Arresting the rot
August 5, 2016
Over the summer, I've been picking away at an old barn on the ranch. It was the shed where the dairy cows lived. We went out of the dairy business in about 1960. It got used for some other things through the years, but really hasn't been used for anything for a while. Maybe 40 years.
The building was originally 150 feet long and sort of averaged 32 feet deep. One section of it caved in years ago. When I got looking at it in detail, it clearly went up in several stages. I had a structural engineer look at this and other buildings to get some advice about what to do with them. His advice was, "stay the hell out of the shed because it should have collapsed the day it was built." That was about 1940, as best I can tell. It was farmer-engineered, built with locally milled lumber of various species. One rafter will be so hard it's impossible to put a nail in it, and the one next to it is as soft as al dente pasta.
The cows generated enough heat to melt the snow off the roof. Without them, the snow stays. I made the decision that I was not going to shovel the roof off any more. And then we quit having winter, so it didn't need to be shoveled anyway. Last year kind of put it to the test, and when it didn't fall over last winter, I took it as a sign that I needed to do something about it.
The ideal solution was to get a track hoe and flatten it, then haul the mess away. But the back wall is on a very solid foundation, and the rest of it is on posts set on concrete pilings. By the time I got rid of the building and foundation, it would be very expensive. It turned out to be cheaper to prop it all up and arrest the rot than tear it down. Doing it "right" would involve thousands in new roofing, roof decking, and basically rebuilding it all. Since there aren't cows living there now, that's hard to justify. So it gets a band-aid. I think this will keep it upright long enough that it will be somebody else's problem when it eventually falls over.
The whole building was leaning forward like a drunk in a hurricane. Over the length of a 10-foot post, it was nearly 6 inches out of plumb. Many of the posts were not connected to the concrete, and some of them weren't even sitting on it any more. I couldn't find anything solid enough to stretch a cable from. Pushing it upright required some persuasion. I tried several approaches before ramming it with the front end loader. That worked, but not without collateral damage.
After plugging away at it a little bit at a time, it's now braced and cross-braced and the columns are vertical. A bunch of rafters got replaced. That was a real effort, trying to find something solid enough to lean a ladder against when everything was either broken or rotten. Putting it back together seemed to require moving the ladder with every nail. There isn't a floor in the building, just the ground with decades of manure on it. So I'd get the ladder set, and then about half way up, the ladder would slowly sink into the soft ground until the top was leaning on air, Wile-E-Coyote style.
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This week I got the metal roofing put on the section where the rafters had been replaced, bolted everything together, and declared victory. For now. For all my work, the building still looks like what it is, a 75-year old shed that is in need of being completely rebuilt or torn down. It still doesn't serve any useful purpose. But there is a satisfaction in seeing it there. It says there was once a large dairy here.
The Daly-West Mine hoist is kind of like my cow sheds. Only it fell down, and nobody seems to care about setting it upright. It's owned by Jordanelle Special Service District. The hoist serves no useful purpose in their operations. Park City would like to see it restored, but it's not their hoist, and not their job. They are too busy buying electric buses that we still won't ride (but we will feel very green knowing the empty bus in the next lane runs on coal-fired electricity instead of diesel), to worry about the hoist. So it sits there and rots. If it goes on long enough, we'll forget what it was and why it was there, and it will be gone.
It doesn't need to be put back into full service. Standing it upright would be enough. It's really not that hard.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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