Some people may have thought of Daniel Huls as a problem child when he was growing up. He caused his teachers headaches and “did a lot of dumb things,” he said. He graduated from eighth grade and dropped out of school. He smoked and drank.
Huls has learned a lot since then. He met his wife, Rehea, when she was 13 and he was 17. They worked at various jobs and barely got by.
Huls said the birth of his now 10-year-old son Anthony turned his life around. He quit smoking and began to work on improving himself. The couple both earned a general education diploma.
The Huls were living in a trailer house in Burns when they started looking for a house they could afford. They spotted the house at 235 S. Washington St. and wanted it. It was built in 1894 and had been vacant for a while. The city had the building condemned, Huls said. He had developed carpentry skills, and he thought he could bring it back to life.
The city was reluctant to sell the house to him, he said, but after they allowed him to walk through it and he presented a plan to rehabilitate it, they agreed to let him have it for payment of back taxes and a small mortgage on the property. He used his income tax refund to acquire it.
The couple worked on the property for two years before they could move into it. They cut down the trees surrounding the house, replaced the roof, built a new kitchen floor, and installed new plumbing and electric lines. Huls also tore off the original front porch and built a new one. He built a deck to one side of the kitchen at the rear of the house.
Huls said people in the community donated excess materials and furnishings, which helped. Friends and relatives contributed labor.
The house had a half-acre backyard that the couple developed into a great place for family enjoyment and even community events. They recently constructed a privacy fence around the yard.
“Rehea is right beside me,” Huls said. “She helped me build the fence.”
The main feature is a large fish pond they completed last spring with the help of friends and relatives. It is stocked with several kinds of fish. The pond is not lined but is sealed with bentonite. Huls developed a unique system of collecting rainwater overflow from the pond and pumping it back into the pond when the water level gets low.
Other features include a corner garden, an aquarium of gold fish in a canoe, duck nesting houses, a bird bath/bird feeder station, and a fire pit surrounded by logs for seating.
“This is where we have our fun, working together as a family in the yard,” Huls said.”This is where we come out and enjoy a summer evening and roast marshmallows.”
They also make the yard accessible to others in the neighborhood, who come to fish, enjoy a barbecue, or hang out.
Once a year, the Huls are host to a “hobo dinner.” The 40 or so people who come are offered cubed meats and vegetables to roast in the pit free of charge.
“That’s what we enjoy,” Huls said, “the company of our neighbors and friends.”
Their two older children, Anthony and 5-year-old Katy, have named some of the fowl. Two miniature mallard ducks are Runner and John.
“Runner is mine,” Anthony said. “When he was small, he would run off.”
Little foot is nesting, sitting on eggs.
“She had small feet,” Katy explained.
Ping, another duck, died in winter and is buried in the back yard.
“Everybody loved him,” Anthony said.
Sunshine, Snowtail, and Tiny are chickens. The chickens are housed in a rehabilitated shed north of the house.
In addition to Anthony and Katy, the Huls have a 7-month-old daughter, Emma.
A downtown business
Huls continues to do part-time carpentry work. He has purchased a building downtown and is rehabilitating it for a future business. It already has a tax identification number. He plans to make it a lawn and garden enterprise that will sell almost anything people might want for their yards and gardens, including plants. He plans to build bat houses, bird houses, and feeders to sell.
Huls also plans to repair small engines at the shop and provide home repairs.
“My goal is to better ourselves,” he said.
He wants to be able to afford insurance and save for his children’s college education.
Meanwhile, the couple will continue to improve on their home.
“I said to someone once that when we finish, we’ll invite the town, and he just laughed,” Huls said. “Now I know why. You’re never finished.”
Huls has dreams not only for himself and his family but also for what he and the other people of the community could do to give young people in the town more to do and to attract others to the town. He’s holding them close for now.
“I know my father’s dreams,” Anthony said.