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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Barn Raising

A Traditional Timber Frame Horse Barn Raising in the Twenty-First Century

by Arthur Bolduc of Howard, Ohio
photos by Jim McBride

One hundred years ago (1905) Henry Ford put his first automobile on the road, and after WWI he started building farm tractors in earnest. He wanted to be a hero, to perhaps make everybody’s life easier, and to certainly get rich himself. But he didn’t foresee some of the problems his inventions would create; the Plain Folks did.

The Amish, and for a time, the Mennonites and a few others saw the automobile and the tractor as a threat to their way of life. The automobile cost money to buy, to run and to maintain. All money drained out of the farm community. It allowed quick transportation to the nearest city with its bright lights and cheap entertainment. People were seduced into buying gimcrack they didn’t need, and couldn’t afford on loose but enticing credit that was expensive. They bypassed the local farm community merchants, and more money was lost from the local economy.

The Plain Folks lived in communities no more than a half-day’s buggy ride in areas. They had their bulk food stores, shops and cottage industries, all the necessities of life right there in the community. They worshipped Christ, and their church was an assembly of their community members, not an ostentatious building. They held Sunday services on the farms, in their homes.

Their horse-drawn buggies were ample, inexpensive transportation even after the automobile became popular and replaced most horses on the streets and roads. The Plain Folks farmed with horses, that limited the size of their farms to about eighty tillable acres, enough to support a family and about the limit to what they could properly care for with horses. Limiting the size of a farm encouraged good husbandry, a sustainable form of agriculture and also discouraged greed. Horses lived on homegrown feed and replaced themselves at little expense and often a profit to the owner.

There is a limit to how much work a horse can do before it has to be rested. A farm boy knows that and knows what is expected of him when he is sent out to the field with a team. The tractor changed all of that. When a farmer put his son on a tractor that only needed to be stopped for refueling, the kid never knew when he was going to get off or when the work would end. Since tractors were expensive and didn’t make money sitting under the shed, and the kid was just steering, going for a joy ride and not doing a lot of physical work, and the old man let the good times roll! With headlights, they could work far into the night, and a lot of people got injured or killed doing just that.

Yes, there was practically no end to the acreage a farmer with a family could work with a tractor or two or three, and the greed they could generate. Tractor farmers suddenly started looking to buy out neighbors in trouble instead of helping them.
Driven by a tireless machine instead of the 3 mph pace of the horse, a lot of farm boys burned out and started looking for jobs in town. That was okay with the old man. There were plenty of migrant farm laborers driven off their land in Mexico by U.S. corporations who could grow corn and beans cheaper than the local farmers. Unfortunately the displaced farmers had no money with which to buy the corn and beans (that were grown for U.S. industry anyhow) and joined the migrant farm labor army streaming north of the border looking for any work they could find. Unlike the farmer’s son, the migrant laborers could be turned back on the road when there was no work and they were no expense to the farmer.

The Plain Folks answer to a higher authority than the almighty dollar. Their simple Christian lifestyles are based on home economics and they practice a sustainable economy driven by community cooperation rather than avarice competition.
Family is central in their lives, and community is a group of extended families. What is good for the community is usually good for the individual families, and they learn to ask, “what is good for my community?” They keep their buggy horses for short haul transportation, their draft horses for farm power, and their kids at home on the farm in multi-generation households.

In the twenties and thirties when the electric lines started reaching to the farms, the Plain Folks took a good look at the destruction strip mining was wrecking on the countryside in order to feed the coal fired electric generating plants that polluted the air we breathed and they decided they wanted no part of rural electric. Neither did they want the intrusive radio and later television programmed to shape the buying habits of the consumer-crazed nation. The invasive telephones stayed outside in phone booths where they belonged, and meals are never interrupted by tele-marketers.

In their communities of haves without have-nots and very little expensive police presence, the children working alongside their parents and extended family grow into strong, healthy citizens. By the time the boys are eighteen they are experienced farmers, teamsters, carpenters and have a good knowledge of several other trades. With good social skills, work habits, and ethics, they are very employable, but prefer to be self-employed in their own communities.
They realize their labor is one of their most valuable, sustainable resources, and they make the most of it. With community cooperation, they build their own homes, barns and other buildings.

barnraisingCx

There are certainly enough willing hands there to man the pike poles, the ropes and fit the end wall or bent, as it is called, into place.

When one of my neighbors needed a new barn, I thought it would be a pole barn, or even a hoop house. Not so. Bank barns have been around for centuries and they still meet the needs of the horse farmer, and that is what Danny built. He was thinking of what he would hand on to the next generation.

A small bulldozer was brought in to excavate the side of the hill for the foundation. And while the barn foundation was going up, a crew nearby was cutting the timber frame for the barn. I was there September 3, 4, & 5th, 1994 when Rudy Christian and the Timber Framers Guild of America raised the frame for the new barn at Malabar Farm in one of the last great barn raisings of the Twentieth Century. I examined the work closely that was going into Danny’s barn and it was on a par with best work of the Timber Framers of North America at Malabar.

On a misty July morning, with a lot less fanfare than the Great Barn raising at Malabar, Danny’s literally countless relatives and neighbors swarmed over the capped barn foundation. Any ideas I had about lending a hand was soon forgotten, and I retreated a couple of hundred yards to where Jim McBride was setting up a tri-pod for his camera with a long lens.

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With so many workers, I was sure that chaos was going reign before they ever got started, and people were going to get hurt. From my, be helpful and stay out of the way, perch on the hill, I couldn’t tell who was in charge, where they broke up into work teams, or how the crew was organized. Labor, especially skilled-labor, is at a premium on all construction sites. Only in the Navy Sea Bees did I ever see more help standing around than they could efficiently use. And even there, there was a division of labor, everybody had their specialty and didn’t go on until it was their stage of construction. Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

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Now, we will do the same thing on the other end of the barn.

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With the end bents in place, the internal framing takes place.

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That shed roof went into place so fast I missed it.

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Working together like a well-drilled team, the barn takes shape.

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I focused on individuals, I tried to find the gold bricks; I couldn’t. Nobody was killing himself, they couldn’t, everybody was paying attention and turning to. I saw teen-agers, probably no more than fourteen, taking instructions, queuing on the older more experienced workers and before the day was over they had learned a lot.

From the time they can walk, Amish children are with their working parents in the home and on the farm. They are encouraged to help and they fail a lot. The failures and the unsuccessful attempts don’t count, they are just practice, it’s the little successes that are celebrated. The children love the sense of achievement, the praise from parents and older siblings. They grow up bold and confident, and it showed at the barn raising.

There are no people in their world trying to protect turf, to discourage them for fear of them taking their jobs. There is more work to be done in this world than we can accomplish. Their problem is distinguishing what is worthwhile and what isn’t. They also learn to ask, “What good will come of this?”, and they get answers.

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Between breaks in food preparation the women gathered to watch their heroes & pray nobody got hurt.

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I learned that only one teen-ager slid off the roof and dropped about ten feet into a pile of sand. More embarrassed than hurt, he scrambled back onto the roof and kept on working.

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In spite of intermittent rain, the roof sheathing and felt paper goes on and the barn roof is nearly ready for the metal.

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In spite of a rain-slicked surface, the metal roofing goes on without a mishap.

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Before the roof is closed, the siding is going on.

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The doors were hung, but too damp to paint. That will have to wait, somebody yelled “come and get it!”

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An M.D. who came to watch the barn raising admitted that he carried a lot more than just a black bag (if he owned one) in the back of his stationwagon that morning, but was grateful his services were not needed.

By mid-afternoon, most of the workers were picking up their tools, and the youngsters were busy cleaning up around the job site. There were a few pieces of hardware to be installed, and some trim painting to be done, but that would have to wait until drier weather. I felt that I had witnessed a miracle, at least a victory for the human spirit.

Without power tools*, these farm community neighbors had raised a barn in less than a day and had enjoyed every minute of it. A solid timber frame barn on a solid foundation, that if properly cared for will last at least the three hundred years that Amish built barns have stood in Pennsylvania.

*An ironic note to this story is that Danny’s father, Bill Hostetler, ran a community hardware store on the home farm. Here, six miles from the nearest village with a hardware store, it saved those of us in the Nunda community a lot of running around when a bolt or such broke. A little price shopping revealed he wasn’t charging the markup that some of the hardware chains were. But with the boys running the farm and his own woodworking shop in the hardware building, he was happy, and we appreciated it.

However, when his supplier was bought out by a large corporation, they gave Bill a minimum figure in dollars that he had to buy before they would ship to him. Since he was non-electric and didn’t buy power-tools and other electric items, he couldn’t possibly meet their demands and had to close the hardware business last week.

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Work Horse Handbook

Grooming Work Horses

The serviceability of the work horse may be increased or decreased according to the care which is bestowed upon him. If he is groomed in a perfunctory fashion his efficiency as an animal motor is lessened. On the other hand, if he is well groomed he is snappier and fresher in appearance and is constantly up on the bit.

Horseshoeing Part 2B

Horseshoeing Part 2B

If we observe horses moving unrestrained over level ground, we will notice differences in the carriage of the feet. Many deviations in the line of flight of hoofs and in the manner in which they are set to the ground occur; for example, horses heavily burdened or pulling heavy loads, and, therefore, not having free use of their limbs, project their limbs irregularly and meet the ground first with the toe; however, careful observation will detect the presence of one or the other of these lines of flight of the foot.

Basil Scarberrys Ground-Drive Forecart

Basil Scarberry’s Ground-Drive Forecart

by:
from issue:

I used an ’84 Chevrolet S-10 rear end to build my forecart, turn it over to get right rotation, used master cylinder off buggy and 2” Reese hitch, extend hitch out to use P.T.O. The cart is especially useful for tedding hay. However, its uses are virtually unlimited. We use it for hauling firewood on a trailer, for pulling a disc and peg tooth harrow, for hauling baled hay on an 8’ x 16’ hay wagon, and just for a jaunt about the farm and community.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

New Idea Mower

New Idea Mower

from issue:

For proper operation the outer end of the cutter bar should lead the inner end when the machine is not in operation. After long use the cutter bar may lag back and if this happens it can be corrected by making adjustments on the cutter bar eccentric bushing as follows: First making sure that the pin and bolt in the hinge casting “A” Fig. 5 are tight and in good condition.

Farm Drum #30 Blacksmithing we Pete Cecil Basic Techniques

Farm Drum #30: Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil – Basic Techniques

Pete Cecil demonstrates basic blacksmithing techniques through crafting a hook in the forge.

English Sheaf Knots

English Sheaf Knots

Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

The Milk and Human Kindness Stanchion Floor

The Milk and Human Kindness: Plans for an Old Style Wooden Stanchion Floor

by:
from issue:

The basic needs that we are addressing here are as follows: To create a sunny, airy (not drafty), dry, convenient, accessible place to bring in our cow or cows, with or without calves, to be comfortably and easily secured for milking and other purposes such as vet checks, AI breeding, etc. where both you and your cow feel secure and content. A place that is functional, clean, warm and inviting in every way.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Plans for Hog Houses

Plans for Hog Houses

by: ,
from issue:

Missouri Sunlit Hog House: This is an east and west type of house lighted by windows in the south roof. A single stack ventilation system with distributed inlets provides ventilation. Pen partitions may be of wood or metal. This plan takes the place of the original Missouri sunlit house since many farmers had difficulty in building it.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

Log Arch

Log Arch

by:
from issue:

The arch was built on a small trailer axle that I cut down to 3 feet wide and tacked back together. This was done so that I could keep the wheels parallel. I cut the middle out after construction was complete. I used heavy wall pipe from my scrounge pile for the various frame parts. It is topped off with an angle iron bar for added strength and to provide a mount for the winch and some slots for extra chains.

Eighteen Dollar Harrow

Eighteen Dollar Harrow

by:
from issue:

This is the story of a harrow on a budget. I saw plans on the Tillers International website for building an adjustable spike tooth harrow. I modified the plans somewhat to suit the materials I had available and built a functional farm tool for eighteen dollars. The manufactured equivalent would have cost at least $300.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

by:
from issue:

Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT