1930s-era Jackson Hole cabin finds new home
November 28, 2019
JACKSON — The doors of the 1930s log cabin stood open as it lumbered into the “Y” intersection on a tractor-trailer, its passage through the crossroads guarded by traffic-blocking patrol cars.
From afar the spectacle offered a glimpse of Jackson Hole gone by. A closer peek inside the wooden walls, punctuated by thick tree-trunk rafters and joists, inspired daydreams of pioneer life in the valley. But this cabin was more than a remnant of early Wyoming — it was beginning its next chapter.
Just 20 minutes before, at midmorning Saturday, it sat in a grassy field in the Melody Ranches subdivision south of town, its home for more than half a century. Long before that it had been a gas station and store near Jackson Lake Lodge.
The Melody Ranches Homeowners Association, determined not to destroy the long-disused, 1,000-square-foot artifact, advertised it as free on Facebook. That’s where Heide Kaiser found it.
“It just reminded me so much of this cabin that we would go to in the summer with my kids,” she said. “I wanted to recreate that.”
She decided to pay about $30,000 to move it to her property on the West Bank. After a decade spent flipping homes in Florida, where she spends the other half of each year, Kaiser is well-versed in the art of restoration (she once purchased a house via electronic signature from the Thunder Lift line at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort).
But, she said, “I’ve never dealt with a log structure. This will be fun.”
She’ll have to replace some rotten logs on the bottom, along with the carpet, the insulation, the roof, the wiring and more. But as she renovates it — transforming it into a “device-free cool zone” where her grandchildren can make the same memories her children did years ago — Kaiser plans to preserve everything integral to its rustic appearance.
“All that kind of stuff is getting torn down for this new look,” she said. “The Jackson charm is what originally drew everyone there, and it’s disappearing quickly. So it’s nice to save it.”
To do so, she enlisted the help of Teton Transport, a Victor, Idaho, company that moves homes. Vern Woolstenhulme and his team showed up Saturday with a trailer measuring nearly 60 feet, specially welded to accommodate such lengthy loads.
They jacked up the 32-ton house, balanced it on the trailer on a series of I-beams and wooden planks, and cleared the path ahead. With that, Woolstenhulme climbed into the truck’s cab and prepared to pull out.
The cabin, held in place only by its own weight, creaked and groaned, snapping branches on the trees overhanging the gravel road. It was just the beginning of what would be a 13-mile drive, during which law enforcement officers escorted the entourage, and “Oversize Load” signs would announce in bold letters its already obvious presence.
Among the small crowd at Melody Ranches that morning was Kent Van Riper, one of the HOA members who helped find someone to take the cabin. For years it served owner Paul Von Gontard as a storage and tack room. Later it was converted to a sales office, and has now been boarded up for more than a decade.
“I’m just glad to see it found a new home,” Van Riper said with a smile as the move commenced.
Esther Judge, who transports historic structures to more suitable sites through her nonprofit Shacks on Racks, also dropped by. Though she wasn’t formally involved in this operation, she put Kaiser in touch with Teton Transport.
Judge was happy Kaiser chose to save the cabin. But her excitement is balanced by the frustration of a year spent trying unsuccessfully to coordinate other relocations.
“There have been so many opportunities,” she said, adding that it’s often cheaper to move a building than to demolish it. But due to a lack of interest — or awareness — among both owners and the community at large, those viable homes have been scrapped.
“Literally it’s mind blowing,” she said. “They all went to the trash, and they were all so worthy.”
Kaiser is of the same mind. In this cabin she sees not a decaying burden to be swept aside, making way for the trappings of modernity; she sees a chance to preserve a bit of the Western magic she cherishes in Jackson Hole.
“There’s no reason for all these things to go to the dump,” she said.
And this one didn’t. Instead, it went to the West Bank. Passing through the “Y” intersection on Saturday, the relic disappeared down the highway, not as a truckload of debris but as an intact, practically livable home — bound for a new foundation and a new life.