CASSVILLE, HUNTINGDON COUNTY - A diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is devastating. It can start out with subtle tremors or balance problems and progress to uncontrollable shaking and difficulty walking.
Like more than a million Americans, a Huntingdon County man struggles with the effects of the disease, but he's managed to to encourage himself and inspire other patients with a project that requires painstaking precision.
"Everything here is built the way the real building would be built.," Harry Rupp says, pointing to the front stoop of his model log cabin. "Being a model , I wouldn't have to have floor joists under this," he says, "but there's floor joists under it."
The cabin also boasts flower boxes, a split rail fence, outdoor furniture and other to-scale features. Harry studied log cabins in the area, including those at Old Bedford Village, to make his creation as authentic as possible.
Of course, he made some adjustments, such as a removable roof. That will allow him enough space to finish the interior.
The exterior logs were smooth, pine boards, until Harry burned them, a task that took more than 20 hours. He explains, "as the house started developing, I started becoming obsessed and then, all of a sudden we started talking about painting, and then, I can't just pain this. I gotta have wood grain, and it just kind of went out of hand," he continues, laughing.
Harry used to work in construction, building real houses, but now like many retirees, he does his best work in his woodshop.
It's a hobby, but sometimes as stressful as work, because Harry's most important tools, his hands, often shake uncontrollably.
"There were times I'm not ashamed to say, I just sat and cried about it, because it's such a challenge to just do," he says. "You can imagine, you're trying to hold something, and it just drops out of your hands."
So he leaves the little cabin alone for a short while, maybe pets his dogs, and waits for the feeling to pass and eventually gets right back to it.
It's all good therapy and may keep Harry going strong longer, despite his disease, according to Dr. Pete Roy, a neurologist for Mt. Nittany Physician Group.
"It doesn't change the disease," Dr. Roy says, "but it will help them be more functional, so the more active they can be, the more functional they can be."
And he adds," those patients who tend to sit around and not do much tend to be worse. Those who are acive patients, do things around the house, be involved in a lot of physical activity, do much better."
Harry says he feels like his Parkinson's is getting worse, but he has no plans to slow down. "If I go to a nursing home it's not because I sat down on this sofa, it's because you got me out there in the shop, and I overworked myself."
He originally built the log cabin for his own enjoyment, but when other patients heard about it, they asked him to bring it to a Parkinson's support group and it's become a source of inspiration to members.
Harry says he's thinking of tackling a Fort Roberdeau replica.