Farm Structures Restored for a New Generation

Idaho collector gives old, abandoned farm structures new life

| July 2011

  • The grain bin at its new site
    The grain bin at its new site. The building was shortened slightly from its original height.
  • The large building – formerly a tenant house – is now a modern house.
    The large building – formerly a tenant house – is now a modern house.
  • A farm outhouse still in use in the 21st century
    A farm outhouse still in use in the 21st century.
  • The “Homestead House” as it appears today.
    The “Homestead House” as it appears today.
  • A new roof for the grain bin
    A new roof for the grain bin.
  • Clell Ballard with sons Tyler and Curtis on the way home with the homestead house
    Clell Ballard with sons Tyler and Curtis on the way home with the homestead house.
  • The tenant house as purchased
    The tenant house as purchased. It was last occupied in the mid-1950s.
  • The boys and I used the tenant house as a base for a much larger building
    The boys and I used the tenant house as a base for a much larger building. All the excellent lumber for the walls came from the additions and roof removed from the house.
  • Originally protected by wallpaper in the tenant house, these boards were sanded and varnished to create beautiful interior walls in the new house
    Originally protected by wallpaper in the tenant house, these boards were sanded and varnished to create beautiful interior walls in the new house. Use of unique, old-fashioned push-button light switches harks back to a long-lost era.
  • The overworked John Deere Model R succeeded in skidding the tenant house to this location on our property
    The overworked John Deere Model R succeeded in skidding the tenant house to this location on our property.
  • As the homestead house’s original rough-cut green lumber shrank, early settlers stuffed rags (here, denim and burlap) in the gaps to block drafts.
    As the homestead house’s original rough-cut green lumber shrank, early settlers stuffed rags (here, denim and burlap) in the gaps to block drafts.
  • The original latch-and-string door closer was replaced in the early 20th century with this ornate door knob
    The original latch-and-string door closer was replaced in the early 20th century with this ornate door knob.
  • A World War II army truck being backed into the completed “monster.”
    A World War II army truck being backed into the completed “monster.”
  • The jeep overloaded with an outhouse.
    The jeep overloaded with an outhouse.
  • How could a large building be brought on to our property when it wouldn’t go through the gate?
    How could a large building be brought on to our property when it wouldn’t go through the gate?
  • A century ago, this hook held the homestead family's clothes.
    A century ago, this hook held the homestead family's clothes.
  • The tenant house out on the road, showing the side where additions had been removed.
    The tenant house out on the road, showing the side where additions had been removed.
  • The grain bin's round floor placed in its new location.
    The grain bin's round floor placed in its new location.

  • The grain bin at its new site
  • The large building – formerly a tenant house – is now a modern house.
  • A farm outhouse still in use in the 21st century
  • The “Homestead House” as it appears today.
  • A new roof for the grain bin
  • Clell Ballard with sons Tyler and Curtis on the way home with the homestead house
  • The tenant house as purchased
  • The boys and I used the tenant house as a base for a much larger building
  • Originally protected by wallpaper in the tenant house, these boards were sanded and varnished to create beautiful interior walls in the new house
  • The overworked John Deere Model R succeeded in skidding the tenant house to this location on our property
  • As the homestead house’s original rough-cut green lumber shrank, early settlers stuffed rags (here, denim and burlap) in the gaps to block drafts.
  • The original latch-and-string door closer was replaced in the early 20th century with this ornate door knob
  • A World War II army truck being backed into the completed “monster.”
  • The jeep overloaded with an outhouse.
  • How could a large building be brought on to our property when it wouldn’t go through the gate?
  • A century ago, this hook held the homestead family's clothes.
  • The tenant house out on the road, showing the side where additions had been removed.
  • The grain bin's round floor placed in its new location.

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.



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