ESTACADA, Ore. (KOIN) — The Estacada community is working to fundraise for an 89-year-old veteran who lost his home to a fire last month. 

Ben Sudul, known locally as Trapper Ben, said he was asleep when he heard a commotion in his house on July 30th.

“I walked around to open the door in the kitchen, looked at what woke me up, the smoke was about four foot solid. The flames were way up there and I just managed to run out the front ’cause I already couldn’t breathe,” he told KOIN 6 News. 

The Skull Ranch is an iconic sight to local Estacada residents. August 6, 2021 (KOIN).

Sudul then called out for someone to call the fire department and luckily six units arrived and put out the flames before it could spread to nearby trees. But his home and belongings were a total loss. 

The investigation into the fire is ongoing, but Sudul said he believes it may have been caused by rats chewing at electrical wire as he had set feed out on his windowsill to feed birds, flying squirrels and other wildlife, but also attracted rodents. 

He claimed he wasn’t able to insure the home, which he’s lived in for 60 years, due to foundational issues with the structure that was originally built in 1892. 

Tracie Udey, an Estacada resident, had seen a Facebook post about the fire and reached out to Ben’s niece on the social media platform, offering resources and help. Udey and Kim Thompson, another community member, had done a lot of work volunteering for those affected by wildfires last year.

Community volunteer Kim Thompson (left), Ben Sudul’s daughter Karen Sudul and community volunteer Tracie Udey at the Skull Ranch property in Estacada. August 6, 2021 (KOIN).

“So we reached out and then she did want some help so Kim and I decided that we were going to jump in and get involved and see where our resources would be…where they could use them,” Udey explained.

Since then, Udey, Thompson, and Ben’s daughter Karen Sudul, have started a GoFundMe page to raise $40,000 to build a new home on the property, of which $10,000 has been raised so far. They created an Amazon gift list to help replace someone of Sudul’s living necessities. In addition, they also created a donation account with Key Bank under the name Karen and Ben Sudul.

Since the fire, Sudul has been staying at his next door neighbor’s house. Volunteers are working to set up a temporary housing situation using a trailer donated from a couple out of Beaver Creek. While the trailer now sits on the property, it still needs plumbing and electrical hookups, as well as a wheelchair ramp, in order for Sudul to move into it. Udey is also calling for any local plumbers or carpenters who want to donate their time for the cause to please contact her at her email address or phone: 503-701-6127. You can also reach out via the fire recovery Facebook page.

“Our job as a community is to make sure that Ben, who served for us, he served our country, who has been there for many people in our community, that we get him back into a place and make him feel at home again,” Udey said.  

The trailer and now-charred pump house of the home is adorned with green paper heart cut-outs made by a local community member with messages of inspiration, like, “we appreciate you” and “we love Skull Ranch.” 

Ben Sudul gifts actor Nicolas Cage a handmade arrowhead on the set of ‘Pig’ as it was filming on Sudul’s property in 2019 (courtesy Karen Sudul).

Skull Ranch is the nickname of Sudul’s 11.25 acre property, which still boasts an eye-popping front entry gate, adorned with animal skulls, framing a shack with a false facade decorated with serrated-edged tools and untouched by the flames of the adjacent, now-destroyed building which Sudul lived in.

The property is hard to miss from the street and it was even one of the filming locations of a movie, the recently-released Nicolas Cage film “Pig.” 

Sudul is an avid crafter of stone arrowheads and even gifted one of his creations to the Hollywood actor, as he does to most everyone he meets, when the film was being shot a couple years back. 

The Korean War and Marine Corps veteran is something of a master in dying artforms and trades. He’s known as an expert fur trapper, a Fur Takers of America Hall of Fame inductee, and teaches kids about the trade at local Estacada School District schools. In addition, he’s a prolific nature photographer, specializing in shots of lightning taken from all over the country. And for 40 years, he ran a coyote blasting business, Pioneer Drillers Company, with two of his brothers. Coyote blasting is a practice of blasting rock by detonating explosives-filled tunnels for the purpose of things like constructing goldmines, highways, jetties and railroad beds but is rarely practiced now-a-days. It’s known as a dangerous and physically grueling job.

When asked whether Sudul thought his background in coyote blasting may have helped him in escaping the house fire, he said, “yeah, I’m used to things going wrong…always prepare for the worst.”

The GoFundMe page can be found here