When Honest Abe Log Homes founder Doug Smith started his company almost 30 years ago, he had several goals in mind: make a quality product, provide jobs for the county, use some excess material generated by his sawmill, and (last, but not least) make a profit.
It’s doubtful that saving lives was one of those goals, but you can add that accomplishment to the list of things the nationally-recognized company has done through the years.
A home designed, manufactured and constructed by the company in nearby Lafayette, Tenn., recently survived the killer tornadoes that swept through several Tennessee counties, and in the process, saved its owners.
The home, despite being lifted off its foundation and being moved several feet, remained remarkably intact as the tornado, responsible for over a dozen deaths in Macon County alone, ripped its way northeast toward Kentucky. Surviving the killer storm were Linda Worsham, her disabled and bedfast husband, and their son. It was nothing short of remarkable.
"My husband, adult son and I were in the home on that night (Feb. 5, 2008)," Linda Worsham recalled a few days after the fateful night. "When the storm hit, I braced myself in the enclosed hallway, holding onto a door frame.
"My husband, who is disabled, was in one of the bedrooms in a hospital bed, and our son was in the basement. It happened so quickly that we didn’t even feel the house move."
What happened so quickly was a movement of 10-12 feet one way, and four to five feet the other way, of the entire house. Porches, fireplaces and chimneys collapsed and doors and windows blew out (due to the extremely low barometric pressure), but the log walls and heavy timber roof system remained largely intact, shielding the Worshams from the monster storm.
Honest Abe vice-president of company operations Randy Fudge, and company design manager Fred Kendall visited the site shortly after the storm hit, and were amazed at what they saw.
"It was just extraordinary," Fudge said. "We’ve all seen houses close to the path of high winds or a storm make it though pretty intact, but the Worshams’ home was directly in the path of this one.
"There were very heavily wooded areas around their home, and all that was just mangled," Fudge said. "Trees were just twisted in two.
"To think there was a tornado strong enough to lift this house off the foundation, pick it up and move it 10-15 feet, and it remain basically intact is just remarkable," Fudge said.
Kendall echoed Fudge’s statements.
"When we first pulled up at the site, I just sat there for a minute, amazed at how it looked," Kendall said. "It was awesome to see so much of the structure so intact, even though it had been moved so far.
"The log and roof structure that we provided the Worshams was still there as a whole," Kendall said. "The heavy timber roof system was still attached to the logs and was intact, and the tongue and groove ceiling material was still there, with very little movement at all. To see the logs together, the roof system intact, and them still attached to each other was just difficult to put into words."
Kendall said seeing how the home survived the tornado made him "secure in how good our log structures are. Seeing how it held up under such force makes you feel good about it. I always knew we had a good log system, and this confirmed to me how good it was."
Fudge said getting the call from a customer and "having them tell you the home saved their life is very rewarding. We all know there is no such thing as a ‘tornado-proof’ house, but maybe this got pretty close."
The Worshams’ home was built from a modified standard plan from the Honest Abe catalog, and was the company’s original chinked-style system, a 6-inch by 10-inch log that hearkens back to pioneer days.
Most traditional types of building systems would have had a difficult time holding up in these extreme circumstances, Fudge pointed out, and Worsham also had some thoughts on that.
"A frame house would have been a pile of splinters," she said. "Three people and a cat came out of the debris with nothing more than a few scratches and bruises. I haven’t yet been able to grieve for the loss of our home," she said just a few days after the twister hit. "I’m just so grateful that no one was seriously injured. I truly believe that the solid log walls saved us."