Raising cattle year-round at 6,200 feet above sea level calls for harvesting a lot of grass hay. In the picture on the left, five sickle bar horse-drawn mowers knock down the grass. The Harrimans bought an early steam tractor for use in the hay harvest but found that it did not work well because of the configuration of the fields and irrigation ditches, so they largely stuck with horse-drawn equipment.
There were several variations of the beaver slide, like the one pictured on the right used at the Railroad Ranch. The purpose of each was to use horsepower—later tractor power—to slide a load of hay up into the air and push it off onto a stack. The Railroad Ranch supplied beef to the Army during World War II. After the war, they stopped keeping cattle year-round, so they also stopped harvesting and stacking hay.
Cattle were not the only livestock raised on the Railroad Ranch. For a time, elk were commercially raised and shipped to markets in the east and sometimes for the Harriman’s table in New York. The ranch also tried raising bison commercially but found that they were very difficult to keep contained.
Bison were once native to what is called the Island Park area of eastern Idaho, north of Idaho Falls, so it made some sense to try raising them commercially, too. Masters at jumping over or smashing down fences, bison proved more trouble than they were worth.
Raising livestock was always just an excuse to keep a ranch for the Harrimans. They loved to just be at the place. Often they invited their famous friends to join them. We’ll meet a few of those folks tomorrow.