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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 4, 2010

Roofs cave in, spirits don’t: Hilltowns hit by record snowfall

By Zach Simeone

HILLTOWNS — The Hilltowns were hammered by last week’s continuous snowfall, causing a handful of buildings to cave in. Some Helderbergers were left snowbound after several feet of heavy, wet snow blanketed the escarpment.

Carl Peterson runs a dairy operation that helps supply Agri-Mark, a food cooperative that owns Cabot Creamery. He has more than 200 cows, in several barns. More than 70 of those cows were stabled in his barn on Bozenkill Road in Knox when it collapsed late last Thursday night. One cow died in the accident, and three others had to be euthanized.

“We shipped one more cow that had an injury on its leg that we thought might get infected,” Peterson told The Enterprise. “But our losses, considering the number of animals that were in there, were pretty lucky.”

Peterson’s family knew that the snow was causing problems for the structure, but the severity of the situation was unclear until Friday morning.

“My grandson, who is basically the ramrod here, noticed some creaking and groaning in the barn,” said Peterson. “We had a crew of people who worked till 11 o’ clock to shovel the snow off the barn. I thought it was in good shape, but, when we went to milk the cows in the morning, the roof was down. We gave it a good try, but we couldn’t beat the weather.”

On Friday, Rudy Stempel’s 50-year-old family sawmill in Berne caved in as well.

“They’re down there working now, trying to salvage what’s left,” Stempel said this week. “If you were to come up and see it, you’d leave talking to yourself.”

But Stempel, now in his 80s, is optimistic, and anticipates being able to re-open his sawmill by the time the snow has melted.

“Any donations will be gladly accepted,” Stempel laughed. He expects to spend between $20,000 and $30,000 on re-construction, none of which will be covered by insurance.

On Saturday — the day after Stempel’s sawmill caved in — the Township United Methodist Church in Knox fell as well, though the church had not been used in recent years.

Some Hilltowners, like Lora Ricketts of Thompson’s Lake, have been snowed in for the better part of the past week.

“I can’t see out any of the windows,” said Ricketts. “I usually take my granddaughter to preschool; I have to stand on a stepstool to reach high enough to let the bus driver know I’m in here.”

Her son and grandchildren have to pull wood for heating between the shed and the house — on children’s sleds. They have to climb over snow banks to feed their chickens.

“They canceled church last Saturday, and it was canceled again Sunday because they couldn’t get the parking lot open,” Ricketts said. “The spaghetti dinner was going to be this Friday, but that’s been canceled, too.”

On the bright side, the four cows that Peterson lost when his barn collapsed will be covered by insurance, but the potential cost of building another barn makes the reconstruction questionable.

“Those of us that are in the ag industry, you don’t want to see any animal hurt,” Peterson said. “But, in terms of the monetary, the adjuster said those cows could be replaced at fair market value.”

He said that replacing the barn could cost more than $100,000.

“Whether the insurance company’s going to give me that, I don’t know at this point,” he said. “The barn alone is 6,000 square feet, at $15 per square foot. Then, you’ve got to have fans; you’ve got to have stall dividers; concrete in there with curbs. The cows are loose in there, but you have to provide beds for them to lie on, and you have to provide alleyways for them to walk in, and all this is a design that adds cost to it.”

Several local fire departments were on the scene helping his family remove the wreckage, Peterson said, as was Carver Construction Inc.

“Some of the sidewalls are left…The cows are in what’s left of the barn,” Peterson said. “We’re milking them twice a day, and, in this weather, they’re fine.”

But, if last week’s weather were to repeat, these cows would not be sheltered from it.

“I’ve got a contractor that’s been here twice to see exactly what it’d cost to rebuild,” said Peterson. “We’re not sure if we’re going to do it — it’s a major decision at this point.”

Weather adversity is not new to the Petersons, who have farmed in Knox for nearly a century; Peterson rebuilt in 1990 after a tornado toppled his silo.

“It’s amazing the way nature works; you learn to work with it on a farm,” Peterson said then. At that time, he recalled a rainstorm that whiped out a $20,000 corn crop.

“You’ve got to be able to stand up to these things,” he said this week. “That’s life.”

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