Mt. St. Helen's erupts, May 18, 1980, USGS Photograph taken by Austin Post.

Our biggest event of 1980 was the eruption of nearby Mt. St. Helen’s on May 18—not exactly in our back yard, but close enough. At around 8:30 that morning a plume of molten rock blew 80,000 feet in the air, sprinkling 11 states with ash, melting several glaciers within the volcano, and triggering widespread landslides. Rivers and towns were clogged with debris, and 57 people lost their lives. The cataclysm blasted the Spirit Lake YMCA Camp that Noel attended as a boy, along with the codgerly and stubborn Harry Truman, owner of a nearby lodge Noel remembers, into the cosmos. For our laid-back (and largely unemployed) friend Rocky–who just happened to be giving flying lessons, and own the gas tank, at the tiny Toledo, WA airport that would become the base of rescue operations, and the world press—it meant a living. When the mountain blew he was eating cereal in a lawn chair, camera in hand, watching for the eruption. Not only did he get a series of photos that would sell thousands of posters, but he had the notion to scrawl a sign on sheet of plywood, and post it at the entrance to the airport—Rocky’s Volcano Flights.

Mt. St. Helens miniature house

Our part of the state was spared devastation. In Seaview our eyes were glued to the TV coverage, while our hands were rolling out # 23, a house suddenly named the Mt. St. Helens. We were relieved to have only a little ash in the yard (I ran out with a vial to dust it off the plants with a paint brush), and, eventually, endless balls of pumice rolling into our beach.

Tower exterior

For this project Noel decided to vary our architectural menu by designing a house with a square tower. The tower enclosed a large, wainscoted room with tall windows that could be used for star-gazing. And for more romance, a hatch in the ceiling lead to a small widow’s walk on the roof. The flip side of the hatch held a bench from which to view the skies.

Tower interior

Widow's walk with bench

Plus, the house had the kind of back porch I imagined as the mythical Granny-inhabitant’s perfect, solitary retreat to cool off after a hot summer’s day of cooking and canning. As with many houses of the period, and locale, the back porch was an add-on, sided in board-and-batten rather than the more expensive horizontal drop-siding on the main structure. Back porches were always an excuse for a screen door, and a chance to try another kind of spring, so it would close with a convincing little slap, of the kind that made your mother yell, “How many times have I told you kids not to slam the screen door?!” Over the years we tried springs from old cigarette lighters, ballpoint pens, and then a little envelope of  3/64th” springs that turned up, either from a friend or from one of our foraging missions at the surplus warehouse in Seattle. They did pretty well, though I don’t know how they held up over time.

The finishing touch was to be the ash, sprinkled on the rooftops and ledges, but my vial-full  from the yard wasn’t going to be enough. For that we called on Rocky–now owner of 5 airplanes, and official transporter of the Air National Guard and world vulcanologists–who flew in with jars of ash, and tiny pumice for the garden.

About smallhousepress

In 1974, my husband Noel and I began building aged miniature houses for collectors and museums. We were 70's dropouts. We quit our careers in advertising--art director and writer, respectively--and escaped Los Angeles in a VW camper and a Bug for a simpler life on the coast of Washington State. From a tiny studio in our home, we built 64 houses and buildings. Our specialty was aging--making a structure that reflected the scars and wrinkles of time, the elements, and human habitation. In the 80s we began teaching our techniques in workshops around the country, and I began to write our how-to's in Nutshell News and Miniature Collector. In 2000 we migrated across the Columbia to Astoria, OR, where , in 2011, we retired from miniatures. We are Fellows of the International Guild of Miniature Artisans and taught at their annual school in Castine, ME. By avocation I am a writer and poet. The blog is my way of working back into a writing routine, as well as recording what we did, and what we learned along the way.
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11 Responses to Kaboom!

  1. What a gorgeous amazing house! I love the back porch—
    And as usual fascinating reading.

  2. Laurie Sisson says:

    Ah yes…and those of us gifted with ash from family in the area learned not to seal it in a tiny jar as there would be a buildup of gasses and a small explosion to clean up!
    Wonderful story, photo and another fabulous house!

    Laurie Sisson

  3. Cindy Adams says:

    I have a HUGE Ponderosa pine cone that I picked up in Montana when the ash blew over there..Still has ash on it after all these years..thanks for the write up Pat..Love the house!!!
    Cindy Adams

  4. Carpl says:

    Love this especially the screen door. We were on a few acres in Rainier and had to hose ash off comfrey for a quick meal for our five cows. Our world was suddenly like black and white tv. Thanks for the memory.

  5. Doris Alderman says:

    Fascinating reading and another wonderful house!
    Doris in San Antonio

  6. Karin says:

    Great blog posting! It was the bright spot in my day, thanks for sharing the memories and the photos.

  7. Pat and Noel, Thanks for the memories. We live in Montana. Have some ash from Longview. Remember Chico’s Pizza in Seaview? My FIL ‘s cousin is Sandra Bredfield. I wish I had known you lived there when we visited in the past. I love all of your work, but my favorite is the travel trailer!
    We own an RV Park near Glacier Nat’l. Park and we see some vintage trailers occasionally.

  8. Where can I see pictures of this beloved travel trailer! I’m working on one now and would love to see yours. I tried a search for “travel trailer”, but nothing will come up.
    LouAnne in No.CA

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