Dick Proenneke is someone that you may not have heard of, but he is becoming an American folk-icon thanks to the documentary “Alone in the Wilderness.” Let’s talk a bit about the man, and the film, to give you an idea what he accomplished in his later life in regard to log cabin homes.
The man and his mission
Dick moved to Alaska and built his log home in 1968, when he was 51 years old. He had a real mission in mind; he wanted to build himself a log cabin – working completely alone with only hand tools. He lived there in retirement for 27 years (he passed away in 2003 at age 86).
Many of our Association Members strongly identify with this modern era Alaskan pioneer. They admire his sense of self-reliance, frugality, dedication to craftsmanship, respect for nature, work ethic, and accomplishments.
They also admire the fact that Dick went out and lived his life the way he wanted to. In a world that often tells a man that he can’t do something, Dick decided that he could indeed do something, and then proceeded to do it!
Building his log cabin
Dick Proenneke moved to Twin Lakes Alaska he broke ground on his log home project right away. That was in May, and finished his log home 3 short months later in July. It took him just 10 days to erect the shell of his log home. He was working completely alone during that time and because he had no power Dick only used basic hand tools to build his log home; hand saw, hammer, chisel, pliers, hoe, shovel, knife, auger and really not much else.
Making his furniture
Dick made all his own log furniture from scratch – a bed, table, and nightstand. Making log furniture is actually pretty easy, especially since there doesn’t need to be any right angles. Log furniture is very popular amongst the log home crowd. A lot of people like the look, because it just fits in well with the feel of a log home. Many of our members also build their own log furniture
Costs of his log cabin
Dick was a very frugal guy. He used almost all natural materials, such as moss for his roof, and oakum for chinking. The only store brought items that he used were plastic sheathing for the roof, and premixed concrete for his fireplace. It’s been estimated that his finished log home cost him no more than $100 to build. That is a really impressive figure, and maybe it helps explain why he could retire a little early.
Of course building now a days can be a bit more expensive. If someone has the same sense of frugality that Dick had it can still be done spending cash out of pocket, for a reasonable amount of money. We have members who are currently building stunning log homes, with all the modern convinces, for as little as 10, 20 and 30 thousand dollars. Other members spend a bit more, at around the 60 to 120k mark, but typically the market value of their home upon completion can be 3 or 4 times the building costs.
A balanced naturalist
The documentary also shows how Dick was really a modern day naturalist. While he did hunt and fish, he did so with a reverence… never wasting anything or taking more than was needed. He tried to tread lightly on the landscape, and often picked up trash left by less thoughtful visitors. He also helped out scientists at the USGS by taking weather measurements. Dick sure did display a genuine love of the outdoors, and a sense of stewardship towards the environment.
Watch the documentary
Dick sure is an interesting man, who lived an interesting adventure. We’re lucky that he preserved his adventure on film, and that we can now catch a glimpse into his life. If you have the chance we recommend that you check out the film.
The documentary can still occasionally be seen on public television, you can check your PBS listings at www.pbs.org to see if it’s going to be shown in your area anytime soon.
You may also be able to check the DVD or VHS out from your local library. It is also available for purchase from Bob Swerer productions at www.dickproenneke.com(we are not affiliated with Swerer productions in any way, and receive no proceeds from any sales).
- Proenneke was 51 years old when he built is log cabin
- The construction time was 3 months, from start to finish
- It’d been estimated that the total cost of Proenneke log cabin was less than $100
- Proenneke used only hand tools to build his log home
- Proenneke lived at his log home in the wilderness for 31 years, until he was 82 years old