Farm Structures Restored for a New Generation

Idaho collector gives old, abandoned farm structures new life

| July 2011

With the dramatic decline of rural population in the past 70 years, structures on countless thousands of American farms have been abandoned. Small out-buildings have decayed the most rapidly, but it is only a matter of time until all traces of those farmsteads vanish. 

At the same time, increasing numbers of people are actively collecting almost anything having to do with the early 1900s. Old tractors and machinery are extremely popular, as are related collectibles and even decades-old farm structures. My sons and I never thought of what we were doing as “collecting,” but we have preserved a bit of the past by saving abandoned farm structures.

We were uniquely well equipped to tackle such a project. We had the equipment to get the job done, land to relocate the farm structures to and, following badly needed improvements, a valid, clearly defined plan for the structures. When such structures get a new lease on life, it is inevitable that they will lose some of their historical authenticity – but the buildings are preserved and continue to serve a useful purpose.

Staking a new claim

Over the years, my sons and I have saved six old buildings, all of which are currently being used. One of them is a homestead house, a remnant of the 1880s, when the earliest settlers arrived in our isolated area of south central Idaho.

When we learned of a landowner’s plans to burn all remaining structures on an old settlement, an idea began to take form. Since I own collectible vehicles that need to be stored inside, I mobilized two of my high school-age sons with the idea of salvaging a farm structure that could be used as a garage.

As a World War II military vehicle enthusiast, I have a 1944 International Harvester H-542-11 five-ton 4x2 semi tractor capable of moving a building. We borrowed a huge trailer designed to transport an excavation machine commonly known as a dragline. The farm building we chose was the original homestead “prove-up” shack from the 1880s that was later used as a wood shed. It was still about one-fourth full of ancient wood but also contained lots of old junk – enough to fill three overflowing pickup loads.