Life on the North 40 #1: The Old Barn

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Blog entry by Peter Oxley posted 11-16-2007 09:59 PM 7463 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Life on the North 40 series Part 2: Neighbors ... sort of »

A discussion about free wood led to some conversation about barn lumber. We have an old barn that came with this place, and I thought I’d share some of our efforts to keep it standing. This is not a majestic old barn built by a well-to-do country gentleman. This was built by a poor depression-era farmer out of whatever he could cobble together. Despite our efforts to keep it standing, we often have people stop by to “offer” to tear it down for us if we let them have the lumber. Still, we are lucky: we know of people in the area who have had boards stolen off the sides of their old barns.

I wish I had “before” photos, but I always forget to grab the camera until I’m well into a project. First, a shed section that was entirely unsalvagable was torn off. Then a wall that had slid/sagged/slumped 18 inches or more was lifted and repositioned with Hi-Lift jacks. The lowest horizontal board you can see in this picture was on the ground when we started.
Barn restoration - wall off

And here’s a look at the same wall from the end:
Barn restoration - wall lift
The red circles indicate how far the wall had to be lifted and moved – with the full weight of that section of roof resting on the wall. The vertical 2x at the near end of the wall was installed as temporary support for that end of the wall and the roof.

Inside the barn, holes were dug into the dirt floors (not just dirt – this was the milking shed, you know!) and filled with compacted sand/gravel. Post blocks were set on the compacted area and then filled around with more compacted sand/gravel. An interior support framework was built from pressure treated and construction lumber.
Barn restoration - support framework

Next, the opening was framed with 2x and sided with excess barn lumber that was gathered from nearby.
Barn restoration - frame and siding

Maybe it’s not much to look at, but at least we kept it from toppling over.
Barn restoration - siding complete
As you can see, there is still some lumber waiting to be re-purposed!

It seems like our society treats everything as disposable. And who knows, one day someone may tear this barn down for birdhouses and picture frames. But we felt like this little bit of history was entrusted to us and it seemed important to hold on to it for a little while longer. And it still keeps the rain out!

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10 comments so far

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 5100 days

#1 posted 11-16-2007 10:20 PM

You are doing a great service by actually saving a barn!!!!!! I live in Central Illinois and there have been so many barns, corn cribs and silos demolished or left to rot that there are a small number left compared to what were when I grew up in the 1950’s. The great thing here is the formation of barn preservation groups that save and restore or at least stabilize what ones are left. I lived on a place, farm, that was a show place in the early 1900’s with 23 buildings all the live stock building had water supplied by gravity from a central water tank that was filled by a windmill…....all of it is gone now bull dozed and burned by a banker with no purposed but to gain the the grain production from those couple of acres that the buildings once stool on. What a shame!
Keep up the good work.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5529 days

#2 posted 11-17-2007 12:06 AM

My dad tells me about buying the pine for our farm in the early 80’s for about 20 cents a board foot. Some of those old board plane up real nice.

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5177 days

#3 posted 11-17-2007 12:16 AM

I miss having a good barn. We had one at Union in which I built stalls for three teams of draft horses. I went by it the other day and the new owners are letting it go to pot.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View cajunpen's profile


14578 posts in 5280 days

#4 posted 11-17-2007 12:22 AM

Good for you Peter. I think that saving the old pieces of Americana are very important. If we don’t all contribute in whatever way we can – we will eventually loose our ability to show the newer generations how we got to where we are today. Thanks for sharing your story.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View GuyK's profile


356 posts in 5294 days

#5 posted 11-17-2007 01:08 AM

Peter, THANK YOU. Great job in saving the barn. As you can tell by my picture they are a important part of my life. If you go to this web site, you will see what a large group of dedicated people are trying to save through a non-profit group.
Again, Thank you

-- Guy Kroll

View RobS's profile


1334 posts in 5521 days

#6 posted 11-30-2007 06:28 PM

Nice save peter.. Makes me wish I had a barn to save. Thanks for sharing.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 5302 days

#7 posted 12-01-2007 02:44 AM

Is this just a barn for preservation’s sake or are you going to use it as camouflage for an ultra modern shop.?

If you run a 220 line in and cover it up with the old stuff no one will ever guess. ;>)
My guess is that sawdust would be more appreciated to heirs than what was left over from a milking barn.

I’m one of those who would have offered to take the wood off your hands for my labor in taking it down.

You are one of those who keep my world from being gray.


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1427 posts in 5089 days

#8 posted 12-01-2007 03:51 AM

Glad you all enjoyed this post – I hesitated before deciding to put it up here. This is my wood storage barn now – the roof keeps the rain off, but the holes in the wall provide for good air circulation! The new, ultra-modern shop was built nearby this past spring. Actually, ultra-modern might be a stretch. It’s more like semi-modern.

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View Karson's profile


35278 posts in 5615 days

#9 posted 12-22-2007 04:08 PM

Great job Peter. I’m sorry I didn’t see this post a while back. I got here for your series and meeting Tom. You are to be congratulated on trying to keep the barn intact and helping it stand upright and proud.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 5220 days

#10 posted 12-22-2007 04:25 PM

Nice old barn. They are somehow more than the sum of boards that make them up.
Reminds me of an old barn at my uncle Alvins near Cottonwood Alabama is used to visit as a kid. Heres a pic a relative recently sent me that brought back memories.

He gave me my first Daisy BB gun! And i learned my first lesson in Karma, as i attempted to use his electric fence as a rest while i shot holes in his washtub. The fence got me and my uncle Alvin got me! lol

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

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