West End News April 29

The dome at Sawbill Outfitters
The dome at Sawbill Outfitters

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We have all heard of delayed gratification. Delayed vindication, which is evidence that a decision made long ago turns out to be correct, even commendable, is not often discussed. I experienced delayed vindication recently. This is the story.

In the very early ‘70s Sawbill Outfitters was in dire need of more space. There was no possibility of further remodeling, so the need for a new building was obvious. The question was, what kind of building?

Sawbill is on a Forest Service lease, so we knew that any new building would have to be approved by the Forest Service. Preliminary conversations about what might be approved did not shed any light. The situation was: make a proposal, we will send it up the line, and we will let you know if the proposal flies or not.

I did get nostalgic about the approval that we went through when we built the public shower and laundry building designed by David Quick in 1965. Ed Wood, the Tofte Ranger at the time, drove out to Sawbill, looked at the plans, approved the project on the spot and said that he would write a letter to the Forest Supervisor and would include the plans. About a week later he called and said that everything was OK, but the Duluth office thought that there should be a drain in the laundry room floor. It was clear that the same informality no longer existed in 1975.

We began our research about the kind of building that would suit our purposes, always with one eye on the Forest Service. Eventually we discovered geodesic domes. The dome is quick to build, has loads of interior space, is very strong, comes pre-cut, and is uncomplicated to erect. So we chose a dome, had plans drawn, and approached the Forest Service about approval.

So far as anyone could find out, there was not another geodesic dome on Forest Service property in the nation. So this request really went up the line, all the way to Washington. The response was not enthusiastic. There was concern about appearance. What about resistance to wind loads? How about snow? Etc., etc., etc.

We had a customer who was a very competent structural engineer. He had been good enough to look at the plans before I submitted them and gave an unqualified, but informal OK. When I told him of the concern he wrote a letter stating that the building would withstand sustained winds of 120 miles an hour. Ten feet of snow burden would not cause collapse. He ended by writing that if local conditions ever got close to the limits of the dome everything around the dome would be flattened a long time before. I sent his opinion on to the USFS.

That resulted in a meeting with Forest Service folks at the district and forest level. It was obvious that someone had to make a decision. The conversation boiled down to, "It’s OK with me if everyone else is OK with it". Everyone in the room said that they felt the same way. I told them that I would take that to be a yes, and no one objected. So we built the dome.

Never in the 35 years that the dome has been in use have we ever had conditions anywhere near what caused so much concern. Now comes the vindication. Last week, at the DFL convention Bill Hansen met Denny Johnson, the contractor who built our dome. Denny is still building domes. He had a very current and amazing story to tell.

He has built three domes in Chile over the years. All three of the domes are located in the area devastated by the earthquake. All three of the domes survived the quake with no damage. So, after 35 years, we now know that we were right. Are we pleased? You bet.

We attended a performance of Treasure Island at the Playhouse. We have been to many, many performances at the Playhouse. This presentation has by far the best scenery, the best blocking, the best costumes, and the most consistent performances by the cast of any that we have attended. Just saying "creative" and "excellent" does not cover the performance. Every aspect is superb. We are so fortunate to have this wonderful facility and talented folks in our community. Thanks to the dozens of folks who prepared this treat for all of us.

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