A teen from Michigan who devoted more than 1,200 hours to a mammoth project during the start of the pandemic proudly showcases his impressive 35-foot-long wooden fort with an underground bunker, built entirely by hand.
Seventeen-year-old Jake May of Sault Ste. Marie began in March 2020 with a triangular roof perched 2 1/2 feet off the ground, accessible by a wooden ladder. The “tree fort,” he said, took around 600 hours to complete.
Still, not wanting to limit his structure to just that, May had the idea of expanding it to include a bunker.
“I drew up some blueprints and dug a hole,” the aspiring engineer told SooToday. “I had a goal in mind. I wanted to pursue the goal.”
Submerging the bunker 7 feet underground, May dug a trench lined with wood to connect the bunker with the fort, using dead trees from his family’s property.
Digging past a foot of dirt, May then had to contend with 4 feet of sand, gravel, and stones with only a pickaxe in hand. “The last foot was clay, which is extremely difficult to dig, especially when it’s wet,” he recalled.
To achieve this, May vetoed power tools in favor of hand-held instruments, completing the trench using only his pickaxe plus a saw, axe, hammer, and chisel.
May credits his father, a tradesman, and family for fueling his early love of construction. He adds that his grandparents or family would gift him Lego sets at Christmas. He was “always excited” to go beyond the instructions and build from his own imagination.
Besides his passion for designing and building, the 12th-grader said he was keen to find a way to stay fit during the early months of the pandemic.
“During COVID … everything was canceled, school and sports and anything outside of school,” he said. “I wanted to get rid of some energy … it was a workout for me. I’m super big into working out and having fun at the same time.”
May’s friends helped him keep up the grit to forge ahead during the past year, and they would constantly ask him for updates as he shared pictures of the structure under construction.
From beginning to end, the construction of “JMay’s Fort” consumed the best part of a year. Thanks to careful planning, May completed the frame of the bunker by the end of fall and was able to spend the winter constructing the interior.
Heavy snowfall proved the structure to be sturdy and watertight, allowing the teen to experience the bunker in December.
“I had a sleeping bag, so it wasn’t too bad,” he said. “The lowest it got down to was -13 degrees. It wasn’t too cold yet. I lit a few candles.”
On completion of the wooden fortress at the end of May 2021, in recognition of his amazing achievement, Korah CVS High School gave May a shout-out on social media.
“Jake put his time in quarantine to good use,” the school said. “Inspired by a long-time love of construction, Jake has combined incredible determination, perseverance, a passion for fitness, and a love of the outdoors to create this awe-inspiring structure.”
While busy in his backyard, May also found the time to earn high honors at school.
JMay’s Fort may herald the first of many major projects; the industrious teen has been accepted into a civil engineering program at MacMaster’s University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
His career goal is to become an engineer.