WAVELAND, Miss. – It’s still not hard to find houses ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, standing empty in overgrown yards with windows boarded up, shredded blue tarps flapping from their roofs, stark reminders of the deadly 2005 hurricane. And there are photographs everywhere of homes that were destroyed, their debris now trucked away to the landfill.
But out at the end of a one-lane road just northwest of town stands a house that Katrina built. There you will find Bob Fricke, 63, and his wife Mickie, 59, in the middle of the 38 acres where Bob was born and reared after his parents plunked down $1,500 and settled in 1942.
Amid about 40 dogs, a few cats, a dozen goats, several horses, assorted farm implements, three of his eight kids and a constantly varying number of his nine siblings, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, the Frickes’ new home has risen, a literal gift of the hurricane's flood tide.
The low-slung, green-metal-roofed house has been constructed largely of lumber milled from logs that were left lying all over Hancock County when Katrina’s waters receded: pines that snapped at the ground in the hurricane’s winds, limbs that fell from the giant oaks that dot the coast, cypress, black gum and a host of others.
“A lot of them were on our property,” says Fricke. The rest he got simply for the asking wherever he spotted debris being cleared away.
Fricke says Kathleen Johnson of the Katrina Relief organization in Waveland was the first to suggest he try using the logs to build a new home after the house of his youth was washed away. Johnson hooked him up with a nearby sawyer, then lined him up to borrow one of a number of portable sawmills that various donors sent to the hurricane zone with the notion that the salvaged logs could be a boon to rebuilding efforts if they could be cut into useable boards.
A mill from the Middle East
The gasoline-powered, trailer-mounted mill Fricke has been using was donated by Saudi Arabia. Made in New York, it can handle logs up to 36 inches in diameter.
“I never ran a sawmill before, but you do what you gotta do,” says Fricke, a retired phone company technician who stresses his gratitude for volunteers sent by Johnson to help him do about 10 or 15 percent of the actual construction.
With three of his kids building and rebuilding homes nearby, he laid out a 40-foot-square structure on the site of his parents’ old home and went to work. The posts that hold the building up were purchased at the lumberyard, along with the joists and plywood for the floor, but Fricke milled most of the rest of the boards in the solid wood house himself.
The exposed rafters are peeled 22-foot cypress logs, about 6 inches in diameter at the ridge and tapering down to the eaves. Above the rafters is pine roof decking, left exposed to create a gorgeous ceiling. Studs are also pine, a full two by four inches. The exterior is pine that Fricke rough-milled and sent to a commercial mill to have it shaped into faux log siding. He has used oak for door trim and has a pile more of it that he may use for the floor in the master bedroom. Even the showers are built of wooden planks, covered with clear acrylic glass.
The result is a unique cabin of about 1,000 square feet with another 600 feet of covered porch. The rich grain of the various woods glows warmly from its simple coat of oil, creating a décor that would be more at home in the Sierra Nevada than in the middle of a Mississippi farm. But the house has plenty of charming Southern touches, too, like the crescent moon cut into one of the bathroom doors, denoting “the indoor outhouse.”
The house is not entirely finished. The bulk of the construction took about a year, with Fricke finding that milling free logs for lumber is a good strategy for “when you’ve got more time than money.” The big payoff is that he doesn’t owe a nickel on the place.
A deeply religious man who quotes Scripture at will, Fricke scratches his head when friends tell him they’re still waiting to see if they’ll get grant money to rebuild. He applied for that, too, and hasn’t heard anything since.
“I tell people all the time, just get going and God will meet you halfway.”
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