Auto-Biography: Port Orford Journal, Part 3 – One Year Later, A Room With A (Better) View

It’s been almost exactly a year since we first saw our Port Orford property. My last update was back in January and some of you expressed interest in more updates. Since I’m sitting here in Eugene waiting to pick up my special order of pine t&g on Monday with which to panel the pole barn garage-turned cabin, I’ll do just that.

The main work for me has been the ongoing project to convert the windowless pole barn garage into a 480 sq. ft cabin. The biggest visible change was taking down the west wall and re-framing it to install a large living room window, a new glass door, and a kitchen window to take advantage of the view down over the pond, the woods beyond, and of course the ocean in the distance, which looks further away than it is because of the iPhone’s lens.

First, let’s back up where I left off in my update in January. The first order of business last fall was to clear the place out, at least an initial go-around, as after some 20 years of neglect, brush had taken over the clearing and the trees needed lower branches pruned. This resulted in several huge piles of cuttings, this being the largest of them, about 80-100′ long, 8-10′ tall, 10-12′ wide.

How to get rid of it all?

We’re within city limits, so fires are restricted in size (4’x4’x4′) and require a permit. I picked one up in early January, but could not get the pile started. The wood and brush were still too green and wet from recent winter rains. I tried several times with diesel and kerosene. No luck.

But then we had six straight weeks of sunshine for the rest of January and first half of February, so in early February I got another $7 permit and also bought a cheap electric leaf blower, as per a suggestion on the internet. It worked like a charm, and once there was ignition and lift off, I spent a very hectic, long day dragging all the brush and branches from the big pile over to the small fire, as I had to keep it (mostly) to legal size.

I had to really hustle non-stop all day and I was still at it at sunset, having burned about three-quarters of that mountain. I then let it die down for the night.

In the morning, it started right up again when I fed it more fuel. By mid-day, the mountain was all gone,

replaced with a beautiful mountain of still-glowing embers covered with ash, which looked just like one of the snow-covered volcanoes in the Cascades. It emitted a huge amount of heat, and was of course red hot under the white surface. It glowed red like fresh lava at night for several days.

It took several more days to slowly disintegrate into a flat little round of ash. Amazing, really, how all that wood can turn into heat and so little ash.  At some point in the early spring, I moved this little camping trailer on site, as my younger son no longer needed it. It’s now the guest house.

For the big pile of fairly straight tree limbs, I rented a chipper for a day and made good work of them. The chips will be put to use around the pond and on walkways.

I then started taking apart the west wall of the pole barn. That opening is where the original entry door had been.

The beauty of pole barns is that their walls are not load-bearing, as the six “poles” (6×6 posts) sunk into the ground are the sole primary structural elements that support the roof trusses, and the walls just hang from them.

I framed in the living room window, the kitchen window, and the new door.

Here I am working out the plans with the help of my trusty architect’s rule, paper, pencil and the expert engineering consultant who’s always at hand.

The new windows and door in place, and half of the steel cladding back on.

Finished, for now.

I originally intended to replace the yellow fiberglass semi-translucent panels on the upper part of the wall with some clear poly-carbonate panels, like the single one in the upper left corner I installed. But I wasn’t satisfied, so I order four real windows instead.

Surprisingly, they arrived in about three weeks.

Much better now…

Inside and out.

Whenever Stephanie was out here too, she was busy clearing out the rampant vegetation around the pound, uncovering plants that had been mostly swallowed up,

like this rhododendron. The view to the ocean was somewhat spoiled by that tall, youngish spruce right in the middle, though. Time to do something about that.


So I hire a retired lumberjack I met in town to take it down. It was in a very steep, remote part of the gulch down there, and it was instantly swallowed up by the alders.

The result is a significantly better view, although again, this iPhone shot doesn’t do it justice. We can see the waves roll in, as well as hear them.

In May, we rented an Airbnb next door so my daughter Emma and Dolores, Stephanie’s 95 year-old mom, could spend a few days in comfort and show them the place and the sights nearby. This is on a hike along the Sixes River in Cape Blanco State Park, just a few miles up the road.

We also took them to Battle Rock, where the first white invaders repelled the natives on the beach with a little canon they fortuitously had with them. Like much of American history, the founding theft of Port Orford is not a pretty one. That’s the harbor and the Port Orford heads, where our place is.

The view south, to Red Fish Marine Preserve. The reefs around the rocks are a popular scuba diving spot, and there’s good surfing at one of the beaches too.

Every morning after breakfast, we walk up our road a third of a mile to the top of the heads at the state park and take the loop trail. It’s different every day, depending on the light, clouds, fog, etc.. That’s the real appeal of the ocean; it never looks exactly the same twice.

We check to see if the seals are out basking on the rocks below, if the tide is low.

The end of the trail faces north, with Cape Blanco and its historic light house in the distance.

Around four or so, work ends and we head out for our afternoon hike. One of our favorites is the old hwy. 101 roadbed south of town a few miles, now a hiking trail which has a bench from one of the better vista points. That’s Port Orford in the distance.

And we’ve discovered dozens of trails and other ways to hike at Cape Blanco. We finally made it out to the light house, where it’s seemingly always windy, if not foggy. Actually, it’s been much less windy and foggy this summer than usual. Oddly so.

There’s endless vistas from the headlands.

Such a  great stretch of beach. We walked along this one and then made our way  up the cliff for a loop hike back. And the state park campground has great hot showers, to boot.

Speaking of….in the summer, when the days are long, there’s time for a third walk after supper. Right at the corner of our lot is Boot Hill Road, which heads up along our property line to the little cemetery at the top of the hill where some of the town’s founders are buried.

It’s a great place to watch the sunset.

In early July, the spray foam insulators came down from Eugene, and did their thing. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, and they wouldn’t let me be inside while he was spraying, so there was some collateral damage.

He sprayed right over the rafters and the horizontal wall “joists” to which I was going to nail the pine T&G paneling. So I spent a couple of days cutting and scraping off the foam as needed.

I realized that it would be too challenging to remove the 4-5″ he sprayed on the ceiling “joists”, so I decided to hang a second set perpendicular to them for the ceiling paneling. The other benefit is that it will allow the paneling to be installed horizontally instead of vertically, which will look better. Getting those 12′ long 2×6 board up and installed by myself was a bit of a challenge, but I’ve gotten good at working solo and figuring out solutions.

I’ve actually spent less time down in PO this summer than this past winter and spring, as there’s been so much to do in Eugene, including EXBRO as well as several epic mountain hikes. We decided to paint the exposed trusses and posts, and picked a color that we see whenever we look out over the ocean on a sunny day.

Of course that’s a bit different every day, but until they make paint that changes its color daily, it’ll have to do.

Next up is installing the ceiling paneling, and then the wall paneling, after I  run some electric cables and such in the wall cavities. And then…

Go for another hike.

Unsurprisingly, it’s taken longer than I originally hoped for, but what doesn’t. If we really knew how long things would take, we’d never take anything on. Humans are inherently optimists, for a good reason. Otherwise we’d still be running on the savannas. Or the beach.


Related reading:

Port Orford Journal, Part 1.

Port Orford Journal, Part 2.