Wheels within wheels


Dahmen Art Barn, Uniontown, WA

While I was growing up, we used to drive past the Dahmen farm every few months. I would always look up from whatever book I was devouring at the time and intently try to count the iron wheels in the fences (there are over a thousand).


The barn, which lies just outside Uniontown, WA, about 16 miles from the Idaho border, was built in 1935 for Jack Dahmen and was part of a commercial dairy for several decades. Its distinctive wheel fence began accumulating sometime after 1952, when Jack's nephew Steve Dahmen and his wife Junette purchased the barn.


Says Junette Dahmen in a history of the wheel fence, "Every wheel has a story from the smallest to the biggest. There are wheels from every kind of machine, an antique baby buggy, threshing machines, push-binder wheels, sidewinder or delivery rakes, old hay rakes and gears of every kind, large and small."(source)


Some of the wheels are bolted in place, while others are welded or secured with metal strips. A few small wheels just nestle unfastened in the corners of other wheels, perhaps waiting to be added, or left by visitors wishing to contribute to the fence.


In 2004, the Dahmens donated the barn to a community nonprofit, the Uniontown Community Development Association (UCDA), which renovated the barn, brought it back into plumb, and added an elevator, heat, and restrooms. The Dahmen Art Barn now houses ten open artists' studios, a gift shop, classroom space and a gathering hall in the former hay loft. The Barn is open to the public at no cost year-round, although "Bad winter weather occasionally causes highway closures in our area which may affect open hours of the barn."





You can adopt one of the thousand metal wheels (proceeds support the Art Barn) here.

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That's really cool. Old wheels have so many interesting shapes and patterns. I am curious about the ones that don't appear to have rims. Did they originally not have rims (for some specialized purpose), or did the Dahmens strip the rims off some? (I realize some are gears.)

From my experience with old wheels, I'd guess that the rims became detached from the spokes on their own.

Great photos! The kind of thing that can elicit odd thoughts of the infinite and the mechanical...Thanx for posting this.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 15 Jun 2009 #permalink

Great shots of a nifty place. Thank you!

I just bookmarked your blog, since I'm a biologist, artist, and steampunk at a small state college in the West.

This really makes me wish that I had a camera when I was living in Portland. There is a really interesting trail that I accidentally happened upon (read: closed trail - purposely overgrown with poison ivy) while hiking in the Columbia River Gorge. I thought I had spotted a trail from a rather large rock I had scrambled up, next to a waterfall (there was a trail several tens of feet above where I had been looking) and so I backtracked to a split in the trail I was on, that petered out to poison ivy that the DNR is rather fond of planting to block trails that are for whatever reason deemed unsafe (I took this as more of a "recommendation" than definitive) and worked my way around it.

Best Trail Ever...

About four switchbacks up, I discovered the first "branch" of forty inch cast iron pipe, roughly five eighths inch walls that was rusting out. As I continued, I discovered that it was one of four branches that made it's way up - buried in some places and eventually all disappearing into the ground, only to pop out some ways above where one could actually climb without leaving the trail.

This began the feeling that I had suddenly entered a steampunk anime - a feeling which would only become stronger as I continued.

As I made my way to the end of the last switchback, I very nearly died as I came around the bend. All of a sudden I found that my trail was now about a single sidewalk width ledge cut (blasted) into the face of a sheer cliff, tens of feet above the trail I thought I had seen from below. There was in fact a railing, but the railing was a single steel pipe style railing that was rusting badly. And while I am (at least was before an inner ear injury) totally fine with vertigo and actually love heights, it was completely unexpected and a very sudden transition. And as comfortable as I am with heights as vertigo, the though of a mere three feet (average) of trail, with a roughly five hundred foot drop was rather intimidating. But I now realized that I must be about fifty or sixty feet above the waterfall, rather than a little below the top, where I thought I would end up.

That, and my insatiable curiosity forced me to continue, in spite of having to literally crawl in a few spots where the trail had broken off and was as little as a foot wide. These spots, though terrifying, were also kind of cool, because most of the way, the railing was still there - just spanning above a dizzying drop - while in one spot, the railing had broken completely, where a support had been embedded in a broken off piece of trail. At this point I was already half expecting to see a massive steam powered zeppelin to pass overhead at any time. But then it got even better...

After pausing for a while to look down over the top of the waterfall and catching my breath at the observation point that was twice the width of the rest of the trail, I continued. As I got to the end of the cliff trail, I made my way through a rather dense brush and into a magical wonderland...Everything was covered with a rich, dense and extremely lush moss. I hit the perfect time of day, when the sun was in the absolute perfect spot. The moss was a bright neon green and actually sparkled - full, hard stop - I was in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

And in all honesty, I'm not sure if I even had a camera at that point, I would have taken pictures of it. It was just way too much fun being there and enjoying my surroundings - enjoying the fruits of having made a rather harrowing journey along a trail that even managed to scare the shit out of me. It was one of those very special experiences that one occasionally has that they want to lock away a certain part of for their very own. And after I told one of my friends in the DNR that I had gone there, they apparently went to greater lengths to more solidly block off that trail - it was the first time since the first time, that I was actually chastised for going down a blocked trail - and I talked to my DNR friends at Multnomah falls every time I hit a closed trail, as they liked getting reports on the condition of closed trails...