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A piece of living history

Dan Olsen

— The Seely Barn sits alongside the Yampa River south of Craig on the way to Loudy-Simpson Park.

It is a large, white reminder of ranching’s long-time prominence in the valley.

Matching coupelas cover a large hayloft with sliding doors, handy when loading a winter’s worth of nutrition for the ranches cattle.

Built about 100 years ago, the barn holds a special feature that – in its day – was a high-tech haying innovation.

A track, mounted just below the ridge beam and running from one end of the barn to the other, carries hay from a wagon parked below to the barn’s loft with help from a team of horses.

“They would use a team and push the hay to the barn with a buck-rake, and then the forks would drop,” Dave Seely, the barn’s owner said. “A guy would jam the forks into the hay, where it would latch onto a load.”

A horse team on the barn’s other end would lift the load by walking away from the structure while pulling the rope attached to the hayforks. At the top of the lift, a trolley was released, sending the hay load into the loft for dumping.

Handlers inside the barn could direct the hay to the proper location for stacking, which was an acquired technique in itself.

“When stacking loose hay, you’ve got to build up the corners and edges so the stack won’t fall over,” Seely said. “My granddad was very meticulous on how loose hay should be stacked.”

Dave Seely’s father, Lowry, purchased the land and the barn in 1945 so the family would be closer to town and the children could attend the Craig school.

Like his father, Seely was busy haying all week on the William’s Fork River, stopping at the barn Thursday because his “green saddle horse (ATV) was broke down.”

“Haying and livestock goes together,” he said. “This barn has served itself well for many years, and it’s still in use.”

The Seely barn is a “pretty good sized structure,” that they would stack to the upper windows with loose hay, he said, pointing to windows 15 feet above the loft floor.

Loose hay stacking took a “team man” operating the horses, and the field crew working the buck-rake and the wagons.

In the barn, a pair of workers operated the trolley and stacked the hay, swinging loads over to where they needed it to be dropped.

“We would fill it in two days. Haying was a rapid production with big crews,” Seely said. “Nobody liked to hay, especially the cowboys. If they couldn’t do it from horseback, they didn’t want any part of it. They could come up with the best excuses.”

During the winter months, the hay was pitched from the loft to the cattle below through ports in the loft floor directly above the stall’s feeders.

It could also be pushed outside to the corrals through a special hatch cut into the loft’s wall.

There once was a hand-pump and piping for dairy cows in the barn, and stalls designed for the purebred Herford show cattle raised by Seely’s father.

The barn contains plank floors in sections where horses were stabled to keep them off the concrete floors.

The floors themselves are a maze of cement work, in excellent shape with troughs for cattle waste and a loop for the pulleys used for haying.

The barn and house were once equipped with carbide lights, with gas tubing running to the lights and the house, some of which is still visible. The cellar held the tank where water was mixed with the carbide powder to make a flammable gas.

Electricity came to the barn just prior to the Seely’s purchase of the property, and the new technology provided a learning experience for a young Dave Seely.

“I stuck a table fork in the socket to see how it worked, and I couldn’t let go,” he recalled. “It melted that fork and that ruined me from ever being an electrician.”

The barn contains a stud room for locking up the stud when he’s “misbehaving,” and a saddle room and tack rooms.

The former milk stand was torn out to make room for roping horses, but the stall remains that once held the team of horses. Teams are not separated, even in the barn, Seely said.

A single stall for the saddle horse is nearby.

The barn has begun to show its age in the past few years, taking on a slight lean to the east.

Seely has plans to shore up the barn, maybe with some cables, “So she doesn’t blow over,” he said.

Wanting to share the loose-hay stacking technology with the public, Seely has donated the hayfork’s trolley system to the Lou Wyman Living History Museum, where it will be incorporated into a working model display.

Seely’s mind holds a loft full of memories of the old barn on the river, including the time he cleaned it up for a barn dance, and then got hay fever so bad he missed the dance.

“That barn was here the first time I came to Craig,” he said. “She’s still standing.”


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