When Alex Bogusky first laid eyes on Phantom Lake Ranch, the oldest settler community in northern Colorado, he was smitten. He especially loved what was sitting on the property: a 964-square-foot cabin, which was erected in 1874. Cradled in the Rocky Mountains just south of a quaint mountain village called Red Feather Lakes, the 650-acre ranch was a short two-hour drive from Bogusky’s home in Boulder, Colo., making it an ideal weekend retreat for his family.
Alex and his wife, Ana, appreciated the cabin’s rich history, but they didn’t feel its current construction paid homage to that history. The main problem was a “slapped on” addition, which was added years earlier, probably to accommodate extra ranch hands.
It just didn’t match the original structure’s authenticity. “It looked like a real log cabin with a fake log cabin stuck on the back of it,” says Alex. “The addition had a modernized look to it, which didn’t flow with the original structure.”
John Wayne & the Jigsaw Puzzle
Soon after purchasing the place in 2007, Alex met a local contractor named Randy Gillen, president of Big Horn Custom Builders. Randy shared his ideas on how to restore the historic cabin to its original glory. Alex immediately liked Randy’s personality and style.
“When Randy said to me, ‘Let’s John Wayne this thing out!’ I was hooked!” says Alex, whose vision for the refurbishment project was to turn back the clock 70 years.
“I wanted the structure to look like it had been hermetically sealed since the 1940s,” explains Alex.
To get back to basics, Randy sandblasted the logs. Then he labeled and took apart the entire log shell. “It was like disassembling and reassembling a gigantic jigsaw puzzle,” says Randy.
During the renovation, Randy encountered a few surprises – both good and bad. By far the best surprise came during the demolition phase when Randy and his crew discovered pld newspapers (circa 1870s) that were stuffed inside the walls to help insulate the cabin.
“Pulling out those papers was like opening up a time capsule,” says Randy. “The dates on the papers told us that the addition was built in 1910.”
Other surprises weren’t so great. For instance, when Randy removed the ceiling, he found evidence of a fire, which meant some roof beams needed to be replaced. In addition, 20 percent of the exterior logs were rotted as a result of packed snow sitting up against the wood throughout the winter. To prevent the problem from recurring, Randy raised the cabin two feet off the ground and wrapped the bottom of the structure with moss rock stone.
As for the rotted exterior logs, Randy was able to reclaim some of the timber and use it in the bathroom.
Something Old, Something New
To stay true to the time period, the Boguskys left all of the indoor piping and wiring exposed rather than hiding it behind walls. They also installed a rusted corrugated metal (Cor-ten) roof and made age-appropriate fixture, appliance, counter and cabinet selections. For instance, they acquired old, painted cabinets; copper countertops with a patina finish; a farmhouse-style, dual-basin sink with built-in curved backsplash; a 1930s refrigerator, and a 1940s chamber stove.
“We wanted working appliances that looked old,” says Alex. “So we refurbished the inside but left the outside the way it was.’”
The majority of the door hardware was reclaimed from the original cabin. Some of the door latches have the original date of 1898. The hinges were fabricated out of old 1800s wagon wheels. To add to the cabin’s rustic charm, the couple also located cool period pieces such as a wooden telephone, iron mailbox, and rusted milk can.
The Great Escape
When they’re at the ranch, Alex, Ana and their two children, Zeke and Nadia, love observing wildlife, including osprey, hummingbirds and moose. The family also enjoys hiking, biking and trout fishing as well as riding horses and motorcycles on the area’s rocky trails. And of course, it wouldn’t be a ranch without a little sharpshooting.
“We have a small patio out back that faces the lake,” says Alex. “My son and I like to sit out there with a .22 [caliber pistol] and shoot cans off a wire.”
Besides engine revving and target shooting, the ranch is pretty quiet. There is, however, the occasional uninvited visitor who snoops around the property. Alex recalls the time he found his truck had been ransacked. But upon closer inspection, he noticed that his wallet was untouched – and that all of the energy bars had been devoured. It seems the thieves were of a famished, furry, four-legged variety.
“Interestingly, the critters closed everything up before they left,” says Alex with a laugh. “Almost as though they thought, ‘Hey, if we shut the doors, nobody will ever know we were here!’”
An Artistic Pinnacle
Alex, who works in advertising, admits that his career has enabled him to stretch his creative side. But he says that, creatively, the Phantom Lake Ranch restoration is the coolest thing he’s ever done.
“I got to take apart a 140-year-old cabin and put it back together,” says Alex. “My fantasy is that in 140 years, someone else will take another crack at it.”
And if they do, a whole new generation will get to admire and appreciate this amazing time capsule.
The closest Christy Heitger-Ewing has come to opening up a time capsule was when she cleaned out her parents’ spice rack and found some oregano dated April 1985.