HISTORY Monument saves a piece of its history during renovation Adobe bricks used to build original restrooms preserved as visitors center sees expansion and renovation

Scotts Bluff National Monument Superintendent Dan Morford shows Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Karla Neidan-Streeks where a two-by-four was placed in the adobe brick to hold part of the building together. The adobe bricks were used in the building of the comfort station, or restroom, at the Scotts Bluff National Monument.

GERING — On Friday, May 3, Scotts Bluff National Monument Superintendent Dan Morford worked until late in the evening determining how the adobe bricks were made and used in building the comfort station, or restrooms, at the monument in June 1937.

As the crews from Rangel Construction Company continue to work on the renovation and expansion of the Scotts Bluff National Monument visitors center, they worked in conjunction with the National Park Service and Morford to preserve some of the bricks that were made and used by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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Morford had initially asked the crew if he could get a couple of the adobe bricks. He got a wheelbarrow full and more. While the construction crew waited for a delivery, they put a piece of plywood on the inside and outside section of a wall, placed rods through the brick, bolted it together and cut it out in a large square. As the crew dismantled the comfort station, they carefully removed the plywood square that contained adobe bricks from the exterior wall.

“They went the extra mile and pulled out a whole chunk and preserved it for us,” he said. “The material would have otherwise been recycled, and a piece of monument history would have been lost forever.”

Morford went to work selecting bricks that best represented the historic fiber from the building and the late 1930s era. As he started working, Morford soon ascertained these bricks were telling him a story. The more he looked at each brick, and as he tried to take it apart, he started to understand how it all fits together. Each brick placement individually and collectively led him to understand the craftsman’s intent. He soon realized it was past time to head home, but the story was there.

”I was having fun,” states Morford.

Once he began taking apart the pieces, from bricks to mortar to mesh, the bricks began to tell a story. Between the blocks of adobe brick, CCC crews filled the space with mortar. While everything was still wet, nails were pounded into the bricks to hold the wire mesh for stuccoing.

There was no one set way to keep the bricks together. The men of the CCC used whatever was needed, including nails and baling wire, to hold everything together against a wire mesh until exterior and interior stucco were added to complete the process.

Karla Neidan-Streeks, executive director of the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau and Brenda Leisy, Scotts Bluff County Tourism director, felt the bricks, which are still smooth more than 80 years later.

They were amazed at the engineering and how well the materials had held up over the decades

Neidan-Streeks said she wished she had paid more attention when she was younger to how they were made, but she was too busy getting her sister to eat mud bricks.

“She ate them, too,” Niedan-Streeks said.

The adobe bricks were formed in molds and dried out in the sun. They are made of straw and soil from the area. Given the fine texture of the bricks, Morford said it was more likely silt or clay.

Morford has further researched about how the bricks were made from the Adobe Echo, the newspaper published by members of the CCC.

“It was quite a process to get enough sun-baked bricks created to build a building,” he said.

He has also spoken to a National Park Service museum curator to develop a process to preserve some of the bricks for the park’s museum collection and educational purposes.

Morford is making wooden boxes for each brick. They will be cataloged and added to the museum’s collection. Additional boxes made of wood and Plexiglass will house bricks to be used for educational purposes.

Morford is also writing an account of the adobe bricks from observations of the dismantling of the comfort station adobe sections removed along with photographs to document the role they played in the history at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

This story is part of an ongoing series looking at the history of Scotts Bluff National Monument as it celebrates its 100th anniversary.