See how this ‘Vegan Hillbilly’ transformed a 200-year-old shack into his dream home
Sometimes you just want to get away from it all. This man bought a rundown historical property and turned it into a simple yet dreamy shelter he and his family could spend time in nature in. Read on to find out what he turned this into!
1. Richard Aiken practices psychiatry in Springfield, Missouri
Richard Aiken is very successful professionally — a specialist on lifestyle medicine, he’s also a certified psychiatrist and chemical engineering research scientist. He’s educated at Princeton University and the University of Utah, and taught and researched in Zurich, Switzerland and Stockholm, Sweden. For work, he practices psychiatry in Springfield, Missouri and is affiliated with Missouri State University.
Despite a very successful career dealing with complicated issues and problems, Richard says he has a “need for the simple classic shelter.” He’s an MD, PhD — not exactly the type that immediately comes to mind when you think “nature lover” or “adventurer.”
NEXT: The project he embarked on is the embodiment of “adventurer.”
2. His professional life was great but he wanted a new project
One of Richard Aiken’s passions outside of work is ski mountaineering. He lives in Springfield, Missouri now but when he lived in Park City, Utah, he’d go out to the mountains for as much as a week at a time. “It was just so wonderful to be out in nature at a very simple shelter,” Richard told Finance101.
“It just seemed very basic and psychologically pleasing and fulfilling,” he says. Striving for that feeling again, Richard decided to look for a second place of residence that he could go to to be in and enjoy nature. In addition, he wanted something that embodied the history of the Ozarks in Missouri.
NEXT: Here’s how his journey began.
3. He searched far and wide for a space to call “sometimes home”
Richard placed ads in local papers in Missouri describing the kind of historical shelter he was looking for. Turns out this was hard to find. “Those that were in really good condition were quite expensive,” Richard tells Finance101. “Since this…wasn’t going to be my main home, I wasn’t looking to put out tens of thousands of dollars.”
Sometimes, especially when lots of money is on the line, you have to hold out until you find the right product or real estate to fit your needs. Richard waited it out and found what turned out to be a perfect fit for his project.
NEXT: The right opportunity fell into Richard’s lap.
4. A man reached out and offered this property for free
Billy Howell of Missouri reached out to Richard in response to one of his ads, Richard Aiken recounted to the SF Globe in an interview. He had an old log cabin that might have been built in the 1830s that he was willing to give to Richard for free. Billy had lived in the cabin for a short period of time with his wife.
Richard says that he thought Billy’s cabin didn’t have plumbing but might have had electricity. The no plumbing part was historically accurate with its 1830s origins. Billy lived in the cabin from the 1950s to 1970s. Richard isn’t exactly sure why Billy left the cabin.
NEXT: Billy offered the cabin for free but Richard decided to give him money for it.
5. Richard gave Bill $100 or $200 for the cabin
Billy did offer to give Richard the cabin for free, Richard told the SF Globe in an interview. However, he decided to give Billy a small sum for his old cabin. He can’t remember exactly how much he gave Bill for the cabin but it was either $100 or $200. Either way, that’s not very much for a piece of property.
A couple hundred bucks sounds like a deal, right? Well, maybe not if you see the shape that the cabin was in… Let’s just say, it wasn’t a turnkey property by any means. However, that didn’t scare away Richard — he got to work making it perfect.
NEXT: Billy hadn’t lived in the cabin for ages, and it showed…
6. The cabin was in dire shape
It was exactly what Richard had been looking for, the perfect price but it was in terrible shape. “This place was not used for 30 or 40 years and was in total disrepair,” says Richard. “The ceiling, the roofs, and everything was caved in. They even used it as a trash receptacle.”
Billy didn’t need the cabin in his life anymore and basically wanted to get rid of it. First, he wanted all the trash removed. Richard agreed that he’d clear the trash out and remove the cabin itself. Billy was satisfied with that!
NEXT: It was a challenge, but it took the guesswork out of putting the cabin together.
7. Richard went to work finding what was salvageable
“[The cabin] was a trash bin, so [Billy] wanted to get all the trash out,” says Richard. “I agreed to remove not just the cabin, but all the junk. I removed all the junk, took it to a dump and left it pretty pristine. So he was happy.“ A good portion of the logs were left out of the cabin.
Richard and team went to work labeling the ends of the logs. “We had to label it in a way which showed how many logs up it was,” says Richard. “What was facing east and what was facing west. The joints were so specific that you had to put it together the same way. It’s not like Lincoln Logs that are generic.”
NEXT: They had to find land to put the cabin on.
8. Richard’s wife cried when she saw this land
“My wife and I were looking for some good amount of land that was private,” says Richard. “We did look at this property and…my wife was looking around and saw this area where the site is at and she started crying because it was so beautiful.” This sight was in the rolling green hills of the Ozarks.
Near where Richard’s wife cried tears of joy, a lake was dug and named Lake of Joyful Tears. Richard had been walking around the property when he discovered the ground was soppy. He lifted some grass and found wet bedrock. That meant another body of water could be built. A spring now wraps around the cabin.
NEXT: After the perfect land was found, the cabin needed to be relocated.
9. He moved the cabin from its original location
The cabin was moved from where Billy lived in it to the new location that Richard found with his wife. It seems like it might be difficult to move a whole structure to a new location, but Richard says it was really easy. “When we deconstructed it we had to label both ends of each log,” says Richard.
“We had to label it the way which showed how many logs up it was, what was facing east and what was facing west,” says Richard. “The joints were so specific that you had to put it together the same way. It’s not like Lincoln Logs that are generic…so that was a challenge, but it took the guesswork out of everything.”
NEXT: Richard wanted to build a very specific kind of cabin.
10. Richard set out to build a historically accurate Missouri cabin
That meant that there would be no plumbing and no electricity. That meant it would be easier and cheaper to build as there were no moving parts to worry about and upkeep. However, that means candles and outhouses — this cabin isn’t for people that don’t like to rough it out in rural Missouri.
For those that don’t want to use an outhouse, Richard’s family has a ranch home up the hill with most things needed for a comfortable stay in the country. Neither cabin nor ranch home is as comfortable as his home in Springfield, Missouri, Richard says.
NEXT: Part of building a historically accurate cabin is having historical wood.
11. Why didn’t he didn’t make an entirely new cabin
To feel like you’re truly in a historical structure, you need to have historical material in addition to the lack of electricity and running water. “This aspect of wanting to be psychologically back to the early settlements of 200 years prior would require it to have a structure that was made during that era,” says Richard.
An appeal of using some original materials is that these cabins are a lost art, says Richard. “These cabins were made with such incredible skill, with these complex joints that you haven’t seen in furniture,” says Richard.
NEXT: The area that the cabin is located in is Amish country. Richard employed their help to build his traditional Missouri cabin.
12. Richard employed Amish families to help him build
The land where the Hudson Cabin is located is in Amish country, says Richard. The particular sect that helped Richard with his cabin is originally from Switzerland and is very conservative. They speak English as well as a dialect of Swiss German. Richard can communicate with them to some extent in that language.
This Amish sect doesn’t use any modern technology whatsoever and they don’t even have covered wagons for transportation. They can’t buy power tools but they can use them. Richard bought some for them to use in order to build the cabin. He wanted it to be a historically accurate cabin but didn’t want to build it in a historical fashion, aka by hand.
NEXT: He made some sacrifices to build the cabin.
13. Richard didn’t want to cut down trees but he had to
A vegan, Richard has a deep respect for all living things including trees. He repurposed a lot of old wood to build his cabin with but it did require some new wood to be cut down. Near the Hudson Cabin’s site, there was an area of trees Richard fondly called his “Cathedral.”
One day, he came to his Cathedral and some of the Amish he employed to help with his cabin were cutting down a tree there. He told them to stop but one of the guys said: “We’re sacrificing this one tree, but this is going to be the centerpiece of the entire cabin. You look up from your bed in the loft and you’ll see that this log that puts everything together for you and you can appreciate it on a daily basis.”
NEXT: Richard wasn’t willing to cut corners.
14. Richard was willing to spend money on the cabin
Wanting to be as historically accurate as possible, Richard tried to find the right materials to complete his vision for an 1830s style Missouri cabin in the woods. He even found things like square nails. “The hardware for the doors and the hinges, I would spend $300 or $400 for that,” says Richard.
“Whereas I could get modern stuff for $15-20,” says Richard. He says it’s ironic that he paid a hundred or maybe a little more for the cabin but estimates he put in $30,000 to $40,000 on the cabin’s reconstruction. The cedar shakes (a rustic looking roofing shingle) cost about $5,000 on their own.
NEXT: However, he could have saved money on this.
15. Richard thinks he could have saved money on cedar shakes
As we mentioned above, the cedar shakes cost about $5,000 — the build of the entire roof cost $15,000. Richard loves the look of the roofing shakes but thinks in retrospect they weren’t the best financial decision. “Eventually it’s going to be high maintenance and start going all at once and I’ll have to replace it,” says Richard.
In addition, he says he wouldn’t have had a basement in retrospect. It’s a lot of work to try to articulate a foundation on rough, uneven surfaces of the bedrock,” says Richard “So that was something that I thought would be cool and it is, but took a lot of extra work.”
NEXT: You could spend less on your own cabin if you made it this way.
16. Building a modern cabin is cheaper
Building a simple cabin doesn’t require the $30,000 to $40,000 that Richard put into his Hudson Cabin. He says that if he wanted to save money, he could’ve gone to a raw mill which cuts wood in a raw way and then make his own joinery. If you’re willing to go without electricity and running water — that’s an even bigger money saver.
This is all well and good and money saving, that’s if you already have carpentry skills. Those without carpentry skills might find it easier to retrofit something like a utility trailer like Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman and Kelly Tousley did for their tiny house adventure.
NEXT: Here’s what the cabin looked like after it was completely finished.
17. The finished product looked completely different from the original
Look how amazing this cabin looks at its completion! Of course, Richard is still upkeeping the cabin and making home improvements (just like you would any home in your care). The finished home has a rustic appeal with wood interiors, a staircase, a Rumford fireplace, and places for sleeping, eating, and spending time with family.
In addition, it has a spring that wraps around it and a lake that they built called the Lake of Joyful Tears. There’s plenty of nature surrounding the cabin to explore and enjoy whether it be with friends, family or just by your lonesome.
NEXT: These are some of the most interesting things of interest inside the Hudson Cabin.
18. It has great accents like a patio and fireplace
Being an opera singer (he’s a jack of all trades it seems!) and having opera friends, Richard wanted to have a stage for performances in the forest. “That front porch is a stage,” says Richard. “We’re going to put on some real shows and barbecue and have pretty good shindigs there.” (Hopefully, he invites us!)
Another thing Richard is particularly proud of is the fireplace. Richard designed a Rumford Fireplace from scratch (named after a physicist known for his studies of heat). It took Richard months to design the fireplace — he even found himself designing in his sleep! “Every little aspect of every geometric angle had to be precise,” says Richard.
NEXT: This is how Richard’s cabin in the woods got its name.
19. He named it the “Hudson Cabin” for these reasons
There was no question that Richard had to name the cabin Hudson. “The guy apparently who owned this first, at least by the records I could find out, his last name was Hudson,” says Richard. “My wife and I on our honeymoon stayed at a little cabin called Hudson for two…it just had to be the Hudson cabin.”
The name of the cabin nods to its 200 plus year old history plus the modern day owner’s life. It’s a place that Richard obviously appreciates and likes a lot, so it should have a name that’s special to him. What would you name your cabin if you had one?
NEXT: This aspect of the cabin truly made it historical.
20. There’s no running water or electricity
Those that don’t like to rough it might not like that the cabin has neither running water or electricity. There is, however a ranch house up on the hill that you can retreat to if the candlelight and outhouse get to you! Richard says the lack of running water and electricity made the cabin a lot cheaper to build.
Once you have those moving parts, it requires a lot of upkeep. It maybe even requires specialized laborers — electricians and plumbers — that know how to install plumbing and electricity. Those kind of laborers might not be found in the Amish sect Richard hired from.
NEXT: Escape to the ranch house if you can’t hang in the cabin.
21. Richard has a ranch house up the hill
The ranch house is up on a hill on a ridge away from the cabin. It’s still not as comfortable as Richard and his wife’s house in Springfield, Missouri, however. He’s working on improving the ranch house as well as his cabin. Richard even plans to install a hot tub, which he hopes will pique his wife’s interest.
It might be a good thing to have in case Richard’s family has extra guests stop by their country land. A lot of people can’t all stay in the cabin so they could also stay in the ranch house. Having a ranch house in the countryside with running water and electricity makes it easier for guests that aren’t familiar with roughin’ it!
NEXT: Ever heard the phrase “enjoy the ride”?
22. Building helped Richard learn to enjoy the journey
Richard says he’s always been a competitive person that always wants to “win.” He was discussing the build of his cabin with a colleague and was complaining a lot about the entire process. “She said, ‘Well, why are you doing it?,’” recounts Richard. “I said, ‘I’m doing it in order to get it done.’”
“And she said, ‘Well, you don’t have to do it. If you’re not enjoying it, then what’s the point?’” says Richard. He took that observation from his colleague to heart and decided he’d start focusing on enjoying the process of building something almost from scratch.
NEXT: How often does Richard make it out to his peaceful Hudson Cabin?
23. He goes out there once a week
Richard says he and his wife “never set aside very much time to enjoy the cabin.” When he goes out there, he’s still working usually. Plus, his wife isn’t too keen on the cabin or the ranch house herself. Neither is as comfortable there as they are in their home in the city of Springfield, Missouri.
Richard’s working on improving his peaceful retreat, however. He says he goes out there once a week and an Amish family helps him with upkeep. Richard picks up the family in his truck and takes them to the cabin to help with moving rocks and other labor.
NEXT: Richard has other projects underway to improve his Hudson Cabin property.
24. Richard’s cabin still requires work
As with any house, Richard’s cabin requires consistent upkeep. When he drives the 45 minutes out to his cabin for its regular upkeep, he picks up an Amish family that helps him. He drives them to the cabin and they work on keeping the cabin nice. Currently, Richard is working on a couple of home renovation projects for his cabin.
He periodically has to preserve the wood of the cabin by using a natural oil on the logs. The precious cedar shakes that Richard paid a lot for need occasional replacing, as they’re constantly exposed to the elements. He’s putting up retaining walls along the spring and lake as well, plus other projects.
NEXT: Staying at the Hudson cabin benefits Richard in this way.
25. Simple structures like Hudson Cabin may have psychological and spiritual benefits
Like we mentioned in the first slide, Richard finds it both psychologically and spiritually pleasing to be in nature living in a simple structure. Living in something like a log cabin, however, makes people more impressed with your living structure, as opposed to buying a shed from Walmart. He has this to say about building a cabin:
“If you build out a brand new log cabin, it becomes more of a lifestyle…that people will look upon with favor,” says Richard. “And it doesn’t cost anything — not much by comparison.” So what are you waiting for? Go out and build your own cabin!
NEXT: Humans need food, water, and shelter — he’s written about nutrition and now he’s going to write about shelter, the other human need.
26. His next book is influenced by the cabin
Richard has written books before — Neurodietetics and The New Ancestral Diet. He’s in the preliminary stages of writing his new book that will be what he describes a “hodgepodge” about shelter, recipes, historical information about Missouri, pioneers, and more. He’s currently gathering notes and photos to use in the book. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with!
It’ll also include the philosophy of having a simple shelter. “Simple is almost better,” says Richard. “You can have a mansion with…all the conveniences of modern living and on the one hand, it would be just wonderful.” On the other hand, it keeps you away from being in tune with nature, he explains.
NEXT: Here’s what being a “hillbilly vegan” is all about.
27. Another one of Richard’s projects of interest is “Hillbilly Vegan”
Richard is a vegan (he doesn’t eat meat or any animal products) but also identifies to some extent with the word “hillbilly.” He’s from the Ozarks in Missouri, where your stereotypical hillbillies live. He has a Facebook page called Hillbilly Vegan where he posts vegan recipes. “People are incredibly interested in that,” says Richard.
“You take a hillbilly, you think of all these good old boys up there hunting possum and whatnot — killing animals,” says Richard. “That’s not what we’ve done most of our existence as primates. We’ve primarily have been eating plants.” Richard’s page takes us back to our roots in a way.
NEXT: Richard is a jack of all trades.
28. Richard has many talents beyond cabin-making and psychiatry
SF Globe’s introduction to Richard began simple enough: “Husband and father of two sons and a daughter.” He then tells the paper about obtaining two PhDs in chemical engineering and mathematics, a medical degree, singing opera and authoring books. He added: “(I) returned to competitive sports at 65 years old, multi-sport including triathlon.”
As you know, he’s into cabin building and ski mountaineering, vegan diets, nature, and probably more. It’s inspiring to see someone take on so many interests and be talented at many of them. You can do that, too — all it takes is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration. Also, time management…
NEXT: Thinking of building your own escape in the woods?
29. Take into account possible costs
True, Richard did buy the original cabin for around a couple hundred bucks but he did put in a lot of money into its renovation to make it the historically accurate shelter it is today. On website The Spruce, they list a handful of gorgeous cabins of all sizes and types you can either DIY or buy.
A small cabin by Joalex Henry cost a little less than $2,500 to make using reclaimed materials. However, if you want to build something more complicated than a one room cabin without running water or electricity, you might need to sink more money into your project.
NEXT: Take your time with a new building project.
30. Richard took his time building his cabin
It took Richard many years to finish his cabin. During the initial build, he was expressing to a colleague his frustrations with the issues associated with building (see slide number 22). She observed that if he didn’t enjoy building it, he shouldn’t do it. Richard decided he should “enjoy the process” of building.
The couple we featured in our story about tiny houses also decided to take their time building their tiny house. Curtiss and Kelly spent a couple of months researching how to build a tiny house and convert their utility trailer into one. The planning must have paid off because they built a great tiny home in the end!