliver. All logs will be cut in 21-foot lengths and
inches in diameter will determine the points awarded to vehicle teams. For
example, should a participating vehicle deliver an 8” log, they would earn 8
points; similarly, a 30 inch log = 30 points.
There are no limitations on the quantity or means by which participants
can retrieve logs in a pass of the circular course. We encourage participants
to gather teammates and to employ ingenuity and strategy to accomplish the
challenge mission. At the close of the two
day competition, the current winning prize for the vehicle with the most points
earned is $1,200.
We are currently making arrangements
for the challenge and prepping the course for log delivery efficiency. According to our Official Rules, “For the mission
to be successful, efficiency for a steady flow of deliveries is key….wide
pre-established lanes will be created for accessibility to logging area and
exits to loading zones. Trees will be
‘felled & bucked’ and logs ready to ‘grab-n-go’.”
From this event, we hope to
achieve a couple of primary goals.
Firstly, deliver as many logs as possible to the mill, and secondly,
bring attention to the Logs to Lumber mission and its important purpose for
healing our community.