The Uppermost House in winter.

The Uppermost House, our 300 sq. ft. timberframe treehouse in the Maine woods, is full of odd things. Perhaps the oddest, is the drawbridge—it certainly gets the most comments. Cobbled together out of timbers, lumber, cables, pulleys, boulders, and plumbing supplies, it is a contraption in the finest Rube Goldberg tradition.

The theory is simple: make a set of stairs that look like the spinal column from a Stegosaurus and that can be lifted into the air with ease because they are counterweighted with big rocks yet fall gracefully to earth (unfolding their steps as they descent amidst a cacophony of creaking, grunting, and thunking sounds) when the (hidden) catch mechanism on the counterweight is tripped by a secret latch. See, simple.

The key to this whole mess, is the catch mechanism. Here is an excerpt from the book, Treehouse Chronicles: One Man’s Dream of Life Aloft, that tells the story of the discovery of the magic gadget:

Sometimes a dashed plan is like a poor draw in poker. If the title to your house is on the table and you’re dealt just a pair of twos, you either bluff well or end up living with your in-laws. Ted came back from an expedition to the local hardware stores today with dire news: we can’t use a gate latch as the catch for the drawbridge. One store didn’t have any latches. One store had cheap flimsy things that weren’t up to the task. And the last store had so much stuff lying in the aisles that Ted gave up and waded back to his truck. I had always known that a gate latch was the key to this Rube Goldberg contraption, and now I had to face the cruel fact that it wouldn’t work. I felt like the guy who swam across the English Channel until he saw the waves breaking on the beach in Calais, France. He didn’t think he had the strength to make it, so he turned around and swam back to England. Things suddenly looked so hopeless I feared we might have to start the whole treehouse over. “If we can’t make the stairs work, how are we ever going to get up into the treehouse?” I moaned.

Ted, always the optimist, yelled “Don’t give up yet,” and then bolted downstairs and out to the sprawling garages. A half an hour later he returned from what he calls “the land of archaic hardware” with his hands full. “There,” he said proudly, spilling a jumble of oddball widgets onto the table. Among the treasures was a spring-loaded door catch with no apparent way to attach it to anything, a neat little thing milled from a block of aluminum with a perpendicular pair of what appeared to be thumb screws, another door catch that had “Push” stamped boldly on the side of it but no moving parts, and, lastly, an odd, cylindrical, aluminum, ball-bearing-equipped, spring-loaded, something-or-other. This last item turned out to be the pearl. (Our other business partner, Frank, has a collection of outbuildings that are the equivalent of giant oysters. A tiny little annoyance-a metal thingy of unknown purpose-gets stuck inside one of these buildings and over time it is transformed-at least in the human mind-into something wonderful, and sometimes even useful.)

You can see where this is leading. To read the whole story, and see a detailed drawing of the catch and the drawbridge itself, please click these links:

drawbridge gizmo


And, to see the whole story of the building of this whimsical treehouse, please buy our award-winning book, Treehouse Chronicles. If you buy it from our website, TMC, we will sign the book and include a personal message (if you wish). You can also purchase the book from all online and retail booksellers.

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