Thursday, January 18, 2007

Another Cabin Story - Running Water


Today we got another couple of inches of snow. The ski trails were in great shape before the snow, so now we have to go out and groom the trails again. If you are planning on coming up here this weekend you should have perfect trails!

Speaking of this weekend, we are hosting this Winter's first Dog Lovers Weekend. We have one more planned for this winter. Because this is a popular winter package we decided to offer it to our guests this spring. Here is the link to the package details. We don't have the spring dates posted yet but they should be up around the end of the month.

Here is our featured Cabin Story for you. This one is about how we got running water. Enjoy.

Putting in Indoor Plumbing at Gunflint.

[This information comes from talking with Mat and Bruce trying to put the sequence of plumbing in order.]

Sometime prior to 1952 a well was hand dug by the Indians (Bruce thinks). Then they hired someone to drill a well. It went to a depth of 50’ and tapped into surface water over the rock shield. The well would be used until the late 1970’s and was located in a pump house on the southeast corner of the main lodge parking lot.

This water had a high iron content both in solution and ionized, which led to several issues. The first problem was that the ionized iron could not be filtered out but it would precipitate out especially in hot water. All the sinks, toilets and showers would quickly become covered with a deep rust-colored layer of iron. The only way to clean them was with a product called Vani-Sol. It was basically a hydrochloric acid solution that ate into anything it touched. Staff had to be careful to not get burned with it.

Another problem was with washing clothes and towels. The iron stained everything rusty. As a result for years the towels at the lodge were gold rather than the traditional white of hotels. Also all the white sheets were sent to Grand Marais to be laundered and ironed there. Personal clothing was very difficult to keep from stains. Finally all the china and glasses in the dining room were stained with rust and had to be periodically cleaned.

The third problem was more amusing than of substance. At that time Gunflint did not have a liquor license. Guests would often get ice from the lodge and take it to their cabin for a pre-dinner drink. When bourbon was mixed with the ice and ionized-iron water, it turned the drink black. The taste was the same but it looked very dark.

These three problems would remain until the well was no longer used. That occurred in the late 1970’s when the well no longer had the capacity to supply all the water demands of the lodge. At that time the lodge switched to taking water from the lake.

The plumbing equipment Justine installed was quite different from what we use today. For the first job she had gone with a plan to Montgomery Wards and they had figured out what she needed. Mom tells this story in her book but does not go into the details of the actually pipe, etc. The water pipes were all 1 ½” lead pipes that were connected by threaded fittings. The drain pipes were 3-4” cast iron that were connected by fittings sealed with oakum and hot lead. All in all, cutting, moving and installing plumbing was much more difficult than today.

Handling the wastewater from sinks, showers, and toilets was done by meals of septic tanks just like today. The septic tanks, however, were hand dug into hardpan. Also the tanks were only 55-gallon barrels with baffles welded on for the intake from the cabin and the outgoing liquids. The liquids were drained into a hand-dug pit from with they were absorbed into the ground. The pit had a wooden cover over it.

Another part of the installation of indoor plumbing was the purchase of a large 2500-gallon redwood holding tank. The tank was placed between the side-road and mother’s cabin. During the summer it was kept full and the cabins were gravity supplied with water from that. Each spring when the tank was filled for the first time, it would take several days of leaking before the redwood boards would swell up and not leak. The use of this tank was discontinued when the lodge switched to the lake water system.

1952 – That summer was Mat’s first summer at Gunflint. She was the dishwasher and seems to remember that the main lodge had water in the kitchen. If that was the case there was also a shower in the basement of the lodge that was accessed by a door on the north side. This shower was used by both employees and guests. It was also used by Ferdinand the cow as a cool place to stay during the hot summer (according to Justine’s book.)

During the fall of 1952 it appears that a water line was dug from the main lodge to Mother’s cabin by the Joe Blackjack and that house was plumbed. The digging was through hard pan and must have been really tough. Both Bruce and Mat recall saying that they were so proud of the new bathroom that they did not put a door on it for a bit. Bruce also says that it may have been that the door just did not get built for a time. This water line was only dug to a depth of 4’ and would freeze that winter since no one truly realized how deep the frost line went.

Also during that fall and spring water was extended to the Trading Post units and Cabin #3. Bill enjoyed carpentry and would build the room. Justine would do the plumbing with some assistance from Mat.

Much of the winter of 1952-53 was spent in Panama City, Florida. Justine, Mat, and the three kids were down there the entire time. In fact the kids attended school for a time in Panama City. Bill was in Florida intermittently.

1953 – The big event of this summer was the burning of the lodge in late June. The rest of the year and the following winter was spent building the new lodge. After the fire, Cabin #5 was moved from it’s original location in front of the lodge to it’s final location between the Trading Post building and Cabin #3. Presumably it was connected into the running water system as a result of the move.

That winter Justine bought a house on Maple Hill for the family to live in. The kids could go to school in Grand Marais. She built a workshop in back. That was where she and Mat built the dining room furniture for the lodge.

Bill Kerfoot, who had been deeply involved in 8th district Republican politics was appointed District Collector of Customs after Eisenhower was elected. He worked in Duluth all week and came home on weekends.

1954 – Mat and Bruce think that the rest of the cabins got running water during the fall of 1954-55. Water was extended from Cabin #3 to Cabin #4 below it and across the creek to Cabin #2 and Cabin #1. Then they put water into the east side of camp, which was Cabins #9, 10, 11, and 12. Cabin #10, 11, and 12 were the three original cabins which had been purchased with the resort in 1929. Bruce remembers digging the holes for septic tanks for these cabins in 1954.

Today we really take running water for granted but back in the early days it was quite a challenge to install it in the lodge or in the cabins.



Diane said...

----I love reading your blog---as new homeowners on Gunflint lake it makes me feel in touch with things while here in the Twin Cities area.--Look forward to coming up again in FEbruary to the peacefulness of the woods

Eva & Lee Kerfoot said...

Hi Diane,

Thanks for the nice words. My Grandma, Justine Kerfoot, wrote a column for the newspaper for over 50 years. Back in the day her column was how homeowners kept in touch with what was going on up north.

Well now that we are in the digital age, I guess this is just another way people keep in touch with what is going on up north.

Thank you for the huge compliment. You have no idea how flattering that comment is to both mom and I. Next time you are around stop by and say hello so we can meet in person.