I, John, received a call from a fellow from a production company out of L.A. last October inquiring if I would be able to construct a smaller scale replica of Lewis & Clark's fort in Oregon in which they wintered in 1805-1806. Giving it a bit of thought and considering my own experiences with log building I allowed that sure it could be done under the right circumstances with the right crew. Then there were several months of quiet and I felt sure that they had forgotten or moved on to something or someone else. But then again in February of this year I heard back once again. “Can you do this in 14 days”? was the critical question. That and VERY limited funds gave me some pause for thought but I once again replied in the affirmative. The most important pieces would be the availability of logs on site and the hand picked crew of seven or sight (besides Geri and myself).
Then the job got a bit more complicated. It seems that the fort had to be built on someone's property without their knowledge and that it was to be “revealed” - given to him - at the end of the 14 days. Well, it just so happens that we have a neighbor who has a piece of ground not a mile from our's that is loaded with timber, mostly eastern red cedar, the same logs that we've become used to working with. Also, this fellow has visited us to check out our log structures because he would like one day to build one himself. He lives about 30 miles away and his wife assured me that he could be kept out of the loop on this.
To cut to the quick, arangements were made for us to do this. We lined up six people to help us, three local and four from around the country, the furthest an outdoorsman from Idaho. One other fell in our laps during the early stages of the build - he was a volunteer, an on site EMT with experience that applied who elected to stick around for the ride.
Very little is known of the original fort. The most accurate illustration is from the cover of Clark's journal showing that the fort covered a 50x50 foot square. Two log buildings, each 16 ft wide, faced each other across an 18 ft compound. The buildings were 50 ft long, the left hand one (from the front) had three rooms (16', 18' and 16') all with doors facing the compound. These rooms had fire pits dug into the floor and were vented by an opening (chimney) at the high side. These were the quarters for the enlisted men.
The right hand building consisted of four rooms - the first, the Charbonneaus' room, was 10' wide and had both an exterior door and also an entrance into the second room which was Lewis & Clark's. The Captain's quarters was the largest room on this side at 16 ft - had no exterior door and access was gained either from the first or third room, the Orderly room, 14ft. wide. One other room (Supply) at the far end was equal in size to the first at 10'. All rooms had the central fire pit excepting the Captain's which had an exterior log fireplace and chimney on side facing the compound. Presumably the high side of both buildings faced the outside with a roof slanting into the compound. Why? Probably two reasons; 1- harder for Indians to enter and 2- easier to gather rain water in the event Indians kept them confined. The two buildings were connected by sharpened pickets placed in the ground at either end, each end having a gate.
The proposal put to me originally was to build two 10x20' buildings plus a few add-ons such as the pallisade, fireplace, doors etc. What we delivered were two 12x20 foot buildings connected as illustrated, two exterior wooden doors, one interior deer hide door, fireplace/chimney, door latches, one gate w/wooden hinge, two chimneys for the squad huts, & more. Approximately a one third replication. The logs were on the ground prior to filming/construction.
For reference note the red circled double trunk tree in photos.
End of day one
This endeavor had me literally losing sleep until after day #1 when I discovered that the men & women I gathered worked well as a team and that the production and camera crew worked as well.
Our common goal was to finish the job on time and with but a coupla tiny glitches things ran smoother than could ever have been expected. We as the builders were happy. They as the production company were happy. Alvan Johnson and wife Kris were happy (and surprised) as the lucky recipients. The Photos need no descriptions for you see the progress and final result.
We had been given 14 days to do this - we finished in 10 and one half days.
"The Big Build"
The project, listed as a Frontier Fort, was shown by the History Channel as one of five in a series called "The Big Build".