After building a little suspense over the last few weeks with the teaser posts, the history of Soderberg Ranch and the ins and outs of becoming a HistoriCorps volunteer, we finally made it to the best post on the subject. My HistoriCorps experience as part of the crew restoring the Soderberg Bunkhouse near Fort Collins, Colorado. I loved it.

Another HistoriCorps Experience

I must start this post with a thank you. As I said in previous posts, HistoriCorps isn’t, in general, on RVers’ radars. In a small campground in Tennessee I met a woman traveling in a Tab trailer. We chatted on many topics. When we talked about our travel blogs, she said she focused hers on her love of history. That, in turn, led her to sharing her HistoriCorps experience with me.

One of the projects she worked on was the first school that George Washington Carver attended in Missouri. A school he referred to as the “golden door of freedom.” After listening to her experience and then reading her blog post, I was hooked. And I’d been watching for a project to work on ever since. So, thanks, Kim Davidson!

By the way, she also told me about how a film crew followed the work they did. The trailer I shared in the overview post, you might remember, showed footage of the work on the George Washington Carver school.

My HistoriCorps Experience Overview

The project I worked on was four sessions long. I applied to work for both Sessions 2 and 3. As I’ve said from the outset of this blog, I am not, by nature, a risk taker. And whenever I do something for the first time, a slight terror of the unknown grips me. My HistoriCorps experience was no different.

But now that the first time (and, second, technically) is behind me and that uneasily feeling is too, I’d definitely do it again. And, if the weather conditions weren’t too extreme, I’d look at projects where RVers boondock.

The Horsetooth Reservoir is big. Very big. Even though there are a lot of coves, many are accessible only by boat. There are only two campgrounds. The big one is called South Bay and the smaller one, where our group stayed, is called Inlet Bay. You can see them on the map.

Black and white map of a body of water, a reservoir with a legend, many coves and two campgrounds.
This map was used in last week’s post as well. The left side of the reservoir, you see two slightly darker sections? That’s the South Bay campground and the one shaped like a whale’s tale next to it is the Inlet Bay campground where we were.

Because the campgrounds at Horsetooth Reservoir are typically busy and our work schedule was Monday thru Friday, I had to leave for the weekend in between. At first, I tried to reserve a spot in the campground. But it was booked. I ended up moving about 30 minutes away to the north of Fort Collins (Horsetooth Reservoir is west of town). I stayed at a KOA. My first. It was fine though KOAs are typically pricey so I don’t look to stay at them normally but for two days, it was a good choice.


One thing I’m not sure about is whether or not the way my group arrived is typical of other projects. As I said, Horsetooth Reservoir is a popular, busy place.

The volunteers in Session 1 were instructed to arrive early in the morning on Monday. But those of us in the remaining sessions were instructed to arrive Sunday early evening which, in my mind, made way more sense so we could get our sleeping area set up, generally orientated and organized. In that first group, I’m not sure if they had to wait until their first day of work was over to set up or if they set up in the morning and started work late.

Considering the nature of Horsetooth Reservoir, I assumed that when they were coordinating things that first Sunday simply wasn’t available.

Because of my tendency to be nervous about new things, I didn’t love the idea of arriving between 5 and 7 p.m. on Sunday as instructed. I didn’t want to be caught trying to figure things out in the dark. So, after looking at the Horsetooth Reservoir website and seeing a noon check-in time, I emailed HistoriCorps to ask about adjusting my arrival time. I arrived at 2 p.m.

I was the first volunteer to arrive. No surprise.

White van and a white trailer on in a campground with green trees in the background and dirt and rocks in the foreground.
All set up with plenty of daylight left. Because I have a tough time hooking up my trailer and was there only five nights, I never unhooked. I did use the jacks to level the trailer and take pressure off the van.

As I was leveling the trailer at the site, the camp host stopped by. He explained how they drained Inlet Bay for maintenance. Ah, that made sense because, otherwise, it wasn’t very pretty. He said it was the first time in 25 years.

Camp site in the foreground with fire ring and picnic table. A body of water behind it.
Inlet Bay with super low water level. The water normally comes up near the camp sites. And the boat dock didn’t have any boats. They’d all been pulled out.

General Daily Routine

On Sunday night, I met a couple volunteers and Daniel, the Crew Leader and Camp Cook. I’d be assisting him in my volunteer role as Kitchen Helper.

For most of the volunteers, the routine started with breakfast beginning at 7 a.m. each morning. After everyone ate, we cleared the table and put out fixings for sandwiches. Everyone made their own.

Circle Up

At 8 a.m. (or so), the Project Leader, Cathy, called for us “circle up.” We gathered at a little clearing near my trailer, just a few yards from the picnic table where we ate. We formed a circle with enough room for everyone to have plenty of space. I wished I snapped a photo of one of our morning circles but I participated so didn’t think about it.

Five people sitting at a campground picnic table eating breakfast. It's cold so they have on jackets and hats.
Even though it got quite hot during the day, breakfast so early in the morning was often chilly. This is breakfast with Session 3 volunteers. Communal meals are a big part of the HistoriCorps experience. See my purple coffee mug in the foreground?

Cathy started with any project-related announcements and then she’d ask us a “question of the day.” We went around the circle. Each person would, first, lead us in a stretching exercise and, while we were stretching, that person would offer a safety tip. Finally, the person answered the question of the day. Then the next person would do the same. And so on.

It took just a few minutes before we were warmed up and ready to work (at my project there were lots of hand and arm exercises because of the type work the project called for).

For safety, we reminded each other of things like watching where you stepped, drinking plenty of water, reapplying sunscreen, taking breaks as needed, not leaving tools on the ground, etc. The question of the day allowed us to get to know a little bit about each other. It served as a bonding exercise. The group was encouraged to stretch again at the end of the day but that was left up to the individuals to do.

Work Day and Dinner

Then the group left for the job site. In our case, we walked about one-third of a mile up to the Soderberg Bunkhouse. The group returned to camp between 4:30 and 5:30, depending on the day’s work and finding a good stopping place. Dinner was looser than breakfast. Technically, it was supposed to happen at 6 p.m. but really, it was served when it was ready and everyone was gathered.

Sometimes, volunteers took a shower before dinner. A few times, volunteers ran into Fort Collins for an errand or a chore, skipping dinner. Then everyone pitched it to help with the dishes.

By then, it was starting to get dark. In a typical year, a fire would be built and the group would sit around chatting. But with the fires in the west, including one very near us that made for some very smoky days, meant that reservoir personnel imposed a fire ban. So, our project missed out on that fun part of the HistoriCorps experience.


The crew didn’t make sandwiches in the morning on Friday, the last day. Instead, they returned at noon we had lunch together and then said our goodbyes. We needed to leave before the weekend campers arrived for the sites.

My Work on the Soderberg Bunkhouse

On the first day of my first session (which was Session 2), I went up to the work site with everyone and worked on the building for a few hours. I wanted to understand and be part of the preservation.

A woman pointing to the mortar in between stones of an old stone house.
Getting instruction from Cathy on our first day at the job site. She explained how to scrape out the old mortar. Daniel is behind her, already at work.

The bulk of our project was to scrape out old mortar between the stones of the bunkhouse, about 2 inches deep. During Session 3, we complete that stage. Then the work to squish new mortar between the stones began.

Close up on stones in an old stone house, the mortar between the stones has been scraped out.
The only day I worked at the job site, I scraped out old mortar. In some places it just crumbled out and was so easy. In other places it was really hard and took a long time just to clear a couple inches.

Two terms used to describe this process, both of which were new to me, were repointing and chinking. Chinking, technically, wasn’t what we were doing as, strictly, it means the material (mortar, caulk, mud, etc.) between logs. Whereas, repointing is the material between stones. Did you know either term?

Kitchen Helper: My HistoriCorps Experience

While I made it up to the worksite daily, the only day I worked on the bunkhouse was that first day. My HistoriCorps experience was as Kitchen Helper, a much different role from working on the bunkhouse.

Breakfast and Coffee

Except for one day, Daniel did all the cooking. I was, literally, as the job title says, the Kitchen Helper. Because Daniel also worked all day at the project site, I offered to let him sleep in a little. The coffee took the longest to make each morning. It was a big coffee pot so it took about 20 minutes for the water to start boiling and another 17 minutes for it to percolate. I got up each morning at 5:45. I’d walk to the cook tent in the dark at 6:15 to turn on the gas stove to get the coffee cooking.

Daniel joined me about 30 minutes later to make breakfast. Most days breakfast was eggs and breakfast meat. One day we cooked pancakes and one day we cooked oatmeal.

A metal pole with hooks on which camp coffee cups are hanging. The pole is a tent frame and a dirty white canvas tent wall is behind it.
The frame of the cook tent was used to hang things. Here are the coffee cups (though most people brought their own mug). On the opposite side hung the cooking pots.

Prep Work

After everyone left for the worksite, I washed the breakfast dishes and generally cleaned up the cook tent. Part of the COVID guidelines was to spray down the surfaces with a 10% bleach solution three times a day.

Then I began prepping. First, I prepped the snack I served once they returned from the job site. Even though we ate dinner not long after they arrived back at camp, it was hot and they were tired. Most days, I served cut up watermelon. Refreshing on those hot days. A couple times I served hummus and crackers.

Next, I prepped anything needed for dinner. On different nights, this included making a fruit salad, a mixed green salad or cutting up things Daniel would need for dinner (for taco Tuesday, I chopped onions and bell peppers; for stir-fry night I chopped all the veggies). I also put out condiments and desserts and whatever dishware the meal called for.

One of the advantages of both having electric and having my RV with me is I was able to help the group by offering a refrigerator instead of replying on coolers with limited space (and ice by week’s end). Each night, I put as many drinks (coconut water, LeCroix, Gatorade and Izze fruit drink) as was room for in the refrigerator. At 11:30 each day, I’d used my cold/hot bag and a couple ice packs from my freezer, and haul cold drinks up to the job site so they could enjoy them with their lunch. Each night, Daniel would bring the bags and ice packs back. And we’d start the process again.

Most of the afternoons I had free and, invariably, I’d end up taking a nap. I’m not really a nap person but getting up at 5:45 is tiring.

At the end of my first week, I asked if I could cook something the following week. Daniel enthusiastically agree and instructed me to give him a grocery list. One of his duties between sessions is restocking all the food. I made a chickpea curry stew. It was a big success.

Final Thoughts on My HistoriCorps Experience

Even though I wasn’t as much a part of the group since I wasn’t with them all day, I very much enjoyed my role as Kitchen Helper. At the end, Daniel gave me an apron with the HistoriCorps logo on it which is not intended for volunteers but for him as the cook. He said I was one of the best Kitchen Helpers he’d ever had.

Stay tuned. Next week I share many more photos and tell the story of one particularly dramatic event.

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