The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By M. Timothy Nolting
For The Sun-Telegraph 

An old barn and new memories

 

It was nearly two years ago when our oldest daughter and son-in-law announced their move to a small ranch in Routt County, Colo. The ranch is an addition to their Larimer County ranch and will provide summer pasture for yearling heifers and supplement winter feed with high nutrient, North Park grass.

The ranch borders a section of the Yampa River and sits on a fertile, spring-fed valley floor. Despite the increased altitude, the western slope boasts winters of mild temperatures but deep snow, perfect for a young couple whose favorite sport is extreme snowmobiling. The only drawback is that the drive time it takes to visit them has increased, from about an hour, to nearly five.

At about that same time, we were informed that we would soon be new grandparents and a little later were told that the expected arrival was a girl and would be our first granddaughter. Suddenly, the five-hour distance between us seemed not to be quite so insignificant. After our granddaughter was born, we all met at the ranch in Larimer County when the kids came down the mountain. A few times we met for supper or brunch in Cheyenne, a convenient rendezvous site that works for everyone's busy schedules. The only problem was that while the short visits gave us a chance to see our little baby girl we never had the time to get really acquainted. So, when the school term ended and Deb had taught her last classes at Burns High School, we scheduled a weekend trip to the mountain ranch and time to spend with our granddaughter. This past weekend we made the trip and spent nearly two full days in a deliberate attempt to spoil our little "Punkin' " as thoroughly as possible.

Our trip took us west past Laramie, Wyo., across the flats alongside Sheep Mountain and on to Woods Landing where we climbed up past WyColo then wound our way south to Walden, Colo. As might be expected, given the unusual amount of rainfall we've been getting, the high plains across Wyoming are green and lush with grass that ripples like ocean waves. The brilliant blue skies boasted towering clouds, cotton candy thick, with ever changing cloud sculptures that challenged the imagination.

West out of Walden the rangelands are virtually covered with water where Grizzly Creek has overflowed its banks as it snakes its way across the valley. In some places the watery switchbacks look more like small lakes than the usual winding stream. Herds of Black Angus cattle, scattered across emerald pastures, stand out like lumps of coal on green velvet. It's a good year for ranchers.

We cruised up and over the Rabbit Ears and, as it always seems to do, the panorama of the valley floor to Steamboat Springs took our breath away. I often wonder what it would have been like to be the first person to cross that pass and view the expanse of grass and abundant water that stretched out below. I can only imagine the buffalo, elk, deer and other wildlife that must have called it home.

It was late afternoon when we reached the ranch and after settling in immediately embarked on our intended mission to spoil the baby. At 8 months old she's not really a baby any longer and our infrequent get-togethers have, for the most part, made us "strangers" to her. Consequently, her first response to our presence was tears and wailing. Not to worry, we had all weekend.

Our kids being ranchers, and with their love of outdoor sports, it is little wonder that our granddaughter loves being outside. This helped us to make a connection with her as we carried her around while taking a tour of the place. The ranch has been around for many decades and the kids have done a lot of work to make it ready for heifers. Existing fence has been repaired or replaced, cattle guards installed, and new cross fencing begun.

Sorting pens and loading chutes are a work in progress and neglected barns are under renovation. One barn, best described as a loafing shed is a 100-foot long structure that was originally the backside of a block-long stretch of stores in old Steamboat Springs. Weather worn by untold tons of snow and leaning precariously toward its ultimate downfall, the old structure was nearly ready to become a scattered heap of scrap lumber. But, instead of tearing it down and replacing it with new, the kids have decided to set it right and put it back to its intended use.

The horse barn, with stalls, tack room and massive hayloft was in a similar state of disrepair. Leaning, twisting, falling from its foundation and rotting into the ground, it would not have been too many years before it too would have become unusable. Jacks and winches, cables and bracing, hard work, knowhow and sweat have set the old barn straight and back on its foundation and will continue to be usable for horses and hay. Interestingly, in the loft, a 10-foot long burlap bale of shorn wool hints at a time when sheep grazed the pastures.

While spending time with our kids and the granddaughter, we did the tourist thing by going into Steamboat and riding the gondola to the top of Mount Werner, the premier mountain that gives Steamboat Springs its ski resort status. At the base of this mountain, previously named Storm Mountain, another barn caught my attention and we stopped to explore it.

The famous "Steamboat Barn" is similar in design to the barn at the kids ranch. The difference being that the Steamboat Barn is constructed of logs around the bottom seven feet. In the 1970s, when Steamboat was becoming a booming ski resort, the barn was featured in a promotional ad. As a result the photograph and the barn have become world famous and the barn with its surrounding out buildings have been preserved as a public park.

In 2007, the barn was in danger of collapsing under the weight of a heavy snowfall and interior roof supports had broken. A local developer put up the funds to save the barn and $150,000 was used to preserve it. The doors and windows are boarded shut but peeking through the cracks in the board and batten siding of the attached lean-to one can see the intricate framework of beams, braces, turnbuckles, and cables that support the old barn.

Built sometime between 1926 and 1928 the barn has become the iconic symbol of the passing from the "old" west to the "new.

From settlement to development the barn stands at the base of a mountain once surrounded by sparse homesteads where a few determined souls prospered in the fertile Yampa Valley. Where livestock flourished and life flowed with rugged determination, much like the cascading waters of the Yampa.

Martin Yock, a successful dairy farmer who had homesteaded in the valley in the late 1800s or early 1900s, built the famous barn. The first public record of the site is dated 1903 with Lena R. Yock as the owner. The prairie style barn was constructed to accommodate a dairy operation and store up to 15 tons of hay in the loft.

In the 1940s, the dairy business declined and the Yock's switched to crossbred cattle beef production and a son-in-law, Cliff Curtis, built the attached lean-to for calving out heifers.

It has been many years since a first-calf heifer and her calf has been sheltered in that now famous barn. The snowstorms that covered the old Storm Mountain, and made life somewhat miserable for the Yorks, are now the boon of Werner Mountain, the lifeblood of Steamboat Springs. However, beyond the high-rise condo's, the crowded streets and sidewalks and beyond the view of those traveling through, there still remains the farmers and ranchers who carry on the tradition and keep alive the pioneer spirit that survives in the rusted tin and weathered wood of that old barn.

For The Sun-Telegraph

Tim Nolting with his granddaughter and her parents at the famous Steamboat barn.

Our kids and our granddaughter are a part of that heritage and of the future that will preserve it. And our trip to their Yampa Valley ranch was just one of many that will follow as we watch them build their lives and pass the legacy forward to the next generation.

Our mission was successful. By the time we had to leave, we were no longer strangers to our new little granddaughter. She laughed at our silly faces, smiled when we walked into her room, cuddled on our laps, and delighted in stories read and playtime on the floor. We are proud to be a part of this journey that our children are on as they bring new life to old barns and create new memories along the way.

M. Timothy Nolting is an award-winning Nebraska columnist and freelance writer. To contact Tim, email: acrossthefence2day@gmail.com.

 

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