Walls raised by rock-solid community effort

Residents, churches, and community organizations spent the better part of a year gathering hundreds of tons of native rock for the original Rangely Junior College buildings. The primary rock hunters were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who raised close to $150,000 to build the main part of the chapel that stands today.

Residents, churches, and community organizations spent the better part of a year gathering hundreds of tons of native rock for the original Rangely Junior College buildings. The primary rock hunters were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who raised close to $150,000 to build the main part of the chapel that stands today.
When local contract or Dave Allred was a kid, he didn’t think of going into the hills to gather rocks as work. Harvesting flat, mossy sandstone with your family and other families with kids your age was just plain fun.
“I thought, ‘I get to go play with kids and collect rocks,’” Allred recalls. “I do remember a few people getting bit. Bob Berrett was bit by a centipede or a scorpion, I think.”
Berrett, who was part of a movement to bring tons of rock from the surrounding hills to the new Rangely Junior College campus to create its signature “native rock” walls, harbors no grudge toward that experience or that time.
“It was play and work,” Berrett says. “It was kind of a fun thing because we made it fun. We’d bring food and drinks, and we’d visit and talk. Then we’d go to work.”
Lembke Construction Company, the contractors for the nine-building campus, started asking for rocks in the fall of 1960, longtime Rangely resident Andy Allred says. The pay was $6 per ton, and it was up to those retrieving the rock to get it to the set of scales borrowed from the county just across Douglas Creek. After the loads were weighed, drivers hauled them to the new campus for sorting and distribution.
Residents, churches and community organizations signed on to find just-right slabs of the native sandstone. The harvest lasted until the snow got too deep that winter, began again in the spring, and continued through the summer of 1961.
Several hundred tons of rock, much of it with moss or lichen clinging to it, found its way to campus just that way.
“(The rocks) had to be a certain shape and size, something (workers) could lift up and plaster into a wall,” Andy Allred said. “They were looking for about 2 to 3 feet square, and 6 inches thick so they’d have enough space to put their mortar in there and it would hold.”
Berrett says groups scattered out so they wouldn’t strip hillsides bare, gathering the sandstone with the blessing of the Bureau of Land Management.
One group took the rock challenge more seriously than others. The Rangely Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was saving up funds to build a new chapel. And the rock money was a way to get there.
“We took contract on (the rocks),” Allred said. “A lot of churches took contract on it. (The builders) contracted so many ton or loads or rocks from each church. A lot of churches didn’t do it, so we took over their loads.”
The church’s budget required that its members raise at least $90,000 to begin the chapel’s construction. Berrett and Allred estimate that the rock-haul earned the church between $130,000 and $150,000.
“Our bishop then was Robert Steele, and he had a bulldozer,” Berrett says. “He also had a monster of a dump truck that would haul around 40 tons of rock. It didn’t take us too long to fill it. He’d doze us a trail for trucks to go in and get some rocks and bring them back out.”
Church members, who were assigned a certain amount of rock to gather each month, headed out before or after work and on Saturdays. Groups retrieved sandstone from the hills near what is now Kenney Reservoir, from Banny Flats across to Gillum Draw, and from downriver, near Gilsonite Draw. By the end of the project, Allred says, everybody had done their part and more, among them Harold “Are” and Newell Warn.
“We had more fun than a barrel of monkeys, laughing and giggling and seeing who could put the biggest rock up in (the dump truck),” Allred says. “Even little bitty kids helped. All they had to do was watch for rattlesnakes once in awhile. When you reached for a rock, you learned to pull it toward you so you could see what was on the other side.”
Allred himself poured concrete and built pillars for Rangely Junior College and Lembke Construction for two years before hiring on permanently at the college for the next 27 years.
Berrett says that the walls at CNCC today look much as they did 50-plus years ago.
“The old rocks there remind me a lot of past experiences,” Berrett said. “That project helped the community out. And since then, the college has helped a lot of people in the community.”