It was clear to the naked eye that the boathouse was falling down. Originally built around 1920 it had given good service but had fallen prey to the pressures exerted by the freeze of many winters. The lakes ice sheet would grab the boathouse footings and lift, and as the ice expanded, push it back towards the shore. Springs thaw would then drop it straight down in the newly shifted position like the leg sweep from The Karate Kid – original Macchio version. Over the last 30 years Becca’s father Len had performed many repairs, mostly alone, some which would take over a year to complete by himself. The over all effect of the ices movements and repairs had left it looking like a boxers nose with breaks compounded on top of repairs and then more breaks. But the will to fight still seemed captured in the remaining boards hanging together.
Last summer was my first visits to camp After-Math and I quickly became a fan of the Adirondacks scene. The whole mood at camp is relaxation with plenty of outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, barbecuing and sitting by fires. Keep it simple, it’s camp. Despite all the relaxing I couldn’t get that damn boat houses demise out of my mind. I spoke with Len about it a few times and he said that there was a moratorium on boathouse construction and if it came down, or fell down, it would be darn near impossible to get permission from the Adirondacks Park Commission to construct a new one, without even considering what construction would cost. It seemed like it would be a real shame to loose such a valuable resource for storing the kayaks, canoe, and paddle-boat, as well as the housing for the water pump. I keep peeking inside, looking at the state of it and considering the forces that had pushed it “back and to the left“, and wondering what could be done to repair it.
Sometimes I think I must have been blessed by the patron saint of failing buildings. Whenever I see a failing barn, or simple old farmhouse on the side of the road upstate I ponder the forces of structural failure and gravities pull that have led it to it’s current state of collapse. Each time I make a very quick survey and ask myself, “is it salvageable” “Does it have classic proportions, good bones?” I can’t help but think, if they’d just shored it up when it started to fail, if they just patched that small hole in the roof which has now led to a collapse, if they’d just, yadda yadda. I guess the truth is more that there was no one there to make that small fix. No one to give it some love. For 5 seconds I think it may be my life’s work to rescue it, before usually concluding, “then you’d be living on the side of Route 32 in Bumblesburg”, and that wouldn’t do.
At any rate, last Thanksgiving while up in Oneida with the Moores I offered to help Len repair the boathouse. The main problem was that it had bad feet, the pain of those lame feet had allowed it to lean over, recently fairly precariously. Len, having approached this job alone in the past cautiously agreed it was probably a good idea. Over the next new months I reminded Len and Millie that I’d love to help fix the boathouse. So with my cajoling and Millies enthusiastic support we agreed we’d have a go at it in the week leading up to the 4th of July.
Len and I decided to use “cribs” for the new footings. A crib is basically a large box, open on either side, placed on the lake bottom, with the top reaching out of the water, which is filled with stones. Putting the cribs in place is a bit tricky. The first thing you confront is the murkiness of the water which is a semi-opaque brownish color from the acid created from season after season of foliage falling in the lake and rotting. Add to that the tangle of waterlogged branches below the surface, and the army of stones in all sizes that cover the muddy bottom. Lastly you’ve got the remnants of multiple generations of old crumbled footings, made from things like old water-heaters filled with cement, which sit on or near the spot where you intend to put the new footings.
The first day we put together a shopping list of materials we’d need and went to Lowe’s to pick them up. Our goal was to prop up the right wall, which was in the worst shape. We’d build a crib, jack up that side of the house, slip it underneath, fill it with stones and then connect the existing structure to the new footing. After the first day we were pretty happy with the results but realized that with the right side now as the correct height, the left side was going to sag at least 6 inches lower, and we’d only succeeded in skewing it in the opposite direction. We decided we’d need to go back to Lowe’s for the materials to build another crib for the left side and put in the extra days to do the job right. in the end, we put in two days before the 4th, and two days after to complete it to a state where the building was square and relatively level with both walls sitting on firm footings, rebuilt the front right corner, and installed two new sills for Len to reconnect the walls to as he works away on the project for the rest of the summer, if not longer… While it was a ton of work for Len, Ben, and myself, and I know I for one was sore and sleepy at the end of each day, I think we had a pretty good time doing it, and I can’t think of a more fun way to spend a week of vacation than righting a swaying old building and keeping the boathouse solid at After-Math.