Adobe Stables Workshop a Success!
The history of Southeast Colorado is based on flinging mud. What? You don’t remember that from High School history class? Well, it’s true. During two weekend workshops, one in May and one in June, Colorado Preservation, Inc. and its many sponsors brought the history of Southeast Colorado to life for volunteers at the Arkansas Valley Fairgrounds in Rocky Ford. And, yes, there was a lot of mud flinging.
The Arkansas Valley Fairgrounds in Rocky Ford are Colorado’s oldest continuously operated fairgrounds. Those from the area know of the valley’s rich history of horse racing, rodeos, and shows. In 1938, the Works Progress Association brought jobs for the unemployed of Southeast Colorado by building stabling facilities at the fairgrounds. These adobe structures stood proud and beautiful for many years, housing horses that have been such a vital part of the history of the area. However, after many years, they have fallen in disrepair, many now unusable, and the craft of adobe brick-making is slowly being lost.
In 2007, Colorado Preservation, Inc. listed the stables on their Endangered Places list. After significant work by many key organizations, including Canyons & Plains, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Arkansas Valley Fairground Association, the City of Rocky Ford, Otero County, and the Heritage Conservation Network, Colorado Preservation, Inc. was able to put two, weekend workshops together. Volunteers learned what adobe was and how it is manufactured, how to identify damaged and weakened adobe, and how to safely repair and shore-up adobe structures. And, yes, they learned how to fling mud.
The first weekend workshop focused on brick making. Volunteers shoveled and sifted dirt, mixed dirt with water and straw to make adobe, and after two days made nearly 1000 bricks. Rocky Ford resident and volunteer Shelly Bauer said, “stepping into history by learning how to do adobe that the ancient Americans perfected was a lesson that all who attended will carry throughout their lives.” While pouring mud into the molds seemed faster, volunteers quickly learned that it left many air bubbles in the thick adobe mud. Therefore, they developed a technique of flinging the mud into the molds, the force of which left few air bubbles that would weaken the drying bricks. Juan Espinosa, who has 25 over years of experience with adobe, was brought on board to instruct the volunteers. The bricks were left to dry for a month, being watched and turned by the city of Rocky Ford.
Volunteers shoveling dirt to make the adobe.
After a weekend, nearly 1000 bricks were made.
The weekend of June 27-28 involved taking the bricks that had been made a month previous and repairing many damaged walls. Some stables are in good condition; some require a little attention. However, others have received extensive damage over the past 70 years. Large sections or even entire walls were unstable. Volunteers removed all weakened brick and used the new bricks to rebuild the walls. By laying bricks, mortar, and even a new window in one case, volunteers learned the craft of adobe brick-making. They also learned that the best way to get the mortar into joints was by flinging the mud with force, therefore ensuring no air pockets would be created where fingers couldn’t reach. Moreover, volunteers learned that adobe structures are most protected when they are covered with an outer layer of mud. This layer should be replaced on a yearly basis, as the natural forces of wind and rain do their job of eroding the structures. Therefore, volunteers got to fling more mud at finished walls in order to provide the stables with a protective coating. Why fling the mud? Because then it sticks to the wall and not your hand!
A CPI volunteer lays bricks.
Instructor, Juan Espinosa, hard at work.
When the volunteers left Sunday afternoon, they had completed much. In one instance, they had rebuilt an entire stable wall. They took with them the knowledge of how to make adobe bricks and repair adobe structures. However, there is much left to do to bring the stables back to their former glory. Bower, who lives very close to the stables and has been fighting for their rehabilitation, remarked that if the stables are restored, people will once again put their prized horses here, returning to Rocky Ford and the region the history of horse racing that once was. Were the weekends hard work? Oh, yes. Was much accomplished? Definitely. But there is still much to do. Volunteers have learned the skills, and, hopefully, they will come together again to work on these historic stables, an icon of the area. Repairing the stables is not only important because these buildings are historic and a significant part of Rocky Ford and the valley’s history, it is also important because it can bring money into the region. If the fairgrounds were able to house more horses, it would greatly benefit Rocky Ford and the area. Also, repairing the stables is important because it can show that learning about history, about the way things were done before, is fun. I mean, come on, who doesn’t like to fling a little mud?
A stable on Saturday of the workshop, then on Sunday.