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Southwest Iowa couple's 'dream' log home a family gathering place during the holidays

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Orlo “Woody” Jones is an Iowa farm boy who moved to the city for the one he loved. But as the old saying goes, “You can’t take the country out of the boy.”

Woody and Barb, his wife of 55 years, lived in Omaha the first nine years of their marriage. For them, the city never really felt like home, especially once their family of two expanded to four.

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Orlo "Woody" and Barb Jones of rural Malvern, Iowa. 

When Woody suggested moving to the country, Barb was on board. Before long, the family had purchased a place along the Missouri River near Glenwood, Iowa, not far from Woody’s rural Malvern stomping grounds. Once the kids were grown and starting families of their own, Woody and Barb started looking for a new piece of ground.

“We moved here 26 years ago and built our dream home — a mile from where I grew up,” Woody said. “It probably was the best decision we’ve ever made.”


The Jones home took two years to build. Three 18-wheelers bearing the logs arrived from Montana in October 1994, and Woody hired a crane crew from Omaha to help erect the log shell. It went up in a day. "Then we just started cutting holes for doors and windows," he said. Completion came in June 1996.


That “dream home,” completed in October 1996, required three 18-wheelers loaded with logs, and one very tall crane to get off the ground.

Construction began in June 1994, with Woody intent on doing most of the work.

“Barb thought we’d be in by December,” Woody recalled. “I said, ‘Which December are you talking about?’ Two years later, I finally finished it.”

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The main living area of Woody and Barb Jones' log home in rural Malvern, Iowa. The wood-burning stove is the home's main heating source in winter.

Woody designed the floor plan and the couple talked with log home builders in Montana, Wyoming and Missouri before finding one who was amenable to executing their plan.

With 1,600-square-feet on the main floor, plus a finished walk-out basement and loft space, the house has been everything and more for the Joneses.

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Detail of the rough-hewn logs in Woody and Barb Jones' rural home.

“This is the place everyone wants to be,” Barb said.

Woody hired a crew chief experienced in log home construction and a crane operator to help set the walls and the roof in a span of 14 hours. The next day, Woody started cutting timbers for the window and door openings.

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The desk area.

A distinguishing architectural feature is an oversized semi-circular window at the highest point of the ceiling.

“We paid $150 for it and put it in ourselves,” Woody recalled.

“If I ever build another house, it will not have a window I can’t reach to clean,” Barb said.

The house has conventional heating and cooling but the wood-burning stove in the great room warms the house on its own in winter.

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This antique pot-belly stove is one of many collected by Woody and Barb Jones. Some are functional, others, like this one in the kitchen, are for show only.

“It does a good job,” Barb said. “That’s what we usually use for heat.”


The Jones clan has mushroomed to six grandchildren, ages 18 to 34, and five great-grandchildren, ages 14 months to 11 years.

“The kids and their families come over all the time,” Woody said.


Great room view from the loft. 

While memories are made at various gatherings throughout the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the holidays when the Joneses are sure to have a crowd.

“We’ll have 20 to 25 family members and anybody else who wanders in,” Barb said.

Thanksgiving is extra-special with a wedding anniversary and a couple of November birthdays, including Woody’s, to celebrate.

For Christmas, there’s a colossal potluck buffet and gift exchange amid Barb’s many festive touches, including evergreen garlands, decorated trees in every room, and festive groupings of snowmen and jolly old St. Nick.


It's not unusual for the Joneses to host 25 for holiday meals. The L-shaped counter is perfect for setting out dishes and food for a crowd. 

Barb and Woody provide the turkey, stuffing and gravy, plus Barb’s ham balls and pumpkin and apple pies. Family members contribute their own holiday favorites like green bean casserole, crispy roasted cauliflower, and Lithuanian torte.

After the meal, everyone migrates to the great room to open presents ‘round a 12-foot tree laden with old-fashioned mercury glass Santas and other traditional Christmas themes.

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Santas figure prominently in Barb Jones' Christmas decor. Photo: Chris Christen

The remainder of the day is low-key.

In good weather, Gator utility vehicle rides are the top request. “Just about everybody takes a turn either driving or riding,” Barb said.

It’s an afternoon of fun, with 23 acres to explore.

The gateway to their pastureland is a 20-foot-long decorative iron bridge that Woody fabricated after the original structure was destroyed by a fallen tree. Twinkle lights across the trusses provide just enough illumination for safe navigation in the dark.

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View from the veranda.

The best part of rural living?

“The gravel road and the dust,” Woody quipped. It keeps non-local traffic to a minimum.

“During COVID it has really worked out well,” Barb said of the rural setting. “We always have something to do out here. I’m out in the yard working; the kids are in a safe place. A granddaughter and her two sons even spent their vacation here in a camper. They had a ball.”

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This is the view from the exercise area of the loft. Note the curved log wall between the great room and the kitchen.

There’s a pond for fishing and swimming; clearings for campfires and picnics; and lots of chances to see wildlife.

“It’s a good way to grow up,” Barb said.

“It’s just a good family environment,” Woody adds. “People in the city don’t realize what they’re missing.”

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