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Historic homestead razed

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

The mural behind Jill (holding Lexi) and Lyle Short shows life on the old family homestead on Florida Mesa. It’s painted on a wall of their new home that they built after it became apparent their longtime family home along U.S. Highway 550 would be demolished to widen the road.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer


The house that W. Alva Short built when he homesteaded here in 1902 has been demolished to allow widening of U.S. Highway 550 about six miles south of Farmington Hill.

But the steel arm of the trackhoe didn’t destroy the memories of son Lyle, 81, one of two surviving siblings who once numbered an even dozen.

Lyle Short and his family occupied the family home until about 2005 when he built a house farther from the highway.

“We knew they were going to widen the highway,” Short said. “But we didn’t know it was going to extend as far as it did.”

The house provided several days of training – pre-demoliton – for Durango Fire & Rescue Authority personnel. Early plans to burn the structure were scrapped in favor of demolition.

“We thank the Shorts and (the Colorado Department of Transportation) for the opportunity,” DFRA training chief Mark Quick said. “We almost never have the chance to practice.”

Firefighters were able to drill on ventilation tactics, search and rescue, charged-hose exercises, forcible entry and rescue operations, Quick said.

An early-day barn, a scale shed where hay was weighed and poplars the family planted in 1917 also were cleared from the site to make to make way for road construction.

Short said he and all his siblings were born on the ranch, delivered by a midwife. When labor pains began, it often was cutting it too close to reach a doctor in Durango, he said.

“Since I was born in the Depression there weren’t luxuries,” Short said. “We had shoes and all we needed to eat, but we wore patched clothes.”

He remembers having one good pair of bib overalls to wear to school.

“But as soon we got home we changed back into the patched clothes,” he said.

But life was good in general he recalled.

At age 81 he stands straight and has the handshake of a blacksmith. The only concession to age is an oxygen tank from asthma he attributes to years of breathing dust from grain, haying and other sources.

Short has ranched on the property for most of his life. The other survivor is his 92-year-old brother, Merl.

Lyle Short attended Sunnyside Elementary School a couple miles up the road. He did ninth grade in the Smiley Building in Durango and the last three years at Durango High School, graduating in 1948.

Once out of school, the pace of life picked up considerably. He farmed for a few years, served on active duty with the Army from 1954-56 and landed a job with a Chicago firm that outfitted military planes with the latest equipment.

The work took him to several places in the United States and later to France and then England where he met Jill Surch. They married and returned in 1960 to Durango where Short and brother, Alva Jr., went halves to buy the family ranch from their father.

He cultivated grains and had an orchard with a dozen variety of apples. He also raised swine, cattle and sheep.

Short and his wife now live in a house they had built a little farther from Highway 550 but still on the ranch.

The outstanding feature of the new house is a 40-foot-by-20-foot mural that covers one wall of the recreation room, which includes a swimming pool.

The mural, which keeps memories alive, was done by Santa Fe muralist Steve Meyers who completed the project in a month. He projected early-day photos of the ranch on the wall and then sketched in details to be painted later.

The mural depicts ranch buildings and farm equipment, with the La Plata Mountains as a backdrop. Each of the 12 siblings, engaged in some ranch activity, is pictured.

Also in the scene is a 1917 touring car his father used.

The features of the family members aren’t finely delineated, but it would have taken the muralist more time, Short said.

“We put a lot of work into the old homestead house, fixed it up a lot, because we planned to live our lives out there,” Short said. “But I guess the new highway will be good for everybody. You can’t step in the way of progress.”


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