Bozeman Cottages

The Story of Lucky Dog Lodge

Unexpectedly, the Lucky Dog Lodge looms out of nowhere. One minute you’re in the middle of one of the oldest subdivisions in Gallatin County, the next you are face-to-face with a thing of wonder. The three-story log lodge sits magnificently on a lot looking back to the Gallatin River. The staggeringly large hand-picked, hand-stripped logs, each positioned in a Zen-like manner, create a place of peace and tranquility, a place of home. “Things only touch at a point, or in a line, and there are no flat surfaces, so no moisture pools,” explains builder Chris Heizer. “The wood itself creates its own rhythms and patterns. You have to see it, feel it, know it.” Inside, the room opens to a large common area dominated by a thick, salvaged fir, bridge-plank table with benches instead of chairs. The kitchen is available, part of the large downstairs, now walled out. Guests may come and go as they please, cook what they like, eat when they want. A staircase zig-zags up two more floors, with a rebar railing painted black leading up to six bedrooms: four on one floor, two on the other. Although the lodge is just a stone’s throw from the Bozeman Hot Springs and a KOA, its back deck — with a view of the West Gallatin River — is peaceful and calm. The Lucky Dog Lodge was the vision of Steve Copeland, but his work was halted when he died in an avalanche last spring [2001]. Prior to his unexpected death, Copeland spent some time in Japan, where he was a venerated fly fishing expert, fishing guide, writer and photographer. The rest of his time was spent in Montana, where he brought his Japanese friends and clients to share his secret fishing holes.

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, June 29, 2002.

The Lucky Dog Lodge includes a large common area...

...and a staircase that zig-zags up two more floors, leading to six bedrooms for guests.

Some of the wood used on the lodge was salvaged from an old lumber mill.

A table of thick, salvaged fir dominates the common area.

“After Steve died, all the people who worked on the lodge came back and helped us to finish it,” Steve’s father, Mike Copeland said. “When Steve’s estate was left to us, we didn’t know what to do. But we knew we had to finish it. “The challenge was to follow in the tradition that was started when Steve was alive. Every log was raised by hand using a block and tackle, pulleys and trucks. “No cranes, except for the 13.5 ton ridgepole and two support logs,” Copeland said. “You should have seen it.” Heizer said he doesn’t believe in using cranes. “They cough up diesel fumes,” he said. “Cranes are very expensive, and you really don’t need them.” Steve Copland worked on the structure for more than four years, hiring people as he came into money, cajoling friends to help when they came by. It took three months to just strip the logs, using a spud bar, a crowbar type of tool with an axe head welded onto the end. “Steve had lots of friends who would stop by and he’d say, ‘Hey, let’s go strip some logs.’ And they would,” Copeland said. And it was thanks to those friends, after Steve died, that the Copelands are now grateful. “The way his friends came through for us — just incredible — to have those people we could rely on to see the project through, the way Steve intended,” Copeland said. “After all, we didn’t know what Steve had in mind. We talked with him, but this was his project.” With the estate in the hands of his parents, Mike and Susan Copeland, and with the support of Steve’s friends, the Lucky Dog Lodge was just recently completed. The last finishing touches are still being added. A new light outside here, landscaping there. Most of the lodge was built while Steve lived in an old house on the site. In fact, the lodge was constructed around the old house and when the lodge was done, the old house was dismantled, piece-by-piece, through the windows and doors. “In the basement, you can still see the old foundation and the new foundation built a few feet away,” Copeland said, opening doors and making excuses for piles of his son’s possessions that still show up, like a tap on the shoulder, in corners. Also in the basement are concrete piers, each as large as a man, with a giant ponderosa pine log, standing like Atlas, holding up the entire structure.

“I learned the butt-and-pass method in Seattle,” Heizer said. “It’s simple and it’s beautiful. Steve really believed in the method, and I think it’s the only way to build a log house.” The secret of a good log home, according to Heizer, is to make sure it can breathe. “If it breathes, it won’t rot,” he said. “Air moves through the whole house, nothing is stagnant. If the water dries, there’s no rot.” The logs were chosen one at a time from a ranch near Helena. “They were very environmentally aware of how they were harvesting the trees,” Copeland said. And they are very big. Huge. The ridgepole weighs over 13 tons and is three-feet in diameter. “We selected each tree from a south-facing slope so the sap uniformly is the same,” Heizer said. “It also helps assure that the logs will dry in a similar way.” The 22-inch diameter wall logs were put in green, and they were put in “on-center.” “That means I took each log and figured out the exact center,” Heizer said. “Each tree is slightly different, so it might take me two hours to select the right log.” Heizer said building with the butt-and-pass method, using natural logs, is not like placing dowels down. Each log is so different that every four rows Heizer stopped to assess the levelness of the walls. “It’s more like placing carrots down,” he said.

Once each log is matched up and placed just right, a hole is drilled through the log and the rebar is pounded down through the hole and halfway through the next log, every four feet. “I was really worried about settling,” Copeland said. “And there were no allowances made for settling in the house. But not a window or door stuck.” When the logs dry, they pull at each other and end up keeping each other in place. “The house won’t settle and the logs won’t rot.” Heizer said. The floors are built from 100-year old salvaged wood. “I didn’t want any new lumber in the house,” Heizer said. “The house has its story, and where the wood came from is part of that story.” Three-by-six tongue and groove was used for the roof and the floors. “There was two miles of it, if you’d placed it end to end.” Heizer said. And there were 133 eight-by-six beams that were salvaged from an old lumber mill, circa 1905. “Those old beams were special cut from old-growth wood,” Heizer said. “And they were quarter-sawn, the way they used to cut beams, more stable because the grain is tighter and twists less.” The end result stands tall against a background of tragedy. A monument, a memorial, a statement of what Steve Copeland stood for and the legacy he left behind. “A lot of people have put a little bit of themselves in the Lucky Dog Lodge,” Heizer said.