Historic cabin gets a facelift with National Park Service restoration

By John Elliott, 3 September 2020, 3RNews

During the last few weeks, the historic Alles Cabin, built in 1901, is getting a badly needed facelift and restoration. For nearly three decades, that specialized preservation of the park’s historic resources would be undertaken by Thor Riksheim and his hand picked preservation crew. But Thor, who had long been recruited to work in other national parks, retired from the NPS last year and the search is on from within to find a replacement to fill some iconic work boots.

Riksheim was the last of a vanishing breed with a vast knowledge of historic materials — where they could be procured or how they could be reproduced. Add to his 25 years experience in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, an uncanny ability to solve problems. And what made Thor indispensable was that was equally adept in the front country or the wilderness.   

With each passing year, the back log of historic resources in need of restoration grows in number.  Several in the maintenance department, at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, have given the restoration work a try. It’s not the kind of work, long days in remote places, often in the backcountry, that’s for everyone. But meet Mike Varela, a local guy who grew up in Woodlake, lives in Three Rivers, and for the past 12 years has worked in the maintenance department at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Varela is the work lead on the Alles Cabin restoration, his first historic preservation project.  He would be the first to admit that he’s no Thor.  But with a reverence for historic resources and willingness to learn, Varela said, he would be all in on doing more of this type of specialized work.

For the Alles Cabin restoration, Varela was quick to point out all the help he got in learning some of what is involved in historic restoration. Brook Stiltz, who worked with Thor, taught Varela how to mill and make the cedar shingles. Maintenance staff from Lodgepole and Grant Grove shared their expertise too.

Varela hopes there are more many projects like the Alles Cabin in his future.  And maybe, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks just might have found their next Thor and his magic hammer. 

Thor Riksheim and Jim Barton
CABIN TALK: Thor Riksheim, (left) work leader of the Cabin Creek restoration project in 2009 in Sequoia National Park, hears tales of ranger days from Jim Barton of Three Rivers, who was stationed there as a seasonal ranger from 1959 to 1961.