As a youngster, running in and out of the house during the summer, letting the cool air out and the flies in, my parents would often shout, “Close the door. We don’t live in a barn.” When I said that to my granddaughters recently, they stared at me in bewilderment. They were as confused as I was when I first heard that saying as a child living in a row house.
Still, the incident put me to thinking about the barns at our farm and the need to collect photos to document their history.
Earlier this year, with camera in hand, I headed outdoors in search of a few pictures from the past. The exteriors of our five barns deny their age, having been painted and roofed in more recent times. But the pole and beam construction and rock foundations indicate they are more than a hundred years old.
The German families who settled the area built their barns to last. They used oak timber, cut from the land, hewed with a broadax, roughly finished with a circular saw, and connected by mortise and tenon joints. All was held firmly in place with wood pegs. No nails, bolts or other fasteners. Today metal roofs replace the original wood shingles put up with square nails.
As I stood in the barn doorway, looking up to the lofty ceiling, a swallow flew from the rafters, chirping angrily at my presence. The hayloft tells of an earlier day when loose hay was often tossed into the barn with pitchforks or onto tracks (conveyor belts). The smell of hay now comes from what remains of last summer’s harvest, much of it in round bales.
I smiled as I recalled the summers when my 3 sons put up our hay when we made square bales rather than the large round bales we make today. When the boys were hired by other farmers, the going rate was 3 cents each for “bucking bales,” that is, picking up 50 to 60-pound square hay bundles and tossing them onto a wagon and then into the barn.
The tricky part was stacking the bales neatly onto a moving flat-bed wagon so they wouldn’t fall off as the number of bales grew higher. On hot summer days, our hay crew would wait until the sun went down before starting and work late into the night until the bales were out of the fields and in the barn. Despite, the sweaty, muscle-aching nature of the work, kids looked forward to making hay. It must have been the camaraderie; it sure wasn’t the pay.
The sturdy barn timbers are a reminder of the heartiness of the Ozark families who homesteaded the area. Old barns have stories to tell of a time when families were more connected to the land and each other.
If barn walls could talk, they’d have plenty to say about the folks who eked out a living, built their own shelter, grew their own food and sold the surplus. Besides hard work, I suspect much laughter, story telling, and even some mischief took place in those hay lofts.
These wooden monuments to our agrarian past have adapted well to the present with some being transformed into homes, restaurants, B&Bs, and chapels.
One of the smaller barns was once the site of Saturday night merriment, with folks in the farm community gathering in the loft for square dances. But I doubt if there’s ever been a wedding reception in our barns, until it came to mind for this generation to do such a thing.
Today Robin oversee the cattle operation that her oldest brother started more than 30 years ago. But even part-time farming takes time and energy. There’s always work, and more work, to be done on a farm—and a lot of it centers around old barns.