Imagination and thoughtful foresight, attributes of Bill Plumb, are best accompanied by a good supply of patience, for it takes just that to stick with an idea until others are ready to join you. For several years, though not always feeling patient, Bill has persevered with the manufacturing of modest-sized, well-insulated, aesthetically pleasing cabins. Only recently did his company turn the corner, becoming a prosperous operation as business picked up to a fast clip.
With the rising price of fuel, awareness of sustainability and scarcity of affordable housing, we are all starting to rethink our lifestyles. Small houses no longer seem constricting, but rather energy-efficient choices; moveable residences no longer connote "gypsy," but smart flexibility; local materials are not a last resort, but a first choice, which reduces costly transportation; lower purchase prices are good economy as opposed to the wasteful spending associated with "McMansions."
Bill, in years past, has engaged in several successful businesses, but this one delights him the most, as it fills an important need for affordable, environmentally sound housing. He founded Adirondack White Pine Cabins, Inc. back in July 2002, but a string of bad luck delayed full realization of its potential until recently. He knew his cabins "could really be something," and against all odds, hung on until persistence paid off. Here is his story.
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)
Born into a military family in Watertown, Bill grew up in a family "on the move." The consistencies were annual Christmastime visits to the North Country home of his paternal grandparents in North Bangor and summer camping trips to Fish Creek ponds.
In 1972, Bill earned a political science degree at Colorado State University, married his classmate, Sally McKenzie, and moved back to the North Country, living in Malone. After a brief stint working at his brother-in-law's legal office in Malone, he joined a large commercial family-owned fruit and vegetable farm, founded by his grandfather on his mother's side. He stayed at Kast Farm in Albion (still in operation today) for seven years, learning to run heavy equipment, take apart engines, manage employees, construct buildings and work the land.
His family had grown to include two daughters, and Bill, feeling a deepened sense of responsibility, worried that farm work might take a large physical toll while not satisfying his goals. He returned to school, graduating from SUNY Brockport in 1980 with a master's degree in urban planning.
Looking back, he finds his degree choice ironic, now preferring rural life as it "tends to control human behavior with informal peer pressure and establishes social norms that in urban settings tend to disappear or become more extreme."
Before beginning a new job search, Bill took his family on an Adirondack vacation. While camping at Fish Creek, one daughter suddenly became ill during the night. To the parent's amazement, they discovered Saranac Lake's Adirondack Medical Center in the "middle of nowhere," with competent doctors and an open pharmacy. Impressed, they asked themselves, "why not live where we like to vacation?"
Bill soon found a job with the Community Action Agency in Malone. Looking ahead, he saw the need for healthcare that would keep patients in their homes and out of expensive institutions. He went on to develop North Country Home Services, running it for 19 years.
In 2001, Bill's father fell ill with an asbestos-related lung cancer, dying shortly after his diagnosis. Two months later, Bill's well-loved brother-in-law, Don Holland, died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Bill, severely affected by these losses, took a year off to refocus.
In 2002, driving through Gatlinburg, Tenn., he spotted a cluster of tiny log cabins. Intrigued, he stopped, met the builder and learned that the cabins were mounted on wheeled axles for easy transport. Recognizing a business well-suited for the future, Bill signed on as the Northeast distributor. When months later, the Tennessee headquarters had to close and he was faced with manufacturing the cabins himself. A trusting college friend offered critical financing. Bill began designing and building homes to withstand heavy snows and cold winters, making them unique and more marketable in the Northeast and even Canada.
No sooner had he set up shop than fate dealt him another blow. He was cutting a tree when it unexpectedly fell in his direction, crushing him to the ground. Lucky to survive, he was left with a broken left arm, which was repaired with rod and screws, a hip joint reconnected with lag bolts, multiple broken ribs, a badly injured face and the prospect of months of physical therapy.
Bill, not about to be deterred from his goal, told the therapist, "Your services will be evaluated on whether I can get back to my trade."
"I can help, if you are willing to do the work," was the reply. He did, and on returning to good health, spent several months making up for lost income by working with Coakley's Hardware, helping to set up the Saranac Lake store.
Bill has a son, Joe, who had attended SUNY Oswego, worked in the cabin business during his breaks and written about it for his studies. After graduation he had come on board full time.
In 2006, Bill and Joe fired up the business again, building a modern shop in Saranac Lake and relocating their cabin manufacturing to this new site. Bill, along with Joe and his employee, Evan Durfee, kept plugging away building model cabins. Two years ago, the business suddenly started to boom, with the cabins selling as fast as they could be built, which is one cabin every eight to 10 weeks. Bill said repeat showings on the PBS series, "Rustic Living," have contributed to their popularity.
These charming, 400-foot square, one-bedroom, year-round "homelets" feature screened porches, loft sleeping quarters and wheels for towing. They are bought for hunting camps, vacation homes, single persons and residences for older parents.
"Be careful what you do, you will become whatever that is," Bill said. Bill has become just that, a forward thinker with patience and determination.
For comments or questions, Caperton Tissot can be reached at tissot@SnowyOwlPress.com.