GOSHEN — Knowing something is going to happen doesn’t always make it easier to accept. But realizing the change is being made in the name of progress can help ease the burden.
Harley’s Barn, where longtime harness racing driver Harley Yoder stored equipment and housed horses for many years on the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds, is coming down.
Yoder, who has rented the barn from the Fair Board since 1974, has officially retired from the sport after a career spanning across seven decades.
“It’s sad,” Yoder said about taking down the barn. “But I knew it was coming. The Fair Board had told me that when I leave the barn would go. I didn’t have any horses there last year at the fair.”
Conversations between the Yoder family and representatives from the fair have taken place.
“Dad knows that taking down the barn is for the progress of the fair,” Harley’s son, Dewayne Yoder, said. “If they had approached him a couple of years ago, I’m not sure he would have felt the way he does now. He has retired now and he realizes this is for the best.”
Current Fair president Trent Hostetler said, “Harley has had a longtime agreement to lease the barn and we had to think about that. In the end, this in going to be good. We have some major projects were are preparing to present in the future.”
No one seems to know for sure when the barn was built.
“One clue I found was there was the date of 1931 in the cement at one of the ends of the barn,” the elder Yoder said.
According to Dewayne Yoder, the barn survived the Palm Sunday tornadoes in 1965. Dewayne also remembers playing basketball on the second floor of the barn when he was a youngster.
Harley Yoder remembers the process of moving into the barn.
“The Fair Board was talking about renting the barn. It was on the agenda on a night I couldn’t go, because there were some workers in to help get the track ready,” Harley Yoder said. “I asked Joe Blocker (another person with a longtime association with harness racing) if he would go to the meeting for me. He showed up the next day and asked me when I was moving in.
“If my memory is right, that was Nov. 2, 1974, and I moved in Nov. 11, 1974. I have been there ever since.”
The barn was so associated with the elder Yoder that a sign “Harley’s Barn” appeared on the building.
“Someone from the fair brought me that sign and it is hanging in Dewayne’s basement,” Harley Yoder said.
His harness racing career begin in 1958. He started a total of 55 races that first season, winning 12, finishing second in 14 and third in six. He was named Indiana Driver of the Year.
After a lengthy absence, harness racing returned to the Elkhart County 4-H Fair in 1976. Harley Yoder won the first race on the new track, driving a horse named Proud Dancer. He set a track record that stood for several years.
“Harley has had a longtime association with harness racing at the fair and we made every effort to be very respectful of him and the family,” Hostetler said. “It’s time to take the next step. For some of the upgrades we are considering, the barn is kind of in the wrong spot.
“We had five people come in and look at the barn to see if there were beams or other parts that could be re-purposed. But it’s really just a pole barn. The building is mostly steel. What beams there are, one man told us, were not old enough for his purposes.”
According to Hostetler, a final decision on what to do with the land once the barn has been removed has not been made yet.
“We are looking at a couple of options,” he said. “The barn is located outside of Gate 3 in the parking lot. One possibility might be an expansion of our handicapped parking. We have a lot of senior citizens that attend the fair and the handicapped parking lots fill up rather quickly. This would be one way to make the visit to the fair more enjoyable for those people.”