Gearhead Diary: On the level

PHOTO BY MATTHEW BARTMANN We moved and bought a new home. Straight as an arrow!

Matt Bartmann

[email protected]



“Should it be level, or should it be level with the house?”

I’ve been wrestling with that question my whole life. Artwork that’s hanging crooked drives me nuts. To the point that I straighten pieces in public places if they are slightly off.

Having lived in—or frequented—cabins in the mountains for so many years, I’ve come to realize that sometimes what looks right isn’t actually right. Nothing was quite straight or level in our cabin west of Fort Collins, and when it came to hanging artwork, well, “perfect” just didn’t always look right.

The painting might be perfectly level, but since the whole house was slightly askew, that painting hung so carefully with a level looks a little bit crooked. Sometimes off by half a bubble just looks better.

This year, we moved. Packed up lock, stock, and barrel and sold the old cabin. Crooked walls, floors, windows and everything else we loved.

Time to find a new home.

We looked at hundreds of possibilities online, and dozens in person.

And then one day, just when we were on the brink of despair, we found our house. We knew it as soon as we walked in the front door. One quick look at each other, and “We’ll take it,” we told the shocked realtor before we’d even gotten any farther than the first room.

Why shocked? Because this isn’t a normal house. To put it kindly, it’s an old wreck. A log home built more than 100 years ago.

Which may be why we love it. The sense of history is powerful. Someone built this, by hand, and loved it. And so did everyone else who came after that first couple. Even the yard, to my wife’s delight, is full of old treasures—a century’s worth of daffodils and neglected bushes, a few big old trees. And dandelions.

Like our old place, this one was also hand-built. I love the hack marks in the logs created by somebody’s axe so many years ago. I love trying to figure out which “improvement” to the original structure was done when.

Straight as an arrow. Uh, no. Logs fitted by hand (and ax) that make the corners of our home.

And it’s got all sorts of neat stuff! Inside, we have electric outlets in the walls. And they work. It’s got a kitchen. With a sink. And a range and a fridge. This house even has a couple of ceiling fans, and a heat pump. And a bathroom with a shower and stuff.


Yep, we done domesticated ourselves.

To us, it sure feels like we’re living in the lap of luxury. But as all new homeowners know, a new house means a whole slew of new projects. It’s been a couple of months so far, and we’re still trying to prioritize. Heck, we haven’t even figured out the furniture arrangement yet.

This house has lots of big projects that need doing. But I love having projects, even if I don’t get around to actually doing them for a while. Lots of opportunities to put my gearhead instincts to use.

Meanwhile, we’re also still deciding on artwork placement. The floor isn’t quite straight. The ceiling isn’t quite straight. The floor and ceiling don’t line up with each other. Neither do the walls. The windows? They look good from the inside. But from outside, they slant in different directions.

And what do you know—that new level I bought a few weeks ago works just like my old level did, back at our mountain cabin. The bubble doesn’t agree with what looks straight to my eye. And that’s fine. I’m used to it.


Support Northern Colorado Journalism

Show your support for North Forty News by helping us produce more content. It's a kind and simple gesture that will help us continue to bring more content to you.

BONUS - Donors get a link in their receipt to sign up for our once-per-week instant text messaging alert. Get your e-copy of North Forty News the moment it is released!

Click to Donate