Ruins on the Prairie (Part II)
“An old box car? Cool!” I replied.
Part of the roof, again right above the doors, was falling apart. The roof was made of wooden planks covered in tin. A small piece of tin lay in the doorway. Once Larry said it was probably a box car, my curiosity was further piqued. How had it come to be here? And when? What had it been used for when it came to its final resting place here on the prairie? And what had been its former life as a noble train car? Where had it traveled? What all had it carried during its life as a train car? What sort of secrets could it tell? Did any people hitch a ride in it, riding the rails, hiding from the railroad workers? I may not be able to find the answers to all my questions, at least nothing definite, but I may find, through some research and speculation, probable answers or general answers about the life of box cars traveling the rails and then retiring from that life to be repurposed elsewhere. Larry was still studying it and said several times, “It’s really well built.” We were considering the iron pieces across the middle of the end and on the edge seams, the bottom corners, and the former door latch which was part of its being well built and gave the look of a box car; also the two doorways on either side, now missing their doors which looked like they would have been sliding doors. I walked around the other end and to the other side and then back again, returning to the window.
Larry gave another reason for why he thought this was an old box car, looking on the inside, “There are marks on the wall for barley, oats, and rye.” I looked inside the window and was fascinated to see what he was talking about. Written on the wall at three different heights, each with a solid black line under it was: RYE CORN FLAX on the bottom, just above it BARLEY and far above that, nearly touching the ceiling, OATS.
“Cool,” I was awed by this relic of a not too distant past. I love old, historic things so I was wonderstruck by this and to encounter it tucked in the rolling prairie nearly forgotten was really amazing; so much better and more real than seeing it preserved in a museum in the middle of some city. I took in the woodwork and the gentle peak of the underside of the roof. I backed up and took in the window one more time before we moved on.
The next structure, or rather what had been a structure, now lay in complete ruin. It had a limestone rock foundation, and looked to have had a wooden frame and roof. Now it was just a heap of boards and beams with brome grass colonizing it. I saw at least one sheet of old, rusty tin. It had probably been a barn or shed. In its former days of glory it most likely housed livestock. Directly south of that, on our right, across the former farm yard, was another collapsed building, just the roof peak was still intact. Made of wood and painted white some time ago, now fading. We didn’t really investigate the former barn but Larry walked up to the remains of this other building and peeked in the window. I can only guess what it had been, Larry probably knows but we didn’t discuss it. A house, granary, woodshed, summer kitchen– it could have been any number of things. I looked in the window too; there really wasn’t much to see; just another pile of lumber and such. We didn’t linger at that structure but continued walking. Trees grew up behind it, were they younger than this former building? A large beautiful oak tree stood beside it, its presence was commanding.
Larry said, “This was disturbed [possibly grazed/farmed] and then removed from production. See how it’s all brome grass?”
“This is brome grass?”
Brome grass is not a native prairie plant but was imported for food for livestock. I looked back on the box car and the pile of rubble that had been a barn rimmed by trees, behind the box car the golden little bluestem waved in the breeze. It was amazing to see how quickly the grass was overtaking the rubble pile.
Ahead, decaying in the grass was another peak roof completely made of wood, wooden shingles even. The one end was mostly intact standing up above the prairie a little ways, but the other end had crumbled. It gave the affect of someone crawling away from an explosion on their elbows. A tree stood off to the side and slightly behind it, and beyond the tree stood an old stone wall. As we approached the wall, I could see a piece of the wooden roof leaning up against the stone as if it had just slid down. The stone was crumbling in some places but fairly well intact in many others. There were openings where the windows had been. The stone was beautiful. The wall had completely crumbled away on this end but looked to be intact on the other end with a large doorway. This had probably been the dairy barn with a wooden hay loft above it. Trees were growing up inside of it. I wanted to get closer to it, go in it, feel the place, put my hand on the stone but Larry didn’t pause at all, he just kept walking and I had to scamper to catch up to him. I admired the remains as I walked by, a little sad that what had been a gorgeous barn was now in ruin, and also wishing I had something like this on my farm, it would be a perfect place to sit and write and dream. Just a few feet away was a ring of concrete, all that remained of a silo, that would have been filled with silage to feed the cows. I had paused to turn back and look at the barn walls, to the left, southwest of what had been the barn stood an old house, abandoned for years. I desired to take a closer look at it and maybe one day soon I will.