Frank Helsabeck is building a king’s castle. It’s his constantly evolving heaven on earth.
“One lick at a time, dear Jesus,” he says, “And I ain’t done yet. I’ll never finish it unless I go to heaven.”
For more than two decades, Helsabeck, 79, has been constructing a house one room at a time, all by himself.
“I sawed the first logs in ’78,” said Helsabeck. “And in the mid ’80s, I started hammering.”
Nestled in the woods in Rural Hall on the outskirts of Winston-Salem stands Helsabeck’s house, reminiscent of the long cattle barns from the past. Towering pine tree trunks surround the house and multicolored reflective balls, a variety of lights and two traffic signals adorn the exterior. It is an awe-inspiring spectacle.
Helsabeck’s home evolved from a one- room cabin. During my first visit to the house, I enter through the “stove room,” a very small room with a rather large wood cook stove. This was the second room in the house’s evolution. The first room is immediately adjacent and contains his well house. The well house takes up half the space.
Helsabeck’s original vision was to build a one-room cabin. But the first two rooms constructed were too small to suit him. So he built a third room.
Stepping into this room, I am filled with the sort of hushed wonder seen on the faces of the children entering Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for the first time. It’s the part where Gene Wilder sings, “Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”
This room is the size of a small gymnasium. Rows of windows allow natural light to flood in and bounce across a golden-colored hardwood floor.
Once my eyes have adjusted to the brightness, they focus on details: industrial-looking light strips with colored bulbs run along bare beams; homemade chandeliers of multicolored string lights hang from the ceiling.
Mirrors are strategically placed throughout the space to maximize light and color. Reflective objects such as beads, glass Christmas tree balls and crystals hang in windows and in front of mirrors.
It is a visual feast that makes our inner child squeal with delight and our inner raven long to swoop and scoop up all the shiny objects.
The room offers other forms of entertainment besides the visual. A substantial-looking porch swing hangs from heavy beams. A homemade trapeze is suspended from the rafters as is a long rope with a foot hold for Tarzan-inspired antics. Off to the side are small bicycles and tricycles that visiting children are free to ride indoors.
The dangling rope is too hard to resist, and I find myself swinging across the expanse of this room. A punching bag nearby invites me to take a swing at it. And a “golden stairway” draws me toward the sky. The staircase leads to a glass room overlooking the surrounding area. The windows are adorned with Christmas lights. The view is spectacular.
And then, there is what Helsabeck refers to as his “king’s bedroom.”
This structure is separate from the main house. Helsabeck originally intended it to be a wood shed. But he said he spent too much time and effort on it for it to be a simple woodshed. He decided to make it a summertime bedroom.
Located in this same building is a special room Helsabeck built after he “got married one time,” he said.
He brought his new bride to his house and she asked where she could find the comfort room.
“I said, ‘Right out that door there’s a comfort room. You just help yourself,’ ” he said. “She came out that door, came right back and said, ‘Naw! I mean where’s the comfort room? The restroom!’ I said, ‘Right out that door there. I got the biggest one in the world.’”
Helsabeck spent the next four months building her a bathroom.
“It’s the only one in the world with big windows on all four sides, I betcha,” he exclaimed.
Helsabeck builds his own furniture as well. Inside the king’s bedroom is a robust king-sized bed and a king’s throne, a large arm-chair with a cushion constructed from the seat of a 1925 Chrysler.
He also built a sofa from a 1963 Oldsmobile seat. The seat of the porch swing came from a 1970 Oldsmobile.
Hundreds of visitors have walked through Helsabeck’s door over the years. Their presence is marked by signatures, drawings and letters they’ve left in his guest book, “The Farewell Party Book,” which Helsabeck created July 4, 1995.
When asked why he calls his guest registry this, he quotes the lyrics from an old song:
“There’ll be flowers from those who’ll cry when I’ll go
And leave you in this old world alone
Will you shed a tear at my farewell party
Or will you be glad when I’m gone?”
Helsabeck says he dreams of building a mansion on a hill. And he dreams of building a mansion in heaven.
He never started that mansion on a hill, and he fears he’ll “never get started on (his) mansion up in heaven either.”
Thing is, Helsabeck has already created his own heaven right here on earth.
Kathy Clark lives in Winston-Salem where she manages The Garage. Contact her at Kathyvoxpop@hotmail.com.