Doctor prefers his old tools and methods
We're lucky to have this doctor in our house.
For four decades, longtime mountain resident David Rogers — known as the "log doctor" — has been practicing his unique log building talents throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
David is widely recognized as a master craftsman dedicated to continuing the traditional art and craft of building with logs.
"The ingenuity of the log work of our ancestors still fascinates me," David explains. "Their way of life was intimately connected to what was around them. They built what they needed with what they had. There is something to be learned from that."
After devoting most of his adult life to building with logs with his specific focus on historic log structure repair and preservation, David has reached a crossroads in his career. He now wants to pass his skills and know-how on to others.
Up in the Government Camp area this summer, this log doctor is therefore launching his David C. Rogers Cascadian School of Log Building and Design. But before I tell you about this upcoming opportunity, let's learn some more about this remarkable man.
David moved to Mount Hood's west side from northern California, where he'd been setting chokers with logging outfits, in the spring of 1973. He was in his early 20s.
"In those days, the mountain community was populated with similar-minded individuals," David recalls. "I think we all wanted to be away from the city. We wanted to be up here in the mountains, near the rivers, walking in 'intact' forests. We were all young with shared interests and a mutual sense of freedom."
David ended up working for the mountain's noted horse logger, the late Gordy Hiltbruner.
"Gordy was legendary," vouches David. "He was a mechanical genius and common sense wizard. He and Mary and their two sons carved out a homestead and commercial sawmill operation by themselves way up there off of Lolo Pass Road."
"I set chokers behind Gordy's horses' massive hindquarters. And I quickly learned to move even faster to get out of their way," assures David, who, himself, stands a good 6-feet-2, with his broad Paul Bunyan shoulders, Popeye-strong arms, and a handshake squeeze that, my goodness, ranks right up there among the firmest you'll ever have the pleasure to grasp.
"That time I worked with Gordy and Mary," David says, "is among the most valuable of my experiences on the mountain."
More than a builder
In 1983, David graduated from the internationally acclaimed B. Allan Mackie School of Log Building in Prince George, B.C. Renowned log builder and teacher B. Allan Mackie took note of David's enthusiasm and hired him to help instruct several sessions at his school from 1983 to 1985.
During the 1980s, David also worked for "A Place in the Sun" building new log homes for clients in the Pacific Northwest and Japan. "Roof systems, stairs and railings were my favorite features to design and build," says David.
This craftsman is far more than a builder. He is also his own cultural historian.
"For many years as I traveled from here to there across the countryside, I was intrigued by the empty barns and abandoned homesteads from times past," David points out. "My imagination would begin to wonder about how living there would have been.
"As opportunities arise for me to now repair and rehabilitate these places, the story of their existence and their family saga becomes my responsibility to learn. I get to study about their history. I get to revisit their memory, to observe the work of someone's hands and the purpose of their work," this visionary log craftsman explains.
"And then I get to repair their work with the tools they used, refreshing their memory and renewing their work so it can stand for another period of time. So it can stand as a testament to these people who came before us. So my work can now serve as a connection for all of us to be reminded of how our ancestors once lived."
As you can see, David's philosophy about the work he does is always buttressed on respect and appreciation.
"To me," he says, "preservation or conservation has a great deal to do with respect for the original builders and acknowledging their lives and their labor. I believe that renewing the work of their hands is a tribute to them. It is a way to retain the memory of our ancestors for generations to come."
David is in demand
Back in the 1990s, the word quickly spread about the talents of our esteemed and knowledgeable Mount Hood-based log doctor.
David was soon traveling the West, including Alaska, Wyoming and Montana, to implement his skills — as well as his vision and philosophy — for rescuing and preserving historic log structures as well as building new log homes.
David's local Mount Hood area jobs include several significant preservation type projects that were organized and overseen by John Platz, the founder and manager of the first nationally recognized U.S. Forest Service national "Heritage Structures Team" located at the Zigzag Ranger District.
"David Rogers was a very key person in the early successes of our team," Platz says. "He became a mentor for many attendees of the Heritage Structures Team's nationally-attended workshops and training venues."
During the 1990s, David participated with this team to help implement extensive log repairs to the frame, rafters, and hand split shakes for the roof of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) era Tollgate Kitchen Shelter at Tollgate Campground in Rhododendron.
David was also selected by this Heritage Structures Team to participate in a unique hands-on Traditional Log Building Workshop at Lost Lake.
"We conserved two CCC-era Adirondack shelters and also built a new heritage structure in the 'piece-en-piece' cabin style, a log construction method commonly used in the early days of the Hudson's Bay Company and by Canadian fur trappers," David informs.
In addition, David was hired to document, dismantle and then replicate and reconstruct the original 1936 log registration booth at the Eagle Creek Trailhead in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
David also helped design the Trillium Lake Kitchen Shelter and participated in this log structure's fabrication and installation. "I was hired to teach the team traditional log building techniques with hand tools," David says. "This was another heritage structure of the Cascadian style of architecture. For me, this particular project stands tall in local achievements."
Slick scribers and bark spuds
This master craftsman also has a special reverence for the legacy tools that he utilizes in his log work today, including the adze, broad axe, mallets, drawknife, slick scribers, bark spud, and cant hook.
"Old tools in good condition are most often far superior to new tools of the same design," informs this subject matter expert. He emphasizes how once a tool is in your hand, it needs to be sharp. "Sharpening the edge allows you to become intimate with the quality of the steel — and also develop a respect for its ability to cut flesh," David forewarns.
He also acknowledges how a "bonding" connection to working with your hands on these log building projects "can be profound."
"Fitting massive logs together with just an axe, in the quiet, is very satisfying," David reflects. He further points out how a similar "bonding" experience also once existed with the original builder. "Perhaps, by osmosis, there is a connection reformed."
His new school
Today David is focusing all of his energy on his new Cascadian School of Log Building and Design. He is planning to host one and two-week workshops in log building fundamentals from June through August at his school's Government Camp location.
"The school's primary purpose is to reacquaint participants with the ways and means to construct traditional—pre-1950—'rustic' log buildings for their own use, without the need for industrial gear and equipment," David says. "The secondary purpose is to develop a workforce training program that will provide participants with the working knowledge of how to assess and address the needs of these historic log buildings."
Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month here on the Post's editorial pages.