History comes to life at Wyman Ranch

Family works to build 'living' museum in Craig

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Presidents' Day closed government offices, banks, schools and insurance agencies while flags waved in downtown Craig on Monday. But the work went on in some sectors. One bank was open for business, as well as many local shops.

And one mile outside the eastern city limits, a historical project continued to take shape on the edge of a vast pasture beside an oxbow in the Yampa River.

A caboose, an old helicopter and some vintage haying equipment stand in the snow, awaiting their place in the Wyman Living History Ranch.

The open-air museum is the brainchild of Lou Wyman, a longtime local and avid collector, who said he dreamed of the project for 20 years. Wyman recently sold his family's homestead near Pagoda on the Routt County line, and has been working since last summer to make the ranch a reality. The ranch will feature numerous artifacts that reveal what life was like in the West in the early 20th century. More recent pieces will also be displayed. There will be a restaurant, a gift shop, a visitors' center and convenient access from nearby U.S. Highway 40.

Wyman, who is in his 70s, enlisted the help of his children and local businesses, including a crane service, carpenters, masons and equipment operators. Even through the winter, the project moves forward.

One of the latest additions is a historic barn that was built in 1920 by Wyman's father, L. S. Wyman. Lou Wyman has childhood memories of playing in the barn, which was erected before he was born..

"It's kind of neat to see it back again," Wyman said.

The two-story structure has a gable that juts out the front, where a track held a grapple that was used to pick up hay and hoist it into the loft. A team of horses powered the apparatus by pulling on a rope that led out the back of the barn.

It is activities like putting up hay the old way that Wyman hopes to bring to his living history ranch. As early as next summer, he wants to see those traditional endeavors return. People have already volunteered to bring teams of horses, which could cut hay or thresh grain on the property, Wyman said.

The historic barn was transplanted from the family ranch near the Williams Fork river to Wyman's new site east of Craig. The work was done, in large part, by Wyman's son, David.

Over the course of 10 weeks, David Wyman disassembled the barn one piece at a time and built it anew. He devised a scheme to label the lumber so he could reassemble the barn exactly how it was.

Only about 10 to 25 percent of the wood needed to be replaced, David Wyman said.

The rest of the barn -- right down to the "No Smoking Allowed" signs -- is original.

Some of the woodwork is rough and some new chinking was required. People have suggested that the ranch should include a picturesque barn from back east, where some barns were built with all the careful craftsmanship of an expensive chest of drawers. But David Wyman said he prefers his grandfather's barn because it speaks of life in the West, where there might have been a scramble to put the monolithic structure together before the Colorado winter hit.

The structure looks rock-solid. And as the building approaches completion and the shingles cover more and more of the roof, the uninitiated might not know the barn wasn't built in the New Yankee Workshop.

Inside there will be space for draft horses and a dairy cow. Beside the cow's stall sits a dog-powered butter churner. It has a track for a dog to run on. The track turns a wheel that moves an arm up and down to agitate the butter.

"Dad's really got an eye for the unusual," David Wyman said.

One of the prides of the ranch is the Pagoda Store. It also was transplanted from its home near the Williams Fork. Wyman and his help used a crane and a flatbed trailer to move the store in several pieces.

Restoration of the store is underway at the ranch. The store's original pot-bellied stove is intact. Lou Wyman acquired it in 1950.

Many of the store's features will be authentic, including the wood that lines the bar, where the rowel marks from cowboys' spurs can still be seen.

The store sold numerous essentials, and Lou Wyman remembers shopping there as a boy.

Between the store and the barn is a 100-year-old homestead that has since been covered up with siding. Pieces of the siding have been peeled away to reveal the underlying construction. The house was built of hand-hewn cottonwood from the trees that grew nearby, the Wymans discovered. Lou Wyman said axe marks are still visible where the original builders squared the lumber. The Wymans plan to restore the old home and add it to the museum's collection.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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