|Perhaps one of the most interesting adventures I have ever been apart of was constructing a four-story tree house on the bayou banks of Ft. Bend County, Texas. The tree house stood 55 feet from top to bottom.
Blake Ledet and David Spencer standing in front of Monticello
We began construction of the tree house, which was later named Monticello, in January of 1997. It sat about one half mile to the north of Beck Middle School. Estimating about 4 to 5 hours of work per day, 7 days a week, it only took a few weeks until Monticello had multiple rooms, was entirely framed in, had sleeping quarters, a shingled roof, was water tight, and walls full of pornography. Shortly after it became a regular spot for dozens of our close friends to throw parties at. In high school, that was quite a luxury.
Constructing Monticello - Phase I
The construction of Monticello began in early January of 1997. The spot had originally been discovered by a friend of mine, Aaron Duke, and the original construction crew consisted of Aaron Duke, Daniel Putt, and myself. It wasn't long before I decided this was a great project and was going to require a great deal of time on our parts. Aaron was knee deep in high school and Putt was in the middle basketball season; both were inhibited from dedicating the necessary time to the project. Since I was a senior and football season was already over, I was really just counting down the months until graduation. One afternoon I took two of my other good friends, Blake Ledet and David Spencer, to see the site. The size of the tree definitely impressed them. Since they were both heavily into construction projects, it wasn't hard to get them on-board.
From left to right, me, Blake, and David posing from the top of the tree house.
In the first few days we simply created a platform on the tree, just as you would expect from any tree house. I don't think there was ever really a grand plan, but it was so much fun working out in the woods that we decided to go all out. In the next few days we each took on our own separate tree house projects. The general idea was for each of us to construct a room (more or less) thus growing the tree house very quickly. One of us built a balcony, another of us built a sitting deck, and one of us built sleeping quarters.
Once we had each completed these individual tasks, we began focusing on the sleeping quarters (an expansion of the original platform that had been created). We decided that the only proper way to make the treehouse water tight would be to frame it a la traditional framing standards. We laid down the lateral 2x4s on the platform and erected a series of 2x4s about 16 inches apart, each properly fastened to the baseboard. Plywood was harder for us to cut at the treehouse so most of the measurements were taken and the ply was cut back at our houses. Once we had it ready to go, we would bring it out there and attach it to the framed sleeping quarters. The back wall consisted of some plywood, some industrial plastic crates, and a giant road sign that read "Prison Area - Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers" (another interesting story). With the sleeping quarters completely encompassed by walls and the additional deck and balcony attached, Monticello was beginning to take shape.
Many people have asked over the years, where did the supplies for Monticello come from? Naturally most people think we stole the wood, but that's actually not true at all. Since we lived in a rather suburban area, there were constantly new subdivisions being constructed. The houses always had enormous piles of scrap wood sitting around. Rather than stealing good wood, we would instead ask the foreman of the house if we could take from the scrap piles. We were always granted permission and it made for an excellent CYA should someone ever question what we were doing. By exclusively combing scrap piles, we were able to get plywood, drywall, 2x4s, large wooden beams, even shingles and occasionally nails. The only thing we paid for out of pocket were some additional boxes of nails. And of course we all had our own hammer.
Constructing Monticello - Phase II
It didn't take us long to complete the initial design of Monticello. The only problem was that we were still having such a good time with it that we didn't want to quit.
Blake taking a break in the sleeping quarters. It comfortably slept three people.
One afternoon while going through some scrap piles, we came across the cut out of a staircase that had not been used. Most likely it was designed for the construction crew to get around more easily. We took the staircase cutout and immediately built it into the treehouse. This opened the design scheme up to a 2nd, 3rd, and eventually even a 4th floor (though only the 2nd floor was actually accessible via traditional stairs).
The staircase was lined with 2x6s that we had found and cut to fit. The steps led to a small platform that allowed the person to climb their way to the 2nd floor. A few months earlier the local movie theater was getting rid of their promotional "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" cutouts. I had taken them and had them on my bedroom ceiling before an opportunity to use them for a greater cause presented itself. We stapled them to the wall next to the staircase.
Once the 2nd floor had been nailed down, a 3rd floor was built above it. It did not have nearly the structural integrity as the 1st and 2nd floors did, but it was still well supported. The 3rd floor had a heavy roof laid upon it with 2x6s. It wasn't watertight as the single pieces of wood had small gaps between them, but it provided shade from the sun. The roof was strong enough to support people and thus effectively led to the 4th floor (though the 4th floor was nothing but a platform).
Once everything was more or less constructed on the tree house, we began creating a camping ground for people to sit around, eat, cook, and drink. Naturally this required a nice campfire pit. Since the tree house was constructed along a local bayou, there were plenty of giant concrete rocks around that we could transport for the fire pit. We dug a hole about 8 feet in diameter and a few feet deep. Giant bayou rocks were laid around the fire. It was a daunting task to pickup the rocks from the bayou, walk them up the slope, and then another 100 or so meters to the actual camping ground. And to make matters worse, since the campfire was so large, the project required quite a few of these rocks. I distinctly remember the process taking the three of us many, many hours.
In addition to the campfire, we built benches, tables, and just about anything else that we could think of for people to sit around on. We even went so far as to bring a chainsaw out there one afternoon and cut down more than enough trees to keep us warm in the cold Texas nights of January and February. We brought lawnmowers and weed-eaters to designate pathways and otherwise created one hell of a venue for our friends to party at.
One of our parties out at the tree house on February 22, 1997.