Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Little Help From My Friends

One of my best friends, Emile ( from Portland, Oregon ) has come to lend new enthusiasm ( and humor ) to the dome. He spent the last few days here in Terlingua familiarizing himself with the project and the surrounding community. We will spend January completing the basic structure, but for the next week, we will be in Central and Eastern Texas visiting our families. Emile and Don hit it off right away... I knew they would. After Don gave Emile a tour of his domes, they were climbing up scaffolding together like old friends do.

By coincidence, Raina Rose ( also from Portland ) arrived here the same day as Emile. She is touring with Trevor Smith ( prodigy banjo and mandolin player ). They played their sweet sounds to a packed Starlight Theater and then drove into the sunset after camping out at Earth Language for a night.

Fortunately, Emile's timing also allowed him to meet Abe and Josie, who made a surprise trip to their old adobe abode...just for a day to take care of some business. It was great to see them again ! Their never waning excitement over natural building has inspired more than a handful of virgin builders to try it for themselves. Their house in Terlingua is still for sale. Unfortunately for them, their house acts as a demonstration and inspiration for people to build their own homes, rather than buy theirs. They don't seem to mind though. Check out their place if you are interested in the best realty deal in the West. Built from scratch over several years, it's an art piece that doubles as a home, and it's only a couple of years into its many century lifespan.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Casa de Cob

Yesterday, I helped out new friends Robin and Jadi with their Cob house in Ocotillo Mesa. It was good to take a break from my own project and get some new ideas. Robin and Jadi have a great house in the works. They are doing things in the right order. The first thing they did was have the roof built. That gave them instant shade and water catchment. IMPORTANT in the desert !

Before the day started, I wondered if my inexperience would slow things down, but towards the end of the day, Robin mentioned how much faster this is going having another person. Robin and Jadi have spent most of the last year building their place on their own, with occasional help from friends. With cob building, one doesn't need any experience to be of help. Just about anyone can help to speed things up by shovelling dirt, stomping mud, and shaping walls. Many other cultures have realized, or have not forgotten, that building one's own house is what makes a house a home. It builds community at the same time. This idea is making a small comeback here in America as more people are realizing an alternative to the enslavement of the housing and mortgage markets. This is a pay as you go system...allowing the home builder to always own what they have and never go in debt. Cob ( sand, clay, and straw ) costs nothing. It is found all over the earth and is there for the taking.

It was a fun day. We ate delicious coconut soup and a salad with home grown beets and radishes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The mortared brick vs the mortgaged brick

We have finished making the bricks needed for the foundation of the dome. Today I timed myself, while I made the last batch of bricks. On my own, it took an hour to make 16 bricks. This is not factoring in the time taken to gather the materials, but the available materials are a byproduct of the excavation of the foundation ditch, which we had to do anyway. 16 bricks at $2.50 a brick in the store ( for this size and weight ) would have cost me $40. Sixteen mortgaged bricks, paid for over 30 years would have cost me $120 ! The equation I used is a simple one, using a calculator and third grade math. I multiplied by three. In other words, a house paid for over 30 years is about three times the cost of the same house purchased outright. That also means that it's triple the price for each component, down to the brick. So by making my own bricks with free raw materials and my own labor, in real time, technically I am making $40 an hour. However, I am saving $120 an hour, when compared to mortgaged bricks ! Not a bad wage. Today, I made 32 bricks over two hours ( 16 in the morning and 16 in the evening ). Compared to living in and paying for a mortgaged house, two hours of brick making is the same as a $240 payday. And I had many daylight hours left to do other things, such as visit with friends, meet a new neighbor, make a broom out of bunchgrass, play guitar, hound the used car dealership who still hasn’t sent me my title and registration after eight months and two citations, watch the scarlet colored sunset and emerging crescent moon, and write this journal entry. If I wanted to spend a full 8 hours of repetition making bricks, I would have been able to make 128 bricks, more than enough for the entire foundation...$960 saved. Making bricks is fun, especially with friends.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Adventures of Remington and the Prickly Pears

Friends Lindsey, Preston, and Remington paid a visit from Austin ( and Denton ) this last weekend. They win for being the first of my friends to make the treck out here. I'll let the photos tell the story. These are our combined photos from the trip ( still waiting for more to roll in ). See the sidebar for more pictures and albums.

The entrance to Big Bend National Park is just a few miles from town. Ojinaga ( in Mexico ) is about 50 miles.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Big Bend People and Goats

Today, Don and I made a trip to Alpine. We both had things to do in the "big city". Alpine has a couple of large grocery stores, hardware stores, a radio shack, a movie theatre, a credit union, county offices, and a few other things that you can't find in Terlingua. Don also wanted to visit his friend George in Alpine. George is turning 89 today and Don wanted to make sure that George is eating right. Don brought with him an article a friend downloaded for him about nutrition. When trying to find George's place, we got a bit lost, so I pulled out my Garmin GPS. I was explaining to don how my GPS unit worked. He held it in his hand and exclaimed, “It takes a photo of the streets as we pass them by !” I explained that the unit has all the maps of the USA, Canada, and Mexico pre-programmed into it. He said, "Let's take it to Mexico !" George Floro runs the goat club in Alpine called "Big Bend People and Goats" and has a publication that goes with it. He invited us in for dinner. During dinner, George’s wife, gave us fermented goat milk, which is called Kefir. On our way out, they gave us gave us some goat cheese to take home. Their goat cheese is sold in stores around this region. Delicious !

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I got to name my road this week. I chose to name it after my grandmother, "Ruby" who died earlier this year at the age of 98. Ruby lived almost her entire life in South Africa. When she visited us once here in the United States, she said that one of the things she likes most about America are the street names. Fitting.

We were lucky to have her leave us her life story on tape. We made a website for her, with pictures, soon after she died. You can find it here.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Surveying Property Properly

James Jackson came by today to survey my property. It is muy muy importante to make sure that you are building in the right spot. Since this whole area has been subdivided so many times, there can be errors in the deed and corresponding GPS coordinates given by the companies who sell the land out here. If years down the road, it was found that I were building on a neighbor’s property, they would get to keep my structure and any other fruit of my labor. This has happened before in this area, but most times, neighbors have agreed to redraw the lines. But technically by law, that neighbor could have chosen to keep the free infrastructure and also forbid the builder from stepping foot on that land ever again.

The surveying process is very interesting. And James Jackson has many years of education and experience in this field. He explained it to me, but it was too much technical information for me to absorb all at once. Basically though, there are iron corner markers which are spread out throughout this region, and they are officially recognized by the court if there were to be any discrepancies or arguing over land ownership. They are sometimes spaced out miles apart. So, in figuring out the true coordinates of my five acre tract, we have to bounce a signal from those officially recognized corner markers. Using simple mathematics to measure the angles and distances help to find out the exact corners of the property. The main tool is the total station. This is what measures the reflection of light from the prism pole. I carried the prism pole to the iron corner marker about a half mile from my property and then pointed it back at James, who aimed the total station at it. With the help of walkie talkies, I was able to adjust the prism pole to where James can see it in the view finder. Luckily out here, there aren’t many tall trees to get in our way. If there were, we would have to measure multiple segments of unobstructed path and and then add them together.

James is in high demand in these parts. I am grateful that he took the time to help and explain the surveying process.