ARLINGTON — Lee Hayes opened the gate to the small pen, and two chickens immediately burst out into the yard.
One chicken didn’t go far and was quickly recaptured. The other wandered off, rooting in the garden dirt. They’ll catch her later.
Lee and his wife Kathryn Hayes aren’t farmers, but aren’t typical residents of suburbia, either. With 15 acres in unincorporated county land, the Hayeses have carved out a happy medium for their bifurcated lives.
Lee Hayes, 72, grew up on a farm in Colfax. Kathryn, 71, on a farm in Tieton. Both came to the city with other careers. He was a mechanical engineer and she was a registered nurse.
And both, while still working part-time, have been recreating a bit of their rural upbringings on the outskirts of Arlington.
Part of that recreation is a new chicken coop, built to replace a wooden coop Kathryn made by hand that burned down last fall.
“We had a suicidal arsonist chicken that scratched some cedar shaking onto a light bulb,” Lee Hayes said.
The chickens survived the fire, but the Hayeses needed a coop that would fit their lifestyles.
They found it on Craigslist: a rusty and dented 1955 trailer. With two grown children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, their house is too big.
“We may want to downsize, and if we do, we’ll take our chickens with us,” he said.
Hence the trailer: a mobile, road-ready coop they can take elsewhere.
But it’s no longer a disused vehicle. The Hayes took care to create a home for their chickens.
The trailer’s bustle was damaged from being backed into walls or other objects, so Kathryn built a new wooden frame. They put new siding over the holes there and in the roof, and a fresh coat of paint made the whole trailer look a fraction of its age.
Inside, Kathryn built a partition out of kitchen cupboards where the hens could lay their eggs. There are a couple stools, a light, some magazines, and a boombox tuned to a classical music station.
The radio is for the chickens.
“We play them classical music. It’s supposed to help them lay,” Kathryn said.
This is the fifth year the Hayeses have kept chickens. Right now they have 20 hens and a rooster they call Rastus.
It was a natural decision to go back to raising chickens, given their upbringing.
Until eight years ago, they lived in Edmonds, where Lee worked for an engineering firm for 25 years. He set up his own firm, Hayes Engineering, 15 years ago.
Now with the Internet, Lee Hayes can work from their rural home, from his RV or until last year, from the sailboat they used to own.
“Who would want to retire? I get to run a monster computer. Any gamer would love it. It’s got a water-cooled central processor,” he said, stroking one chicken’s feathers.
He’s not a gamer, but rather he uses his machine for his specialty work: stress testing and analysis of industrial equipment. He’s contracted with firms making everything from tools that make nutraceutical supplements to cranes that can lift and rotate the fuselage of a Boeing jet.
Kathryn still works part-time in assisted living centers, while at the same time maintaining a large garden; last year she donated 200 pounds of potatoes, half her harvest, plus other vegetables, to the Arlington Community Food Bank.
Until a year ago they raised hogs, and this summer they are planning to buy two Scottish Highland steers. Inside their house they have a litter of five registered miniature Schnauzer puppies they plan to sell, plus their two dogs of their own, the puppies’ mother and a chihuahua.
Summing up his life experience, Lee said, “The only people who fail are those that quit early. I’m not a quitter.”
“This is a lifetime dream,” he said.
Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.