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Dear Mother: Barn Building

Read letters from readers with grand plans, reactions to the state of bees, barn building, and gardening adventures.

| April/May 2020

Photo by Rich Shaefer

My wife and I raised our kids on a small acreage in southern Illinois. When our kids were young, we encouraged them to join 4-H. As part of 4-H, they raised sheep and goats. Eventually, our small operation grew into a flock. Because of our large number of animals, we needed more room than the little shed we had. With the harsh weather and a growing sheep population, we had to decide whether to keep a small number of livestock or build a better facility to accommodate the animals. We didn’t have much money, but we did have plenty of energy. As luck would have it, one Friday night, we were talking to a farmer friend who was interested in removing their early-20th-century barn to build a new building to feed their hogs. If we could take down the barn in two weeks, we could have it at no cost.

The barn was 30 feet wide by 30 feet deep, and 33 feet tall with a steep 12-pitch roof. It was 5 miles from our house. To move the barn in two weeks, we needed a plan. My wife, Jean, carefully marked the wood planks with chalk before commencing the teardown. We built special ladders we could hang from the top of the barn to pull off the tin roof. Our friends lent scaffolding; we borrowed a farm wagon to haul the wood; and we solicited family and friends to help us pull apart the building. In two weeks’ time, after taking time off work and getting help from my father-in-law, brother, Jean, and our kids, we completed the task.

Photo by Rich Shaefer

It took a year of designing and planning to figure out how and where to reconstruct the barn on our property. In the end, we added 8 feet in width, and entry and exit doors so we could move our farm wagon and an old WD45 Allis-Chalmers tractor in and out of the barn conveniently. The next summer, we started the project by excavating a location near the house, digging and setting concrete forms for the footing, and locating piers for the supporting post timbers. After the footings, we constructed 4-foot concrete forms to pour the foundation wall. Next, we placed the sill plates on top of the foundation and raised the first 16-foot corner post. Many more posts would follow, along with crossmembers and crossbeams to recreate the barn’s frame. The wood was solid oak, so every hole was pre-drilled. To transport the 20-foot timbers to our place, I built a wheel jig with a V-slot to seat the wood and allow easy movement of the big timbers. Diagonals were located on the four corners of each floor to add strength to the structure. Since we added a few feet in width to the old barn structure, we were short on floor joists. As luck would have it, we found a supplier who collected lumber from demolished buildings. Then came the rafters. We used the extra lumber we purchased to build scaffolding we could walk on to raise the trusses into position. We raised and set the trusses in position. With the framing up, we attached the wood planks to the sides and put up the tin roof. With a lot of help, and hard work, we succeeded in dismantling, moving, and rebuilding a century-old barn.

Rich Shaefer

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