Wanted: Dalton Gang for log homes

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Dalton Gang rides again, spurred by their leader, Bucky Greenwell. But they're not up to no good; they're too busy helping those who yearn to own a log home realize their dreams.
   Greenwell began rounding up his gang around 1992, later forming Dalton Gang Construction, named for his son. He had been doing carpentry work since back in the early '80s and found it just came natural to him.
   In 1991 it dawned on him that, "If I could work for somebody else doing this stuff, I could very well do it for myself," he said.
   Greenwell, 44, looks like a mountain man. His dark hair and beard have grown long and are now tinged with gray. He's roamed the Appalachian Mountains since childhood, so it's no wonder he has a love affair with wood.
   "In 1992 there weren't a lot of log home builders around here and I just thought it would be a good business to get into," he said.
   He previously worked for a company in North Carolina and helped build a couple of log houses during that time. In 1992, a friend of Greenwell's decided he wanted a log home and asked Bucky to build it.
   "I pretty much remembered everything that I did back then and it really just sort of came natural to me. If you like something, you can do it, you know? And I liked it, so I guess that's why. It just sort of escalated from there," he said.
   Greenwell basically started out with nothing, renting a large saw to cut logs, and other tools as required, then later began buying them as the need arose.
   Evidence of the Dalton Gang's can be found from North Carolina to Tennessee. They have built log houses in Trade, Mountain City, Stoney Creek, Watauga, Johnson City, Piney Flats, Stoney Creek and the Knoxville area.
   Greenwell said it usually takes his five-man crew anywhere from four to seven months, from start to finish, to build a house, at an average cost of $50 to $60 per square foot, finished.
   "The last one I did took me five months. It was a 28-by-40, two-story, with a 24-by-24 garage," he said.
   The houses constructed by the Dalton Gang are not from kits. "They're milled logs. They're all random length and they're all cut on the jobsite," he said.
   Most people in the area prefer to use a 6-by-8 inch "D" log, Greenwell said, although he has made a few from 6-by-12 dovetail cuts.
   With homes built from D logs, the interior wall is a flat surface while the outside has a slight round to it, Greenwell said. "If you look at the log from the end, it looks like a 'D.' That's why it's called a D log."
   The only insulation is a 1/2-inch foam strip that goes in between the logs. "You put that down and the log sits on there and that's actually what your seal is. They're screwed together with a 10-inch oly log screw," Greenwell said.
   "Back in the old days it was a 10-inch spike, 3/8ths-inch round that you had to beat in with a hammer. Now, you just set your screw up there and stick a drill on it and screw it right in and it sucks them up good and tight.
   "A hundred years ago, you went out in the woods, cut the trees down and built your log home to survive. Now, a log home is a luxury."
   Greenwell built his own log house after the mobile home he and his wife, Becky, lived in, was washed away during the Flood of 1998.
   "I was going to build one anyway, but I guess that just made me move a little faster," he said. "Funny things happen in life to make you move along and do things."
   People who live in log homes are a different breed, according to Greenwell. " I don't know what it is. You have to really want a log home to build one. A lot of people say, 'I love a log home, but they cost so much ...' A log home doesn't cost a lot more than a conventional frame house -- they might be 5 to 10 percent higher. A brick house would probably run more money."
   When constructing a log house, Greenwell subcontracts out anything that isn't wood, though he will get the jobsite ready and pour footers. "You've got your plumbing, your wiring, your heat pump and all of that other stuff. I sub it out to people that do it all the time -- I like to get it done right," he said. And he guarantees his work.
   "I usually sub the roofing out, too. I'm strictly a wood man," he said.
   Building a log home takes planning. "You want to get your house in the right spot and your windows turned for the South end that you're going to get the sun through. It's the same theory as a conventional frame house, except most of the time you're either up in a hollow or down in a hole," he said.
   As with any type house, there are advantages and disadvantages. One good thing is that it can save on heating and cooling bills.
   "The temperature stays fairly constant because wood is a conductor of heat. It sort of holds heat like a rock. You get a rock hot and it's going to hold heat for so long -- wood is like that, too. It's a solid object but it's actually got air pockets in it.
   "As far as the R-value of a log, it's like '9.' But then it has a thermal mass which jumps it up to like R-19. Basically, the only place you have insulation is in the roof," he said.
   Like any house, a log home requires maintenance. But, Greenwell said, as far as preserving the wood, modern technology has taken over.
   "It's just according to what kind of stain or finish you use as to how often you have to come back and redo it. The kind we used, it's like every five years. Some is every two years. There are just so many different products out there. It all comes back to how much money you want to spend at the time. You can buy a cheap product and do it every couple of years, or you can buy something a little more expensive and do it every five or seven years," he said.
   If you use a dark finish, the wood will turn darker over the years because of the need to restain.
   A potential problem could be bore bees, according to Greenwell, but there are products on the market which can be used to combat those.
   "The honest truth about it is nothing will take care of a bore bee, and that's what I tell people," Greenwell said. However, if the home is sprayed in the springtime when the bees first come out, "it will pretty much take care of them because they only stay for a certain amount of time and then they'll go away."
   For those considering a long home, "They need to just call me," Greenwell said. "We can figure out what kind of plan they want, how big a house, how many bedrooms they need, and we can sit down at the computer, draw them a house up and take it from there," he said. Greenwell and the Dalton Gang can be reached at 725-3481.
   Through the years, Greenwell has found that owning his own business "ain't no picnic. There's a lot more stress and a lot more aggravation than people think. You've got to deal with all of your subs and keep everything in line, you've got to deal with banks and homeowners. You have to sit down and work on bids for a couple of weeks at a time.
   "There's just a heck of a lot more to it than going out here and throwing up a bunch of logs," he said.