By Web Master, 8-07-11
||Caption: Brandon Bugge lifts two coworkers atop a historic barn near Whitefish. - Steele Williams/Flathead Beacon
WHITEFISH – Some people like to build delicate models of an old cabin or barn, the type that can sit on a shelf in a living room. But Flathead Recon will soon be offering a kit a little larger than most.
Flathead Recon was started in 2006 with the goal of dismantling unused buildings and reusing the material harvested from them. Earlier this year, the owners of a ranch between Whitefish and Columbia Falls looking to sell the property after dismantling some old buildings contacted Recon. And what they found on the 152-acre site weren't just any old buildings: it was a complete farm dating back to the 1890s.
“This is the most historic project we've worked on,” said Brandon Bugge, a waste specialist and one of the managing partners of Flathead Recon.
For most of the summer Bugge and his crew have been slowly dismantling buildings on the site, including three barns dating back to the 1800s, a chicken coop, a rabbit hutch, a grain shed, a hay shelter and a couple of storage sheds. They've also been cleaning up the site, which is part of an estate that was recently put up for sale by Gail M. Blakeley and her brother Richard G. Brown.
Blakeley said the farm was built by Ed and Eva Motichka in the late 1890s and it has only had two owners: the Motichka family and the Brown family, who purchased the property in the 1970s. She said that Motichka supposedly built the barns himself with simple tools and by simple means – evidence of which is found in the logs removed from the barn featuring primitive axe cuts at each end.
Blakeley said although her family loves the history, removing the dilapidated buildings would help sell the property and, for the past few months, the recycling company has slowly chipped away at the project in between other jobs. But there's one building that won't be coming down anytime soon.
Located near the family home, which will also remain, is a small, primitive structure dating back to the 1880s and, like the three barns, resembles something from a Lincoln Log set. According to Blakeley, the building was a surveyor's cabin likely built by whoever first came to the north end of the Flathead Valley to begin the process of drawing up property lines.
“We just appreciate it being there,” she said. “We've redone the roof and done everything to preserve the cabin. We just want to make sure it never goes away.”
Nor was the historic importance of the other buildings lost on the family either.
“The point is to take these buildings apart in a way that they can be given a new life,” said Flathead Recon's Dave Fischlowitz.
To do so, Fischlowitz, Bugge, Mary Ann Birchfield and Rob Stanley carefully deconstructed the buildings, taking out every nail, screw, board and fitting so it can be preserved and possibly reconstructed later. Bugge said there is a potential market for these historic barn “kits.”
“The major difference from most projects is we don't have any heavy equipment (here), we're doing it all by hand,” Fischlowitz said.
But even if the buildings don't look sound, the simple techniques used to build them have stood the test of time.
“I mean this was built in the 1890s, built on dirt and they're still standing. They may be leaning, but they're still standing,” Bugge said.
Fischlowitz and Bugge agreed that this project was a perfect representation of what they hope their company can achieve.
“It's all about not filling up the landfills and saving history,” Fischlowitz said.
This story has been updated and corrected from an earlier version.
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