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By Colleen Kesterson
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Rustics Memories Shared

Upper Swan Valley Historical Society

 

Colleen Kesterson, Pathfinder

Upper Swan Valley Historical Society president Steve Lamar speaking to a group of nearly 70 at the Rustics story telling and photo display event. Lamar told the audience that Rustics was started by Jim Busch in the late 1960s. The museum is housed in the building that once was the Rustics' office.

SWAN VALLEY - Nearly 65 people gathered on the lawn of the Upper Swan Valley Historical Society (USVHS) museum June 3 to hear stories about the former Rustics of Lindbergh Lake (Rustics) from people who were employed by the log home company.

USVHS president Steve Lamar said log crafters started settling the Swan Valley one hundred years ago. He shared how Rustics got started when Jim Busch had an idea for a way to make a living and at the same time help valley residents gain employment.

Jim Busch came to the valley in the mid 1960s from New York state. He started his log home building business in 1969 across from the present day Rustics-built Hungry Bear restaurant. He first employed the late Joe Wilhelm and Adolph Anderson. Busch then bought land from the late Harold Haach located across from the present-day Swan Centre. An office building was built in 1977 which today houses the USVHS museum.

The business grew and peaked in the late 70s. According to former employee and Swan Valley resident Marty Kux, during the peak years the log home business had 75 contractors including dealers and log suppliers. Resident and former employee Kathy Koors said that at the peak, there were five to seven crews with four workers each working on houses. There were 43 dealers in 28 states. Rustics sent out five loads of house logs every week. Several large houses required as many as seven truck loads to transport them to their building site. According to resident and former employee Gary Freyholtz, country singer Barbara Mandrell's home took 30 loads to deliver to Tennessee.

Several members of the audience spoke of their experiences at Rustics:

Kux told of an email he had received in 2016 from Beth Busch, Jim Busch's daughter, about the Rustics' first winter. A log house was being constructed under a structure known as a Butler building, which had no sides, just a roof. The roof was buckling under the weight of the snow and was threatening the log home. Someone in the valley organized some volunteers who circled the building with pickups. They pulled logs out from under the roof and saved the structure. Busch took it as a sign that the valley was with them and the business would work.

Kux, who knew and worked for Busch in New York, said that Busch gave individuals opportunities every chance he could. "I bought land in 1977 on Cygnet Lake from Busch for a very small sum. He told me if I didn't like it [my job or the Swan] he would buy it [the land] back. I am still here." said Kux.

Resident Ronnie Matthew said that Busch would hire anybody and that there was work if you wanted it. Matthew worked at Rustics when he went to Seeley-Swan High School during the summer and winter of' 1977-1978. The school allowed him to learn vocational skills during part of the school day. Later, he and his brother became dealers for Rustics. They set up log homes in many parts of the United States including the bank in Seeley Lake. In 1985 for one month he and three other Rustics workers set up houses in Japan. The logs were shipped overseas in containers.

Wes Kesterson, former employee and resident, told how he got his job at Rustics.

Kesterson said he was between jobs in the early 1970s when Busch asked him to pull a logging truck out of the ditch at Lion Creek. Kesterson drove his family's HD9 a bulldozer, to the truck and got it out. Kesterson said that Busch paid him well and gave him a job at Rustics peeling logs. Busch told him to bring "a pair of gloves, a draw knife [log peeler] and your lunch pail." That winter the peelers had to use a blowtorch to get the thick frozen snow off the logs. Kesterson said to Busch, "Get me on a crew soon." Busch got him on a crew and he worked for Rustics close to 20 years.

Resident Tori Matthew was hired as an office worker in 1978. She said Busch bought her a computer typewriter which helped her fill in form letters to send to all the inquiries Rustics received. Matthew said, "We got mail from every continent [asking about the log homes]."

As new employees were added, they learned the art of log home building from the experienced Rustics workers.

According to Kesterson, long-time employee the late Robert (Tuffy) Anderson came up with an idea when the power went out in the yard. Rustics used skill saws to cut out the grooves down the length of the logs. The saws were not useful when the power was out, they burned up quickly from all the use and workers would get shocked when the power cords were lying in mud puddles in the spring. Tuffy decided to use a chain saw to cut the groove which worked very well. When the power came back on he had a contest with another worker with the skill saw to see who would finish first. Tuffy won by a long ways. Rustics used chainsaws to cut out grooves from then on.

Swan Lake resident Ray Harris was glad to get on long-time employee Tuffy's crew. "Nobody messed with Tuffy." Kesterson agreed that he was a good teacher and fun to work with.

Present day log home builder Gary Freyholtz who worked for Rustics starting in 1984 said, "The new guys on a crew were called 'crew babies'. I was Kesterson's crew baby. I owe my log building skills to him."

Even though it was hard work, the employees were able to have some fun during the workday. Kux told the story about the original crew of Joe Wilhelm, Adolph Anderson and Russ Haasch. Wilhelm was lowered into a log shell located on Cygnet Lake so he could work inside. The shell had no windows or doors cut out. They worked until about 11 a.m. when Anderson and Haasch decided to leave Joe inside. They came back to get Joe about 4 p.m. Kux said.

Freyholtz said that peeling and log laying competitions were held. "The winners got a reward from management but I am sure they were happy with all the work that got done."

Harris added that the employees had fun doing wheelies with the forklifts.

Koors said she scaled logs. She said the eight-hour workday went by so fast because she enjoyed working with Wilhelm and Malcolm Kesterson. Wilhelm was a historian who recited poems and Kesterson protected her from the beetles. Tuffy would start water and snow fights with them depending on the season she said.

Besides the fun there were a few accidents. "Luckily," said Kalispell resident Kathy Nash, daughter of second Rustics owner Bob Ford, "there were no bad accidents. Thank heavens Dr. Schriber had an office close-by to tend to us." Nash said that she broke her wrist when she tried to stop a log from rolling.

One crew was made up of three females which according to their crew leader Kesterson, "they could work as hard and as fast as the men. Nash who worked on the all-girl crew said, "One of the girls didn't know much about forklifts."

Nash said one time the girl upended the forklift which thrust her out between the forks; there were no seat belts then. It was a dangerous position. The log rolled off and it threw her back in the seat where she could finally get control of it.

The crews who worked outside had to contend with the weather. Koors said that log yard manager Dean Himes said they didn't have to work if it was ten below zero or colder. One time Koors called him and said she had 12 below zero; Himes said he had eight below. Himes told her to get to work.

Colleen Kesterson, Pathfinder

Former Rustics employee and current log home builder Gary Freyholtz started working in 1984. Rustics had log peeling and laying competitions. "I am sure that the office was happy with all the work that got done," he said.

"I think he had a sterno under his thermometer," said Koors. She said she had a wood stove in her office building. "I had lots of visitors from the log yard in the winter," she said. In the summer Nash and Koors remember they cooled off by getting sprayed by the water truck which kept the dust down in the yard. Also, at break-time many workers jumped in the nearby Swan River to cool off.

At the event, the USVHS had tools of the log building trade on display. There were chisels, draw knives and calipers which measured the arc of the grooves in the logs. There were also examples of notches used by log workers created by resident log crafter Gary Lazarowski.

Lamar said that photos of log home builders and their products are on display now at the museum and will be in the Swan Valley Community Hall on the Fourth of July.

Contact Lamar at 754-2745 if you have any photos that could be copied and used in the display.

 

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