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Tales of a Hay Hauler: ‘This old house’

Brad Nelson Published on 14 July 2015
This old cabin

A wooden frame, with most of a roof still intact. No window glass remains, if ever there were glass windows. Even the doorway stands – minus any form of a door.

Sometimes these deserted houses stand by themselves, and sometimes there are a few trees on the west sides.

Most are made of sawn boards, but a few still show up made of logs or even rock.

One stands next to Highway 6 west of Ely, Nevada. It is made of logs, was built into a hillside and could pass for the entryway into a mine or tunnel. The roof of this one was once earthen; the heavy framework of timbers and most of the planks that supported it are still visible.

I’ve often wondered how heavy the rain from a thunderstorm would have to be to let water run through the roots and grass on the roof and drip into the inside of the house.

Crossing Mary’s Creek, on the way to Rowland, Nevada, and still on the Idaho side, there stood the remains of a small cabin.

This cabin and the other deserted houses and cabins I’ve seen over the years leave me wondering about their history. I wish these structures could talk, tell the story of who built them, who lived in them and why they now stand deserted.

We delivered hay to a ranch that was on the way to Charleston, Nevada, which is south of Mountain City, Nevada. We accepted an invitation to stay for supper. The rancher and his wife were in their 80s, and I think he built the house they were living in.

The outside walls were rough-hewn plank, and the walls appeared to be 2 feet thick. I think that between the inner and outer walls was soil or straw, designed to insulate the inside of the house from summer heat and winter cold.

There was an old pot-bellied stove in the living room area of the house and a coal or wood-fired cooking stove in the kitchen area. Next to it was a smaller gas or electric range, I don’t remember which.

The electric lights inside were clearly an afterthought. The original gas lights were still in place and were burning when we were there.

Many shelves lined the walls of the house, and they were filled with Mason jars full of fruits and vegetables. The residents of this house could be snowed in for months and not need anything. Pictures of children and grandchildren line one wall.

They were off making their way somewhere else in the world. With the eventual passing of this couple, this wonderful old house would, I’m sure, join the multitude of others I’ve seen over the years and wondered about.

Did a young family live in a wagon or tent while they built the house? Or did a young man build the house by himself so he could tell the love of his life he had already built a house for them to live in?

Did they raise a family that moved on to other parts of the world? Was a bigger, nicer home the replacement for this modest cabin? Or did the rainfall patterns change so crops and livestock could no longer survive here?

The house I lived in for my first six years stood abandoned after Dad sold that farm and moved to the other side of Idaho. He sold the place to a neighbor who did not need the house.

Some 50 or so years later, one of the locals moved the old house 3 miles, sat it on a new foundation, added a surrounding porch and made it into a summer vacation cabin.

I’m glad it survives. It was from the shade of this house Dad called me when the hay wagons were unloaded onto the haystack, and it was time to go to the field and load them again. Dad would aim the VAC Case tractor up the hill between the rows of shocked (piled) hay.

Dad would tie the steering wheel in place and put me in the driver’s seat. I was 3 years old when this became my job when we were haying. When everyone was ready, I would pull out the ignition switch and then push the starter button with my foot.

The tractor, in first gear, would proceed up the hill until I heard the crew yell, “Whoa.” Then Dad and Uncle Reed would load the shocks of hay onto the wagon with pitchforks.

This was repeated until the wagon was loaded. My cousin Jeannie was usually on the wagon, leveling the load as they went. She would get upset when there was a water snake in the forkful of hay they pitched up to her.

Jeannie also told me they called bumblebees “bumblebees” because they would hang out around the outhouse so they could sting you on your “bum.”

That house was a place of peace and safety, even with the older cousins teasing me. All children deserve such a home.  FG

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