Breathing New Life in Some Old Boards

By Beacon Staff

You may never have noticed it, but it’s been around for a while.

“Probably from the [19]30’s; based on this German siding and the shakes,” says Pete Hendricks, “it was built before plywood.”

“It” is the little shack-type-barn overlooking highway 35, just behind El Topo and south of the canyon. Upon closer inspection, it’s two buildings connected by a third, a space likely used as a horse stable judging by the divided doors and straw.

All of it is being deconstructed by Hendricks and his daughter Holly Hendricks.

The boards are weather-beaten and the buildings are tacked together, but it’s still usable for someone looking to create that “rustic” look.

“They want that old feeling in their house and this would be perfect for a little cabin,” says Lindi Nelson. Nelson and Ken Degitz own El Topo, and the little shack behind. The hillside it sits on has been chipped away as they and neighboring businesses dig in to make more room. When it came to getting rid of the storage shack, they chose deconstruction instead of demolition. Hendricks has been working deconstruction since getting back from Vietnam in 1971.

“You have to keep in mind that you’re not tearing it down,”’ Hendricks explains, “you’re getting building materials.”

The first step is to understand how the building was built, the order. Then you take it down exactly backwards. Because of where boards overlap, where the nails go in and how, Hendricks can tell this was two separate buildings connected by a third in the center. So the middle goes first, starting with the roof.

“I keep saying I’m not going to do roofs anymore,” says Hendricks, after climbing down the ladder off the roof,” and here’s my second one this summer.” The 63-year-old says they usually salvage 70-percent of the materials from a building; Habitat for Humanity frequently gets the salvageable material, or the property owner who commissioned the deconstruction will repurpose the materials into new buildings.

“When old houses come down, they feed into the new ones,” Hendricks says.

After the roof comes off, the walls come down, then the floors. Pete Hendricks has deconstructed cabins and out buildings around the Flathead in the summertime since 1991, and spends winters working in eastern states doing the same, frequently deconstructing park cabins and reconstructing new ones out of some of the same materials. He’s also trained “Deconstruction Crews” for Habitat for Humanity; showing them what to look for when deciding where to start, and how to separate materials and stack them in forklift-able sized piles.

Amidst the piles of boards, metal pipes, and shingles, Pete and Holly Hendricks are sifting through the junk and picking out the salvageable. This project is simple and was cobbled together with cheap materials, but they haven’t gotten to the bottom yet.

“Big slabs of boards, cheap nails and cheap roofing material; but we haven’t got down to the floors yet- that’s where we find the money and trinkets, and marbles,” Hendricks laughs, “every time there’s a marble, I don’t care what kind of building it is.”