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Made by hand

Bear Paw man builds log cabins


November 22, 2013

Lindsay Brown

Mike Ley came to Montana with a backpack and a hitchhiker's thumb 37 years ago after falling in love with the land. Since then, six of his log cabins have been placed throughout the area.

Ley said he began building cabins because of his construction experience and the satisfaction he gets from creating buildings.

"I just enjoy building," Ley said.

The first cabin he made is the Catholic church at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, and he has started many projects since. The cabin he is working on now will be the sixth cabin he has completed, including the chapel at Rocky Boy.

He receives much of his timber from the Bear Paw Mountains area due to the "beetle-kill" making timber prices low. Beetle-kill is caused by pine beetles plaguing the trees of the area.

He takes some of the logs to Lon Waid's sawmill to process them for his lumber, but he peels the other logs himself.

Ley said it takes about three months to start and finish one of his cabins, but this latest project has been going for three years because of his previous full-time job.

"It's real hard work," Ley said. "Building with logs is extremely labor-intense. If I used a stick frame, it would take about three weeks."

Ley said he builds the log cabins because there is something appealing about them as opposed to stick-frame houses.

"People like log cabins because it's nostalgic," Ley said. "It's part of the American psyche."

Some of the cabins are rustic with no plumbing or electricity, and some allow both. Ley sells the cabin shell and his clients outfit them with wiring and such.

Ley sells the cabins he constructs for $55 per square foot. The cabin he has half-way made in front of his house now will sell for $42,000. The cabins requires 800 linear feet of logs, he said.

Sometimes people will bring in photos of a cabin they want made and Ley will build their cabin accordingly. When he is finished, whoever commissioned the cabin will have the cabin put onto a flatbed truck and transport it to their property.

"It's cheaper to build it here," Ley said, rather than driving to a work site every day.

Lindsay Brown

Ley has one of his cabins at his property in the Bear Paws. He rents it out to hunters at $75 a day. This price includes breakfast at his house, a sack lunch and dinner with his family. He will also take the hunters out into the Bear Paws to show them good spots for hunting.

He receives around four hunting parties a year, he said.

Ley has been building cabins for 20 years, mostly during the summer, due to his previous job at Montana State University-Northern. He retired from his position at the Educational Opportunity Center located at Stone Child College in May and will now devote his time to building log cabins year-round.

Ley has a wife and two sons. His sons aid him in his cabin-building when they are not at college in Dillon and Havre.


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