Hurricane Ivan delivers the logs for a handcrafted Pennsylvania home.
Every log-home owner has a unique story to tell. Such is the case with our dream log home in central Pennsylvania. The word "unique," however, may be a slight understatement.For starters, I bought the 40-acre wooded property without telling my wife, Dotty. I don’t recommend that strategy. I took a pretty big chance, but Dotty got excited about the project once the initial shock wore off. The land was exactly what we had always talked about. We’re on the border of thousands of acres of protected watershed property. It feels like we’re in the wilds of Pennsylvania, but we’re only seven minutes from the mall. The 5,900-square-foot, handcrafted-log home sits high atop a ridge with spectacular views on three sides. These views inspired both the position of the house and its custom design. From our 1,200-square-foot deck, Dotty and I can see eight mountain ranges. Down below is a pristine reservoir. We also have a bird’s-eye view of the railroad tracks leading to the famous Horseshoe Curve. At night, stargazing is our favorite pastime. The views are equally impressive from the opposite side of the house. The nearby town of Hollidaysburg is in clear view, even though it is eight miles away. In winter, we’re able to see the lights at Blue Knob Ski Resort. Building on top of a mountain required extensive planning. We took nearly three years before we started moving dirt. The excavating alone was a massive project. We had to clear a half-mile for the driveway and then another path for the sewer and utilities. Intending to build a handcrafted home, Dotty and I originally planned on getting our logs from out West and asked for bids from at least 10 handcrafters. We found that shipping big logs was more expensive than we had expected. That’s when I decided to find the logs myself. I sent e-mails to more than 100 places in the East, asking if they had old-growth, large-diameter white pine. I got only one response. It was from a forestry agency less than 30 minutes from my house, and all the reply said was, "We may have what you are looking for." Indeed they did. As fate would have it, high winds from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 toppled two stands of old-growth white pine in a state park 45 minutes from the building site. We bought the logging permit to the 10-acre area for $2,000 and hired two logging crews to haul out 200 handpicked, 40-to-50-foot house logs. Here these gorgeous, 80-to-90-year-old trees were, lying in an incredible jumble, and they were probably destined for a paper mill somewhere. To pay tribute, we call out home "Ivan’s Glory." The next step was finding a builder who specialized in handcrafted homes. Again, fate played a part. I did a Google search for "handcrafted log home builders in Pennsylvania," and found only one. His name was Mark Lukcik of Lukcik’s Log Homes, less than an hour from us. Here’s what he said about working with us on our dream home: "The Helsels were the most involved homeowners I have ever been associated with. You could tell that this was their dream, and they wanted to be part of the process. That made it fun for us because we fed off their enthusiasm. We may have made a few adjustments, but by and large they knew exactly what they wanted. We had a good plan before we started and just followed it to fruition." The logs were hauled from the woods to a cornfield, where Lukcik and his crew hand-peeled, then scribe-fit them and erected the shell. This labor-intensive project took nearly a year to finish. Then each log was marked, the shell disassembled and the logs trucked to the building site. Lukcik’s crew needed about a week to re-erect the shell on the Superior Wall foundation and another 12 months to finish the home. The main-level layout is open and centers on a large great room with plenty of large windows and wide-plank pine floors milled from leftover logs. Full-log stairs lead to an open loft with a big-screen television, an extra bed for guests and a leather sofa. The loft is also my office. It was supposed to be my area — I own three separate businesses — but the kids have kind of taken it over. It’s fun up here, and the view of the reservoir is breathtaking. It’s a very inspiring place for me to work. The kids spend most of their time in the 2,500-square-foot finished basement. The middle section has a media room, a log bar, a pool table and a workout area. The right wing has two boys’ bedrooms, and the left wing has a two-car garage and my hunting room. The landscaping is a work in progress. We’ve added some native plants and large rocks to fill back in around the house.The goal is to make it look like the house was lowered from a helicopter to sit on an undisturbed mountaintop. We want to keep it very natural looking. Living in "Ivan’s Glory" turned out to be everything that we hoped. "We enjoy every minute here," Dotty reminds me. "We spent so much time planning and designing this home so that it would match our lifestyle. Fortunately, we got it right. We use every inch of this house." I concur. This is our dream. It’s what we worked hard for long before building it was ever a reality. It’s very rewarding, and we are very grateful to live here.
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