Barnstormers


At this pioneer-style youth conference, more is being built than just a barn.

The leaders at the Sandy Utah Hidden Valley Stake youth conference can’t hear themselves think, and as you might expect, it’s the youth making all the noise. So are the advisers doing anything to stop this racket? Hardly. Actually, they’re encouraging it.

Why? Because this is a construction site, and the young men and women are busier than a swarm of honeybees. They’re building a dairy and hay barn next to Brigham Young’s farmhouse at This Is the Place State Park in Salt Lake City, Utah, and they’re doing just about all of it themselves. They’re throwing up walls, laying down shingles, and much more, all while dressed in long pioneer clothing. It’s hot and the work is hard, but you won’t find anyone complaining here. They’re having too much fun.

The Hidden Valley youth decided to build the barn as both a service to the park and a way to kindle their own pioneer spirit.

“Everyone pulled together,” said Lance Banks, 18, a member of the stake youth council who helped plan the event. The whole stake got into the act. Materials and labor were donated by members who had the means or the right skills. “A lot of prayers were answered right there,” Lance says.

Arms and Hammers

Today’s the big day for most of the physical work, but the youth have done a lot just to prepare for this event. First they dug the footings by hand, and then they helped assemble the structural frame. Now they’re hauling and cutting the lumber—which came from a 1904 railroad trestle that once spanned the Great Salt Lake—and using it to build the walls and a loft on each side. Just a little hammering, right?

Not exactly. Each of the nails being used is three inches long and thicker at the bottom than some nails are at the top. Not only that, but several are required to secure each board. They’ve been fashioned by a blacksmith to resemble nails used by the pioneers, and they’re making for some pretty sore muscles.

“It took a lot of strength,” admits Rob Hunt, 16. “I had to switch arms.”

After pounding for several minutes on the same nail, many of the young men and women are beginning to wonder how the pioneers ever got anything built. That’s where cooperation comes in.

“Teamwork is the most important thing here,” says Allison Berrett, 14, and she’s not joking. To finish driving some of the nails, quite a few of the young people are taking turns with the hammer, giving each other a break. Not only does the work go fast, but spirits are lifted as well, and several of them say that the hammering will be their most memorable part of the day.

With fatigue, heat, and constant noise all around, one might expect to see a slower pace as the day wears on. Not here. You’d be hard pressed to find someone willing to give up their post, even when it’s time to give someone else a turn.

“[The leaders] were telling us to get out of there because other people needed a chance to work,” says Kelly Peterson, 17, when her time was up. “I wanted to do more, but there were just too many people.”

It’s obvious that everyone wants to contribute, maybe because they’re beginning to realize the great pioneer legacy they’re becoming a part of. They’re grateful for what the pioneers gave them, and they’re learning to appreciate things the early Salt Lake settlers had to do without, like modern tools.

“It’s hard because you don’t get to use all the electric stuff you can, like a nail gun,” says Amanda Robinson, 16. “It teaches us how hard it was for the pioneers.”

“It makes you appreciate what you have,” says Robert Burton, 15.

Nate Smith, 16, sees another important lesson in these trials. “The sacrifices [the pioneers] made are things we can really turn to when we feel like we have it hard,” he says. “If they can do it, with the Lord’s help, why shouldn’t we?”

Real Pioneers

While they’re here, the youth are learning more about the pioneer lifestyle by touring Brigham Young’s home and visiting an authentic pioneer village. They’re also doing other small service projects, like weeding around the village, mowing Brigham Young’s lawn (tell that to your grandchildren), and tying quilts for a homeless shelter. Not many of the youth have ever tied a quilt before.

“It makes you feel like a real pioneer,” says 14-year-old Laura Campbell. “We’ve known about [quilting], but we just haven’t experienced it.” That seems to be the key: To fully appreciate what the pioneers went through, sometimes you have to be there.

“We’re pioneers ourselves,” says J. D. Price, 14, and he’s right. Never before has a group of nonprofessionals been allowed to do anything like this in the park, the place marking the spot where the first pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Whether or not others are invited in the future will depend on how everyone behaves today. No pressure, right?

Some of these youth are lucky enough to have pioneer heritage in their ancestry as well, and while it’s not necessary to gain an appreciation of pioneer history, it never hurts. Take Alicia Bruening, 18. She tells the story of how her great-great-great grandfather crossed the plains and helped build the great doors for the Salt Lake Temple. How does that make her feel?

“It’s really great, because one day when I get married, I’ll be so excited to go stand in front of those doors,” Alicia says. “It’s neat to see that my ancestry actually contributed to the temple. Part of me is in the temple.”

Back at the barn, the walls and the loft are nearly done, as young men and women continue to swarm around every corner of the building. The events of the day have given them a newfound appreciation for those who came before, and now they feel as if they’ve given something back.”

“It’s almost as if we’re rebuilding part of the past,” says Kelly Peterson. “Brigham Young walked around these grounds. He probably walked right where I was walking. He probably had a barn here at one time. We’re bringing it back to life.”

For these youth, this barn is a piece of their own history, a new legacy. “It’ll be cool to come back when you’re older and take your grandkids,” says Rosie Simmons. She and many others, including all of the stake Primary children, each signed their names to the back of one of the shingles adorning the roof. “It will be neat to go and say, ‘My name’s up on that,’” Rosie adds.

The Only Way

As the day winds to a close, many of the youth are taking the opportunity to step back and look at what they’ve added to the landscape here. Some are even drawing a comparison between barn and testimony construction.

“We’re starting out with the framework, and that’s the gospel,” says Abbey Daw, 15.

Her friend Rianna Berger, 14, continues the analogy. “The nails help strengthen your testimony,” she says. “A nail could be a talk that you heard, and a board could be something that someone said that really helped you.”

Put them all together and you’ve got a shelter to protect you from spiritual storms, just as a barn protects from physical elements. Building such a shelter is never easy, but that’s often what makes it worthwhile.

“You can’t do it unless it’s hard work,” Abbey says. “Hard work is the only way to gain a testimony.”

Now there’s something you can build on.

[photos] Photography by John Telford

[photos] Nobody complains about noise at the Hidden Valley Stake youth conference—after all, this is a work site! With the basic structure already in place …

[photos] … these lively young Saints spend a full day of physical labor, using old-fashioned nails to hammer boards, planks, and plywood into place. You’d think they might get tired after a while, but …

… between building, tidying up, and music while you work, there’s so much going on at Deseret Village, and such a feeling of teamwork, that even when it’s time to rest …

[photos] … people feel like pushing on until the work is finished. Dinner is prepared, quilts are completed, and as rows of shingles march to the top, everyone joins together in a shout for joy for a job well done.

Yes, a barn has been built, but what’s more important, participants have gained appreciation for history, created a heritage they’ll pass along, and learned that testimonies also grow from good hard work.