(Ed. Note: This is the first of 12 posts about a painting intensive I spent in September, 2016, in eastern Oregon, at the Triple H Homestead Ranch. Aside from introductory posts, the posts consist of edited emails I wrote to Jer and photos I took while I was at the Triple H. The emails date from September 8 through September 18, 2016.)
The Last Homestead
It’s a piece of land, perhaps 400 acres, set in the stretch of mountains that roll diagonally from the upper eastern corner of Oregon to the central canyons of the John Day and Deschutes Rivers, east of the Cascade Mountains. Some of the hill country is rolling grassland, some ponderosa forest. This homestead, the Triple H Homestead Ranch, has a bit of it all – hay meadows and grasslands, springs and a bit of a stream, fading into juniper, pine, and ponderosa forest.
Around the Homestead are mountains, hills, and mesas, the old basalt remains of volcanoes that ran rampant 65 million years ago or so. Go north and you find the wheat lands of north central Oregon. South is the valley of the John Day River. The north fork of the John Day River forms a valley/canyon not far away, running through the little hamlet of Monument. The John Day is composed of many streams, the biggest ones named some form of “John Day” — North Fork of…, Middle Fork of…, South Fork of…, and Main Stem of…. There’s the town of John Day, the hamlet of Dayville, and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It’s big country, with a matter-of-fact efficiency in its naming convention.
Why a homestead instead of a ranch?
“Homestead,” to me means owner-built and occupied places, where the farmhouse and barns and outbuildings have hands-on structures, two-by-fours sawed by the owner. I think “homestead” has to include a home as well as land devoted to crops or animals; a place where the builder is also a worker and resident on the land.
There are not many of those hand-built, owner-worked structures left in the US. But the Triple H Homestead Ranch is definitely one of them.
The Triple H is really a stock farm. It doesn’t grow acres of wheat like they do further north, on the Columbia Plateau. And in spite of its name, it doesn’t have large herds grazing on thousand-acre ranches, like those found further south in Oregon.
However, what the Triple H has is an abundance and variety of animals, all individually cared for with homey expertise. Some of the animals make calves, some make eggs, some make milk, and some make piglets. Any of these animals can end up sold, bred, or, as Rose, one of the owners, puts it, in the freezer.There’s the barn yard, efficiently arranged for the animals to be taken care of, a chicken coop, and a shed for small piglets to live with their moms. Also large browsing meadows, a stable for horses with the bed and breakfast rooms built along its sides (the “bunk house”), an arena, a mechanic’s workshop and butchering/smoking area, and a residence.
Other business activities of the Homestead include Rose’s making of Christmas cakes, soaps, and cheese, sold at the farmers markets in the region; her steaks, roasts, and stew meat, available to guests at the bunk house (and sausages which can be shipped around the country); the custom butchering of elk and deer for hunters in the area; a small bed and breakfast venue advertised through VRBO; the reconditioning of old Chevrolets which are then used, swapped or sold; and a (now discontinued) equestrian camp, where children and adults came to learn riding skills. All these activities are carried out by the two owners of the Triple H, Rose and Darrell Howe, who in 1994 were looking for a place to buy in eastern Oregon. They found this outback land, with no buildings except an old schoolhouse at the head of the lane. All the structures on the land were built by Rose and Darrell, with the help of Darrell’s grown children.
Darrell is the mechanic, the contractor and builder, and the fixer of everything. Rose is the animal husbander, the maker of soaps and cakes, the equine specialist, and the host for the B&B. They both work on the old cars, all Chevrolets, with an emphasis on the Impala.
The meat smoking area and butcher shop were originally part of Darrell’s automotive and machinery workshop. After the workshop was built, Darrell partitioned it to make a separate space for Rose’s butchering. Darrell then added an open air shed on the other side of his workshop. He has enough indoor space that he can work on a vehicle or other mechanical necessities during bad weather. The open, roofed space off the workshop includes a variety of mechanical and engineering materials; Rose’s outdoor side has a smokehouse as well as other materials.
Darrell and Rose live in the log house a bit further down the lane, mostly out of sight of the bunk house and working areas of the ranch. In clear view from the porch of the bunk house is the barnyard, with its cows, chickens, pigs, and turkeys. On the other side of the lane from the bunk house/stable is the arena and open fields where the three horses and innumerable deer graze. At the head of the lane is the highway, Top Road, which with various names runs through the Blue Mountains to the Columbia Plateau, ultimately to the Columbia River. This is Oregon’s high country, part of its proud outback.
That’s an overview. The real stuff, for me, was looking and living for a tiny bit of time with this place, gazing across its big meadows and into the chicken coop, talking to its well-loved and kempt pigs and circling the large collection of mechanical and metal things.
Miscellaneous information: The Triple H Homestead has been in existence for 22 years. The horse named Luke, a Lineback Dun, is 36 years old. He stands with his nose against a tree. He does not respond to inquisitive humans. He is, as I like to say, slow, deep and connected. Ramona is the mama of the piglets. She rules the farrowing house and, just as they tell you, has a dainty way of moving her enormous bulk. The Howes spent about 1½ years in a small trailer on the property, then moved to the bunk house. Now they live in the log house, 2 bdrms, 1 bath –1300 square feet.