By Jesse Walters
For the past two years, I’ve been finishing my apartment/cabin/workshop on the Minnesota North Shore and really enjoying the process. It’s a perfect home for a rabid bike enthusiast who needs a heated workshop more than a living room, an ultra-sonic parts cleaner more than a toaster oven. It’s a gear head’s paradise, plenty of wooded acres to muffle the sound of two-stroke tuning. Scenic Highway 1 and Highway 61 within riding distance, and a very large hill for conducting plug chops sits at the base of my driveway. Not to mention, plenty of firewood to heat the workshop through the long winter.
When it comes to cabin building, I’ve enjoyed the process very much. Learning how to install end-matched tongue and grooved pine is almost as rewarding as learning to do a valve adjustment on a ‘64 Triumph Tiger. Both endeavors require a little research, patience and time.
Living in the Northwoods, I’ve seen parallels between vintage motorcycle restoration and cabin building. Cabin homes built by the owner are typically a work in progress. Get a roof on it, add some insulation and a wood stove; the rest can wait until time and money are plentiful. The Tyvek house wrap can be considered siding as long as your neighbor approves. The trim work and the spare bedroom can get done in the spring, when it’s warmer. If you’ve ever built a house, you know how it goes … A similar approach is often taken by the hobby motorcycle restorer: Clean the carbs, check the brakes, look for abnormal oil leaks (this author notes “abnormal” oil leaks as opposed to “normal” oil leaks exhibited gloriously by many British twins and early American V-twin motorcycles) and metal flakes in the oil. The rest of it: paint, chrome, tires, chains and sprockets can wait until you have more money. All the while, you continue to ride it to the local bike night and errands around town.
Contrast the do-it-yourself approach to cabins built by professionals as tourist destinations and vacation homes. Most of these cabins were built by someone other than the owner. Typically built by crews of 5-10, they break ground in the spring and finished by fall. They are built and finished in discrete time allotments summarized in neat billing invoices to the owner each week. They look immaculate but often lack a certain character. Typically the homeowner shows up for two weeks a year during ski season, and then locks the front door until the following year. Large rock landscapes sit proudly in the yard and neatly stacked firewood piles welcome the tenants each year. Picture postcard perfect. But the house never takes on a live-in feel that cabins are known for.
Vintage motorcycle restoration can take this approach as well. Bikes are restored by professionals to near perfect condition. Often times they are restored to better condition than when they rolled off the assembly line floor. These machines are so perfect and immaculate they rarely see the road. They also lack an ill-defined character this humble author cannot quite grasp. The proud owners may or may not know how to do the oil change or valve adjustments on their restored bike, but they enjoy their artwork or mementos of their childhood nonetheless.
As much as I appreciate a fully restored motorcycle, I have a quiet respect for the motorcycle enthusiasts who restore their own bike. In the same way, I respect the family that choses to build their own home. As unfinished as it may be, the home becomes an extension of their being and tends to grow with the people living in it. Their passion for creating and restoring things adds character that cannot be summarized on a weekly building invoice. The end result is a pride and satisfaction that cannot be achieved without some hard work and desire. It is a passion for the creation and problem solving every step of the way, and this desire transcends everything from motorcycle restoration to cabin building.