Every kid dreams of climbing the steps to his or her very own treehouse. Whether it be a club house for girls (“No Boys Allowed!”) or a pirate ship for little boys, nothing beats having a fort atop the trees.
For Dillinger, 6, and Barrett, 4, this dream became a reality when their father, Joseph Collins, decided to build a treehouse to top all treehouses. This epic project was a year and a half in the making and is even more impressive on the inside than the outside. “I wanted to do something really special for my boys,” says Collins, who admits he had never built anything before in his life.
But Joseph Collins is no stranger to heroic feats. The proud father faithfully served our country for four years in the Marines and six years in the Army, with a deployment to Kosovo and two combat tours in Iraq (totaling 27 months). He has been honored on the NRA Life of Duty Network, which is the National Rifle Association’s most prominent effort to salute and serve the heroes who defend American freedom at home and abroad. He resides in Blacksburg and serves as a Senior Instructor for Tomahawk Strategic Solutions based in Nashville, Tenn.
Collins has learned not to take anything for granted and to put safety first in everything he does. “One day I was out here by myself trying to put the roof on the treehouse, and I was a good 40 feet off the ground with my drill in one hand and sheet metal in the other. My foot slipped, and I seriously thought it was all over.” Thankfully, he had remembered to clip in to his harness, so everything was okay. Collins vowed he would never work on the treehouse by himself after that. “I always made sure I had a helper with me.” He is thankful for assistance from friends and family including Daniel Smith, Buster Moser, Jeff Vaught, Travis Harvey, Jason Boyle, Travis Harvey and Juel Albert. “This treehouse holds so much special meaning for all of us,” he adds.
The woods that line the Collins’ property belonged to his wife’s grandfather. There is a creek where the boys love to play, and stones from the creek are in the treehouse beneath the wood stove. “It gets really cozy in here,” he says. The wood stove lets the boys enjoy their tree house year round, and Collins says there is no better place from which to watch the snow fall.
When you open the door to Fort Barringer, named as a blend of his sons’ names, there’s a life-sized stuffed black bear standing up in the corner. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a real live bear did decide to make camp here one night,” he laughs. Collins allowed the main trunk of the tree to continue to grow through the center, and he was careful to leave enough space around it to accommodate future growth. He dedicated the tree to his boys and successfully completed his first wood burning project when he etched their names into the bark.
From the sweet little table and chairs and burlap window curtains to the hanging lanterns, the treehouse feels like a little home, all 144 square feet with 10 vertical feet at the peak. On the wall hangs a bona fide German cuckoo clock from World War II, and Collins admits he has been tempted to hang a flat screen on the wall as the treehouse is juiced with electricity. The boys can radio Mom for snacks and use the awesome pulley and bucket hoist to have them delivered to the front door.
Speaking of mom, Tammy Collins sees the big picture with this structure: “It’s not just a treehouse,” she says. “Today it may be the fort where Dillinger and Barrett make their last stand against the Redcoats, and tomorrow it could be the Collins movie theatre, where we all have movie night and popcorn. Whatever it is, we know it’s going to make a lot of great memories.”
Dad gets to have some fun, too. Collins says the treehouse doubles as a shooting platform for his firing range and is exactly 100 yards to the berm where he installed several steel targets. He has taught firearm safety and awareness classes using the platform, and the setup is nothing short of impressive.
Through his dedication and perseverance, Joseph Collins strives to show his children the value of hard work and instill in them a real thirst for the outdoors. “Truth be told, the more we can get our kids outdoors the better.” With their own dirt bikes, ATVs and a dune buggy, the Collins boys have every reason to want to be outside. Of course, the main question on everyone’s minds as they stare in awe at this stunning treehouse is: “How much is rent?”
Emily Kathleen Alberts is an NRV freelance writer and regular contributor to New River Valley Magazine.