An example of the area where Jim and Phyllis Eckerson are building their hurricane-resistant Monolithic Dome home.

The journey of “Crazy Lady Ranch”

For Jim and Phyllis Eckerson, living in Corpus Christi, Texas always had the threat of a hurricane. Then in 1999, that threat became a reality. Hurricane Bret made landfall and was projected to hit Corpus Christi head on. The couple gathered their family into a 36-foot RV and headed north to escape the storm.

According the Phyllis, this was no small feat. Her father-in-law and grandkids and their pets were visiting for the summer. “We gathered everybody together and did a caravan out of town,” Phyllis recalled. This included her and her husband, her father-in-law, their two daughters, one daughter’s boyfriend, seven children, eight dogs, a snake, hedgehog, cat, and some mice and rats.

She described it as a “long ordeal” and said she “would never do that again.” This led to the couple finding a solution to this threat. “We decided to try and find some land to build on, in the event anything like that would occur again,” she said.

Thus their journey to create a disaster resistant structure began. They found 75 acres of land, some of it on a plateau. Located 17 miles northwest of Orange Grove, Texas, it felt like a safe place for them. Once purchased, “we proceeded to see what we could do to build on it for the family security,” Phyllis said.

Their first attempt involved buying a small house, 30 feet by 40 feet, and having it moved to the property. That house was tested when a large thunderstorm came through, but proved to be not as secure as desired by the Eckersons. Back to the drawing board, the couple sought out alternatives.

During that search, they came across Monolithic Domes. After talking to people at Monolithic headquarters, the dome “seemed to touch all the bases.” The disaster resistance quality of the domes was especially attractive. They decided to take a class and attended a dome builders workshop at Monolithic headquarters, where they talked with different experts and decided to build a dome on their property.

One of the biggest challenges was finding funding for the project. Phyllis recalled that many banks and credit unions would not fund such a project, due to the uniqueness of the structure. She was eventually able to obtain a loan, but that was the just the beginning of problems on their journey to build a dome.

A crew from Monolithic came out and built the shell and inflated the Airform. This took a few days to start, due to the soil on the hill that made it difficult for the equipment to make it to the property. They came back with bigger equipment and were able to arrive at the site. Phyllis stated she enjoyed the crew from Monolithic. “Dealing with Monolithic was wonderful. I still consider them friends.”

Another problem that arose was the difficulty finding the property by several concrete trucks coming in to pour the foundation. Phyllis refers to her property as being “in the boonies,” and many people are surprised when she tells them where the dome is being built. They often respond with, “Are you crazy lady?” And thus the property was named “Crazy Lady Ranch” due to the response from others about the location of the property. The plateau is dry and the land is arid, which is why Phyllis says many people cannot see its beauty. To her, it is a beautiful place, especially in the spring when the wildflowers and cacti bloom.

Another bump in the road came when a barn owl made a nest in the structure and laid eggs. Phyllis was told by the Fish and Wildlife department that the owl was considered a protected species in Texas; nothing could be done until the owlets hatched and flew away. This caused construction to halt for three to four months. Phyllis affectionately names the bird ‘Miss Deeleigh,’ because of the great delay she caused.

The home is being built as a safe house in the event of a hurricane, and the ultimate goal is to make it the couple’s primary residence. When completed, the home will have two floors of living space. On the main level will be the kitchen, laundry room, master bedroom and bathroom, and a great room. The upper level will be an open space without walls, with the exception of the bathroom. Phyllis described it as a “very tidy and functional attic full of family antiques tastefully arranged and displayed…” With no walls the upper level will be separated by furniture placement, similar to a setup at a furniture store.

Progress is still continuing on the dome, and Jim is doing a lot of the work himself. They refer to the project as the “credit card dome” because they pay for something and then pay it off. Thus their home progresses, a little bit at a time. They do what they can and then wait until they are able to do more work. Piece by piece, this couple will work until they finish their dream of a disaster-resistant home.

Other view of property

The dry and arid area where the home is being constructed. Many people questioned the property’s location, but the owners find it beautiful.

Steel rebar

The steel rebar framework can be seen during construction of the dome.

Airform inflated

The Airform for the dome being inflated during construction.

Owner in dome

Phyllis Eckerson inside her dome.