In 2010 I was a disgruntled Navy Diver living in San Diego and I just wanted to get away from it all. I was still a new guy in the military after only two years in and I was still getting jerked around by the system. Looking back, I had plenty to be thankful for back then. I was living in one of the coolest cities ever and making decent money for a 20 year old. Decent enough money that I had actually saved up over 30 grand and I wanted something cool to spend it on. On a whim I typed "Montana land for sale" into Google Images. I hadn't been to Montana since a family camping trip I took as a child, but it seemed like the kind of place you could just get away from it all. I clicked the first picture that caught my eye. It was a picture that showed a green hill overlooking a valley with snowcapped peaks in the background. The property was 11.6 acres in a town called Philipsburg and was listed for $59,000. A week later I stepped off the plane in Butte, MT and breathed the fresh mountain air. Ed, the realtor for the property I first clicked on picked me up and drove me back to his gorgeous lodge style home where he and his wife cooked me dinner and put me up in their guest room for the night. I was taken back by their hospitality and looked forward to seeing the property the next day. After breakfast we drove to the lot through the quaint little town of Philipsburg and up a couple miles up a rough gravel road. Finally we were there. It looked just like it did in the picture, just a little less green. It took me 20 minutes to do one lap around the property and I tried to imagine what it would feel like to know that it was all mine. I was pretty sure I wanted to make an offer on it but Ed insisted on showing me a few other listings in the area before I made my mind up. After driving around all day looking at places, nothing beat that first one. I made an offer for $51,500 and a couple months later I was in the escrow office signing all the the paperwork.
Fast forward five years and I was out of the Navy and studying finance at Seattle University. I had just finished riding my bicycle across America for the first half of my summer break from classes. I had 40 days left until fall quarter started up and that seemed like enough time to build myself a house. So I loaded up all the tools and camping gear I had and started the drive to Montana with my dog Moses riding shotgun.
It was pitch black when I got to the property on a cloudy night and no house lights for miles. I got out to start setting up my tent until I heard a deep groaning sound that sounded like some kind of huge animal. Thinking it was most likely a pissed off moose, I decided I'd just spend the night huddled up in the cab of my truck with Moses. It was a long night as the ferocious beast circled my truck but never revealed itself. Finally the sun came up and I poked my head out to see I was completely surrounded... by a heard of cattle.
I picked out what I thought was a good building site, and without much thought I started digging. I didn't have any plans for what I'd build but I figured a 10' x 16' footprint would do. I decided I'd use six pressure treated beams as uprights for my foundation and build the subfloor off of that. Digging these six holes was hard work. I needed them about 1.5 feet wide and 4 feet deep to get below the frost line. On the second day I was on the fourth hole and I had somehow came down with a fever. Digging holes at a 7000 foot elevation and sleeping on the ground at night while having a fever was not fun. The family that owns an adjacent lot from me offered to put me up for a couple nights while I fought the flu. For the second time in a row, I was incredibly impressed and blessed with Montana hospitality. Finally I recovered and got back to digging. Then it was time for the concrete. This was even more physically exhausting. I mixed 3500 lbs of concrete by hand with a shovel in a metal garbage can. Looking back, I really should have at least invested in a wheelbarrow.
Although there is plenty more to say, I'm just going to let the pictures do most of the talking from here...
I got the foundation poles set then watched the sun set while doing my best karate kid pose.
Once I got to the subfloor things started going a little more smoothy. My little brother Ian even came out for a weekend and helped me put up a couple walls.
The house is starting to take shape!
Moses will get in my way until I throw the ball for him.
Second floor/sleeping loft going up!
Applying the moisture barrier
Things got a little dark...
The view from my second floor deck.
Siding going up two days before school starts!
Finally got it all water tight. This is as far as I got that year before going back to school. My neighbor let me borrow this four wheeler for most of the time I was out there.
Over the next couple years I've returned a few times to work on the house and just get away from it all. Here are some pics of how it looks currently.