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There was an article in the paper the other day about the need to conserve energy and make the country more independent of foreign oil. There weren’t many new ideas in the article, but something I read reminded me of a couple who moved to our town years ago from the Bay area of California.
They bought the old abandoned Leighton place out on the Sprague Falls Road that came with about 12 acres of wooded and pasture land, including a pretty knoll overlooking the river.
It seemed that no sooner had the couple gotten out of their car that they started talking to anyone who would listen about the special house they were going to build on their pretty knoll. They also talked a lot about someone named Rex Roberts, who they said had written a book titled “Your Engineered House.” Their special house would include many of his unique California-type ideas on house building, they said.
People in town had never heard of this Roberts fella. They knew a Doc Roberts who had an office in town and there was at least a few dogs in town named Rex but that was the extent of it. Most were more curious about why someone would move from California all the way across the continent just to build a California-type house – special or otherwise.
This couple would come into the Tru Value hardware store almost every morning and strike up a conversation with most anyone. They would say things like: Maine houses are poorly designed and end up wasting a lot of space. An efficient house – like the kind Rex Roberts builds – doesn’t have a pitched roof, but gently a sloping roof that allows for the best use of space, they would say. Most townies would just stand there in the hardware store, listening. They didn’t want to get into an argument or anything, but they really didn’t enjoy listening to these California folks making fun of the way Maine people build their houses.
That first summer these newcomers hired a crew and started work on their special house. It was a one-story, simple-looking building on a cement slab with a gently sloping roof that would have pleased Rex Roberts. And, once the house was finished they started right in building what they called a geodesic dome to use as a guesthouse and storage area.
A geodesic dome is a spherical structure made of a network of struts that intersect to form triangles that distribute the weight across the entire structure. They say it’s the only man-made structure that gets stronger as it increases in size. But Maine winters are not impressed by domes, geodesic or otherwise.
As the dome was taking shape word spread about the strange looking structure going up on the Sprague Falls Road. Old timers said those triangles might work in sunny California but once winter set in those triangle joints were going to start leaking. The California couple was not concerned.
Once the house and the dome were finished they had a house warming and most everyone from town went to check them out. Everyone agreed the two new places were impressive, but it was a warm sunny autumn afternoon. Gentle breezes were blowing through the open windows.
That winter we had heavy snows that almost collapsed the gently sloping roof on the Rex Roberts house, and come mud season we had so much rain that every joint in the dome started leaking.
That was enough for that couple. That May they moved to Vermont and no one’s heard from them since.
The two structures are still there, though, but I don’t think Rex Roberts would be pleased with the way they look.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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