John Ming searches the countryside
for cabins to save
nothing delicate about tearing down a building and often the best
tool for the job is a sledge hammer. John Ming knocks out stone filling
spaces between timbers.
For more than 150 years massive
hand-hewed logs, some more than 28 feet long, remained hidden behind plaster
and clapboard siding until John Ming came along. Using crowbars and sledge
hammers, Ming knocked away the gift wrapping revealing the present beneath
the frontier craftsmanship of a German farmer who built a stately
log and timber-frame house on his land in Franklin County perhaps a decade
before the Civil War.
This was a show place,
says Ming, surveying his house. Large for a log home of its time, the
house was built to impress, he says. But the man with salt-and-pepper
ponytail and beard is not finished.
Just revealing the hand-hewed
logs is not enough. Now hell disassemble the log structure and haul
it away. The log house will be rebuilt on a farm near Steelville by a
man who bought it from Ming.
Ming has tapped into a lucrative
market for historic log structures. He buys the buildings from landowners
who no longer want them and disassembles them, selling the logs, windows,
doors and any other desirable wood trim to people wanting a genuine log
or timber frame cabin, house or barn.
Ming says he is working to
preserve history in Missouri by saving log structures that are doomed
to rot or be bulldozed by owners needing the land for something other
than a collapsing eyesore. Already, Ming says, time has claimed hundreds,
if not thousands, of old log buildings.
This is a business to
me, but the love for the history of the cabins is really important,
says Ming, who lives in Washington. I dont do this for the
money. I do this for the fun of it and saving the history. This is hard,
dirty work, but there isnt a day that I dont come out here
and enjoy it.
Ming (on ladder) of Washington, Mo., prepares to remove the roof
of a historic log home he came across on a farm near Stony Hill
in Franklin County. The landowner had no plans to save the structure
which Ming bought, dismantled and sold to a man to be rebuilt as
a weekend home. The structure, and an adjoining smoke house, were
in good condition.
Ming, whos worked for
builders and owned a fitness center, learned to appreciate timber-frame
structures while rebuilding several historic buildings on the grounds
of Shaw Nature Preserve southeast of St. Louis near Gray Summit.
Ming says hes also motivated
by his friend and silent partner, Ted Munneke, a retired school teacher
with a passion for Missouri history.
Ted is on a crusade to
save these cabins. There are companies from New England and Texas that
are taking these homes and moving them into those areas. This is our history,
not theirs, says Ming. We have a vested interest in finding
homes for as many of these cabins as we can.
The two friends run ads in
Missouri newspapers asking for information about log cabins. Then they
visit people who respond and look at their log structures, a process Ming
calls cabin cruising. Often the two look at a dozen or more
buildings in a days time and perhaps offer to buy one or two. Not
many are worth saving, he says. They match up potential buyers with
available cabins. Ming says he has a long list of people waiting to buy
log structures from him.
and Don Franssen, brother of the cabins buyer, remove the tin
roof. Ming, who often works alone, says the jobs are sometimes dangerous
and always dirty, but he also says he loves working with old log and
timber-frame structures. And with a long list of people waiting to
buy cabins from him, he has no shortage of work.
While Ming documents, disassembles
and moves cabins for customers, he does not rebuild them. He refers customers
to a number of Missouri builders experienced at working with log homes.
Ming says he has enough work just finding and tearing down cabins. He
doesnt have time to do anything else.
While visiting the Franklin
County farm near Stony Hill, Ming found two log structures in good condition
and bought both from landowner Steve Strubberg.
I had never done anything
with them myself and I hated to watch them deteriorate when I knew somebody
would like to have them, says Strubberg, who says he knew the cabins
were old, but didnt realize how old they were. The area around
them was pretty junked up and now Ill get the place cleaned up without
having to destroy them.
Ming sold the large log and
timber-frame house to a man and his wife from Columbia who plan to rebuild
it on their property near Steelville. He sold an adjacent smaller log
cabin, which Ming believes was the farm smokehouse, to a businessman from
Union who also plans to use it as a weekend getaway.
I can look at one of
these old log cabins and your imagination runs wild, Ming says.
You can start painting a picture for people and they start imagining
it on their place and start seeing it as theirs.
The large house was especially popular with potential buyers because of
its size and good condition. Ultimately the Columbia couple won out.
Franssen of Columbia works to remove a window frame from the log
home he bought from Ming. Franssen spent a day working with Ming
preparing the structure to be dismantled. It will be hauled to Franssens
farm near Steelville and rebuilt.
My wife and I really
enjoy the cabin look the hewn logs and the chinking. We wanted
something authentic and this is authentic, says Jacob Franssen,
who bought the house and who, along with his brother, Don, spent a day
helping Ming remove doors and windows and tear off the roof. People
worked hard to make these logs and build this cabin. You can really sense
that when you stand here and look at this house.
Franssen is now a student of
log cabin construction. It fascinates me what people struggled through
100 or 150 years ago, the effort it took to build this. I like Missouri
history. I like where were from.
Mings love for the old
log structures is obvious as he points out the many interesting details
of the timber-frame house.
Look at this, he
says pointing at the Roman numeral III cut into the end of a squared log
and the same number cut into a second log where the two are joined by
a notched joint and held together with wood pegs. Thats how
he matched up the logs after felling the trees. They knew where each log
was going in the house before they began putting it together.
Ming believes the house was
built between 1840 and 1860. The Fleer family, which built the house,
occupied it continuously until the 1960s. The house was never equipped
with plumbing and only one room was wired and only for a single light
bulb. The last member of the family to live in the house died a bachelor
and left it to nieces and nephews who later sold it and the farm.
Ming painstakingly documents the location of each log in a cabin so
it can be rebuilt.
As part of the dismantling
process, Ming documents the appearance and layout of the structure with
photographs and drawings. Once the building is in pieces on the ground,
youve got to have an idea how to put it back together, says Ming.
If you were to tear one
of these down and not document it, all youve got is a nice pile
of well-seasoned firewood, he says.
Although Ming doesnt
rebuild cabins for his customers, he offers plenty of advice on how and
where to site a structure and how to repair and modify a log home for
modern amenities, if any are planned. Franssen says he and his wife will
have electricity, but plan to heat and cook with a wood stove.
Ming considers himself lucky
to stumble onto something that allows him to make a living doing what
he loves. And at the same time his love of Missouri history is also his
Thats the foundation
of what I do, he says. Im helping save history by helping
people realize their dream of owning an actual historic log cabin.
For information about Mings
business call (636) 239-9929 or write: Log Cabin Specialist, John Ming,
309 Burnside St., Washington, MO 63090.