Hoosick Falls’ Tuffy Bakaitis on Nat Geo’s “Building Wild”

Hoosick Falls’ Tuffy Bakaitis on Nat Geo’s “Building Wild”

Reality show reunites a dozen childhood pals from Hoosick Falls

By Paul Grondahl

Published 10:02 pm, Friday, January 10, 2014

Pat "Tuffy" Bakaitis,left, Mike Carney (landowner) and Paul Dimeo, right, during filming for "Building Wild,"which airs Tuesday on the National Geographic channel. (Courtesy George Verschoor)

Hoosick Falls

Paul “Paulie” DiMeo and Pat “Tuffy” Bakaitis call themselves the Cabin Kings, and when they’re not engaged in trash-talking, testosterone-laced tirades followed by the inevitable bro hugs, they are taking the concept of man caves to places they have never gone before in a new National Geographic reality TV show.

“Building Wild” airs its first episode Tuesday with a project to transform a tumbledown 19th-century barn into a tricked-out new hunting camp in Cambridge, Washington County, for farmer Mike Carney and 11 pals since childhood who call themselves “the Dirty Dozen.”

The kicker is that the Dirty Dozen and the professionals have only five days to build the camp, using mostly recycled lumber from the barn.

They end up fashioning a bar that used salvaged boards from an old bowling alley — all the better for sliding bottles of beer — and repurposing a reclaimed old tractor cab as a rolling outhouse that moves on rails: closer to the cabin in winter and further away in the pungent summer months.

Cold brewskis will flow in all seasons.

“We’re like little kids building a fort in the backyard,” DiMeo said. “Only we have better materials and bigger tools and hopefully a little more wisdom.”

Don’t count on that last bit. A trailer advertising the show features plenty of backwoods antics, pratfalls in swamps, a clash of cultures and locker-room humor.

The TV show reunites two childhood buddies who rode the Hoosick Falls school bus together, Bakaitis and producer George Verschoor. It also extends the team of DiMeo and Verschoor, who worked for a decade on the popular “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

DiMeo and Verschoor were part of the “Extreme Makeover” team that tore down an old ranch house on Fairway Lane in Colonie in 2007 and transformed it into an Adirondack-style custom home for Debbie Oatman and her sons.

When that show ended, DiMeo and Verschoor kicked around ideas and Verschoor arranged for DiMeo and Bakaitis to meet. Bakaitis is a heavy equipment operator who owns and operates Hoosick Sand and Gravel and is something of a local legend as an iconoclast and hell-raiser.

Bakaitis was working on his grandfather’s dairy farm by age 8 and driving tractors by the time he turned 9. “He’d put blocks of wood on the pedals so I could reach them. I loved spreading the manure, cutting the hay and doing other farm jobs,” Bakaitis recalled.

He turned the idyllic scenes of Grandma Moses’ rustic country life paintings — Bakaitis is a neighbor and friends with Moses family members — on its head.

He built five camps on his farmland over the years.

“Every one has a purpose,” he explained. “One is a happy-hour camp where me and the guys have been going on Friday nights for 20 years. That way we don’t trash each other’s houses.”

What do they do at the happy-hour camp?

“We drink a lot of beer, sit on the porch, build a fire in the fire pit and we vent,” he said. “We also shoot things. We fire off a big, old cannon. We might blow up an old car. Just fun stuff.”

DiMeo said he hit it off with Bakaitis right away, despite the fact that he’s a L.A. dude, a city slicker who fancies himself as an artiste. Bakaitis is a burly fellow who is an artist with bulldozers, backhoes, excavators, front-end loaders, skid steers and more.

“Paulie’s such a city boy,” Bakaitis said. “He fell down in a swamp. He was scared of every critter. He’s not at home at all out there in the woods.”

“He’s everything I’m not,” DiMeo said of Bakaitis. “But I learned a lot from him, including that a goat has two teats and not four.”

“There’s a great chemistry watching these two work together, and annoying each other, too,” Verschoor said. “Paulie is really creative and Tuffy is like Huck Finn mixed with Davy Crockett.”

Bakaitis recalled Verschoor as the quiet, brainy kid on the bus who left town, graduated from Syracuse University and won fame and fortune in the TV industry in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Bakaitis and his rabble-rouser brothers and friends stuck around Hoosick Falls, population 3,474.

The fourth-generation town resident said his excavation and sand and gravel business took a hit during the recession and he was happy for the TV work. They shot a first season of 10 episodes, creating over-the-top man camps in and around Hoosick Falls and Bennington, Vt.

“I’ve only heard positive things around town,” Bakaitis said. “We employed 30 local people for four months. The local diners did great business. We bought a ton of wood from the local sawmill in North Petersburgh.”

Verschoor said he enjoyed getting to work in his hometown, where he and his wife and two daughters have a house they enjoy on holidays and summer vacations away from their home in Los Angeles.

“I’ve got 10 guys I grew up with who still live there and it was great to see my buddies,” he said. “I love telling these stories about everyone coming together to make something great from nothing. And, of course, Paulie and Tuffy are two amazing personalities.”

pgrondahl@timesunion.com • 518-454-5623 • @PaulGrondahl

A camp for the guys

“Building Wild” premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the National Geographic channel. The first episode is called “Dirty Dozen Deer Lodge.”


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