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Updated: Wednesday, 25 Jul 2012, 11:17 AM CDT
Published : Tuesday, 24 Jul 2012, 7:27 PM CDT
BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) - It was supposed to be easy: Get a bank loan and use the money to move a nearly 100 year-old house 140 miles. It was not easy.
“I wasn’t asking for a handout; I was asking for a loan,” said Bastrop County wildfire victim Robert Kraft, “but the bankers weren't interested. I'm good as far as everything else. My credit is good; I have good income, but they could not wrap their heads around moving a house 140 miles. That's too exotic for them.
“One guy told me he was afraid, he couldn't loan me the money because he was afraid it was going to fall off the truck. I don't know what that means,” Kraft laughed.
The idea had been to cut the old house in half and then move it from Mexia to Kraft’s property near Paige, but months of calling on bankers failed to produce a loan. By late spring, Kraft was on the verge of despair.
“I got very frustrated,” he said. “I was ready to just give up; I was ready to sell the house off for parts.”
But then, Kraft got some important advice.
“My mortgage broker said that once we get the house and the land together, the money lenders at the bank will be able to conceive of the project.”
That would mean that at that point, a loan could probably be had to restore the badly worn Mexia house. But Kraft struggled with how to pay for the move until a door unexpectedly opened wide.
“Some friends of mine,” he said, “heard about the situation and got some money together and loaned it to me at a really reasonable rate of interest. They just believed in what I'm doing out here and wanted to help out. They were getting as frustrated with the banks as I was. So they said, 'Let's just do it.'”
So in early June the first half of the 2,400-square-foot house was hoisted onto a truck-trailer and slowly driven to Paige. The second half followed a day later and suddenly, to his amazement, Kraft was able to stroll through the reconnected house and look out on his once-devastated property.
This was all just scorched earth back here,” he recalled. “The fire swept through from three sides, destroyed the house and the barn and left just black soot everywhere. But the grass came back and the trees that made it are alive. So it's looking real good; I'm really surprised at the level of the recovery. Slowly, each month it got a little bit more alive and green.”
In fact, there were lots of colors as a bountiful crop of wildflowers grew from the black ground.
“It looked like a Monet out here for awhile,” Kraft said, “every color in the spectrum all across the fields.
“The land's response to the fire was to come back even more beautiful and lush. That's a good thing that bodes well for the future, I think.
“I love being here every day and having a nice big house on the hill is just going to make it all the nicer.”
Now, with the house in place, Kraft has already begun what will be a long and labor-intensive process of restoring it to its original luster.
“I've gotten into some of the cleanup,” he said, “and removed most of the debris, so it's starting to fit in with the visions that I had for it originally.”
For you see, Kraft thinks of his new “old” home, not just as a roof over his head, but as a kind of ground zero for creativity.
“I'd always kind of eventually planned on putting an old farm house out here,” he said, “and the fire just kind of sped the whole process up.”
What good is a farm house, though, without the farm to go with it? It turns out that, too, is exactly what Kraft had in mind.
He’s a jazz musician and his Robert Kraft Trio plays regular gigs in the Austin area. But he’s also bought a couple of young goats with a mind to creating a goat dairy business. And he’s got lots of chickens which bless him with plenty of eggs.
“I'll breed the goats in the fall and they'll be in production in the spring and we'll see what happens,” he said. “Maybe I'll just make soap; we'll see. I'm just taking it one month at a time at this point.
“This was a dream I started working on 15 years ago. It started to come to fruition last year and then it all burned up. Now I'm starting on phase two of the dream so I'm pretty happy with the way things are turning out.”
But perhaps the best part of all this is that Kraft will soon be able to share his little rural retreat with others.
“My vision for this place,” he said, “is a place where my friends can all sit around and have dinner; that's really all I'm trying to do. My artist friends can come and wander through the woods and find inspiration. My musician friends can go sit in the recording studio and lay down some tracks and then go milk a goat. That's kind of what I have in mind.
“Friends can come out here to get away from the city,” Kraft added, “and sleep in the spare bedroom or camp in the woods; that's the vision. The house is a part of that; it feels right for that.
“I also have a lot of friends who have ideas about organic gardening; well, there's plenty of acreage here for them to experiment with that.”
Kraft figures he’ll be able to move out of a borrowed trailer on his land and into the house within six months, assuming he will now be able to interest bankers in his project. But he’s ready for anything, just as he always has been.
“I tried to stay positive,” he said. “I tried to stay busy. I tried to look at it as an opportunity as opposed to a disaster of some kind.
That is how he plans to continue.
“Keep moving; don't stop; keep fighting. Keep pushing forward no matter what happens, no matter what they throw at you. Push through it and keep your eye on the prize.”
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