These prophetic words from Marv came true sometime this summer. Marv, cousin to the second-generation Hutmachers, remembers visiting Aunt Veronica and Uncle Frank’s house when he was a kid. He would not step inside the building, sure that the dirt roof would tumble down and crush them all. He was so certain, that he never took a meal inside; his mom or aunt or cousins would bring his plate outside.
Well, it took 50 years, but Marv’s prediction came true.
You can only imagine our dismay to find the Hutmacher house in this condition. Since 2005 and 2006, Preservation North Dakota and hundreds of volunteers and NDSU service learning students have contributed sweat equity to rebuild, restore, and preserve the Hutmacher Farmstead. A Save America’s Treasures grant helped to fund the project, as did individual donations of money and materials. The property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts the best and perhaps only extant collection of farm buildings built in the traditional ways brought to this country by the Germans from Russia.
It was a dreary, rainy day last Saturday as our volunteer crew drove onto the Hutmacher grounds. We’d received a call two days before, so we knew to dread what we might find, but we figured that the advance notice was better than driving up to the site unknowingly. The ugly scene confirmed our nightmarish imaginings.
While we can’t confirm the exact date and time of the damage, we know (and the sheriff’s deputy confirmed) that vandals were not involved. It was the weather that undid our labors. In a story picked up by the Associated Press, we learned that storms in early July “packed heavy rain and winds up to 80 mph, which damaged trees, houses, farm buildings, campers and power poles throughout the region… ‘It sounded like a north wind in the winter,’ rural Halliday resident Muffin McLoud told the Tribune. ‘It just howled…I’ve never heard anything like that in July.’”
For us, the worse damage came as three ridgepoles split and broke, two in the house—affecting a bedroom and the original kitchen—and one in the garage, which hasn’t fallen yet but surely will. The granary isn’t looking too good either, as it and the garage have developed a serious sway-back look to their once-gorgeous ridges.
Our group of volunteers, joined by PND President Susan Quinnell and led by professors Tom Isern and Suzzanne Kelley, met in the granary while a cool wind and rain taunted us from outside, reminding us just how fragile a homestead on the plains can be. We discussed options and how we might proceed.
What else could we do but pick up our shovels and rakes, flex our muscles, and dig in.
We worked all Saturday afternoon, watching the sky shift from gray to blue, a match to the shift in our spirits as we cleared away debris and even made a new discovery! Digging down to the wooden flooring, which we didn’t even know was beneath years of caked-on dirt all along, were telltale orange floorboards. We’d wondered why such a traditionally constructed building, with turquoise- and pink-painted walls, did not have typical orange flooring—but there it was, right beneath our feet all the time and invisible to us but for this otherwise calamitous event.
We returned on Sunday to see how much more clean-up we might accomplish, when unexpected guests arrived. Marv and his sister and various spouses and kids had gotten the bug to come out today and see the old place. What a joyful walk on the grounds it was to hear stories from this family, their recollections of having come out years ago to partake of Veronica’s chicken noodle soup and borscht, to walk the hills and help retrieve the cows at the end of day, to note the shady spot at the west end of the house where Uncle Frank and Alex would rest in the after-lunch shade, and to see Marv shake his head at the tumbled down roofs and walls and exclaim, “I told them that roof would fall down.”
Yes, the roof fell down. We will build it up again.