The Herald Bulletin

October 1, 2013

Vic Cook's hopes for sustainability live on at Sue's Cabin

By Scott L. Miley The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — MECHANICSBURG — Pieces of Vic Cook’s dream to live free in a self-sustaining home can still be found in a rustic cabin near Mechanicsburg.

Cook was the inventive genius who built the “Giant,” a solar-powered, self-contained home along the wooded banks of Fall Creek in Pendleton. He didn’t pay a utility bill for 30 years and proudly offered tours of his hard-to-reach home. An inventor and musician, he died of a stroke in 2010 at the age of 67.

Now, some of his mementos — and most of his eco-philosophy — have been transplanted 10 miles away to the home of Sue Blakely, one of Cook’s longtime friends. Her not-for-profit, Earthship Corp., which she runs with Cook’s son, Lee, is dedicated to Vic Cook’s art and science.

As she walks through her cabin, she is constantly reminded of Cook, who helped her build the house. There are awards for Cook’s initiatives, a copy of a record album Cook made in the 1960s, and a Henry David Thoreau quote hanging on the wall. And when sunlight hits a clear, hand-sized globe, it sparkles across a photo of Cook playing his guitar.

“Every day there’s just something involving him,” Blakely said. “The guitars that Vic played are out here, too.”

An inflatable pool under the porch was installed by Cook to collect water from rain barrels; the water is filtered for indoor use.

Lee Cook added, “I see a lot of my dad here. ... He made it so she could come here and live, and then, dang it, he’s gone. I miss him every day. It’s very easy to think of the Giant when you’re here.”

To demonstrate the value of a natural lifestyle, Blakely is offering public tours of Sue’s Cabin and the 10-acre wooded site along Mechanicsburg Road.

Blakely, who is an optician, purchased the plot in 2006 and turned it into a self-sustaining home by April 2009. She pays no utility bills. The only costs are for fuel and food, she said.

Most of her 900-square-foot home — about 68 feet long and resembling two mobile homes end to end — is powered by a sole $400 solar panel. A backup generator, which operates with gasoline, is nearby and used when Blakely operates a sweeper inside the house. Rain barrels sit on the four outdoor corners of the house. Two of them feed water inside the home; the two others are used for outdoor watering.

Inside, a wood stove keeps the house warm and provides heat for cooking. Blakely’s laptop computer, TV and phone operate from solar power. As Blakely showed off her house, a cannon-sized boom box was playing Vic Cook’s soft jazz album.

One of Cook’s best known quotes defined his lifestyle: “My belief is that people around the world will never be truly free until they can live for free.”

Cook’s son, Lee, doesn’t take issue with his father’s most famous quote. Far from it.

“He mentioned living for free. I feel like that’s impossible, but it’s really cost effective living this way,” Lee Cook said. “There’s no stress here. It’s not like, ‘Oh, my god, the light bill’s here.’”

“You’re free of the dependence,” Blakely added.

When Vic Cook died, friends tried to keep the Giant alive, but they found that supporting beams needed to be reinforced. Unable to afford the repairs, they sold the site in January 2012 to an artist, who is using the massive hut-like structure as a studio.

So Vic Cook’s presence is still felt at the Giant, and now at Sue’s Cabin.

“Vic and I both wanted to share nature,” Blakely said. “People have gotten so far away from it. I’ve heard of people going for months without ever being outside.

“Their garage is attached to their house. They go out and get their car and they would drive to the office and the office they worked in had a parking garage. They never saw daylight or were outside for long periods of time.”

Lee Cook added, “There’s children in their teens that have never spent a day in the woods. I can’t hardly imagine that.”

To schedule a tour of Sue’s Cabin, call (765) 623-2385 or email earthshipc@gmail.com.

Schedule a tour To schedule a tour of Sue's Cabin, call (765) 623-2385 or email earthshipc@gmail.com. Sue's Cabin is sponsored by Earthship Corp., a not-for-profit operated by Sue Blakely and Lee Cook.