Getting Back on the Ranch

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The Depot Art Center once was among the country's busiest cattle-shipping points.

A four-tined pitchfork is for hay, five tines are for manure and three are for grain.

What: "Meanwhile Back on the Ranch," a new exhibit honoring Routt County's ranching heritage Where: Tread of Pioneers Museum, 800 Oak St. When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., each Tuesday through Saturday.

Routt County barns traditionally were built with a long, windowless wall on the north side to keep out winter weather.

Such facts about Routt County's ranching history are part of "Meanwhile Back on the Ranch," a new exhibit unveiled Thursday by the Tread of Pioneers Museum. The exhibit is a collection of agricultural artifacts, oral histories and historic photographs that illustrate how family ranches grew up around homesteads in the Yampa Valley.

"It may be an embattled industry, but it's not done around here," said museum curator Kelly Bastone, who has been gathering first-hand stories from ranching families for the new exhibit.

Bastone said the collection should make ranchers feel good about their heritage and foster a larger appreciation for ranching history.

There are loads of treasures among the saddles, sleigh bells and family brands bordering the museum walls.

The exhibit's opening photograph shows Jerry More, Vernon Summer and Bob Gay on horseback, gazing down on a lush, green Stagecoach valley before the dam was built. A 1947 Fourth of July rodeo picture shows "a miniature who's who" of residents posing on horseback, individuals whom Bastone said she hopes museum visitors will be able to help her fully identify. And there is an early 1900s image of an on-street rodeo in Yampa before public safety moved it into the arena.

"The stories about driving cattle down the main street are true. We have visual documentation," Bastone said as she proudly displayed a photograph of Lincoln Avenue crowded with cattle.

"Meanwhile Back on the Ranch" details the daily work that was done on a family ranch, an exhibit concept that was encouraged by rancher Don Lufkin, said museum executive director Candice Lombardo.

The museum's domestic ranch relics show the valley's history of self-sufficient food production. There is proof of the Yampa Valley's once thriving grain-growing businesses, and a series of photographs illustrate how hay was stacked, before modern bales, with the kinds of "basket stackers" that still are seen in many Routt County hay meadows.

"We really wanted to get out in the community and get the story from the community," Lombardo said. "Our exhibits are enriched by their first-hand experience."

Staying true to that mission, this collection includes a leather-bound book called "Routt County Ranches" that will be on display and will grow as an ongoing project. The collection of stories started with submissions solicited from local ranchers through newspaper ads. Bastone said her hope is that ranching families that are not represented will sit down with her to create a brief oral history of their land to add to the book.

"Routt County Ranches" will be as much a product of the exhibit as part of it.

"We want it to create itself," Lombardo said.

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