Coffee with Joan graphic

Coffee With Joan

Coffee With Joan

Joan Sullivan is a Artist, Historian & Author. She is a classically trained artist who discovered a love of history through painting who produced “Picture the Past,” a monthly show featuring local ranches and other areas of historical interest which aired locally for over 10 years. Find out more at

July 15, 2021

The Froom Ranch round barn. Watercolor by Joan Sullivan 1976

On the subject of old ranch barns, I’ve seen and painted quite a few. There is one in particular I recall with fondness, the Froom Ranch round barn. The Madonna family currently owns the ranch.

According to William ‘Bill’ Froom, who I befriended in the early 1970s, his ranch had the only round barn in San Luis Obispo County. On one of the Thursday Painters visits to the ranch, Mr. Froom related to me how his barn (that can still be seen from Los Osos Valley Road) came about, how it was built and how it was used.

Jim Aiken built the round barn in 1913 for  $1,800, which included materials and labor for the barn, the granary and the horse barn. Jim lived in a tent by the creek and came up to work each day. Bill told us that many ranch hands lived on ranches and even worked for no pay just to be there when work became available. They saved their pay of $30 a month with room and board — there was nowhere to go and spend it — then they leased or bought their own ranches, Bill said.

The round barn is 80 feet long by 60 feet wide and was designed to hold 10 cows in stalls at either end and 20 cows on each side. The original wood, including a four-inch carrier track that was used to fill the barn with hay, was still in good condition. Bill pointed out that 80 foot of short sheeting was used to round the corner of the roof. The volume of air and steepness of the roof kept it from leaking, he said.

Spreading the hay kept it flat and hollow in the center. If you let it pile up in the middle, then it falls down on the sides spreading around the barn. Pack the sides higher and let it fall down toward middle. This will keep the barn from sagging, Bill’s father told him. It took wagons two weeks to fill the barn and only three days with trucks and bales. The milk holding tank held 100 gallons. Cows were milked and gave 100 gallons twice a day.
Mr. Froom explained how he shortened the Jackson Fork to pick up a bale of hay. It would hold two or three bails with one on each prong. Bill paid $2 to cut it short. He bought it from Mr. Gamboni when the Gambonis had an antique shop in San Luis Obispo.

Bill had instant recall, which he readily shared with everyone. He told us (laughingly) about the difficult time he had learning to use the milking machine when it was first installed. It took him ten hours to milk because the noise of the machine and the nervousness of the cows were quite overwhelming. The second day the cows were ready to be milked. They were leaking and seemed to like the massaging of the machine, noise and all, he chuckled.

Reference: Rounding Up The Ranches by Joan Sullivan, 2015, p.85

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