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By Mary Humstone and John Walter
BARN AGAIN! has been around for 25 years, but there's never been a barn rehab quite as remarkable as the one undertaken by Roy and Karin Clinesmith of Benge, Washington. Hoping for financial assistance from the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, the Clinesmiths set out to fix up their former dairy barn and use it for storing equipment. They were awarded a grant from the state agency in February 2010 – and then the roof collapsed. Undeterred, they enlisted the help of neighbors and friends, including a local crane operator who had once milked cows in the barn.
In a dramatic rescue operation, the crane lifted the center section of the roof off of the walls and held it up for two weeks while the barn was rebuilt underneath it. The heavy timber frame was repaired, walls were lifted upright, and the roof was gently lowered back down. After repairs to the roof, some siding replacement, and rebuilt windows and doors, the barn is back in use and is a major historic attraction in Adams County.
When Successful Farming magazine and the National Trust for Historic Preservation teamed up to launch BARN AGAIN! in 1986, farmers were asked for their ideas on the best ways to save older farm buildings. BARN AGAIN! created a contest, offering cash awards to farmers who had rehabbed their older barns for new or continued farming use. More than 500 farmers responded – not only completing the contest form but also sending along scrapbooks, essays, poems, and family photos. Because of this outpouring of interest, the one-year program became a long-term commitment.
Over the past 25 years, the program has shared innovative ideas from farmers about new uses for older barns and has developed technical information to help guide the barn rehabilitation process from roof to foundation. Along the way, the program inspired hundreds of individual barn owners to fix up their barns, and it helped states and counties develop their own barn preservation programs.
Still going strong
To find out how the award-winning barns have weathered the years since that initial program, Successful Farming magazine recently conducted a survey of 188 BARN AGAIN! award winners from 1988 to 2009. The majority of respondents say they continue to use their barns, primarily for traditional farming uses such as livestock, machinery storage, and hay or grain storage. New uses include a feed mill, seed processing, packing produce, Christmas tree sales and wreath making, farm market, carpentry/woodworking shop, and weddings.
Furthermore, 70% say their barn is “always in use” and “very important” to their farming operation. All but three say the barn is important to their family “for personal or aesthetic reasons.”
Old barns reborn
In the true spirit of BARN AGAIN!, Eugene and Jeff Marshall of Elm Creek, Nebraska, write, “We take great pride in the fact that we preserved a local landmark and yet have upgraded the facilities to be a modern working cattle facility.”
Others demonstrated the versatility of older barns. Like many farmers in the 1980s, Dan Dykstra of Wayland, Michigan, had converted his barn for hog farrowing at the time of his award. “The hogs are gone, and now the barn houses a feed mill for making feed for turkeys. About 8,000 tons a year of feed is made in the barn,” he writes.
Former hog farmer Curtis Pilgrim of Thomson, Illinois, converted his barn into a first-rate woodworking shop. “It smells a lot better these days,” he jokes.
Most award winners have been motivated to improve their barns more because of their importance to a family history or their status as local landmarks than by the money saved over building new. As Pat and Ron Hartman of Elgin, Illinois, put it, “The barn is our claim to fame.”
For some, barns are poignant but loving memorials. Kevin Gowdy of Cades, South Carolina, writes, “My father has since died. This was a labor of love for him. Every time I look at these barns, I think of him.”
In addition to the rewards, owners acknowledge the challenges of their older barns. In 1988, Barn again! helped Janis King of Knoxville, Illinois, rehab her Civil War-era bank barn. She followed the Barn again! formula that in order for the barn to survive, it must have a practical use.
The interior of the barn was reworked to allow storage of modern machinery and large hay bales. King also began taking advantage of the beauty and historical interest of the barn to host craft fairs, weddings, and other events. Now, however, the shake shingle roof that King installed in 1988 is failing, and the stone foundation has been damaged by ground hogs. She's looking for ways to justify investment in a new roof this year, including the possibility of financial assistance, given the historic status of her barn.
The good news is that today, compared with 1987, barn preservation information is readily available, and the public is much more supportive of efforts to restore old barns. Barn projects have a way of rallying the community and inspiring others to get involved.
Crayton Guhlke, Lincoln County, Washington, was awarded a grant to preserve the barn built by his grandfather in 1902. “Restoring this barn turned out to be one of the most positive things I have done in my community over the 78 years I have been here,” he says.
The project, which involved straightening the barn, pouring a new foundation, and replacing siding and the roof, was well documented and provides useful how-to information for other barn owners. Now that his barn is fixed up, Guhlke notices more barns being straightened and painted. “It's kind of contagious,” he says.
8 great ideas from BARN AGAIN!
BARN AGAIN! gleaned a lot of good lessons from farmers in its 25-year run. Some of the ideas are basic, but critical – the importance of maintaining a good roof, for example. Farmers report that regular roof inspection and repair can keep your barn dry. Small areas of damage can be replaced to prevent more expensive construction. Others are willing to remove old roofing and repair rafters and sheathing.
The importance of a good paint job is another key finding of the program. Good preparation and high-quality paint are the keys to success, barn savers say. Start with a good cleaning. Peeling paint can be removed by low-pressure power washing (less than 600 psi) or by scraping. For best results, apply the paint with a sprayer, then brush it in.
The eight rehab ideas here show how farmers have found ways to efficiently repair and reuse their older buildings.
For BARN AGAIN! links to publications, organizations, farmers' success stories, and more, go to www.agriculture.com/barn.
1. New doors make it work. Joey and Sid Kubesch, Peru, Indiana, have preserved four old barns for their beauty and history. But a BARN AGAIN! workshop opened Joey's eyes to the possibility of combining history and practicality by upgrading the main barn to accommodate larger equipment. After shoring up the foundation and reinforcing the floors and walls, contractors widened the ramps on either end of the drive-through barn, enlarged the upper-level doorways, and added three doors on the lower level. Doors were constructed to match the originals. On the inside, the haymow floor was removed and cross braces were raised, providing clearance for semitrailers and other large equipment. Because the farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the rehab work qualified for a 20% tax credit.
2. Straightening walls. Many barns do start to slump after decades of hard use. BARN AGAIN! winners have used various methods – most involving cables and turnbuckles, as well as jacks and even front-end loaders – to slowly move walls back into plumb. The key is to be patient. The structure needs to adjust slowly, like braces on a kid's teeth (as one barn owner put it). Once the walls are plumb, the sag in the roof usually straightens out. Permanent bracing will make sure it stays that way.
3. Authenticity sells. People love old barns, and that can be a great advantage to farms engaged in local markets, agritourism, and other nontraditional enterprises. Janis King, Knoxville, Illinois, rents her 1860s three-story bank barn for weddings and other events. The barn is a popular stop on the Knox County Scenic Drive and has hosted an annual Christmas fair featuring local artisans since 1993. The barn is also used for drying flowers, one of the many operations on this 200-acre diversified farm.
4. Old barns for new enterprises. The old dairy and cattle barn on the J4 Ranch in Washington's Skagit Valley saw its last cow decades ago. Today, it's the center of a busy organic berry farm. Stalls and stanchions were removed, a concrete floor was poured, and the walls were covered with wallboard to create a clean, open environment for sorting and packaging berries. Other parts of the barn are used for storing farm equipment. BARN AGAIN! barns have been adapted for many new uses, including machine shops, retail space, vegetable packing, and beef seedstock production.
5. Selective replacement. Sun, wind, water, and livestock are all hard on wood. But if some of your barn siding is broken or rotted, don't be tempted right away to cover the whole building with new metal or vinyl siding. It's a lot less expensive to simply replace the broken boards. The board-and-batten siding on three sides of the Guhlke barn had been baked by the sun, and boards were warped and brittle. The owner bought a stack of boards from a neighbor with a sawmill and hired a carpenter to remove damaged pieces of siding and replace them with the new boards. Loose boards were renailed and cracks were filled with wood putty. Once the barn was painted, differences in the old and new siding disappeared.
6. Find the right person. Not everyone loves working on older buildings. In fact, most contractors prefer starting from scratch with a clean building site. It's what they know best. It takes a certain type of person to embrace the challenges of reworking an existing building. If a contractor suggests you tear your barn down, that's a good sign he doesn't know how to approach a rehab project. Say goodbye and interview the next one. Working on older buildings requires creativity, ingenuity, and flexibility. Crayton Guhlke went through several contractors before finding Bruce Akre. “He arrived with a trailer full of the best tools I've ever seen. In 14 days, he had jacked up the barn, poured a new foundation, and straightened the walls,” says Guhlke. The National Barn Alliance and some state barn preservation programs maintain lists of qualified barn contractors.
7. A strong foundation. Picture a three-story, 100×60-foot barn teetering on a crumbling foundation. It's enough to keep you awake at night worrying. A failed foundation can result in leaning or sagging walls, rotted sill beams, and eventual structural damage. But foundations – whether stone, concrete block, or poured concrete – can be repaired. Small sections can be fixed without jacking up the barn frame. But if a large section of the foundation is crumbling, it will require safely and securely jacking up the building, removing all loose stone and concrete, and rebuilding the foundation walls. At Walnut Grove Farm in Knoxville, Illinois, an experienced barn contractor did the structural work, while local masons rebuilt the walls. Prevent future damage by grading around the building to remove dirt buildup around the walls and to make sure that water drains away from the building.
8. Part-time barn. Wayne Schlafmann, Turtle Lake, North Dakota, doesn't use his old red barn every day, but he couldn't get by without it. Years ago, the 100-year-old landmark dairy barn was retrofitted with catching and squeeze chutes, and pens for calves and heifers on the main floor, and grain bins in the haymow for spring and fall feeding. The barn has saved the lives of many calves over the years. Small adjustments to an existing farm building can make it a critical part of the farming operation, even if it's only used during harsh weather. The little money invested in painting and repairs is still far less than the cost of a new building. Schlafmann considers his barn “very important” to his farming operation – just as it was when he won a BARN AGAIN! award in 1996.