Thursday, February 6, 2014

Vogelaar/ Zoeteman Barn moves to Heritage Acres

Chris Davis

On Monday February 2 teams of workers descended on the Vogelaar/Zoeteman barn, just west of Pincher Creek on the north side of Highway 785.  Their task: to separate it from the foundations it was built upon, raise it, and prepare the way for the two pieces to be reunited on new foundations at Heritage Acres.

They did that.

Vogelaar Barn on original site
Photo courtesy of Heritage Acres
As seen above, the barn is actually two large structures joined.  The smaller structure is a later addition.

For scale, here's what they looked like compared to the semi trucks they were strapped to, taken the next morning, Tuesday, at around 9:00 am:

C. Davis photo
Watching from home nearby, people for whom this had always been part of their landscape.

Large oldest section of Vogelaar Barn, on the move Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 am
C. Davis photo
So, Tuesday morning the two sections of barn begin their respective trips up the hills of the pasture and onto Highway 785, with a lot of people standing by to facilitate the move.

Smaller section of Vogelaar Barn exiting the field
C. Davis photo

As we waited by the bridge on 785, I took the opportunity to ask Heritage Acres General Manager Bill Kells what possessed them to consider moving such a huge structure.

Larger section leaving the field
Dale Lillico photo
"That's the one thing about Heritage Acres, as you probably know Chris, is that we don't collect small things, we collect pretty large things when you're talking agricultural equipment.  So, space is always an issue with us. These barns are going to provide us with about 15,000 square feet of space on both floors when they are fully restored."

Smaller section of Vogelaar Barn parked on Hwy 785, waiting for larger section to catch up
C. Davis photo
"Our President, Rob Mitchell was actually quite excited when he found out we could actually get them up to Heritage Acres. It's kind of been a dream of his, I think to have them up there, for quite a few years. This is a dream come true for Rob."

Mitchell explained the structure's history.

"It was commissioned by Boss Zoeteman to have them built, the first one in 1938, the second one in 1942," he said.  "Boss operated it until about 1959, then it was sold to the Vogelaar brothers. They operated it as a dairy until 1969, maybe. Then that was probably about as long as they operated it."

"Then of course, the Vogelaars sold the property to Lloyd Sproule, and Lloyd Sproule is the one that actually donated it to Heritage Acres," explained Kells.   "The discussions were taking place when the Vogelaar's owned it."

Heritage Acres GM Bill Kells
C. Davis photo
Kells outlined Heritage Acres' plans for the barn.

"Because we can't put a lot of weight in the lofts of the barn, we are planning of putting in a display of early horse-drawn transportation.  Wagons, buggies, carriages and sleighs.  Those are artifacts that we are actively trying to collect right now."

"They are not the type of artifact that survive, like agricultural equipment out in the bush.  It deteriorates a lot faster than a cast iron mowing machine, that's for sure."

"It housed a lot of livestock over the years.  So many that they had to make it bigger.  So they did.  The addition was a big barn itself even by modern standards."

C. Davis photo
Kells said big projects like this one rely upon corporate goodwill to succeed.   Given the size of the endeavour and the number of agencies and skills required to effect it, that seems indisputable.

"That's all from businesses (the monetary support for the project), like FortisAlberta that's here today," he said. "AltaLink, they're here today, their contribution to this project is huge, they're donating their time. Fortis Alberta is about a $10,000 contribution, the AltaLink Contribution is about $30,000 dollars today. You can tell by the number of people that we have on site that it's adding up to be quite a bit. Then John Holmes as well. He's donated back quite a bit from the move here as well today."

Transmission lines being lowered
C. Davis photo
"It's been good corporate support as well as good citizen support, not just in Pincher Creek but in the whole region. It's been very good. So we're quite excited, to get them up there."

"The folks have done a wonderful job of collecting both the buildings and the artifacts over the years.  Now we're really in a position to take all that and tell the rich, agricultural history of southern Alberta."

RCMP checks on the situation early Tuesday
C. Davis photo
"My husband and I have been in that business, celebrating 30 years this year," said Sandra Holmes of Stavely based Holmes Building Movers.  The company has moved big things for Heritage Acres in the past.  "It was were we started when we first came to Alberta with our business, Heritage Acres, moving when the dam was under construction."  One of the structures they moved in advance of the Oldman River Dam was the 1918 Doukhobor Barn that now sits in restored red painted elegance at Heritage Acres.  Some of you have been married in it.  Then there was a one-building parade when they brought the Cyr House to Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in 2012, right down Main Street and then another right at 7-11 and onto the museum grounds .

Smaller section on the move down Hwy 785
C. Davis photo

Smaller section approaching Highway 3
C. Davis photo
I asked Holmes if this was a bigger than usual move for them.  "I think this is pretty big," she said.

"That height and everything makes it a pretty big move.  Especially coming with the two pieces at the same time.  This will be at the top of our list for a while."

"Our bread and butter is used houses," she explained.  

FortisAlberta Field Operation Supervisor Roger Ferguson explained the required manoeuvres. "We can't just lift them (electrical lines), it's too high," he said. Our lines are traditionally somewhere just around 20 feet high, or 6 metres high, and up. This barn, they tell us it's 54 feet high. In order to move them, we have to take all the lines and lower them to the ground to get this through. We can't raise them high enough."

So take them down they did.  An army of servicemen and servicewomen.

There were lulls
The morning was cold, below -20 for much of it, and frozen uncooperative hydraulics under the larger barn segment were the first thing to slow the procession.

Meanwhile, Shaw customers in the area experienced an unexpected outage.

The move also necessitated the pre-planned disruption of some electricity services.

John Deere to the (temporary) rescue
C. Davis photo
The plan was foiled when the truck pulling the biggest barn broke down near the beginning of the trip.  Just around the corner from home.  A long way to go.  A  big John Deere was physically up to the challenge but was called on a technicality.   The big section was towed by the John Deere to a rest point behind the smaller section at the intersection of Highway 785 and Highway 3.

Parked at Highway 3
C. Davis photo
They sat there for the rest of Tuesday and into Wednesday morning.  Pincher Creek's east entrance was closed for the night.

Some people had to take the long way.

At approximately 7:00 am  on Wednesday morning, February 5, the crews assembled to try again.  It was bitterly cold again, but several told me they were quite used to it.  As it turned out, Wednesday was a milder day in many ways, skies were blue and the sun was shining, but still quite cold, in the lower minus 20's according to The Weather Network.

Using the steerable and drivable hydraulic wheels under the afflicted load, with a big tow truck holding up the front end of the broken semi still attached from the front, and the stout semi hauling the smaller section in the lead, the strange procession headed across Highway 3, trundling north down Highway 785 towards the Oldman River Dam.

Smaller section at Oldman Dam
Dale Lillico photo
That was reportedly a tricky stretch, with the dam looming up high and close on the right and a reservoir on the left as you cross  bridge, on a winding narrowed road.

Smaller section at Oldman Dam
Dale Lillico photo

Smaller section at Oldman Dam
Dale Lillico photo
Large section crossing bridge at Oldman Dam
Robert Dale Plante photo

Large section crossing bridge at Oldman Dam
Robert Dale Plante photo

Large section crossing bridge at Oldman Dam
Robert Dale Plante photo
A few snags were reported, but somehow they got them through there.  The big one still didn't want to go. Top speed for the hydraulic wheels is 5 km and hour, or so I was told.

Homestretch: Large section past the dam
C. Davis photo
It seemed to be doing less than that when it started to finally find it's groove and roll down the straightaway.  Slowly.

Large section
Dale Lillico photo
The small section was parked there waiting, at the intersection to Heritage Acres.  Crews lowered one last set of wires, and the small section took the gravel road, ending up parked near the foundation.

Heading for home: large section crossing Heritage Acres field
C. Davis photo
The game plan was to put the larger older structure in place first, then attaching the newer structure.

Heading for home: smaller section takes the road
C. Davis photo

C. Davis photo

Logical, since that's a close mimicry of the way they came to be in the first place.

The older structure had a long and relative straight path, some of it newly created through the field for this purpose.  Then one more turn, the sharpest of the journey (this thing does not spin on a dime), and it was a straight shot to be towed into place with the new foundation below it.  Around 6:00 pm it was within inches of the final lowering, with calculations looking like they might go into the wee hours.  It was getting dark fast.

A very strange couple of days, and a wonderful new challenge for the Heritage Acres folks.  They'll know what to do with a big barn like that one.

"These barns, once they are fully restored are going to be used to interpret the dairy industry, which will be on the main floor," explained Bill Kells.  "We want to put back in some of the milking stanchions.  We also want to  interpret the history of the early large scale cattle ranching.  They sort of go together in that one building."

In addition to his role as president, Rob Mitchell is also the chair of the fundraising committee. "They have done a wonderful job," said Kells.  "They have raised over $100,000 in cash from probably 200 different sources, in denominations from $100 to probably $10,000 dollars. The in-kind portion is about $125,000, I think."

"The facility has grown immensely over the 25 years that it's been in existence," explained Mitchell.

"Its gone from a bald piece of property to one that will have close to 100,000 square feet of display space and storage space. It's big, and we've moved from being just a tractor club to an recognized museum, and putting on displays for school children and tourists. We're trying to become more of a tourist attraction."

"I've been raising the funds for this project. The actual move has been contracted to John Holmes Moving. It isn't just my personal project, but it's its a project of the club, one that I really supported."
I asked Mitchell what restorations were planned for the structure.  "There's quite a few variables. It depends on how our fundraising goes from now. The first thing we'll do is we want to protect it by putting a roof over top so that it can't deteriorate any further, and then gradually, or perhaps rapidly restore the entire facility. and that's all dependent on grants and fundraising."

"It would be nice to think that in a years time it would be totally restored."

"Our volunteers have gotten to an age where they don't want to be up on the roof, they don't want to do a lot of heavy lifting. In raising the funds we tried to raise enough to make sure we could get some contractors that were younger than us. We're always looking for volunteers. Younger, and older."

What's the theme for this year's summer event at Heritage Acres?

"This year is the year of 'Early Transportation'. We would like to get a lot of heavy horses teams to come out and perhaps get the eight horse hitch in place, we would like to find some oxen."

C. Davis photo


  1. Anonymous6/2/14

    Congratulations Rob, Bill and the Heritage Acres Club! What an amazing feat and wonderful addition to your museum; truly historic. Great coverage too Chris!

  2. Anonymous6/2/14

    Great story on a cold winters day. Amazing feat for sure, amazing feat back in the days when it was built, wonder what the cost was?

    1. Needing to take a second long day for the move and the breakdown of vehicle and equipment was very expensive. Costs have not been tabulated yet and may be difficult to ever accurately tabulate. The cost to Heritage Acres specifically will be easier to track, when the time comes.

  3. Thank you so much for the positive comments. The barns are a big part of Pincher Creek history, for sure. Equally as important they will provide an additional 15, 000 sq. ft. in which to interpret the rich agricultural history of Southern Alberta. A big thank you to all the individuals and corporations who have donated over $250,000 to make this move possible. This addition to Heritage Acres will not only serve the Town and MD of Pincher Creek but the entire region..Thank you Chris and Tony for always digging to find the positive in a story, we always have to see the glass half full, a true sign of a "Community" publication --- Thank you.

  4. Terry Ensign20/3/14

    I remember playing in that barn as a kid, used to love watching milking time


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