by Donn Hewes of Marathon, NY
In 2010, 20 Amish families moved into our neighborhood and set about farming. They made friends with the locals, cleared brush from abandoned farms and started milking cows. Fifteen more families are expected next year, all from the same area of Pennsylvania, near Punxsutawney. Most of the summer you could see sawmills working, and small homes being built to augment the farm houses that had been bought. Milk dumping stations were built where three or four farmers could bring milk to be picked up. Two small schools were built.
Finally, in the fall it was barn raising season. Three barns were built in about two months. Other old barns are being renovated. Interestingly, this Amish community is committed to making loose hay, so all the new barns they built were large (90’ x 38’ average) and open, with tracks at the peak to handle this style of traditional hay making.
Each farmer poured concrete slabs and built their first floor with a little help from their neighbors. Most of these were half block or all block construction with heavy beams and floor joists meant to support a large hay mow above. When this work was done and all the wood for the rest of the barn was cut, planning could begin for a barn raising. Work for cutting, marking and building all the bents would start about two weeks before the actual date. Five to ten workers could cut and mark all the pieces of the barn in little more than a week. The tool of choice for most of the cutting is a chainsaw. Every purlin, box beam, and ridge board is marked for the rafter layout. The rafters are all marked for the 1 x 4 purlins every two feet, that serve as roofing nailers. Even the siding is marked so nails can be started on the ground before a board is passed up and hammered into place.
On the day of the barn raising a large bus would bring many friends and neighbors from Punxsutawney for the day. It was a great sight to see the Amish carpenters climb off the tour bus and pull their nail belts from the luggage area. At the two barn raisings I participated in there were easily a hundred people.
The lumber used in these barns was all soft wood and mostly hemlock. Most of the farms had a ready supply of standing timber for this purpose. The barn uses a truss design similar to the traditional bents of old style timber framing. Each bent (as the Amish refer to them) or truss has a couple of tension members that relieve the need for major beams that cross the barn floor holding the traditional timber frame together. These trusses make an excellent use of the soft wood resource, that would have been considered inferior lumber for the construction of the traditional heavy timber barn.