Barn brothers: Arnolds reflect on the challenges of growing up on a farm at base of Storm Mountain
Steamboat Springs — Before the umbrella bars, hot tubs and aprés ski deals, life at the base of Storm Mountain required grit.
Lots and lots of grit.
Walter Arnold would regularly show up to his family’s breakfast table near what is now the Meadows Parking Lot covered up to his waist with water and ice.
Someone had to chip away at the frozen stream from Fish Creek that the family’s dairy cows would drink from in an old barn.
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Walter’s wife, Mary, would wake up two to three times each winter night and make a trek through the snow to the family’s old wooden dairy barn to check on the lambs.
Any calves that looked like they were shivering and needed help would be brought into the Arnold’s kitchen and placed behind the stove to warm up.
“If one was in real bad shape, mom would put it on the oven door and warm it up real quick,” her son, Glenn, recalled.
It was also important that the Arnold’s large hen population was laying eggs.
Any hen that was caught not producing would become the stewed chicken for dinner.
Every man, woman, child and chicken had to contribute on the farm.
“When you have a bunch of dairy cows, they are seven days a week, twice a day, no holidays. You had to stick with it,” Glenn’s older brother, Gerald, said.
“Farming today is quite different than it was then, of course,” he continued. “Everything had to be done by hand. You haul the hay with a pitchfork on a wagon and sled. You use your team in the wintertime. Everything had to be done every day. There was no excuse to put something off until tomorrow, because you had to get it done today.”
The Arnold boys had a heavy roster of chores.
They would wake up at 5 a.m. every day to complete their morning tasks before breakfast.
Hay was tossed by hand.
Cows were milked.
And the work would continue until 7 p.m.
Sitting in Glenn’s living room in Grand Junction on Friday, Gerald and Glenn reflected on the farm life in Steamboat Springs.
Glenn, 83, and Gerald, 89, grew close living and working on the farm.
It was so tough, they said, it motivated them to get college educations and find careers outside the agriculture life.
The men were surprised, but very grateful, to learn that the community has recently shown so much interest in their old barn at the base of the ski area.
The nearly 90-year-old Arnold Barn, which became the subject of a city lawsuit late last year, is poised to be stabilized and saved after years of neglect.
The brothers speculate the barn has lasted this long because it was built to serve as a lifeline for their family.
It had to support large loads of hay and serve as a winter refuge for livestock, they said.
And if the barn failed, the family failed.
Steamboat, which had an estimated population of not much more than 1,000 people when the Arnold boys were growing up on the farm in the 1930s, reaped the benefits of the Arnold family’s hard work.
Before the family outsourced bottling operations to a larger dairy in town, Walter Arnold would fill quart-sized glass bottles with milk and deliver them door-to-door in town.
Walter’s boys say he was a “very aggressive person,” full of ideas.
Before electric lines came to the farms in the Yampa Valley, Walter built a carbide gas plant and even used it to light the barn with open flames.
The boys always feared the flames could spell doom for the structure.
The Arnold farm started with only one barn and a granary, but expanded through the years to include two chicken houses and more buildings.
The old Arnold barn that still stands today was the center of activity.
When the snow melted, the farmers would take steps to prepare for the next winter.
For skiers and visitors, the Arnold barn’s preservation will offer a rare glimpse into Steamboat’s agricultural past and heritage.
It will offer a glimpse at a time when many county residents made do without electricity, running water and an army of snow plow equipment.
But for the Arnolds, the barn stabilization will result in something more profound.
Every time they return to Steamboat, they said, it’s getting harder and harder to recognize the place they grew up in.
“When I go up there, there’s hardly anything still like it was, except the old barn,” Gerald Arnold said.
Gerald says he still dreams about the time he spent in the barn as a child.
The Arnold boys would enjoy climbing to the hayloft, jumping down and landing in piles of hay.
They’d do this over and over again.
The farm also made them appreciate the things many Steamboat residents have long taken for granted.
“One of the nice things about living out on the farm with no electricity and no running water is when the kids would invite us to spend the night in town, where there was running water, a running toilet and electricity, that was always a big treat,” Gerald said. “I always wondered when we invited those kids to our farm, what they thought.”
“They were probably glad to go home,” Glenn said with a smile.
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