BEAUMONT, Texas — Construction is not an unusual sight along the Texas Gulf Coast these days, but recently on Bolivar Peninsula, residents were seeing something a little different at one site.
Bearded men in broad-brimmed hats and suspenders were building what likely is the region's first beach house that uses a frame traditional to Amish barns.
Missouri resident Danny Schwartz, a member of the Old Order Amish sect, came to Texas in hopes of bringing his building skills to the monumental task of rebuilding the Gulf Coast — and building it back stronger than it was before.
He found out about the need from a neighbor who returned from Bolivar after helping with the debris cleanup.
"He said, 'What they need is what we've got,'" the 54-year-old Schwartz said.
Schwartz' first clients were Blake and Bunny Rising, a couple who had lived in Lafitte's Landing for several years. They returned from evacuation to find nothing but a few timbers where their beloved home had been.
They will never forget the desolation of that day.
"It's like a hole in your heart," Bunny Rising said.
And they loved their beach life too much not to rebuild.
"This is home for us," said Blake Rising, a district manager for Spec's liquor stores. "I moved a thousand miles to be on this spot. For the people who live here, this is a lifestyle most people would envy."
But this time around, they are doing their best to make the house as strong and high off the ground as possible.
They raised it from 18 feet to 22 feet above sea level, and decided to go with the Amish style frame for practical as well as aesthetic reasons.
They first heard about the benefits of the Amish building style from the Missouri man who had come down for the cleanup.
The Risings did a little research and by November, Schwartz had come to Texas and met them. He started working with engineers and other Southeast Texas contractors to adapt his frame design to Gulf Coast standards.
The frame was engineered to withstand wind speeds of 185 mph, 25 mph above the 160 mph required by Texas code, said Chris Waters of Boumans Construction.
Another Gulf Coast requirement was additional tie-downs.
Using a binder containing examples of his work, Schwartz showed photos of a home whose frame he had built that subsequently was hit by an F5 tornado.
On the Fujita scale, F5 is ranked as an "incredible tornado" with wind speeds of 261 to 318 mph.
Siding and shingles had been torn away, but the frame stayed intact.
The mortise-and-tenon style is the way Amish barns traditionally were constructed, using heavy timber beams carved to fit together to hold the building up. The mortise is the cavity hollowed to fit the tenon, which is the end of the interlocking beam, shaped to fit smoothly into the mortise. The two are held in place with pegs.
In the beach house, the beams are made of Douglas fir and are held together with ash pegs, Schwartz said.
"We're hoping to build a lot of them," Schwartz said. "We don't want to intrude — we want to use local people. My wish is to help out, not hinder."
Learning this type of building simply was part of his upbringing, Schwartz said. He became a general contractor when he was 20 and discovered that an interest in the exposed beam style was becoming fashionable.
He was amazed to see builders looking for ways to support the beams, when of course the purpose of beams is to support buildings.
Schwartz oversaw the work from floor level, assisting at such tasks as he could from there while three of his sons worked up on the beams of the rising structure.
More than 30 feet above the ground, Emanel, Jonas and Pete Schwartz moved about comfortably on the frame, guiding preassembled parts made at home in Schwartz's shop into place and hammering in the pegs to hold them there.
Soon the graceful lines of the simple structure began to emerge.
The couple agreed their new house will be better than the one lost in Hurricane Ike's surge.
While the exposed beams will give the inside of the house a distinctive appearance, the outer finish does not appear ostentatious among the beach houses around it.
A deck on the front of the house shows off some detail of the exposed beams.
"To me it looks beachy," Blake Rising said.
Schwartz said he and his family — his wife and one of his son's wives came along — excited some curiosity among Southeast Texans, who have a lot of questions about what being Amish means.
Their clothing is noticeably different, and as is common among Old Order Amish, the house his family lives in has no electricity or running water.
However, for business reasons, Schwartz has had to begin using a cell phone. He explained that doing business in the cellular age requires the very prompt return of phone calls to clients in order to keep their business.
Similarly, though he and his sons work only with hand tools, a crane operator is hired to help hoist the preassembled parts of the frame into place.
It's something that would be done by hand at a traditional Amish barn raising, but isn't always possible at construction sites.
The Amish don't avoid technology for its own sake, but because of the way it tends to splinter families and communities.
For example, owning a car makes it possible for spouses and children to easily leave the home. However, the mere act of riding in a car, depending on the purpose, is not necessarily wrong.
And, it would not have been practical for Schwartz and his family to travel by horse and buggy to Texas.
"The network is like it is," Schwartz said. "We're part of society — I always tell people we dress funny, but we're part of society."