Steel Creek Guard Station Log Barn Preservation
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana, 2001
by Jack de Golia, FS Public Affairs Officer, and Zane Fulbright, FS Archaeologist
PIT Volunteers Shore up the Historic Steel Creek Barn
The Steel Creek Guard Station has seen a lot of history. Established in 1907, the complex was the base of operations for rangers patrolling the West Pioneer Mountains on the east side of the Big Hole Valley. The guard station was downgraded to an intermediate station after the Wisdom Ranger District was established. Wisdom District staff constructed the log barn in 1937, using Steel Creek as a base for their stock operation. This 1½-story log barn fits Clyde Fickes’s 1935 standard building plan B1-A, one of many standardized plans designed in an era when the FS was establishing an image with rustic architecture. The construction style of the barn lends significance to this historic site as evidence of the FS’s effort to standardize building plans for efficiency and to develop an agency identity.
Over time, the hill above the barn eroded, filling in against one wall and leading to the deterioration of the sill (base) log and the log floor joists. Additionally, some of the log ends were cut flush, removing original ax-hewn ends; some had rotted and some were removed as newer corrals were constructed adjacent to the barn.
In May, PIT volunteers from Washington, Montana, Illinois, and California met at Steel Creek with members of the Northern Region Historic Preservation Team to stabilize this old barn and keep it from deteriorating further. The volunteers for Week 1 consisted of Don Stevenson of Missoula and Bill Kolar of Dillon, both retired FS employees; Fern Freeman of Illinois; and John Vraspir of Seattle. Fern Freeman stayed for Week 2 and was joined by retired FS employee Dave Browning of Dillon, Sid Skidmore of Illinois, and Emerson and Bonna Bock of California. The historic preservation team (Bill Harris, Dale Swee, and Kirby Matthew) directed the volunteers and FS employees in demolition work, log preparation, and other historic preservation processes. Fortunately, the Big Hole mosquitoes made only a few short appearances. Scheduling the project in May probably helped us beat them. Of course, we still experienced a spring snowstorm and had to contend with frozen ground. Chipping away at the frozen dirt under the barn with claw hammers was part of the project none of us anticipated!
After two weeks of work, we managed to replace a spandrel log (heavy), one 40-foot-long sill log (very heavy!), half of the log floor joists, the flooring, and the stalls. We also applied log preservative to the guard station cabin and part of the barn. We hope to get the preservation team and the volunteers back next year to continue stabilizing the barn to help keep the Steel Creek Guard Station operational for years to come.