Cabin Fever: Replica Of Author's Rim Country Home Reflects Rustic Lifestyle



When the Zane Grey cabin opens this summer in Green Valley Park, one thing should be obvious to visitors: life has changed dramatically in the Rim country since those rough and tumble days of cattle drives and mule trains.

Not only did the famous Western novelist and the rest of the sparsely populated Rim country's residents lack the convenience of picking up a half gallon of milk at Bashas', but they had to build their cabins out of rough-sawn lumber or real logs, not the fake facades so common today.

A rare photograph of the inside of the cabin speaks volumes about the sparseness of life in the West -- even for a man of considerable means like Grey, who had become by that time, America's best-selling author.

The famous novelist penned more than 60 Westerns and spent each fall at the cabin during the 1920s. He set 24 of his books in Arizona and half of those in the Rim country.

Grey hired "Babe" Haught, who had served as his hunting guide, to build him a cabin, which burned to the ground in 1990 by the Dude Fire, where he could hunt and write.

"Enamored with the Rim's rugged environment, Zane was certain that it was also rich in history that would provide many plots for his novels," Beth Counsellor, one of the original cabin's caretakers, wrote in "The Story of the Zane Grey Cabin."

And while he was here in the Rim country, Grey lived like most of the rest of its residents -- with few of the modern conveniences we take for granted today.

A black and white photo of the interior, depicts part of the living area of the cabin. In the photo, a woman is painting a design on the fireplace while a man leans on the mantle and watches. Another woman sits at a large table with an early typewriter.

"It's an interesting shot," Dick Wolfe, president of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation said. "The woman working on the fireplace is Lilian Wilhelm Smith, Zane Grey's cousin. She was quite an artist, and she was painting the symbols on here. She did the same thing at his mansion in Altadena.

"We think the man behind her is Romer, Zane Grey's son. And we think the woman at the table is one of his secretaries. He always wrote his novels in longhand and then he would give it to one of his traveling secretaries to type."


Andy Sargent and students from the Payson High School building trades class are making replica furniture based on photographs.

While Grey could afford the painted fireplace and the traveling secretary, the rest of the photo tells a

tale of a life devoid of the creature comforts we take for granted. The table at which the secretary sits is crude and unfinished. Her chair appears to be a folding camp chair. Her work is illuminated by an oil lamp.

That's about it, other than a few books on the mantle and some rain slickers hanging on the wall.

"There was no electricity," Wolfe said. "Just kerosene lighting. No indoor plumbing. I'm sure they had an outhouse.

"They had a well for water, but bathing is probably another thing. They may have had one of those cowboy tubs.

"There was a wood-burning stove with a tank on the side. When you fired it up, it also heated water."

Of course, the fireplace provided heat, but there was no cooling.

"They were tough," Wolfe said.

In replicating the cabin, Wolfe has faced many challenges, not the least of which is too much perfection on the part of the carpenters and other craftsmen who have worked on it.

"One of the most difficult things we've had to do is convincing all of these craftsmen to not do a perfect job," he said "I said, ‘It was not perfect back then. It was just some cowboys and ranchers working up there with one carpenter.'

"‘You can actually see the flaws in the pictures. If the wood is warped, so be it.'"

All the wood used in the cabin, both interior and exterior, was rough sawn.

"It came down from a mill, I believe, up in Winslow," Wolfe said. "And it was hauled over the rim and down by mule and burro."

The walls and ceiling of the interior were made of 1-by-6 boards.

"Of course it's going to move, warp, expand and all that," Wolfe said. "But we're convinced that's the way it was so that's what we're going to use."

The cabin is also being rebuilt with real rather than laminated beams, and with single-pane wooden windows.

Wolfe believed the simple furniture in the original cabin was nailed together using scrap lumber left over from building the cabin.

Eleven students from the Payson High School building trades class are making replica furniture for the new cabin based on the old interior photograph and some color photos from its days at a museum.

"I knew they did good work over there, and it just occurred to me it would be the right thing to do to get them involved," Wolfe said. "So I approached (PHS teacher) Mr. (Richard) Alvarez and he was very receptive.

"I invited them down to the cabin so they could get a feel for what they were going to be doing, for the era of the cabin. They got right on it and the next day they had a piece built."

The students are actually sawing their own lumber, using trees infested with bark beetles. They are staining the furniture so it will look aged.

"We obviously didn't want it to look like new wood, and they worked very diligently mixing up stains to come up with just the right shade," Wolfe said.

The students are making tables, benches, shelves and a desk for the cabin.

"We scaled everything," Alvarez said. "It was really rustic. It wasn't fine furniture. Basically they rough-sawed all the material out, so that's how we did it."

Student Kyle Wortman, who worked on the desk, made a discovery. "It's kind of interesting," he said, "because the compartments for paper are smaller than on modern desks."

The class is also going to install and finish the 1-by-6 boards on the walls and ceiling of the cabin, and local artist Donn Morris is going to paint the fireplace using the old black and white photo.

Wolfe has collected three shelves full of kerosene lamps, a vintage typewriter, and other period items to furnish the cabin.

When it's all done, even Grey himself would be hard pressed to tell the difference. "There's a lot of guesswork involved, but I think we know how they existed back then," Wolfe said. "They were tough."

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