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    A Kid At Heart | Fall 2012 Out Here Magazine

    After 60 years, retiree finally gets to build the toy fort he always wanted

    Paul putting some pieces on his toy log fort
    Paul Norman keeps careful track of where every piece of his large fort is supposed to go.
    Out Here

    By Noble Sprayberry

    Photography by Meg McKinney

    A boyhood toy, a vintage set of American Logs, gave Paul E. Norman a nostalgic itch he needed six decades to scratch.

    As a child playing with the logs at his grandparents' house in Winona, Minn., he imagined all of the structures he could make from the 300 square-sided, hewned-out, wooden pieces.

    "You could build a good-sized log cabin, but that's all you could make," he says. "You had enough to build one building, and then you'd have to take that down to build another building."

    Buying enough logs, though, was a problem. "Back in those days, families didn't have a lot of money to waste on kids," says Norman, 69. "And all of my life ... I wasn't obsessed with it, but during the course of time I'd see one of the sets. And,

    I'd think that I sure would like to get my own."

    After retiring from a 51-year career in law enforcement, including a stint as police chief in the town where he now lives, Cherokee, Ala., he brought his childhood dream to life.

    He went online to check prices, and says he found that a complete set of 300 logs — they are no longer produced and originally sold for less than $10 in the 1950s — cost as much as $75.

    An avid woodworker, he paid $45 for a partial set, enough for him to craft the jigs needed to cut and shape as many logs as he wanted.

    In 2010, he took about three months to build a log fort, consisting of 11 structures inspired by Western movies and TV shows.

    Four watchtowers guard the fort's walls, which integrate with the building, including an officers' quarters and stables.

    "Every building is connected to each other, everyone one of 'em," he says. "I had to design, layout, cuss, cavort, and cry to get all of these things to come square at the end of it. It took a little bit of math."

    He built a 4x5-foot table as a platform and did most of the work in his home's living room, for which he thanks the patience of his wife, Elaine. "It got to the point where she said, 'Get this out of here so I can watch TV,' " he jokes. "But she really did get a kick out of it, too."

    He does not keep the fort on display, however. Instead, he stores the pieces in a U.S. Army footlocker, rebuilding each time he wants to show his work, such as the Fourth of July or at the local historical society.

    Norman needs about 12 hours for construction, each step carefully documented with photos. "I'm fairly well-gifted at putting things together, and by now I pretty well know where the pieces go," he says, with a laugh.

    And Norman, whose family includes 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, never forgets that building is only one part of the fun. "The last time I had the fort out, I let them destroy it," he says. "They had a ball."

    Georgia writer Noble Sprayberry is a regular contributor to Out Here.


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