The old bunkhouse on our farm was a house that had been moved from one of the country schools near our farm. I think the teachers had lived in this house while teaching at the country school. There were two rooms in the house, probably for two teachers at the school, so that the students could have one teacher for the younger students and one teacher for the older students.
My earliest memory of this bunkhouse was one summer, when my dad hired a farm worker. He was a forest fire-fighter who had many tales about fighting fires in the Rockies, from Colorado to Montana.
Daddy had built a bunk in the west room of the house. There was a bed, a desk, and a locker for clothes. The farm worker traveled light, and he did not need much.
Kenny and I loved going up to the little old house and listening to his stories about fighting fires in the mountains. He told us how they would parachute into a fire, and then have to live off the land and put out the fire, then hike out. He had a lot of stories. I don’t remember any of them now, but Kenny and I used to sit out in front of his little house on upturned buckets, totally enthralled by his tales.
He arrived about the time we started school vacation, probably around the beginning of summer after I finished first grade, and he helped Daddy with the harvest and getting the land ready for planting the following fall. I don’t think that he had worked on a farm before, but Daddy spent a lot of time training him.
About mid-August, one Sunday afternoon after church, Kenny and I went to the little house to hear some more stories. But his pickup was gone and all of his things were gone. We went back to the house and asked Daddy about where the hired man was, but the he did not know. He suggested that the guy had perhaps gone into town for something.
So we waited a couple of days, but there was still no sign of him. Then I started back to school and we soon forgot about him.
Finally, one Saturday, Daddy received a letter from the state unemployment office in Denver, asking if this person had worked for us. The state of Colorado required that a person had to work a certain number of weeks before he could apply for (and receive) unemployment checks from the government.
Daddy and Mommy figured out the the guy had worked for us exactly the number of days that were required to get the government checks. I remember that Mommy and Daddy were tempted not to answer the letter. But I think that they eventually did.
So this left Kenny and me in a predicament. Were all his heroic tales true or not? I think we eventually concluded that probably they were not. But at least they made for an interesting summer.
After the hired man had been gone for a year or so, Daddy decided to use the old bunkhouse to store pig food. He used the east room, which was behind the window you see in the photo above. Kenny and I helped him to get the room ready to be a storage area. The old building was in pretty bad shape. We covered the holes in the walls and the floor, and we installed cables between the walls to prevent the old wooden walls from buckling under the pressure of the stored pig food. Then we put a full pickup load of pig food in the old bunkhouse.
Then, after a week or two, daddy came home with a gunnysack full of cute, pink little pigs, and we put them in the chicken house.
It became Kenny’s and my job to feed the little pigs a five-gallon bucket full of pig food every night. At first, neither of us could carry a full bucket of the food alone. So both Kenny and I would go to the bunkhouse and shovel the pig food into the big bucket. Then we would both grab the handle and carry the bucket to the chicken house together, where we would pour the food into a trough for the little pigs, who quickly became bigger.
All of this was not as easy as it sounds. In my memory, it was always dark when we went to get the feed. The light on the light pole was dim by the time we reached the quonset hut, and the old bunkhouse lay in shadow. The last twenty yards of our journey were covered with weeds and junk, as you can see in the picture above. Plus, Kenny and I had very active imaginations, and we were on the lookout for anything scary — mountain lions, rattlesnakes, coyotes, wolves, bears, maybe even aliens from outer space!
I would generally set out first, followed by Kenny. One of us would be carrying a flashlight and the other would be carrying the bucket. We would go into the scary darkness, rapidly load the bucket, and retreat together from the old bunkhouse as fast as we could.
After a couple of years, when we got bigger and stronger, and each of us could carry the full bucket alone, we started trading off on this chore. One night I would go out, and the next night Kenny would go out. Somehow we had managed to lose our fear of the wild animals and space aliens that might be lurking in the dark!
As I grew a little older, perhaps in my third or fourth grade year, one day in gym class I was instructed to dribble the basketball. I had no idea what the teacher was talking about. The details were explained to me, but I simply could not understand why would you want to bounce a ball off the floor, and run while you did it. In my experience, you just grabbed the ball and ran.
When I got home I asked my parents about this mystery, and they decided that we needed to get a basketball and hoop so that I could master this new skill. They installed the hoop on the east side of old bunkhouse, the side shown in the photo above. Daddy put the hoop at about 8 feet, which was plenty high for Ken and me at our young ages. It was a couple of years before we could easily dunk the basketball.
The area around the basketball hoop was covered by weeds, junk and clumps of buffalo grass. That did not last long. Eventually the weeds and grass were trampled down, the junk was cleared away, and you could see that there was a slight depression around the hoop, where the soil was pulverized to a fine powder. That basketball hoop provided many hours of entertainment for my brothers and our friends.
Eventually, the old bunkhouse building was just used for storage of things that needed to be out of the weather. And as we got more buildings on the farm, it was gradually forgotten.