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Shoveling out Hutmacher

Donovan, Lauren. "Shoveling out Hutmacher." Bismarck Tribune, 22 July 2007, C1 &C10.


Arnold Burian, whose family donated the Hutmacher farm site to Preservation North Dakota, helps clean up rusted metal and broken glass from the farm site grounds on Tuesday. He donated three days to the cleanup effort.
DUNN CENTER - The goal that afternoon was to shovel out the tiny kitchen.

People say that about their teen's bedroom, but they mean the mess is disgusting, not that a shovel will be used - a match, maybe, but not a shovel.

At the old stone Hutmacher house, they meant a shovel.

It took a bucket brigade to carry out shovelings inches thick and a foot high in the corners.

The last Hutmacher moved out three decades ago. Since then, most of the tree branch and earthen roof caved in. Tons of dirt cascaded down inside the rooms. Oilcloth, cardboard and a straw and clay mix, once on walls and ceilings, rotted in the dirt.

Bob Tiegs, an intern with the State Historical Society, helps fill out a condition report at the Hutmacher site
Animals had been in and out. Birds were in occupancy. The shovel and bucket crew wore face masks to prevent inhaling mold, or worse.

Preservation North Dakota had pulled in July 14 with a construction trailer stocked with tools and a canopy for lunch and conference shade. And water. A lot of water.

With help of volunteers and grant funds from Save America's Treasures, they're preparing to restore the stone house over the next two years.

It's located back in the rocky western hills of Dunn County, southwest of Killdeer, where a sign warns it's rattlesnake country. So far, only a thick bullsnake has showed its shiny skin.

The Frank Hutmacher farm, built in 1928, is considered one of the largest collections of sandstone buildings still standing in the state and perhaps anywhere in the upper Midwest.

A Hutmacher lived there until 1979 without running water, or even a well on the place.

A ranch neighbor, Steve Burian, bought the building site and fenced it to keep cattle out. The Burian family recently deeded the site to the preservation group.

Work started July 14. By Tuesday, the progress was impressive.

"To most people, this should be bulldozed," said preservation's director Dave Bentley. "To a preservationist, this is a great opportunity."

Unlike other restoration projects, like Fort Lincoln or Fort Union, "It's almost all still here," he said.

Eventually, he hopes the public will want to experience rebuilding the roofs in the old-world style - timber rafters filled with woven branches and heaped with clay - or other work to make first the house and other buildings look like they once did and last a long while.

Hutmachers sisters, Eleanor and Emilie, now both Urlachers, walked and reminisced through their old stone childhood house that's being restored about 20 miles southwest of Killdeer. This room was first a family bedroom and later a living room.
Two Frank Hutmacher daughters, now in their 70s, spent Tuesday morning at their old home.

They'd cleaned that old kitchen plenty in their day.

And with troubling backs and knees between them, it was enough to walk and reminisce.

Eleanor, 74, and Emilia, 77, married Urlacher cousins and now live in Dickinson.

They are pleased with the effort to restore the farm site.

It was a hard living for them.

At a time when indoor plumbing and electricity were changing lives in farms and towns all around, their family still lived much like their ancestors had over in the Black Sea region of the Ukraine, in stone buildings with dirt floors, kerosene lighting, mice and snakes for occasional drop-in guests, and water hauled from a spring a half-mile away.

Their dad farmed "two quarters and a forty" with horses, determined to earn less than the $500 threshold for the new income tax. Sometimes, he set up a still by the stove in the living room and made alcohol from wheat. His girls wrinkled their noses at the stink it made. He slept through the heat of the day.

Jennifer Winter, a seasonal employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helps shovel decades of debris out of the Hutmacher kitchen Tuesday. She said the project will aid her graduate studies.
"I felt sorry for my mother," said Eleanor Urlacher. "She would have liked something better." They remember finding her in tears she never explained. She lived there until she died in 1969, leaving memories of a good cook and a woman trapped in a life that time passed by.

They could remember how the farm once looked and told Bentley where other buildings once were and that a leaning collection of old boards was once a "clutch coop" for chicks.

Emilia Urlacher said the family mainly lived off earnings from cream and eggs, milking the rough cows and using every chicken as a laying hen. The chickens scratched the yard bare and kept it clean of grasshoppers. She said when she'd come home from somewhere, "It always felt like I was going into a root cellar."

When the daughters married and left in the '50s, they returned with their families for Sunday dinners and bowls of their mother's famous chicken noodle soup.

Eleanor Urlacher said her nine children want to be together during another work week at the Hutmacher farm.

She said her father was proud of the place and he evidently had a sense of humor. He was shoveling loose clay up to patch the roof one day when a passerby pulled off the road to see what the dickens he was up to.

"Shingling," was his one-word reply.

Bentley said Preservation North Dakota will be back for another work week this fall. Volunteers will be welcome.

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