Steamboat Springs When Gerald Arnold sees the old, sagging barn at the corner of the Meadows parking lot, he remembers trudging through three feet of snow to milk the cows that used to live inside.
Gerald remembers the time his father Walter Arnold bought one of the first tractors in the Yampa Valley and was immediately laughed at by his neighbors who still swore by their horses.
He remembers playing in the barn with his younger brothers Glenn and Harold when the weather was bad outside.
And he remembers how often his neighbors would lean on his energetic and compassionate father, who for a ‘while was the only person in the area with a truck.
“It’s a long story,” Gerald Arnold, now 88, said last week from his home in Grand Junction when he was asked what it was like to grow up on the dairy farm at the base of Mount Werner. “It brings back a lot of memories, because we did a lot of hard work there.”
Even though no member of the Arnold family has lived near the barn for more than 50 years now, the Arnold boys’ voices are still filled with excitement when they talk about the old building that stood as the centerpiece of their farm.
Gerald’s brother Glenn remembers how the lumber for the farm structures surrounding the barn was carried to Steamboat from demolished homes in the old mining town of Mount Harris.
He remembers hearing how his mother straightened out the old nails so they could be recycled.
The Arnolds were resourceful people.
And their resourcefulness, and generosity, was chronicled in the pages of the Steamboat Pilot.
In 1932, the family invited the community to the farm for a winter ski hike, and coffee.
They sold their whipping cream for 45 cents a quart, and milk for 30 cents a gallon.
The farm was a busy place during all parts of the day.
Sheep had to be rounded up.
Hay had to be stored.
And the old barn had to be cleaned up in the morning when the Holsteins, Guernseys and Jerseys were let out of it.
“There’s nothing like growing up in the country,” Gerald Arnold said. “We learned all the facts of life on that farm.”
But 55 years after the Arnolds called it quits on the farm and sold the land to a growing ski area, only the sagging barn remains.
And that rare, 88-year-old relic of Steamboat’s western heritage is in danger of collapsing and fading away forever.
The Arnold family barn is out of place today.
Cars constantly zip by on Mount Werner Road, which was built up behind the barn, putting it down in a bowl and blocking views of the mountain behind it.
Manmade wetlands, an untamed muddy creek and tall grass make it hard for any visitors to get to visit the barn.
And the ones who do leave behind trash, graffiti and shopping carts.
In recent weeks, a shipping container and other construction equipment have blocked the view of the barn. And each winter, more panels from the barn’s roof disappear.
Heavy snow during the winter could bring the whole thing down.
And while photographers flock to the nearby More Barn, which was preserved after being made famous by a 1972 ski poster showing riders on horseback carrying skis, the Arnold Barn has seen a much different fate.
How the Arnold Barn has aged (move slider to explore)
The developers who owned the Arnold Barn were forced to give up the property when the economic recession hit, and plans to move and stabilize the barn were shelved.
Now, the city is on the brink of pursuing legal action, possibly against the new property owner and that developer, to try and force them to maintain the structure.
The parties have denied responsibility for the barn, but the landowner has left open the possibility of facilitating its move to another location.
The Steamboat Springs City Council could huddle in an executive session on Tuesday night to discuss its options.
Historic preservationists are hoping they are not too late.
In September, a man tried to sleep in the withering barn but was arrested after a passerby complained and police realized he had an outstanding warrant.
And an architect who recently inspected the structure chillingly discovered that in strong wind, the barn shifts slightly, as if it could fall at any moment.
Even longtime Steamboat residents, like David Baldinger Jr., have underestimated the barn and its history.
It’s not as old and historic as the city’s famous More Barn, Baldinger suggested just a few months ago when the city’s elected officials started to ponder its fate.
But newly discovered records indicate the barn was built around the same time as that other barn, which attracts all those photographers to its location across the street from City Market.
And it tells just as much of a story.
Life on the farm
Gerald and his brothers, all three years apart, had free rein over the hills surrounding the barn.
There were no busy roads boxing them in, and no busy lift lines to wait in to make turns on nearby Storm Mountain.
The Arnolds were all energetic, Gerald said, and prospered without modern luxuries like electricity.
They fished in Burgess Creek and slept in snow caves on long overnight cross-country ski trips from Rabbit Ears Pass to Storm Mountain.
And they cheered the arrival of the county snow plow that would widen the road outside the dairy farm only once or twice a year.
Lucky motorists would sometimes spot the Arnold family at the side of the highway selling ice cream.
And neighbors would often depend on the Arnolds because for a while, they were the only family in the area with a truck.
Walter Arnold never achieved the fame, or ranching success of his other two brothers who ranched near him in the Yampa Valley.
A 1944 article in the Steamboat Pilot titled “The Arnold Brothers” labeled Ernest and Irving as two of the most successful cattle growers and ranchers in Routt County.
“Both men are known as progressive members of their community and can always be looked to for backing up new methods which will improve their production…..,” the article proclaimed.
The feature made no mention of Walter.
Walter and his wife, Mary, had their own success stories.
To survive harsh winters in a place without electricity, the family leaned on each other, and they all pitched in.
Walter used a creek on the property to keep milk from his 10 to 20 dairy cows cold in 10-gallon cans in a milk house.
Mary cooked and baked on a coal stove.
She would go out in the morning and milk the cows.
She would kill the chickens, bring them in the small home and fry them.
“She did everything there,” her daughter-in-law Helen Arnold recalled last month.
Mary Arnold was a left-handed carpenter who even late in her life could be seen repairing roofs or doing other handiwork.
Her work ethic was apparent in her three boys, who had a long roster of daily chores.
“Hard, hard, hard workers,” Helen Arnold said as she described Walter Arnold and his family. “Fighting that snow in the winter. Doing all that work. They were tough people.”
When men in suits from California came to Routt County offering to buy the water rights on the family farm, Gerald said his father didn’t budge.
But after World War II, when new federal regulations required dairy farms to start using stainless steel equipment for sanitary reasons, the small family dairy operation became less viable.
Farming and ranching was on the decline in Routt County in the 1960s when the economy was depressed and coal mines had closed because of a switch in demand to diesel fuel and natural gas.
In 1961, the Arnolds sold their 120-acre property to the Storm Mountain Ski Corporation and moved to Grand Junction.
Aside from serving as a rustic backdrop in a photo shoot for the ski area, the barn and its history started to be forgotten.
Saving the barn
Arianthe Stettner knows what is at stake.
If nothing is done, the barn and all of its history will collapse under an upcoming snow storm.
Stettner, a historic preservationist, knows what it’s like to lose a historic building.
She still laments the loss of the old Harbor Hotel in downtown Steamboat Springs.
That loss drives her efforts today.
And so, as the old barn at the corner of the Meadows lot began looking worse and worse each year, she went to work.
She dug up old newspaper clippings and scoured old assessor records to start telling the story of the Arnold Barn.
And she started researching options for preserving the structure.
On Tuesday, Stettner will provide the Steamboat Springs City Council with an update.
A local construction company is offering to stabilize the barn for the winter for $15,000. And an option to move the barn and stabilize it on the knoll near The Steamboat Grand is also being discussed.
“To have this barn collapse so close to the base of the ski area would be so embarrassing,” Stettner said.
A Save Arnold Barn campaign is now supported by more than 120 community members.
The two living Arnold boys also are hoping the barn they grew up with doesn’t fade away.
Gerald laments the barn has become a neglected eyesore in the community.
He was excited to hear about new efforts to save it.
“I think it’s a good thing because the old barn is a trademark of the valley,” he said.
One side was used for the dairy cows, while the east side was used for a team of horses.
In the rest of the barn, grain and hay was stored.
It was also a refuge for sick sheep and other livestock that needed a break from the harsh winter outside.
Glenn doesn’t think it would take too much to bring the barn back to its glory days.
“I think it would be a great idea,” he said. “Of course, I’m a little biased.”
Interested in the effort to save the Arnold barn? Visit savearnoldbarn.org or like the Save Arnold barn Facebook page.
Arnold barn, then and now (move slider to explore)
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10