Niki Turner
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Rifle, CO Colorado

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March 27, 2013
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Shaeffer farmed and ranched, lost land to I-70

The next time you visit the Rifle businesses along the south side of the Colorado River, imagine the area without I-70, without the hospital, stores or restaurants, or without the steady stream of traffic that curls in and out 24 hours a day.

That's how it looked for Harold Shaeffer, whose family farmed sugar beets and raised cattle along the banks of the Colorado River in the 1930s and '40s.

Shaeffer's father, Jake, came to Silt to work at the age of 15. The orphaned son of German immigrants, with only a sixth-grade education, Jake eventually earned enough money to buy his own farm. He married Frieda Bencel of Silt in 1930.

"Farming was the only thing they knew," Shaeffer said. "Dad was an excellent farmer. It was a hard living, but a solid income."

In 1948, when Harold was 10, his parents bought property on Hunter Mesa, south of Rifle.

"It was just a sagebrush mesa," Harold said. "That's when I went to work, in the summers, helping my dad."

Harold attended school in Rifle, graduating from Rifle High School in 1956 with his future wife, Roberta.

"Rifle was a good place to grow up in the '40s and '50s," he said. "Most of the people were farmers and ranchers, or they worked at the vanadium carbide mill. We had a pretty solid workforce."

The couple married in 1960, after finishing college. They traveled extensively, living and working in Colombia, Mexico and Connecticut, then returned home to Colorado with their two children in 1976, right in the midst of the oil shale boom. Harold went back to work with his father, and Roberta taught middle school in Rifle.

The coming interstate bisected the Shaeffer's riverfront property. When the Shaeffers tried to negotiate to keep their land on one side of the proposed highway, the government claimed "eminent domain" and took possession of 50 acres of the original property. The family eventually sold the remaining land.

"When the government comes in and takes what is yours, it's really upsetting," Shaeffer said.

The experience has made him a staunch defender of personal property rights, a passion he put to use during a stint on the Garfield County Planning and Zoning Commission.

"I've lived through mineral extraction and development in Rifle," he said, recalling the Anvil Points, Colony and other oil shale projects, and most recently, the natural gas boom.

"If I could change something, it would be to have the feds, the state, the county and the city governments come up with a plan for development when the energy companies show up, instead of burdening them with regulations," Shaeffer said. "We live in a resource-rich part of the world and we need those resources to be developed."

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The Post Independent Updated Mar 27, 2013 05:39PM Published Mar 27, 2013 05:35PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.