In January 2007 I completed my graduate work at the University of Alberta in Library and Information Studies. I was a newly minted librarian looking for work and desperate to take whatever I could find. It turned out that I really didn’t need to worry. As I entered my final semester in the fall of 2006 I was very nervous about my prospects for work and a career. Are there really jobs out there for librarians? Turns out there are and I had several offers of work. I had choices and I chose Northern Lights Library System in Northeast Alberta. It is a regional public library system headquartered in Elk Point. Elk Point, it turns out, is a town of just 1500 people and a couple hours outside of Edmonton. It’s oil and farm country.
I arrived in Elk Point in late December looking for a home for my family. Oil was doing well at that time and there was hardly a rental available. What was available was less than desirable. I stopped in at Elk Point Realty hoping they might have a lead on something half way decent. On the window was several advertisements of properties for sale. I was just a starving student; there was no way I could afford anything… But wait… There was an old (1974) mobile home practically across the street from my new employer. The advert said “lot for sale, owner willing to negotiate removal of old trailer” or something to that effect. Clearly the trailer wasn’t meant to be inhabited but how bad could it possibly be?
There wasn’t a proper step up to the trailer. At first I had to turn over a 5 gallon pail as a step held in place by the ice and snow. The power had been off for sometime in the trailer so stepping inside wasn’t much of a relief from the bitter prairie cold outside. It was filthy. Boxes of junk, old clothing and long abandoned personal affects were strewn throughout the house. Entering I found myself in the kitchen. I kicked aside a box to reveal a 2 x 2 foot hole cut in the floor. I could see straight through to the ground. Sometime this or a previous winter the water pipes had frozen and burst. The owner cut into the floor to get at those pipes. “I can fix that,” I thought.
Venturing deeper into the trailer I stepped into the utility room. The floor here was completely gone. There was no clean cut through the floor boards. It appeared that an axe or some other destructive implement was used. I learned later that the pipes, having frozen and burst, were gushing water out of the trailer and down the street. The owner had hacked away mercilessly to get to those pipes. He never did fix the problem. The trailer, to be liveable, would need all of its plumbing replaced.
The bathroom looked in slightly better shape. It was an ugly 1970s green but it might work out. The outside wall the bathtub was set against was clearly rotten. It would need to be replaced. Walking in, just past the sink and approaching the toilet the floor changed. It was spongy, clearly also water damaged and rotting. This would be a big job. A vision was forming nonetheless and I new the place was for us. Fortunately I took a little walk through video after I bought the place. I sent it to Lisa to show her our new home, have a look:
Lisa is the right girl for me. I’m not completely certain she knew what she was getting into when she married me but she takes it all pretty well. When I called her about the trailer she had one condition: there must be running water before she or the kids would come out to join me. How hard could it be? I had no idea what I was doing. It took me a few days of research to figure out how to begin. There is this great plumbing material called Pex. It is incredibly easy to install. My dad was good enough to come out and help me rebuild floors and walls too. So it was, that I was working as a librarian during the day and then retreating to my broken down trailer every night to work into the wee hours of the morning. I think it took about 3 weeks to get the job done or at least sufficiently to convince Lisa to join me.
I took this video shortly after the family moved in:
We survived in this place for about 2 and a half years. Lisa very graciously lived through a stream of renovations until finally she convinced me it was time for a real home. So our little trailer turned rental property and we moved across town to a lovely little place. That lasted about 6 weeks but that’s an entirely different story. Before moving we did what we could to get the trailer worthy to rent. Our first tenant turned out to be a colleague from work. Here is yet another video in the transformation of the trailer:
That video would be the last I’d see of the trailer for about 5 years. In the past 5 years we’ve travelled the world leaving little Elk Point to become nearly a distant memory. Lisa’s sister has been living in Elk Point this whole time (yet another story) and taking care of the place for us. She has done an excellent job. These last renters though were not exactly desirable. Leah is moving away from Elk Point and there are not property management companies in the area. Suddenly Elk Point and the trailer have become a thing in our lives again. So last weekend Lisa and I loaded up the van with tools and drove the 1000 kilometers out to Elk Point to inspect the damage from these last not so great renters.
When we walked in I thought it might be easier to just light a match and walk away. The place was a disaster. Filthy really. It took us 2 and a half days of some serious elbow grease, along with several cans of paint, to clean it all up. We had help of course. Huge thanks to the Coleman family, president West, brother Bullock and sister Hatch. They all turned out to give us a hand getting the place put back together. These are friends made 6 years and more ago who didn’t really know we were even coming to town. We showed up in town on a Sunday and they were out helping within hours. The Colemans even spared us sleeping on thin air mattresses in the trailer by opening their home to us. I like to think sometimes that the success I’ve had in life comes generally from a willingness to take risks and to work hard. I might be tempted to say that I am responsible for any success I have in life but it’s really not the case at all. That risk taking and work ethic comes from a lifetime of support from good family and good friends. The longer I live the larger that network of support becomes. I’ve done pretty well thus far, I’m happy, and it’s not really because of me but inspite of me. I’m surrounded by good people that refuse to let my follies let me fall too far.
The trailer is now up for sale. With the economy the way it is I’m not certain we’ll find a buyer. So a sale may not be possible. Failing that I hope we can rent it out. I took one last walk through video after we got it cleaned up. It is a long way from what it was 9 years ago. If you know someone looking to buy in Elk Point, Alberta we’ve got the place for them. If they just need a place to rent we may be able to arrange that too. One last walk through:
Check out the property listing on Realtor.ca