HOOSICK FALLS NATIVES BACK NAT-GEO REALITY SHOW
By John Craig, The Record
Photo provided From left to right: Co-executive Producer Will Spjut, Pat "Tuffy" Bakaitis and George Verschoor
In her dream cabin, the wife wanted to wake up with the sunrise. The husband wanted to look out the same bedroom window and watch the sunset. So they turned to Pat “Tuffy” Bakaitis of Hoosick Falls and his team for help.
He’s not a marriage counselor – Bakaitis is a woodsman, excavator and builder.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but could never do it on my own,” Bakaitis told The Record. “You can do all kinds of goofy things with the bottom of an excavator.”
And he has. Tonight on NatGeo, the National Geographic Channel, his “Building Wild” show will turn an old excavator into a cabin that spins 360-degrees. It’s part of a show based in eastern Rensselaer County and southern Vermont with Hoosick Falls natives Bakaitis and George Verschoor.
“Tuffy is one of the most talented fabricator, woodsman, and backwoods inventors you’ll ever meet,” Verschoor said. “He’s known as a local legend.”
“We found one (excavator), stripped it down to the turntable; the house bearing is made to manage the whole machine,” Bakaitis said.
The producers, including Verschoor, who actually rode the school bus with Bakaitis as kids, were skeptical and didn’t want to layout the money for the big machine.
“They were kind of against me on it,” said Bakaitis, 51, who has owned Hoosick Sand & Gravel for over 35 years. “The price of scrap is so high; it’s kind of killing us a little bit.”
But they found one with a 14’ x 8’ base and built a cabin on it. They estimate that the kit alone was 18,000 lbs. without roofing, flooring or furnishings. When it was all said and done, it weighed about 25,000 lbs.
Bakaitis and designer Paulie DiMeo, who is a jack-of-all-trades and TV veteran, have created “Cabin Kings” which will build dream cabins in five-days. They built and filmed each episode from last June through October. The series began airing January 14 on the NatGeo Channel. DiMeo became known for building the impossible over nine seasons on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” including a house in Colonie in 2007.
Bakaitis says “there’s nothing scripted about it” and it combines education, humor and you get “the real deal.” As for the turntable cabin, “I bet Paulie I could put my thumb on the corner and it will spin. That was my design.”
Verschoor asked Tuffy: “What if this doesn’t work?” Tuffy answered, “It’s going to work.”
VERSCHOOR IS SURE
Verschoor studied filmmaking at Syracuse University and then moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream in 1983, after graduation.
“I caught the bug for storytelling and filmmaking,” Verschoor said. “My first break came when I produced and directed “The Real World” (on MTV). Those early years were great on that show. It was ground-breaking and launched a lot of different opportunities.”
Verschoor, 53, also headed “Nashville Star” which discovered Miranda Lambert and he later worked on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” where he met DiMeo and worked on a house in Springfield, MA.
“He and I started talking about our love of the outdoors in the northeast,” said Verschoor. When DiMeo met Bakaitis, who owned five cabins at the time, they came up with the idea for “Cabin Kings” to help people build a wilderness man cave and soon after, the show was born.
“It’s great to be back in my hometown working with a lot of the folks I know,” Verschoor said from Vermont, where his team is scouting the next season. “These are great, salt-of-the-earth characters. There’s hard-working talent, a lot of great craftsman here. There’s a great cabin culture and the people are saving and looking for that little piece of paradise.”
The show doesn’t just give the cabins away. The families have to put some of their own money and labor into it. But it is built in less than a week.
“It’s not a program that is just giving these things away,” Verschoor said. “They work with Paulie and Tuffy on their cabin. They’ve got some sweat equity in it…it’s fun to take people on that adventure.
“Paul does things fast and keeps costs low,” Verschoor said. “Each of these cabins has a bit of a twist to them.”
“Building Wild” is beginning its second season and they are looking for new spots and new ideas – up to 15 projects. You can contact them through their website, cabin-kings.com, to apply and offer up land and materials.
“Pursuing the dream is the story,” Verschoor said. “It’s outdoors and hardship and challenge. That’s what this story is all about. You go on this adventure for a weekend.”
NO DOWN TIME
For special work, Bakaitis will take work to his own workshop – “we can’t do everything out in the bush…and on the job site you will find mud, stumps and gravel.”
The premiere of the show was held at the new “Dutchaven Sports Pub” in Buskirk next to the golf course. All 14 flat screen TVs were tuned in for the party. And that’s one of the rare times Bakaitis watched TV. Bakaitis is a different cat. To relax, he likes to spend time in his woodshop when he gets home.
“I’m a busy guy,” Tuffy said. “I’m a family farmer. I leave the house at 6 a.m. and I’m not home till 8 or 9 p.m.”
Bakaitis, who this week braved the cold to feed his cows – 30 on his farm and 17 on the way – says there’s a lot of excavation with these shows. They have to build roads, prep the site, get up mountains and put in foundations, “plus there’s a camera in my face all the time.”
“We’d all like to take a little more time to build these,” Bakaitis said. “I don’t know who came up with the five-day time limit but it’s rush, rush, rush and work your ass off.”
And he says it’s done well for the local economy. They bring in a whole crew, rent a wing of a motel in Bennington, VT, plus get supplies from local saw mills, hardware stores and roofing companies.
He has had to promote the show in California a couple of times but says he doesn’t like that because it feels like bragging and he remembers what his mother told him – “Don’t talk about yourself.”
Additionally, he doesn’t follow any sports but will go to a friend’s Super Bowl party “just to be polite…they have got a lot of good stuff to eat.”
As for this week’s episode, which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Tuffy said: “I think it’s one of our better builds.”