The Forestry Forum

General Forestry => Timber Framing/Log construction => The Wisconsin Barn Preservation Program => Topic started by: Rooster on November 11, 2009, 08:37:51 PM

Title: Timber-frame barn photo library and plight of the Mid-Western barn...of sorts.
Post by: Rooster on November 11, 2009, 08:37:51 PM
In hopes of finding new homes for some barn frames that I have access to, I found this site that offers listing services for sellers all over the country.

What I found interesting and educational was that many of the barns that are listed have photos attached and that they often show the exposed frames and some of the beams/ joinery!  Pretty cool.  Sort of a "learn as you go" for aspiring framers.

Take a look... ;)

Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library...of sorts.
Post by: Brad_bb on November 12, 2009, 10:38:57 AM
Very interesting Craig.  It's amazing how many barns are for sale, how many people want to get rid of them instead of restore them.  Do you have any idea what happens to these barns if they don't sell quickly?  Are the people respectful enough to leave them be, or are a lot being torn down and burned?
Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library...of sorts.
Post by: Rooster on November 12, 2009, 08:03:17 PM

These are very good questions... and yes a real "eye opener".   I am guessing that most of these barns that are listed on the Barn Pages are being marketed and sold by barn salvage companies or restoration companies...  which is at least one step past the previous property owner who either gave the barn away, or sold it to someone who feels that they can find a client who is looking for a used barn frame.  A lot of these buildings have been disassembled and are stored until sold. 

Often an older barn is no longer being used as it was originally intended,... and because of it being out of "production farming", it has not been maintained, and now may cost too much to repair or restore.  I understand the confussion and disgust that many people have when they witness all these barns that are in dis-repair, are falling down, or are being torn down and burned.

The answer has two main ideas.

First, it has to do with supply and demand.  The midwest still has a lot of barns.  It it not until they become rare, that they will be viewed by everyone as being important to save...sort of like the covered bridges of this country.

Second is "money in and money out".  Barns originally were tools for a farmer.  Which was a family business, not just a quaint lifestyle choice.  Many immigrants that had these barns built, could not speak English, had no family, spent most of their money just getting to America, and may have had some farming experience from the "Old Country".  A barn was a symbol of a successful business man (aka Farmer).  So from a business standpoint, if you are no longer getting a return from a farm building, why would you waste hard earned money on an obsolete tool?  I sometimes use the analogy of an old beat-up '57 Chevy.  Someone who see it rusting away in a junk yard or in a fieldline some where, shakes their head and says," How could they just let that car rust away?...It's a classic, and they should restore it!"  Well it takes a lot of money to restore a car that you are not going to use or even turn it into a "cool taxi-cab".   On the other hand, there are many times where an initial investment of repairing a barn will yeild a higher property value when its time to sell.

I recently spoke to a farmer who had a barn that he needed to have removed, to make room for a new building.  It had been re-sided with steel a number of years ago when it was still being used.  He told me that he couldn't give the barn away because every "salvage guy" that looked at it knew that it would take too much labor to strip the steel siding to make a profit on the materials and frame.  Dec. 1st, the bulldozer will be called, and my schedule will not allow me to save this structure. :-\  So I do what I can.


Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library...of sorts.
Post by: moonhill on November 13, 2009, 09:58:45 AM
So is this "farmer" trying to keep up with the neighbors?  Has he done a cost analysis on the rebuild of the old barn with an add on to increase space if needed? New buildings are not cheap either.  Could he save the barn for prosperity and continue to use it? If the trend was to salvage old barns instead of flatten them it would be more likely he would be extending its life.  With out seeing this example of a metal clad building I would guess the sheets would come off rather easily, probably the easy part.  From my bias view point I think they are giving up too easily.  I would argue it is not an obsolete tool, just over looked and carelessly discarded.  The majority of my tools used for timber framing are just such tools, obsolete, but still function very well indeed. 

I like the truck comparison but it may not fit exactly, barns have a far longer useful life than a truck, most timbered barns we see are older than the auto industry from the start, let alone a rusting Ford in the back forty.  Some in the UK dating 700 years, why can't we get another 50 years or more out of a 150 year old barn? 

Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library...of sorts.
Post by: Rooster on November 14, 2009, 01:14:54 AM
Tim and Others,

I never intended to ruffle anyone's feathers with my experiences and understanding of the "plight of the mid-western barn".  Please do not misunderstand my stance on this subject.  I restore barns for a living...not because that it's the only thing I can do...but because I choose to help save them.  I am sometimes the only option that some people have to save or repair their structures.  I hardly ever work for farmers.  Most of my customers who want to save their buildings are the people who now own the 5 of 100 acre farmstead that still have the house and out-buildings on their small "slice of heaven".  The rest of the property is usually sold or leased to a local farmer, and the cows have long been sold off.  I see both sides of the cause and effect of barns that are slated for demo.  It is this understanding of the customer's situation that enables me to find the right fit or solution to their needs or concerns.

In reguards to the farmer who couldn't find someone to take his barn:

The steel siding is nailed on....and yes, it could be removed...and no, not everyone wants to go through the hassle.

The farmer has no use for the barn since he changed over to crop-farming years ago...none of his equipment fits inside...he deals in big-square bales...even if he was still milking cows, the barn's lower parlor level can only accomidate 25 head...with current raw milk prices, it doesn't start to become profitable until you reach a minimum of 100 cows..which is too many to rotate in and out especially in the dead of winter...and in his opinion his property value will not increase significantly enough to justify keeping the barn around until he "kicks the bucket" and his kids sell off the land to a developer who will burn the barn down anyways.  Please remember this is a typical farmer mindset...he has tried to let someone else take it and save it..but he did not have any serious takers.

I wish that every barn worth saving could be...but for so many barn owners it just isn't financially they try to give them away, to try to sell them to offset the cost of cleaning up the site and bury the foundation.
Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library and plight of the Mid-Western barn...of sort
Post by: moonhill on November 14, 2009, 07:14:31 AM
Craig, sorry for the rough edge, no blunt butchering meant.  I for sure see your perspective.  And I didn't want to cause a jarring effect on the "farmer" either.  The point I want to make is that I see a open window where the mind set toward these older barns can be changed.  You, I and others can and are helping bring this about, I hope.  I believe the mind set can be changed to the point where the "farmer" will salvage the barn and continue to find further use for it.  I am suppose to look at a local barn for salvage, it is full of junk and the present owners wants it gone to make room for a new smaller structure.  I have not yet pressed the issue of saving this building but will be testing the water with my big toe, first.

The age of consumerism and its throw away mentality is nearing an end, from the massive plastic packaging to the old barns, we are going to be forced into it like it or not, it won't be pleasant or kind.  

At the recent TFG conference in NY a key note speaker, James Howard Kunstler, author of a series of books on coming catastrophes, principally the end of fossil fuels or at least its price will make it unattainable for most.  This effect will cause our mobile life style to change dramatically and in almost every way, so we will be saving the surviving barns.  His book I am reading now is, The Long Emergency, I plan on reading the companion, World Made By Hand, a tale on the life of a carpenter living the change from fossil fuel to none.

Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library and plight of the Mid-Western barn...of sorts.
Post by: beenthere on November 14, 2009, 10:02:36 AM
We have local non-farmers and non-local people around here who want to see the old barns stand. Their perspective is that it maintains the rural aesthetics and the pictorial farm landscape.  ::)

They don't really care if the barn is "in the way" or "not usable" for their present farm use (or non-farm use).  Theirs is an historic or preservationist view.

Some locals here wanted to convince our Town board to ask farmers to keep their barns. My thoughts are that these non-owners should get their money together and go around to the barns they want saved and offer to put a new roof on for the owners. That alone would save a lot of old barns. When the roof goes, so goes the barn soon after.

To me, a roofing program would be the best way to keep the old barns in the landscape. So, bottom line, cough up some money (preferably not tax money) and re-roof the barns.   (or encourage them being parted out and re-used or re-stored).  I like seeing a barn taken apart and re-used before the wood is rotted and it is fallen in on itself.
Rooster: keep up the good work.
Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library and plight of the Mid-Western barn...of sort
Post by: stumpy on November 14, 2009, 10:27:11 AM
I don't claim to know all the fine details and pros and cons on this issue.  I'd just like to comment.  I've been involved a very little in a couple of Roosters Barn projects, and regardless of the reasoning behind the projects, they are just plain COOL ;D  It's not just the end result that's impressive, it's the "journey" to get there.  Rooster not only uses old hand tools (including a team of horses), he also gets the community involved and it turns into an event.  I'm sure that doesn't happen on all his jobs, but when it does, it gives all involved an appreciation for old barns and the history behind them.
Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library and plight of the Mid-Western barn...of sorts.
Post by: Jim_Rogers on November 14, 2009, 02:30:48 PM
Part of saving old barns is called "adaptive re-use." The old use may not be needed any more, you you need to adapt to a new use for the barn.

If the barn owner can adapt a new use for the barn that will make money then they will have some money to pay for repairs and taxes.

Several barns I've heard of were converted into simply storage areas. And these areas can be rented out to people who need to store their stuff.

Once the old barn is cleaned out of all the old stuff, and if it isn't in bad shape can be re-used for storage.

The current barn owner has to be re-educated as to what they can do with their old barn so that it doesn't fail and get lost between the cracks.

Look at how much those storage centers get per month for a small 8x12' area. Or even smaller areas. These old barn could be partitioned off and create some smaller storage spaces inside for renting out. And if done correctly won't harm the character of the old barn.

And this is only one idea I've heard of.....

Jim Rogers

And as mentioned, go Rooster......

Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library and plight of the Mid-Western barn...of sorts.
Post by: Brad_bb on November 14, 2009, 05:53:22 PM
Moonhill, I listend to "The long Emergency" too.  While I accept some aspects that he presented, I don't accept all the arguments or that it will occur catastophically.  It's sort of like Erlich's argument of population explosion of 35 or so years ago.  It's important to be a critical thinker and understand that this is one persons view and logic.  Is it extreme?  Is it realistic?  Rarely is one able to so accurately predict the future.  Without sidetracking this too much -While I do believe the fossil fuels are a finite resource, I think change will occur more gradually and may not be so sudden and catastrophic. 

As it relates to the barns, I'm hoping that it's like recycling.  10 years ago, few people were recycling in their household.  Now, I send 50 percent and often more of my garbage for recycling.  It's a change in mentality.  So too should we think of barns or other structures as resources with value.  You have to do some extra physical work to separate your recyclables, break down the cardboard boxes ect.  So It may take some labor, but if the barn must be removed, at least salvage and reuse the resources like the wood.  So you have to spend a few days pulling nails and separating the tin from the wood.  Recycle the tin (it should pay for a few meals when you take it to the scrapyard), and sell the wood if you can't use it.  There are plenty of people who'd love to use it.  People are getting smarter too, realizing that some of that wood is better than what you can go by.  You can repair another barn, build rustic furniture, build fine furniture, etc.  Recycling often makes economic sense, but there's also the aspect about leaving the land as good or better than we found it.  Hopefully more people are learning the value of barns every day.

So Craig, I still didn't get and opinion/estimate from you as to how many barns are destroyed/burned each year?  Any feeling for that?
Title: Re: Timber-frame barn photo library and plight of the Mid-Western barn...of sorts.
Post by: Rooster on November 14, 2009, 08:19:08 PM
Thank you all for contributing to this thread... and thanks for the encouragement!!

As the Subject title of this thread suggests, a majority of the Mid-Western barns (mostly timber-framed) that were built in years following the Civil War, through the Victorian age and up and including World War I are all turning 100+ years old,...that is, of course, if they are still standing.  During this same time period, the mass immigration from Europe increased the population dramatically in the Eastern and Midwestern states in the Northern part of this country.  The Northern woods were being logged off, and more farm land was being cleared for more production to match the demand caused by this increased population.  The need for barn/storage/shelter space increased as well, which is the main reason for so many of these barns that were built during this time.  And as farming practices, especially here in Wisconsin changed, from wheat, to dairy, to corn/ to, did the needs of the farmer when it came to the structures that he would need to utilize for his particular farming operation.  With the staggering number of family farms that have gone under/bought out, combined with increase of larger corporate farming operations, very few of the original "dairy barns" are being used as they were originally intended.  Many have been "adaptively reused" (As Jim stated) and have earned their continued stay on the farm, but far more have not, and have been neglected even to the point of destruction.  It is hard to put numbers or statistcs to what is left of the remaining barns.
 My guess is that:
15% are still a part of some ongoing farming operation.
20% are still used in other ways that help offset their continued maintenance.
60% are sitting idle or have become a place to collect junk.
5% are saved and restored for historic reasons or prosperity.

Of the 60% sitting idle, we probably lose 3% each year, and that number could certainly be higher in some areas and lower in others.

This is just my guess.