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If Barns Could Talk, What Stories Would They Tell?

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Burning down an old barn means saying goodbye to decades of family history and stories.

The old barn on our place has been sagging for years. The rickety building creaks and groans with the faintest wind, and the siding is so thin, you can see through it onto the other side. The windows are broken, and the tin roof is peeling off. After much family debate, we decided it was time for the old barn to come down.

Earlier this summer, we spent a weekend prepping the barn for demolition. With only a couple of months before weaning time hit, we needed to get the barn torn down in order to erect a windbreak in its place before the cattle were moved into the adjacent lot.

The first step was digging through the barn for “old treasures.” Ever the scavenger, my husband Tyler was able to reclaim lots of weathered red barn wood to make me some furniture and picture frames. He can thank Pinterest for all of my ideas and the new “honey-do” list he has. A few months later, I’m now the proud owner of a barn wood kitchen hutch, shelf and picture frame, thanks to my dear husband.

We then removed the steel gates and tin from the building and loaded it up on a flatbed. Next on the list was throwing old wood that blown off the barn back inside. We then called our neighbors at the Upland Hutterite Bretheren colony and lined up their volunteer fire department to be there the day we threw the match on the barn.

I must admit that as we prepped the barn for the demolition, I started to get a little sad. Watching the barn finally burn was certainly a change of pace from our usual weekend chores. And we weren’t surprised when a crowd gathered to watch the blaze, visit and enjoy some of Mom’s homemade brownies.

 

View This New Gallery: 13 Images From A Barn Burning

 

One part of me was eager to finish up the project and move on to other things, while another part of me wanted to call off the whole thing and preserve that little slice of our family’s history. Call me silly and nostalgic, but I was a little reluctant to let the barn go. After all, there’s a lot of history in that barn.

It was once a gestation barn that housed many sows -- sows that helped my dad pay his way through college, sows that required scooping manure, daily feedings and tending to piglets. Later, that barn a spare calving barn. And when it became too fragile to hold cattle, it served as a makeshift windbreak for cattle during inclement weather.

In addition to old memories, the barn holds many old stories. How many conversations did my family have in that barn? How many tears were shed over a piglet or calf that didn’t make it? How much laughter has that barn listened to over the years? If this barn could talk, it would undoubtedly tell many stories.

The demolition is now complete, and the new windbreak project is well underway. But when I drive through the countryside now, I find myself noticing other barns that have seen better days. And I feel a little bit of the same sadness regarding all the memories and stories unknown and soon to be lost.

Since the barn demolition, I’ve vowed to document more of my life as it happens. I want more than the whisper of ghosts in an old barn to tell my story to my future children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So, I’m going to bring my camera along and keep writing my stories. That will be my legacy, and hopefully the barn telling the story of my life will continue to stand tall in the generations to come.

If your barn could talk, what stories would it tell? How much history is stored in your old barns? How do we save the history? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 4

W.E. (not verified)
on Sep 18, 2013

I applaud your love of history, and of your family's attachment to the land. We were saddened by the recent loss of a 120-year-old barn to tornado damage, salvaging only the hand-hewn beams. Both of my grandfathers were farmers, and there is nothing left to show their great-grandchildren of either of their farms. Here on our place however, there are well-maintained old wooden barns that their great-father on the other side of their family built in 1900. Their grandmother recently passed away, leaving instructions that the barns would be maintained or that she would "haunt" us. What is truly sad is that the knowledge those old-timers had about how to make their own living, growing high quality food with their own hands, is largely being lost. So many of their descendants have moved away to cities and must depend upon mass-produced manufactured and processed foods. Meanwhile machines and cropland swallow up more and more old pastures. Trees and fencerows, riparian zones and windbreaks fall beneath bulldozers, leaving the soil unprotected and unrenewed. Mid-sized farms that one family can manage and tend well have become a thing of the past around here. Only the largest and the smallest farms survive.

w.symens (not verified)
on Sep 18, 2013

I can remember those same decisions. Great grandpas barn was one of the biggest and finest in the county. I remember being too small to throw bales and wanting to, then being big enough and not wanting to. I remember feeding a very well know herd sire in that barn with a bucket of oats and hay every day as a kid, and watching him step on the trailer for his last ride. The barn was built for calves and calving, period, and it served it's purpose as well as any set up I've seen. But that meant it was used 2 months out of the year and sat vacant the rest of the year. We added up what it would cost to repair and keep it in working order. We added up what it would cost to take it down board by board and save the good lumber, only to find it would cost more than buying new lumber. Then we thought, "what would grandpa say?". He'd say, "It's foolishness to stand in the way of progress for nostalgia, when it costs so much to do it.". So, like you, we went to work saving windows and gates, and removed anything that could be cut out with a chainsaw without the barn coming down on top of us. It drew a crowd when the track how pulled in and the match was lit. It was a bittersweet day, and I can't imagine the emotions my dad and his brothers felt. We now have a big steel shed, capable of being a calving barn as well as a machine shed, and it work. But it'll never have he same warm feeling as a big barn full of calving heifer, knowing that's how it was done for 3 generations before me.

Dan Gogerty (not verified)
on Sep 18, 2013

I still love driving to my folks' farm, rolling down the windows, getting intoxicated with the smell of fresh cut hay, and driving up to the 130 year old red barn that holds memories of stacking bales, making tunnels, playing king of the hill, and basically being a kid. My story of this is at http://cast-science.blogspot.com/2012/05/driving-under-influence-on-coun...

on Sep 19, 2013

Love all of your stories and sentiments about what your old barns mean to you. It always brightens my days to hear from readers, especially when the topic is close to my heart. Thank you all!

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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