Building a Hay Barn

The Old Way in New Idaho

By Jim Akenson with Holly Akenson

The Akensons, both biologists, spent twenty-one years over three decades (1982-1990 and 1997-2010) at the University of Idaho’s Taylor Ranch in the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. The following story is a chapter, excerpted by permission, from their account of those years, 7003 Days (Caxton Press, Caldwell, 2016), which draws its title from the number of daily entries the couple kept in a diary of their backcountry adventures.

When my dad first saw the exposed haystack during my parents’ first visit to Taylor Ranch in the fall of 1982 he said, “Jim, you’ll eventually want to have a permanent roof over the haystack.”

I remember looking down at the big pile of hay that Con Hourihan had left there and saying, “Dad, I think that method has been used here for almost a century.”

He said something to the effect of, “It’s a heck of a lot of work to make one of those piles of hay and the last thing you will want to see happen in it are big rot pockets from rain and snow!”

So the seed was planted and further discussions about how to cover the stack ensued over the next year or two. Our supervisor at that time, Ed Krumpe, thought that a barn-building was an excellent idea and he used his construction contacts and personal interest to get us a plan for the trusses. The stage was set for the project, and this shared endeavor became deeply important to me and my father. In November 2011, just a month before my father’s passing, we visited late into the night, a rare event, since neither of us stay up late.

Dad said to me, “I sure enjoyed Taylor Ranch. My favorite time of all was when we built the hay barn. It was just a good team effort with you, Holly, Ed Krumpe, and the Leonhardy boy.”

I was lying on his apartment floor in a sleeping bag on a Thermarest pad, and didn’t say anything for a while. Finally, I simply said, “Dad, that was an important time for all of us.”

We didn’t talk anymore about Taylor Ranch that night, but I do recall reflecting on the summer of 1985 as a punctuation point on our commitment to the job, place, and lifestyle. I write this chapter in honor of my father, John, and his enthusiasm in supporting our chosen career and lifestyle.

We had scheduled the barn building for late July, but we seemed to have a constant flow of University of Idaho visitors that we needed to spend time with, so July blended well into August before we really broke ground. 

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About Jim and Holly Akenson

Jim and Holly Akenson were an eager young couple seeking adventure and challenge in 1982, when they moved to a log cabin in the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness to manage the University of Idaho’s Taylor Ranch. For decades, the two wildlife biologists embraced simple living conditions while meeting the demands of university research. 7003 Days is their story.

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