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Barn Restoration  

In the summer of 2003, I was faced with the same difficult decision that thousands of other barn owners have faced in recent decades with the vast majority taking a different path than the one I choose.

Years of neglect had finally taken its toll on the family barn. For quite some time the barn itself was of little use. It had rotted away and powder post beetles had weakened floor beams in all but one bay The roof was leaking, broken and missing windows and doors all indicated that the barn was doomed. Everything pointed to a lost cause.
Barn After Barn After
However, I was not ready to let it go, something inside of me pushed me to tackle the job of saving this barn that was so close to being just another pile of antique lumber.
click on photos for larger version

 RIGHT The front view of the barn in 2003 the first week of the multi year project of restoring it to it's  former glory. missing doors and window were the least of the problems

FAR RIGHT Same barn four years later, still a project in progress, however, no longer a barn in crisis.
Barn Before Barn After
Many factors played a roll in the decision to restore the family barn not least of which were the many childhood memories tied to the barn. I was saddened by the unbelievable numbers of barns lost everyday only miles from my home and had the desire to insure that future generations could enjoy this landmark of days gone by. Those factors helped in the decision making process and also helped me stay motivated in this multi year project. My hope is that this article would encourage others to take the route I did and save their barns. I was on an extremely limited budget and I only spent a few hundred dollars every few months over a few years. I saved tens of thousands of dollar by doing the barn restoration myself. Moreover, I also saved tens of thousands of dollars on material and I will show you how to do the same.
Barn Barn photos LEFT  Stressed from rotted supporrts 34 foot hand hewn beams bend and twist from the strain

FAR LEFT It was only after cleaning out all remaining manure from the cattle pens and old hay from the loft that the full extent of the problems this barn faced become apparent.

click on photos for larger version

The first step after cleaning out the barn was to make an actual list and set priorities. My barn was near complete structural failure so the first priorities were easy to identify. The first structural saving project had to address the extreme bowing of the side walls. I found that complete side walls failure is a very common event that dooms many old barns. stabilizing the barn was the number one priority

Running steel aircraft type stainless steel cable the width of the barn with two anchor points on each sidewall main beam then connecting both walls to one main turnbuckle was the procedure I used to stabilize the bowing wall problem. Slowly over time, the turnbuckle was used for pulling the walls back into place.
Antique barn pictures
Antique Farming Barn Facts

Barn Building

The Barn came in a number of different styles and configurations. Early farmers built their barns based on a traditional barn design that the original colonists brought with them from England. By the 1900's the gambrel roof barn was the primary barn design used.

Whatever style was used the barn would be the centerpiece of the farmstead. Early advertising reflected the important role the barn played. The majority of tractor and machinery ads feature the Barn as a backdrop.

LEFT 1922 Farm Mechanics magazine featuring a front cover highlighting the building of a barn addition .
Minneapolis Moline Co. was always a leader in attention getting advertisement. Most of their beautifully detailed and colorful ads had the barn as a back drop.
Barn Restoration on a Extremely Limited Budget
Barn Restore on a Budget
Restoring a barn can be an expensive undertaking. However, don't let a limited budget stop you. I started my barn restoration project with virtually no money. I knew that my greatest expense would be the roof. I was neither qualified nor brave enough to tackle the roof job myself. The seven bids I obtained for a metal roof and gutters with downspouts ranged from eight to twenty thousand dollars. A shingle roof was out of the question and the cost of redecking added ten thousand dollars to all the roofing estimates. However, because of the severely sagging roofline I had my work cut out for me. Since I still had to go to my full time job every day, I spent most of my spare time for two years jacking, pulling and undoing decades of neglect before I could have the roof installed.

Save Tens of Thousands of Dollars
My estimate is that I saved at least forty thousand dollars on my barn restoration. Much of the estimated forty thousand dollars I saved on my barn restoration came in the form of labor. However, I easily saved over 10,000 dollars in material. You too can use some or all of the same tips I used to save your hard-earned money. Here are some of the biggest money savers:
Antique barn pictures Big Savings
Contact your local power company. When the electric company replaces utility poles they discard the old poles and most of the supporting hardware. In my case, I was able to obtain them free of charge. You will not be able to find stronger more well suited hardware then that used on electric poles. Not only did I use discarded utility poles extensively in my barn restoration, but the way I used them added to the usability and storage ability of the barn
LEFT The eye bolts and other hardware used on old electric poles are of industrial quality. You simple cant easily buy hardware  of this quality..
 RIGHT  Electric poles being squared on a make shift saw stand the stand is placed and centered in front of an unseen  tree for easy loading with a simple come along

FAR RIGHT  Squared and ready for a new life as a barn beam. Notice the long beam, I used a number of  these to spam the entire depth of the floor. Greatly increasing the floor weight capacity .
Barn Before Barn After
To "square" the electric poles I used a guide that mounted on a chainsaw. The quide then runs on a 2 X 6 that's bolted to the electric pole.

Electric poles are treated with chemical preservative called Creosote. I knew very little about Creosote. However, one ninety-degree day I would learn a valuable lesson on the danger of this chemical substances. On this sunny hot day, I took off my shirt as I was squaring a pole. The combination of sweat, sun and Creosote sticking to my skin had me suffer from a extreme reaction. Despite realizing, something was wrong and showering immediately my upper body suffered from what seems like an extreme sunburn. So be warned and be careful .
Keep Your Eyes Open for bargains
Gather your supplies over time. Rummage sales, auctions, and eBay are all great places to find the things you need. Getting a 10-ton hydraulic jack for one dollar at a moving sale is a uncommon event. Because of the extremely poor condition of my barn, these are  some of things I had collected even before starting the job. Nothing that I had collected went unused. And I did not have too much of any one thing, in fact some items I could have used more of.

Six hydraulic jacks, 5 screw house jacks, one railroad jack, turnbuckles, four come along and braided steel aircraft cables.

Had I bought the items listed above new and from a store I would have spent close to a thousand dollars. I spent less then $200 and I could have easily recouped most of the $200 by selling the tools upon completion of the job.
Barn Used Barn Wood
I live 30 miles North West of Milwaukee Wisconsin. When my barn was built Wisconsin was establishing itself as the dairy capital of the world the average farm was 100 acres and the average herd 24 head of milk cows. Approximately every quarter mile was a farm with a barn and the typical supporting farm buildings. Unfortunately, nearly all of the barns in my area are gone. In just the last five years I can think of over ten barns in a five-mile radius of my place that are gone forever, falling victim to subdivisions, golf courses, and decay. I asked for permission and salvaged lumber from four barns only a few miles from my own barn.
TOP The configuration of any barns hayloft for nonfarming use is an extreme waste of space . I took wood from neighboring barns that were ether collapsed or knocked down and created a twin level loft over one of the barn bays

The tamarack barn beans and old oak flooring I used for the barn loft in a (remove)barn loft were recycled from barns where the "valuable" wood had already been removed. By using both the old wood and most of the same building techniques used by the original builder of the barn I was able to double the storage space while keeping the historic "feel".
Antique barn pictures
Savings from Damaged Goods
Almost every bag of cement, mortar and premix I bought was as much as 95% off because the bags were damaged and leaked. In late spring Menards, Home Depot, and Fleet Farm have pallets full of damaged goods. This wasn't a time consuming one or two bags at a time deal. I recall purchasing two pallets of the above listed supplies at one time. The cost was about five cents on the dollar.
Barn Restoration Continues
Barn Barn photos FAR LEFT  Most of the floor beams in this bay  had rotted away. The repair has begun by jacking the floor and sliding thirty four foot utility poles the full width of the barn  

LEFT  The completed floor, all rotted beams are replaced  and by running six poles the full length of the floor a barn that was designed for loose hay can now support some of the heaviest  tractors.

In their rotted and weakened state the floor beams lacked of support and put continual forward pressure on the barn causing the basement's main support poles and main support beams to lean , By the time I began the project the lean was at an extreme and dangerous level.

The first main support pole to be replaced was the worst and suffering form the greatest degree of lean
Antique barn pictures
Understand Cause and Effect
Whether your barn has multiple problems and is on the verge of collapsing as mine was or you suspect a simple problem, it is important that you understand what the cause of your problem is and how a particular solution will correct it. This is of critical importance if you are hiring a contractor to fix your barn. Any barn repair contractor who cannot clearly explain to you the cause of a problem and how a particular solution will correct it should be avoided.
Barn Mortise and Tenons
It is a tribute to the overall sturdiness of the structure and the mortise and tenons design that the bad corner did not sag more than a few inches or so.
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This web page is about my experience of restoring my own barn and many of my tips are directed to people who may be considering restoring their own barn. The fact is that barn restoration can be dangerous. I am by no means a structural engineer but the fact is that a lot of farm kids are exposed to more mechanical and engineering principals by their teens than many engineering students have seen when they leave college. If you are not comfortable or unsure about something you want to attempt please don't do it. Instead, consult a professional.
Gone Forever
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A sight that is all too common, both the above and below pictured barns were a stone's throw of each other on two separate Wisconsin farmsteads. Barns are disappearing at an alarming rate some like the barn below can still be saved while others as the above example reveals that time has run out on this once icon of a time gone by  

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Fieldstone Walls
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At one time, much of Wisconsin was covered with glaciers. The glaciers southern journey stopped short of the Illinois border. What these icy giants left behind would become the building blocks and foundations to most old Wisconsin barns.

The fieldstone walls on my barn are nothing short of impressive. The massive fieldstone wall stands three feet across and ten feet high. The walls stood firm despite the wooden structure of my pre restored barn leaned forward and putting pressure on the barns foundation.

Although most Wisconsin barns disappear because of neglect long after a barn has fallen the fieldstone wall remains. Despite these walls being built over a century ago be hand They require some of today's largest bulldozers to remove them.
Barn Decoration
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One day on my way to my job in Milwaukee, I noticed a work crew gathering around a huge farmstead. The farm was no longer a working operaration and the red flags in the entire surrounding farm field made it obvious what the future had in store. Nine hours later the once proud barns that stood on one the highest spots in the area were leveled. I stopped on the way home and talked with the developer and he gave me permission to salvage what I could for my barn. The above and below pictures are the only thing left of the farmstead. The window opening was once a window dormer on a one hundred fifty year old square field stone silo. The field stone silo was the tallest I had ever seen. The only thing left is now a decoration in my restored barn.

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