Southwest view of the cabin shows front entrance, sunroom and tower.
Southwest view of the cabin shows front entrance, sunroom and tower.
Dale and Sue Scobie of Spring Grove have always wanted a place on high land to build a cabin - a place to view and enjoy nature and its beauty.

The wishes of these outdoor enthusiasts have come to fruition, with a beautiful structure located on a knoll that overlooks a wide span of hills and valleys.

The couple lived in Rooster Valley, northwest of Spring Grove, and for years had been looking to buy land on high ground.

"About eight years ago we saw an ad in the Spring Grove Herald," they explained about the availability of land five miles south of Spring Grove along Houston County Hwy. 16, plus one-half mile into Iowa.

"We purchased 42 acres from Edward and AudreJean Myrah to eventually build on."

The original landowner was Lars Flaten, and then his son, Elmer. People in the area may recall Elmer's children, Ardyce (Flaten) Housker and Sylvan, who grew up on this land. An old machine shed and hay shed remain of the farm site.

The couple had been looking for a builder for 3 to 4 years. In October 2009, they stopped at a neighbor down the road to visit. While talking with Terry Amunrud and her daughter, Chelsey, the Scobies stated they wanted to build, but needed a builder and a plan. Chelsey said, "My Uncle Wally (Mahr) builds." That information was the spark that got the cabin project going.

"We wanted lots of windows to look out and see the beautiful scenery," they agreed. And, Dale wanted a sunroom and Sue a tower. So the planning began.

"We looked at timber frame because it is really gorgeous, went to farm and home shows in the area, and also looked at the Stoney Creek Inn and a house that Wally had built," Sue explained.

Dale went onto the Internet and downloaded Google's SketchUp program, which uses editing tools within the environment to model three-dimensional volumes and geometrics.

He spent hours and hours during Thanksgiving weekend learning how to use the program, Sue recalled. He designed the cabin and got a plan in 3D so they could see what it would look like.

"Finding Wally, is what really got things moving. We came up with the floor plan and Wally had the ideas to make it happen. He is creative and artistic, and does first-class work," the couple echoed.

Wally's company, Woodland Image of Dorchester, Iowa, was the contractor, with subcontractors doing the concrete, plumbing, heating, electrical work and painting.

Breaking ground

It didn't take long to get the building permit. Soil testing determined a drain field site where there wasn't so much clay for the septic system. Electricity had to be brought to the site. The electric company wanted to re-run their poles anyway, so that worked out. The well was drilled to 470 feet to the Prairie du Chien level.

With an early dry spring, on March 31, 2010, Wally's brother, Frank Mahr, dug the hole. "There were so many rocks," Sue recalled about the excavation work.

The poured basement walls were shimmed with 2x4 studs to mount the sheet rock to. Insulation was sprayed into the air space to keep the cold from radiating in, making a really good R-value.

The wood frame structure has closed cell, sprayed-in insulation, all over the house and also the ceiling in the tower and above the garage. The structure is sealed very tight, the couple noted.

The main structure, measuring 24 ft. by 36 ft., plus basement and loft, has a walk out basement. The garage measures 24 ft. by 24 ft.; the sunroom 10 ft. by 16 ft.; and the tower about 40 feet tall.

The wide-open design of the cabin includes a kitchen, living room, bedroom, mud/laundry room, guest room and sunroom. There is a full bathroom with shower on both floors.

"Wally always keeps an eye out for neat logs and trees," the Scobies pointed out. He had logs in storage and knew what was needed, including logs from a cedar tree, Scottish pine from a large churchyard at Dorchester, ordering pine from a lumber company in Wisconsin, using some pine from his own land and also from a sand cove by New Albin.

Wood for the exterior of the structure is from Wisconsin. The white cedar came from around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The walls are tied together with timbers. The Scobie's appreciated Mahr's suggestion to place timbers coming down from the ceiling to hang the ceiling fans and lights.

The cabin has over 1,500 sq. ft. of flooring, with mostly hickory that has a 50-year finish. "It has so much character with its knot holes and color," the couple agrees. The tower has an oak floor. Acrylic tile flooring was used in the kitchen, mud/laundry room and the bathrooms.

The exterior of the cabin is covered with a greenish gray vinyl siding called Arbor Blend, and the structure is trimmed with cedar. Taut stainless steel cables threaded through posts provide a sturdy railing for the patio/deck.

The heating system consists of electric boiler water tubing in the basement slab, with a thermostat for the basement and one for the first floor.

The forced air furnace-to-air heat pump provides air conditioning in the summer. Electric is the main heat, but when it gets cold, the heat pump switches over to LP back-up.

An electric fireplace heater can also serve as a heat source. "We like the idea of circulating the air and reclaiming the heat," Dale said.

The demand-flow water heater heats the water as it's drawn from the faucet.

Angles and storage are favorites

"The angles are favorite features of the cabin," the Scobies echoed about the beautiful array of wood-covered angles throughout the structure.

With its pine covered walls and furnishings of log frame futons and table, the space between the trusses over the garage makes a great guest bedroom.

Dale calls this room "The Tunnel of Wood." A special furnishing in this room is his grandmother's rocking chair.

Another unique feature of the cabin is the numerous unsuspecting places for storage, making use of every inch of space. There is a vast amount of storage area along both knee walls of the guest room.

There is access to storage space under the tower stairs landing, by lifting the hinged lower step.

Another example is the lower front panel of the love seat on the main floor lifts up and provides storage space. The panel can also be blocked up and the cushions moved over to make a bed.

A unique feature is the two hand-carved wood panels incorporated into the upstairs railings. These pieces were purchased at the Sprague house auction in Caledonia.

On another note, the wall of the first-floor bedroom is a double-sided roll-up door that had been the divider for the overflow section of the old Methodist Church in Caledonia.

Sunroom and auto lift

Dale loves the sunroom. It's a sound, solid structure of dual-pane panels with argon gas for insulation. The top panels are tinted glass that reflect the heat from the high summer sun.

"They are so strong, workmen can walk across the glass," Dale explained.

The clear side panels gain heat from the winter sun. Thermo drapes glide on a track to cover the windows when needed.

"I have the tools and have learned the technique to clean the glass," he relayed

Using the SketchUp program, Dale designed a freestanding lift to be installed in the basement so he could work on his MG classic car in the winter.

Factors in determining the design were the height of the ceiling and the lift with the car on it, he explained. "I have a tool bench on casters and a warm floor to work on."


Sue's wish for a tower stems from the couple's experience staying in fire lookout towers while backpacking in the western states.

"We had in mind to model it after the Dry Diggins Lookout in Idaho," she explained.

From the tower, the couple uses a telescope for spotting wildlife and scanning the horizon.

"From the tower we can see the Locust Church, the top half of the new wind turbine that generates electricity at Luther College and traffic by Hesper and also on the road past the Big Canoe Church by Highlandville. We can see about 25 miles as the bird flies," they reported.

"I like the things I get to do up here - listen to audio books, read, use my laptop computer for research and look out the windows at the beautiful view," Sue explained about the tower.

Rope lighting along the upper cornice of the tower provides soft lighting. For the pinewood framed ceiling light, rope lighting was curled around in a bunch and placed on frosted glass.

Underneath the tower is a sitting room with a 7-ft. high ceiling. It's a cozy place to relax, read, work on a jigsaw puzzle, visit, look out the west facing window, etc.

The couple muses that she has to keep the snow off the tower and he must clean the sunroom glass. With the lack of snow this winter, it hasn't been a worry on her part, but he has had to wash the glass a few times.

Interior design

"We made the bed for the 11 ft. by 15 ft. bedroom on the first floor. The twin beds fit together with clamps and can be taken apart and moved out onto the deck to sleep under the stars," Sue explained.

"I took all colors I really want from nature," Sue pointed out about the choices for the painted surfaces.

"There are two colors pretty much throughout the house. Colors I picked from my spice bottles - chili and garlic seasoning."

A cabinetmaker from near Mabel constructed the oak cupboards for the kitchen and mudroom.

Lyle Jahnke constructed the island/bar, which features a frame made of old growth eastern white pine reclaimed from Superior Wisconsin's old (1887) Globe Grain Elevator.

The center of this unique frame was an ideal site for Sue to hang a handmade wood mosaic of hummingbirds and flowers.

The large thick slab for the top was created by Wally, with numerous layers of epoxy, making a hard, clear finish that highlights the grain and character of the wood.


To eliminate bringing dirt inside the cabin, Sue wanted an outdoor shower with hot and cold water to rinse off and wash up after gardening and yard work, and to cool down after working in the summer heat.

Several huge, flat fossil rocks were salvaged when the hole was dug. Other rocks were brought in from a local quarry to provide seating and a resting area next to the shower.

Rocks from the same quarry were used for the retaining wall that Wally calls a scorpion tail, the couple noted.

Last year, the couple planted five trees in the yard, including: oak, pine, lilac and crabapple, and plan to plant some pine, maple and oak. They also want trees for a windbreak on the northwest side of the house and along the north side of the driveway. Some native plantings on the other side of the driveway may be a possibility.

A log garden shed has been placed on the southwest corner of the yard.


"We can go out and look at animal tracks in the snow. One day we saw a string of 13 deer go by. There are nice opportunities for the birds. This winter we did sledding and skiing when there was snow. These are just some of the outdoor enjoyments the couple has experienced so far at their new high land location.

"We spend a lot of time out here. It's everything and more of what I wanted," Sue commented, adding, "Everybody has to be somewhere and this is a good place for us."

Dale stated, "After it was all done, it ended up being a four-story cabin. We are very pleased with how the structure actually turned out compared to how we imagined it while designing it.

"What I tend to think when we receive a compliment on the cabin, is, it gives credit to the main players that helped to make it happen.

"The credit for this must go to Wally Mahr, Mitch Hesse, Wally's nephew, Mason, and, a very special thank you to the late Lyle Jahnke, whose expertise and talent show up throughout the house. He is sorely missed by many."