Carving a Life out of America’s Last Frontier

Adolf Weitzel of Ridgeway, stands in front of the cabin he is building, by himself, in Alaska. As shown here, he has finished over half the wall height.

At 74, Adolf Weitzel of Ridgeway is living the dream – he’s building a log cabin on 3 acres of coastal wilderness in Alaska. And he’s building it off the land, by himself. Nine years retired from a career as a custom builder, the native German has just finished his second summer of work on the cabin. This week, he’s packing up and preparing to head home to Ridgeway for the winter. He and his wife, Annarose, immigrated to Ridgeway in 1965 for much the same reason he is building a cabin in Alaska – his love of hunting, fishing and the great outdoors.

Hunting in Germany was very expensive and not within Weitzel’s means to do so. During a visit to his sister’s home in America, Weitzel learned that in America public lands are available where anyone could hunt, regardless of their wealth. He called Annarose who was back in Germany with their 4-year-old daughter and told her to pack their things and come over. He was staying in America.

“When I retired, my wife and I got a motorhome and travelled all over America. We visited Alaska several times, and sometimes our kids and grandkids came along with us. The boys and I love to fish – I’ve fished in Valdez, Fairbanks, you name it and I’ve fished there,” he said in a heavy German accent via cell phone from his Alaskan outpost.

“A few years ago we found a campground in Anchor Point, on the Kenai Pennisula, that we kept coming back to,” Weitzel recalled. “The peninsula has a  beautiful view of glaciers, the ocean and mountains – and the fishing is fantastic. There are three great salmon rivers here – the Anchor River, the Ninilchik and Deep Creek.  People from all over Alaska come here to fish for Halibut. I mean, if you want to be in a place where the fishing is great, this is where you want to be!”

It was in 2011, after he was diagnosed and treated in nearby Homer, Alaska for colon cancer, which is now in remission, that Weitzel decided to take the plunge and buy acreage in the area. But with serious knee problems, for which he’s had surgery, Weitzel knew that building a cabin would be hard work.

Still, he clearly relished the challenge.

He spent last summer cutting in a road and lining it with gravel, clearing the home site and felling and curing more than 40 logs off the land. It often took over seven hours to get a tree down, de-limb it and then move it to the site.

This summer, he started building the cabin and has completed five rungs, over half the wall height he’ll need before putting on a roof.

“I’m very particular about fitting the logs together,” he said, “and that’s one heck of a job. Some of these logs are 18 inches in diameter and 29 feet long. The easy part is lifting them. I have an electric hoist that can lift 2,000 pounds. I just put a strap around the log and hit a button. But before that, I have to set up two sets of scaffolding so that when I have the log up in the air, it will set down correctly onto the wall. Every time I move a log up, I have to move two sets of scaffolding. I climb the ladder, boost it up, lower it down, unhook it. I must be making two hundred trips a day up and down that ladder. It takes hours.”

Because he can only work during the summer months while the weather is good, he stays from mid-May to mid-September. Weitzel said he loves for family and friends to visit and especially enjoys working with his grandsons on the cabin. But he isn’t interested in help from other builders or workers.

“I’d rather work by myself,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not easy to work with – I don’t like to explain how to do things. I’ve had some offers to help, but I just say, ‘Nope – I’m building this log cabin by myself.’ That’s it.”

During construction, Weitzel lives in a tarp-wrapped frame shelter with a wood floor. The 10×20 structure has a large freezer, a Coleman stove, wood stove,  TV and a 10,000-gallon freshwater tank that is filled by a truck delivery service at 5 cents per gallon, a common Alaskan utility. He uses a generator and doesn’t plan on hooking up to electricity when the cabin is finished.

“Most people living out here in the woods have an outhouse, but my wife wouldn’t put up with that!” he laughed. “As soon as I get the bathroom finished she’ll come up here and spend the summer with me. She won’t come up until I get the shower hooked up.”

A permit and inspection are necessary for the septic system, but no permits are required for the building. The finished cabin will measure 27×22 feet, with a combined kitchen and living room, a bedroom, closet and loft.

“Next year, I should by all means get the roof done,” he said, “but right now I have to go home. My oldest granddaughter is getting married in September.”

As he plans the last busy days of securing the site against a quickly approaching winter, he looks forward to returning next summer.

“I love it up here,” he said. “I’m a happy person up here. Sometimes it gets frustrating with my work, and I don’t get as much done as I want to, but that’s life – it can’t be everyday a happy day. But I like the people, the environment, the fishing – just the whole thing. It’s fantastic. If I’m alive next summer,” he said, “then I’ll be in Alaska!”

To follow Adolf’s cabin-building adventures on facebook, go to Adolfsalaska.