Posted by: highmountainmuse | March 16, 2009

Building on the snow

The finished foaling shed.  Awaiting the snow to melt, then will add portable panels in the front.

The finished foaling shed. Awaiting the snow to melt, then will add portable panels in the front.

The foaling shed is complete. Now we await the snow to recede, and hope Tres will hold off for a bit of dry ground on which to birth. But then, of course, after the arrival of the foal, the true waiting game will really begin.


(If you have the time, please see previous posts, It all Comes Together, Tres, and the Story of Bayjura for some history to this story.)


In the meanwhile, I’d like to share with you the story of the construction of the foaling shed. As usual, we built with our “three step program.”  First, we figured out what we needed (a foaling shed), then we checked out the piles and inventoried our supplies, and finally, we adjusted our building plans according to what we had on hand.


Our two biggest challenges were trying to build the shed without spending a dime; and the rather unusual challenge of building on top of two feet of snowpack.


As for the former challenge, we did pretty well.  The only outright purchase made for this project was a bag of roofing screws Bob picked up in Creede last week. Cost: $12. 


Otherwise, all materials, and I mean every thing, were materials we had here on hand, dug out from the junk piles and stored supplies buried deep under the winter’s snow.  Some of these materials once did have a price tag on them, of course, when Bob bought them from farm auctions or a surplus building material distribution store.  In fact, the roofing was purchased several years ago with the intention of building a similar structure.  When we added up all the original expenses, spent over the past few years, the grand total still only came to $350.  Not bad.


As for the latter challenge… This was more demanding.  Building on the snow opened up a whole new set of creative construction challenges we had not yet encountered.


It’s one thing to build in the winter. Welcome to Colorado, or anywhere where you have “real” winters.  It’s cold. Working outside on construction projects in the winter means dealing with cold hands, learning to pick up and hold a nail with mittens, battling to keep the end of the tape measure in place as the wind tries to blow it off, kicking ice off the ladder, wearing a lot of bulky clothes, and planning your work around the sunny side of the building.


Add snow to this picture, and it really gets interesting.


First, you have the issue of working while it is snowing.  This doesn’t work very well. It’s hard to see. We don’t mind working outside in the cold, but the snow storms do put things on hold. 


Then there is the challenge of working ON the snow. Two feet of packed snow.  And packed so hard, that shoveling down to the bare ground was not a considerable option.  We tried.  So we accepted that our “ground” would be the snow, and that every day it would be just a little bit different, as the air slowly warms…  Our goal was to still keep our structure level during building, and then once completed, and once the snow melts off, we could block it up once again to level.


And building on top of the snow did work just fine, with only a few interesting dilemmas encountered.  We learned about digging through snow to find dropped tools… and nails. We learned about trying to keep the end of boards and your tape measure free of snow (we learned this can really throw your measurements off). And we learned about kicking the ice off the ladder before you step up, and seeking “firm” snow on which to balance that ladder.  Actually, this firm snow pack made for some good footing for the ladder.


The hardest part of building on the snow is, of course, just trying to keep the structure level and square as each corner melts out a different rate.  So every day starts with the ritual of walking around all four sides with your level and assessing which corners melted out the most, then Bob using a long 2×4 as a lever to lift which ever corner needs the hoist, while I reach under and slide in another wedge of wood.


The shed construction was additionally complicated by our desire to keep it light… and portable.  Yes, portable.  We intend to skid this shed down by the Little Cabin by the Big River when foaling season is over… three or four more mares are due to foal after Tres.

The frame of the foaling shed

The frame of the foaling shed

We started with a framing of 4×4 uprights; with 12 inch wide, 15 foot long TGIs, for cross braces. This was started on top of two remaining bridge timbers we salvaged from the old bridge down river.  These timbers will be our runners when it’s time to move the shed.


We limited our 2x4s because of weight concerns, but did strategically place some for both support, stabilization, and for a surface to nail the upright wall boards onto. Sorry, no science involved here, we just did what we figured would work.

The walls going up.

The walls going up.

Again to save weight, we spaced our roof joists 3 feet apart, rather than the standard 2 foot.  Although we get plenty of snow load up here, for such a small roof, we felt this would still be more than adequate.  The only complication here was that Bob had to make very long strides when working up on the roof.  We decided that’s why two foot spacing has become the standard.


For walls, we nailed on rough cut one-by-six boards, cut to length.  This not only makes for rather attractive walls, inside and out, but really helps pull the whole structure together and add strength to the design.


Finally, we finished up with nailing on face boards along the exposed TGI’s, screwing on the metal roofing, and hanging the sign:  Rancho DeLuxe.  I don’t know why that name.  But sometimes in hard times you need to keep a sense of humor.  This is our reminder.

Rancho DeLuxe

Rancho DeLuxe

At the end of the day, it’s solid, it’s sturdy, its’ perfect for the needs at hand, and it’s level…today… we’ll see what happens as the snow melts out tomorrow



  1. That’s a great looking loafing shed. My compliments to the lost trail construction crew! Are the rough sawn walls out of pine? Those do have a nice look.

  2. Innovation on a budget! Yes, the boards are pine. We’ve used many from the same lot on several other projects around here. In this climate, they hold up well even untreated or unfinished, and weather (grey) nicely in time. Looking forward to seeing your deck go up this June!

  3. […] So much so that in the evening, while I was doing chores and leading Tres and Artemis back to the Rancho DeLuxe for the night, Bob zips up on the ATV and calls for Forrest and me.  Says we have got to come see […]

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