Outdoors is perfect backdrop for carpenter

  • Updated: June 16, 2012 - 5:58 PM

When it comes to sensory overload, this guy's workplace has it all.

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Bob Brandt is replacing the 83-year-old cedar shingles of the iconic Naniboujou Lodge up the North Shore from Grand Marais.

GRAND MARAIS, MINN.

The woodsy smell of fresh cedar blends with the scent of lilac bushes still at peak fragrance as Bob Brandt goes to work. He's reshingling the iconic Naniboujou Lodge 26 miles down the North Shore from the Canadian border.

And his aromatic workplace doesn't just smell good. There's the slate-blue backdrop of Lake Superior, its horizon line obscured by thin fog, and the gurgling sound of the Brule River dumping into the big lake.

Brandt is doing something no one has done since the original carpenters from Chicago nailed up the now-weathered shingles 83 years ago. First, he takes a shingle from his massive stack by the lilac bushes. He has no name for the process he invented yesterday.

He twists three tightly packed rows of screws into the board until their tips barely popped through the other end. Then he uses the contraption to gently scrape and score the cedar shakes, giving them a textured, grooved look. The rhythmic scratching sound is drowned out by the waves, the river and the wind.

Brandt uses the old shakes as an underlayer before nailing up the new ones. He has 20,000 square feet of shakes. Asked how long he envisions the reshingling project will take, he smiles under his fishing hat: "We'll just have to see how it all shakes down," he says, pun intended.

Brandt grew up on a hobby farm 380 miles south of here near Lyle, Minn., south of Austin on the Iowa border. For seven years, he ran the Pine Terrace Resort on the Whitefish chain near Brainerd. His wife of 36 years, Julie, wasn't crazy about the demanding resort life as they raised three boys.

"But I was the breadwinner so I made the final decision," he says.

Julie taught kindergarten in Pine River and soon began earning more money than he did. So Bob handed the decision-making powers over to his wife. She wanted to move to Grand Marais, 15 miles down the North Shore from the lodge, so they did 20 years ago. He teaches driver's education for Cook County schools and does this carpentry on the side - making lamps and handling special projects for Naniboujou.

The resort was originally planned as a massive, exclusive social club that would feature 150 rooms, cabins and tennis courts. Baseball icon Babe Ruth and boxer Jack Dempsey were charter members. Then the Depression hit, leaving a couple dozen cozy rooms in what was the clubhouse and a jaw-dropping dining room with psychedelic Cree-inspired walls of orange, red, yellow, green and blue - and a gigantic stone fireplace.

"I suppose the restaurant and fireplace are my favorite parts, along with the majestic oak floors," says Bob, who insists he takes neither the architectural treasure nor his sweet-smelling workplace for granted.

"I appreciate it," he says. "I suppose it's hard not to."

CURT BROWN

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