The Timbers

Our family shared The Timbers with two other families. For me and my siblings, it was OUR lake place. While we loved Grandma Grewe’s Grand Lake, we felt like The Timbers was ours. Our family bought into The Timbers when I was about ten, so this was in the early 1970s. Every winter our parents met with the other owners to divvy up the dates for the year. The place was not heated, so for Minnesota, that meant mainly June, July, and August. They also put dibs on weekends in May, September, and October.

Due to the scheduling, we were there most often a week at a time, but sometimes it was two. During the time we went there, we stayed at least one week per month there ever Summer, and often more. My parents and the other families kept the place until I was in college, so we were had this awesome “cabin” up North for over ten years. Some of my greatest childhood memories are from The Timbers. We all invited many, many friends to The Timbers over the years. I really learned to fish there; got elementary understanding of motors; learned to water ski, sail and canoe; engaged in roof repair; gathered kindling and chopped wood; learned to motorbike; played cards and did puzzles with family; read voraciously; and learned to HATE mosquitoes! More than anything, at The Timbers I learned the values of hard work and peaceful relaxation.

The Timbers could hardly be called a mere cabin. A Lodge would be a much better description. It was located South of Brainard, Minnesota, on Crooked Lake. Crooked lake was a long, narrow lake that resembled a river. The Timbers consisted of seven main buildings on a 12 acre tract of deep woods, consisting mostly of tall pine timber. The main lodge sat atop a steep hill overlooking the lake. The closest neighboring cabins were about a half mile away. The outbuildings included a garage (complete with expansive upstairs bedrooms), a caretaker’s cabin, a boathouse with four bunks a screened porch and an open porch extending over the water, an ice house, a fully screened sandbox, and multiple outhouses, complete with electric lights.

Jon, Jenifer (and Bos’n) on the path to the lake.

The buildings were constructed with gigantic natural logs. In the main lodge, the logs were at least two feet in diameter and were left uncovered on both the exterior and the interior. The main living room in the lodge was gigantic, nearly thirty feet by thirty feet, with a cathedral ceiling over twenty feet to the roof. It included a forty-foot front porch, with an accompanying outdoor deck that spanned across the entire front of the cabin. There was a master bedroom, a guest bedroom, kitchen and pantry, and a bathroom. We ate most meals at the long hardwood picnic-type table on the front porch.

The entire property was built by the Piper family, known for their early airplane business. They had plenty of money, so no expense was spared. In addition to the logs imported from Oregon, the fixtures – door handles, hinges, locks, and other hardware – was made from pounded wrought iron into various scenes and shapes. The door handles were fish; a round lock hole was covered with a wrought iron turtle; the door knocker was a bird; and there were other miscellaneous designs throughout the lodge and out buildings.

The view from the front of the main lodge was incredible. The steep embankment to the lake was wooded, but not so much to obscure the view of the lake. Across the lake was more woods. It was my understanding that the other side of the lake was owned by the State . There were no homes there and never any activity at all. In essence, this entire area of the lake was our own private paradise.

We walked from building to building, mostly down to the lake, on well manicured trails. That meant that we spend many hours keeping those trails in good repair, but since it was all natural, many large tree roots crossed the trail. That led to many a stubbed toe, sprained ankle, and face plants. This was especially true at night. It was PITCH dark outside. No one went anywhere without a large flashlight. Even then, for a kid that was quite the scary adventure! The biggest problem was that the boathouse, where us kids preferred to sleep, had no bathroom, only a nearby outhouse. As a result, we made many trips up and down that hill to the main lodge. It was a a trek equal to about a city block. Not fun in the dark.

On thing that fascinated me was what we called “the lagoon.” This consisted of a very large man-made pond down an embankment. There were stone steps leading down into a dry gully where the pond was created. On the far side of the pond was an elongated waterfall. There were remnants of a stone walkway around the pond and several small stone benches. One of the main things I remember about the area was that it was overgrown with large ferns. The sad thing is that we almost never went down there. Everything was almost completely overgrown. While the waterfall never worked, rainwater collected in the pond, so it became a massive mosquito breeding ground. Even getting close to the lagoon meant you would end up with hundreds of mosquito bites within a matter of moments. It was truly a potential beautiful spot, but without regular upkeep had become quite treacherous.

There was no television at The Timbers. That was one of the rules of the house. We think that this was violated by one of the other families as we once found a small television stashed in one of the closets. There was a single desk phone, but it was long distance to call anywhere, so it was rarely used. We always jumped any time the phone would ring. Dad got a few business calls every so often.

Going to The Timbers definitely taught us how to plan. This was primarily Mom’s responsibility, but we need to help her along the way. We needed to pack a week’s worth of food for the trip and needed to ensure we brought all the necessaries – sheets, towels, blankets, sleeping bags, and most importantly, toilet paper! Though we probably could have stored some stuff there, it seemed that every time we did, it was used – or used up – by one of the other families during the off weeks. Besides, there was no washing machine to wash the linens, so we just brought stuff home every time.

The Timbers was about a two and one-half hour drive from home. It was truly in the middle of nowhere. The closest town, Deerwood, was about a 25-minute drive away. From the “main” road, we were about a mile in, all along a winding dirt road. Even the main road was several miles from the nearest true rural highway. During our week at The Timbers, we were very much on our own.

Living conditions, while nice, were quite sparse. The only real luxuries were electric lights, indoor plumbing, the gas stove in the kitchen, and the refrigerator. We learned to appreciate the Franklin pot belly stove in the kitchen. That, and the massive fireplace in the main room of the lodge, were the only sources of heat. And that only worked if you had a good stash of kindling and chopped firewood!

The lake was not really much of a swimming lake, but we did a LOT of swimming there. Our property was over 1000 feet of shoreline, but there was nothing even close to resembling a beach. We simply jumped off the end of our short dock into water that was well over our heads. About thirty feet from the end of the dock was a large wooden “raft,” supported by a number of empty 55 gallon drums. Once a kid proved he or she could swim, we got the green light to swim to, from, and around the raft. If a kid couldn’t swim, the rule was either NO water or they had to wear a life vest.

Besides swimming, fishing, exploring, and boating, there was very little to keep kids entertained for a week at a time. I can tell you, though, that we rarely felt bored. If we weren’t playing outside somewhere, we were working: chopping wood, finding good kindling, general maintenance of the grounds and buildings, and for me, sweeping pine needles off the wood shingled roof! I don’t know if kids of today would appreciate The Timbers since there were not the type of activities that they seem to like. For us, though, it was perfect!

Evenings were family time. We really didn’t have much of that when we were home. Like many fathers of that time, my dad work very long hours. Though my mother dearly wanted a “dinner hour” all her life, it was only occasionally that had one with the whole family around the table. Not so at The Timbers! Dinners were a family affair. After dinner it was card games, long chats, or puzzles, sometimes all. On cold nights Dad read books aloud in front of a roaring fire. Those were the best times!

It was mostly Mom (or grandma) who cooked, but we all had jobs around the family dinner. We couldn’t get to the fun stuff until everything else was done. We took turns chopping vegetables and running into the pantry for this or that. After dinner, it was clearing the table, doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen, stocking the wood bin for the night, and anything else that needed to be done that night. One somewhat fun job was getting water from the pump. None of the running water in the lodge was potable. We had a pumphouse for “fresh” water and needed to pump fresh water into various urns daily. It was hard work for a kid to get water from the huge pump. It was definitely a workout! The only problem with the fresh drinking water was that it came out orange! That was from the large content of iron in the water that is typical in Northern Minnesota. It looked at tasted a little odd, but we got used to it.

The pumphouse

Visitors and parties were a regular events for us at The Timbers. One of us kids almost always had a friend or two come along. Many of our relatives and our parent’s friends either stopped for the day – or for an extended visit. Most of the latter visits almost always included long nights of card playing, stories, and alcohol. That kept the adults occupied while the kids ran wild. I remember several incidents of taking Jon and Jenifer on nighttime walks through the woods. The whole time I would tell them to look out for wolves, bats, and other nocturnal creatures. Once we got far enough away – but not too far – I would switch off my flashlight and run away. Poor kids are probably still afraid of being outside alone at night! Yes, admittedly, I terrorized my younger siblings.

I have so many great memories of The Timbers. I was so happy that Amy was able to visit once or twice before it was sold, but our kids never got there. Besides the great family memories there, the rustic way of life was a glimpse into the past. I learned so much about living in, and loving, nature. The lessons I learned there served me well as a homeowner dealing with maintenance, planting a garden, and being able to use tools necessary in life. And I still HATE mosquitoes!

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