When Denny Truger first saw the replica Tataviam ki'j (dwelling) at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, he decided the half-built structure needed finishing.
The ki'j was an old Eagle Scout project in serious decline. Truger proposed to the Nature Center board of directors that he restore it.
And add to it.
Five years later, Truger has gone beyond fixing up a three-quarter scale model of a Tataviam dwelling. He has also recreated a granary, a shade shield and a drying rack complete with real rabbit skins.
Now the hundreds of children and their parents and teachers who tour the Nature Center can see the actualities of traditional Native American life.
"I love this place," said Truger, speaking of the Nature Center. He proves it by spending many hours as a docent and a board member.
An avid hiker and camper, the retired IBEW electrical supervisor is a builder. He spent six years constructing a 2,200-square-foot house on his 10-acre property in Acton.
That is where his interest in recreating historical models began.
"I knew I could rebuild and construct these ancient buildings. The problem is historical accuracy," he said.
Since the Tataviam kept no records, he had to do a lot research into what their dwellings might have looked like.
The granary was a special problem. Truger began reading and visiting Native American museums.
"There was a museum that displayed a "carrying basket," he said. "It weighed 100 pounds when filled with acorns."
Gray Wolf of the Chumash Museum in Thousand Oaks was especially helpful.
"Families that lived in places like this (Placerita Canyon) ate about 500 pounds of acorns a year," Truger said pointing, to the granary he recently finished.
Truger was leading a class of children and adults to the site of his construction. "If a family had five people, they needed about a ton of acorns," Truger said.
In his research, he found there were many styles of granaries. Truger decided the inverted basket style of the Yokuts of the San Joaquin Valley might resemble the Tataviam style.
Taking straight willow shoots, he stuck them in the ground in a circle. Twining them together at the bottom and one-third of the way up, he filled them with acorns to the second twinging. He then twined another row and filled in more acorns.
He plans to order deer hide to close the top of the granary. The bottom will be filled with stone.
Truger's efforts to educate people about nature and the Nature Center are manifest in other construction activities.
Building a giant set of monarch butterfly wings out of wood, he provided a sort of bench for people to sit on during the annual Placerita Canyon Open House.
"It appears they (visitors) have (butterfly) wings when they sit on the bench," said Ranger Frank Hoffman, recreation services supervisor at the Placerita Canyon Natural Area and Nature Center.
The big wings were located near a pond where Truger installed a watering "seep" for butterflies.
"Denny may not know it, but birds, too, take advantage of that little site, with scrub jays, towhees and wrens as frequent visitors," said Hoffman, a 23-year veteran of the Nature Center.
Taking responsibility for signage at the park, Truger has rendered signs for the Lyons Oak, Walker cabin and Tataviam Village.
"He has done a fantastic job with each, ensuring accuracy and saying just the right things," said Hoffman.
If all of that were not enough, Truger serves as on the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates board and helps out on the first Monday of each month, assisting the Non-Native and Invasive Species Plant Removal Team.
Jim Harris is a member of the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates.