Youth learn ancient art of chinking |

Youth learn ancient art of chinking

Charles Williamson
Special to the Tribune

Youth from the South Lake Tahoe area took on an ancient task recently at the Baldwin Museum on the Tallac Historic Site. They learned how to do chinking, the process of caulking between logs to keep out cold drafts and rain. The youth were on teams of six or seven that are employed in the Generation Green program during the summer. The program is sponsored jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and the Youth Conservation Corps. Three different teams took park in chinking the museum, which was one of many varied projects they accomplished around the Tahoe Basin this summer.

The chinking process goes back to ancient times when sea-going vessels were chinked to keep water from leaking into the hulls. The process was later used by settlers to seal up their log cabins from weather as they homesteaded across the country. Not having the traditional chinking material used on boats available, log cabins were often chinked with whatever was available: mud, straw or moss, often combined with rocks and sticks.

The traditional chinking is called oakum. In times past, oakum was made of discarded pieces of ropes from sailing ships that were coated with tar to make them waterproof, and it was pushed into the space between the ship’s planks. The modern material used on the Baldwin Museum is made from virgin hemp fibers and weatherproofed with wax; this was pressed between the cedar logs that cover the walls.

An up-to-date touch was used to push the oakum into place. Traditionally wood wedges are used, but a better wedge is now made of hard plastic and is designed for wedging a tree as it is being cut down. A mallet is used to tap on the wedges to push the oakum deep into the space between the logs. The oakum comes in boxes of long lengths of rope-like material that the teams learned to cut into manageable small lengths. Everyone enjoyed handling the oakum as the wax used on it contains lanolin which softened everyone’s hands.

The Tallac Historic Site is on Highway 89 on the south end of Lake Tahoe. It consists of three restored early-1900s summer homes built by moneyed families from the San Francisco area. It is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and operates in conjunction with the Tahoe Heritage Foundation and the Tahoe Tallac Association. The site is open everyday from late May until late September. Parking is free and there is no charge for strolling the site. Call 530-541-5227 for more information.

– Charles Williamson is the volunteer public relations coordinator for the Tahoe Heritage Foundation.

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