NEAR LENGBY, Minn.—This is a story about coming full circle.
It all started in 1970, when Don Klinke heard about a landowner who wanted pine trees planted on a piece of ground in Clearwater County northwest of Bagley, Minn.
Locals know the area as “B.S. Valley.” Actually, it has a longer name—and that’s no bull—but the abbreviated version will suffice for the purposes of this story.
Klinke, who grew up in the wooded country southeast of Lengby and has lived there all of his 81 years, was working for Clearwater County at the time.
“The land commissioner asked if I was interested in planting the trees for the landowner, and I was,” Klinke recalls.
So, with the help of his pregnant wife, Dolly, and son, Eugene “Zeke,” who was 12 or 13 years old at the time, Klinke planted Norway pines on a patch of “B.S. Valley” land he figures covered about 20 acres.
“They have a planter you ride on,” Klinke said. “My wife rode it, she dropped the trees in, and I pulled the planter with a tractor.”
Zeke, who’s 59 today, said he walked behind the planter and stepped down the soil around each of the trees, Norway pine seedlings that were about a foot tall.
And so, the seedlings of a family legacy were planted.
Time and circumstance
A jack of all trades, Klinke says he didn’t give much thought to the plantation in the years that followed as he went about the business of making a living for his family, working various carpentry and “all kinds” of construction jobs.
But the idea of building a log cabin always was in the back of his mind, he says.
About 10 years ago, Klinke got his chance when the landowner whose trees he had planted more than 35 years earlier hired a logger to thin the stand, a standard forestry practice as trees grow larger.
“I knew the logger that was thinning them,” Klinke said. “I went up to see them, and he said, yeah, he’d cut the trees out of there, the ones I planted, so I bought them from him.”
The trees, which were about 9 inches in diameter, were “just the right size” for a small log cabin, Klinke recalls.
“I kind of thought of hiring somebody to build a log cabin, but it’s very expensive,” Klinke said. “I’d never built one before, but I thought, ‘Well, I’d built a lot of stick houses,’ so I just took my power saw, and I built it.”
Just like that. Not bad for a man in his 70s who’d never built a log cabin.
“He’s pretty much self-taught,” Zeke Klinke, who has a house on Union Lake near Erskine, Minn., said of his dad. “There’s five of us kids in the family, and he’s worked on or built all of our homes.”
The first log cabin Klinke built from the trees he’d planted serves as overflow housing for the sizeable crew that gathers at the family hunting camp for deer season, fishing trips, birthdays, Thanksgivings, anniversaries and other family get-togethers throughout the year.
Between the log cabin and the main cabin, a stick house Klinke built by remodeling and adding onto an old cabin they had moved to the site, the camp sleeps about 11 people.
The 14- by 20-foot log cabin has a metal roof, a covered porch, a loft, electric baseboard and wood stove heat and sleeps three people comfortably. It’s easy to heat, Klinke says.
Not everyone can say they “grew” their own cabin.
“I never even dreamt of it,” Klinke said. “We were (planting the trees) for hire, to make money. I had no idea I’d ever be building cabins with them.”
Klinke said a man from Bagley whose name he doesn’t recall hauled a portable sawmill to the building site to trim the top and bottom sides of the logs. That simplified the process of setting the logs in place and keeping them level.
He used a high-pressure power washer to peel the bark from the trees.
Building the cabin wasn’t that difficult, Klinke says. He poured concrete footings for the foundation and pounded 12- to 16-inch spikes into the logs every 4 feet or so to hold each layer in place. He cut the openings for the windows and door after the walls were up and used a caulking material called Big Stretch to seal the space between the logs.
Unlike some cabin builders, Klinke left the knots sticking out of the logs rather than cutting them off. That gives the logs a more rustic look.
“That’s what I want—on the inside, too,” he said.
Klinke says he prefers working with pine logs, especially Norway pine like the trees he planted, because they generally are straight. He also built an 18- by 30-foot garage and an A-frame cabin for a neighbor’s hunting camp from the trees he planted.
“I put that one together out here and numbered the logs in the wintertime but never used the nails,” Klinke said of the neighbor’s cabin. “We just set it in place and numbered the logs, and when it warmed up in the spring, we put the footings in and built it for him.”
Nephews Corey Klinke and Brian Blue helped Klinke with the cabin projects.
If he has anything to say about it, there’ll be more log cabin projects in his future, Klinke says; he likes to stay busy.
“I’d rather build log cabins than a stick house,” he said. “Naturally, I’ve got to have some help with me now, but I’d rather do it. I could put one together this winter.
“I don’t want to build any real huge ones, but this size or a little bigger I will.”
It will take some doing, though, to top the story behind the small family cabin Klinke built from trees he planted with his wife and son Zeke; it’s a story of coming full circle.
“It’s quite an accomplishment for a man his age,” Zeke Klinke says. “The log cabin he built for us wasn’t big, but it’s something we’ll always have to remember him by for many hunting seasons to come.
“It’s kind of a little family legacy that he’s created here with the main cabin and the log cabins. His grandchildren are going to have this for years and years and years.”