Tom Ross: Barn that succumbed to flames north of Steamboat had life of its own
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The loss this week of the Hoogendoorn barn on Elk River Road singed my heart more than a little bit.
The barn at Circle Bar Ranch, owned by Arie Hoogendoorn and leased and operated by Matt and Christy Belton and their son Tell, was one of the best loved in all of Routt County, partly because of its prominent location right on the side of the road. Many recall it as the Warren Ranch, which was operated for many years by Forrest and Ruth Warren.
The barn, estimated to be more than 80 years old, burned June 25, and the cause of the fire is still unknown.
More than 400,000 campers heading to Steamboat Lake State Park each year knew they were drawing close to their destination when they rounded the corner and set eyes on the classic Western barn. The rest of us were just in love with it.
“It changed our landscape. It changed our lives,” Christy Belton said. “So many people we don’t even know have stopped by and are crying.”
I would suggest that you don’t really know an old, wooden, cattle barn until you’ve stepped inside its sliding door and your eyes have adjusted to the dim light and your senses to the perfume of dry hay.
The Hoogendoorn Barn was where the Beltons kept all their tack, for both saddle horses and draft horses. It can be replaced, but they feel there’s no way to replicate the structure.
Belton emailed the Steamboat Pilot & Today that she will miss the sound of the horses shoe clopping on its cottonwood floor.
I feel fortunate to have stepped inside that barn in the Elk River Valley. The Beltons are among a relative handful of ranchers who adhere to the old ways — they delivered the hay to their cattle twice a day on an old wooden sled pulled by draft horses.
The good news is that literally hundreds of Routt County school children have seen the inside of the classic Western barn to experience it. The Beltons have taken part in the annual spring Ranches Day, hosted by the Community Agriculture Alliance, when local ranchers open their fields and barns to youngsters to ensure they have a sense of where food comes from.
I have a pretty clear sense of where ice cream comes after my two-year apprenticeship as a reporter at the Chilton Times Journal in Calumet County, Wisconsin. For two years, in 1977 and 1978, I visited a different dairy farm each week and wrote about the farm family, their herd and, of course, their barns. Dairy farmers pride themselves on keeping remarkably clean barns.
Steamboat Springs is preparing to salvage a dairy barn of its own, when the historic Arnold Barn is moved to a new permanent location.
Another barn that leaves an indelible impression is at the Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch just east of Hayden. The ranch was acquired in 1902 by John Dawson, who hired Abram Fisk to build the barn almost entirely out of cottonwoods that grew along the Yampa River.
This big white barn has an amazing history. But my lasting impression is of the hand-painted names of long-gone draft horses on the old horse stalls in the barn.
“I get very nostalgic about it,” Geoff Blakeslee, the Yampa River project director at the ranch, said. “I wonder what life was like when it was built. I think about it often.”
It was Belton’s sister in law, Libby Meyring, who observed that it’s almost as if these old barns have a life of their own.
“And she was right,” Belton said. “So many people have said, ‘Oh, you can re-build.’ But it will never be the same for us. Driving over the hill coming home, there’s just a giant void.”
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