Cabin Re-build on Forest Service Land in Oregon

Photo (c) Loren Nelson Photography.

5,000 feet above elevation, a 5-month build window, US Forest Service rules controlling everything from color to shape to size to the anthropology of the site…This project required extraordinary planning, prefabrication, and architect/builder/client coordination. The cabin is located on Odell Lake which sits atop the Cascade Mountains of South-Central Oregon, God’s country by all of our definitions. Dan Hill, architect and co-founder of Arbor South Architecture the design & build group that spearheaded this west coast cabin project, provided more of the story in a guest post below: 

The site is located on the west side of Odell Lake in the beautiful Cascade Mountain Range in an area with small, early to mid-century cabins under land leases by the US Forest Service. Our client had purchased the cabin and land lease with the intention of remodeling the existing 1940’s cabin. It became clear that the old structure had too many issues–including extensive mold (sick house), no perimeter foundation, multiple structural, electrical, and plumbing problems–to salvage or remodel.

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Timber Cabin on Odell Lake

By Darren Watson, Timber Frame Champion

Timber bents are pre-assembled on-site, stacked on the deck and ready to be raised for the Odell Lake cabin.

Timber bents are pre-assembled on-site, stacked on the deck and ready to be raised for the Odell Lake cabin.

We started this job in the end of the summer of 2015 when Dan Hill and Ryan Rojas from Arbor South Design-Build approached us about building a timber frame for their client’s lake cabin on Odell Lake, Oregon. Our crew had a great time working on the project. We had 3 of our long-time team members (myself, Todd, Jimmy) plus we added our new project engineer, Quinn, to the mix so that he could see all the intricacies of how one of these projects go together on the ground. (He’s now migrated to the office to start his frame joining education.)

Mike, Todd, and Quinn secured joinery while I manned the boom.

Jimmy, Todd, and Quinn secured joinery while I manned the boom.


Odell Lake is a stunning mountain lake with beautiful vistas and HUGE fish. The cabin is in an area of Historical Significance, which means that though the owners are building a new cabin they don’t actually own the land beneath. The cabins in this area are all on a long-term lease with the US Forest Service. Because of its historical designation, the site had to have an archaeological survey done to ensure that there weren’t any important artifacts the new structure was going to disturb. It was a gamble for the owners to take as this area had been a prime fishing spot for not only the last hundred years, but for millennia before. A few arrowheads and pottery shards were found but nothing significant enough to stop the project.

SIP panels waiting to be placed for the roof.

SIP panels waiting to be placed on the roof.

While it is on the lake, the cabin is located at nearly 5000 feet of elevation right below Willamette Pass Ski Area on a seasonal Forest Service road that is only opened once enough of the snow has melted to allow it to be plowed – this made scheduling a raising date challenging. Understanding that this project had an indeterminately limited building window, we worked with Arbor South to design a timber frame and enclosure system that would allow us to prefabricate as much as possible ahead of the road opening. Once the road was cleared this Spring, we could arrive on site and install the frame, walls, and SIP roof panels in quick succession.

We had tentatively scheduled the raising to begin in April, 2016 but Mother Nature had different plans and dumped and additional 18” of snow on the site the last week of March. As soon as the road opened Sean Berman (of our engineering group) and I headed out to take as-builts and to better understand the constraints of this tight site. We discovered there would be only one location where the crane could be placed and that we would have to stagger the delivery of materials so that we wouldn’t block ourselves in with our own product.

We arrived on site on June 6th with the majority of the walls and timbers, received the crane, and immediately began setting walls and pre-assembling the bents. Typically, we only have a crane in for the raising day, however on this project there was so little space to work that we decided it would be best to rent the crane for the entire timber and enclosure portion of project. By the end of that week we had the first floor walls and the main frame all in place.

The exterior porch in place.

The exterior porch in place.

To remind us of the importance of expediting this build, we were unexpectedly treated to five days of Winter during our second week on site. Though it slowed us down a bit, it was a good break from the roving masses of mosquitoes that were present throughout the rest of the build.

The following weeks involved setting the remainder of the upper walls and timbers and adding in some additional hidden framing needed to support the nearly 300 pounds per square foot snow load. This made for some exceptionally heavy duty connections involving custom steel weldments to connect the rafters to the lower chords of the trusses along with 1” threaded rod to be able to carry the 37,000 pound tension force that was being developed in the lower chord.

During our final week on site we set the roof SIP panels which included Western Red Cedar rafter tails and outlookers, and 2×6 Douglas fir T&G soffits. This combination along with custom staining turned out a nice roof.

We had the pleasure of staying at the other end of Odell Lake and discovering the best roasted chicken in the whole area at Manley’s bar, in the nearby town of Crescent Lake, which quickly became our go-to evening meal. It was delicious!

Raising and enclosure complete! Time for one last meal of roasted chicken on the lake.

Raising and enclosure complete! Time for one last meal of roasted chicken on the lake.