Maynard van der Galien
Whenever high winds or fire topples or destroys old barns that were a relic of the horse and buggy days, reporters often trot out to the farm and do a story of the loss. It certainly is tragic if animals are lost in the fire. But why the fuss if it was just an old dilapidated barn that had served its purpose so many years ago?
The owner would never say that the old building had been there for three or four generations of the family and it was out dated for today’s farming. He would never say that it was a relic of the past just like the threshing mills. He would never say it was falling apart with boards blowing off over the years and had become an eye sore. He would never say he’s glad to have the thing come down.
No, he’d moan about how the barn had been used by his great grandfather, his grandfather, his father, him, and now it wouldn’t be there for his children if they wanted to take over the farm. It always sounded like the old thing wasn’t replaceable. How could they farm without the building that great grand dad had help build in 1902? Such sob stories always made me roll my eyes.
Barns built for loose hay are not functional anymore. Yet, you’ll see farmers cramming as many round bales as they can on a ground floor. Many small old log barns that used to hold loose hay to feed 10 cows and two horses are now sporting a different look — round bales of hay.
About 30 or so years ago a farmer in my county lost an old barn to fire and he cried the blues in a newspaper story. It was a century farm and he’d kept the barn in good repair over the years. But it was built when farming was done with horses. There was a horse stable on one end of the barn and low ceilings made up the rest of the building. The horse stable hadn’t seen horses since the 1950s when tractors came on the scene. There was a horsey manure smell still in the barn from so long ago and so they were limited what they could store there. Certainly no household stuff. The low ceiling part of the barn held hay wagons and small machinery.
A decade earlier I had torn down a similar barn structure that was twice as long and I built a structure 70 ft. by 150 ft. No more low ceilings, hay lofts and calf pens to clean out with a wheelbarrow.
So, to see this man overwhelmed with grief at the loss of an old useless structure that was insured was not something I could understand. Neighbours organized a barn dance to raise funds so he could rebuild. He could take the insurance money and build a modern barn for today’s farming. I told him that in a nice way when I ran into him at a farm function a few weeks later. Look at it in a positive way.
And maybe he did. He had a solid steel structure built for the new century of farming. Now his sons are making good use of it.
So, I ask: Why are people so attached to old barns? Barns hold sentimental value –- but is that enough? Now don’t get me wrong. I love seeing a well-kept bank barn that’s still standing and looking trim and fit just as it was when it was built so many years ago.
I imagine all of the stories and life lessons that both man and animals learned in those barns. Seeing these old barns takes my mind back to a different time period. I reminisce of the times when they must have been in their prime and glory. Like a castle on the landscape. Old barns can do that to a person –- they stir up a lot of emotions and sentiments about the good ol’ days.
However, in the present, it is hard to ignore the shape of many of these barns today. Many look like they could collapse at any time in a wind storm. It’s just nature’s way. Quit shedding tears if they come down.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and a long-time columnist with Farmers Forum.