Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I’ve worked with the Amish that live around me for years. They are hard working and fearless, especially doing roofing work and so on a job I had to do in October, I hired Peter to help. Peter had just turned 21, and my job was the first for him where he got to keep the money I paid him. Up until then all the money he made went into the family’s fund.
The job was to repair a barn roof where two ten-foot sheets of metal roofing had come off at about the center of the roof on the south side. We got there with my mini-van, carrying a very long ladder, some rope, a 12 volt drill for screwing the sheets down and a few other hand tools.
We decided to go up on the ladder, both of us, Peter first to see how slippery the roof metal was. Peter thought he would just walk on the roof up to where the repair was needed. As he stepped onto the roof, about 25 feet from the hard ground, I was behind him on the ladder. He said in case he started to slide down the roof, I was to hold onto the eavestrough so that the ladder and both of us wouldn’t fall down! Great! Well, he did start to slide immediately and I held on to the eavestrough and nobody fell down. Good!
Plan B was to throw a rope, with a weight, over top of the peak and tie it off on the other side. It was a bit windy but the rope and weight finally caught on the ripped part of the roof we were to repair. Peter tried his weight on the rope and said he would try it. Yup, so I did the same, held on to the eavestrough just in case. The caught rope held and Peter was then able to throw the rope from the middle of the roof over the peak from there, and I was able to tie it off on the other side. I carried the ten foot sheets of metal roofing up to him and in an hour we finished the work. It was another adventure in barn roof repair.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2010 Building Tour in Thailand


There are incredible historic post and beam buildings in northern Thailand and I as a timber framer and author of two books on North American barns was totally excited by what I discovered there. In 2008 and 2009 I was in Chiang Mai, Pai, Lampang, Lamphun, all located in northern Thailand in the foothills of the Himalayas, looking at and noting all the buildings that other timber frame and building enthusiasts would like to see.
These structures including wooden and stone temples, historically preserved buildings and wooden post row houses, are all between 1,000 and 100 years old. And what amazed me is that most of these buildings are of the post and beam type similar to what we have here in Eastern Canada and USA and also Europe. In fact the similarity is uncanny between European barns built 500 years ago in the post and beam style and temples in the Chiang Mai area also constructed 500 years ago. Who learned from whom or did they both originate organically? You can be the judge if you join the tour beginning on February 14, 2010 and continuing for a full week until February 20, 2010.
The tour includes all accommodation, ( Banthai Village) which will be 7 nights in Chiang Mai, a city of about 100,000 inhabitants and 1 night in Lampang, a small river town. As well lunch is included and supper as every night all tour participants will enjoy fantastic food at a Thai restaurant located in an architecturally interesting building. Everyone will also receive a cell phone and map of the city, for fun and to keep in touch.
Each morning to early afternoon we will tour a range of building types, including timber frames, 500 to 1,000-year old wooden and stone temples and historically preserved stilt houses.
On day 5 we will travel to the town of Lampang, via the Teak Tree Highway, a two lane paved road lined with hundreds and hundreds of stunning 100 foot teak trees. On the way we will visit an early Lanna stone temple in Lamphun and stay overnight in Lampang. This ancient, quiet town, which was a hub of the teak tree trade in the late 18th century, has a preserved downtown of wooden post row houses and elegant 19th century Chinese manor buildings by the river and an incredible stilt house museum.
During the afternoons participants will be free to wander Chiang Mai, a centre famous for tribal markets featuring silks, cottons, woodworking, paintings, gold and silver jewelry and an unbelievable variety of clothing. What most people also remember is the amazing variety of food available—from street vendors to 5 star restaurants—Chiang Mai is provided for with fresh vegetables, exotic just picked fruits, fresh water fish, meat and the famous noodle soups. It’s a cosmopolitan city and all the amenities are available such as internet cafes, money exchanges, Interac, Visa and MasterCard, and espresso cafes for coffee lovers.
Please join me and my wife Lillian, our Thai friend and interpreter, Ferne, our friendly 12-seat late model van driver and guides who will tell us more about the architecture and history of this fascinating country.
Our tour is being handled by Debbie at Laramie Travel, who has been to Chiang Mai and surrounding region many times and knows personally how the city works and what kind of accommodations to book. She can also book an extended trip for you since Chiang Mai is located in the Golden triangle—where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet and where China, Cambodia and Vietnam are all within an hour’s flight away.
Fees for the tour will be $2,150, plus air fare, hope to see you in Chiang Mai in 2010.
Accommodations: We've found a wonderful small hotel in Chiang Mai, the Banthai Village. It opened two years ago, is beautiful and calm, located in a laneway behind a temple (Wat Bupparam) and only a five minute walk from the apartments where Lillian and I will be staying.
There is also an incredible cooking/food tour in Chiang Mai two weeks before mine, beginning January 24 to February 1, 2010. Look it up at, it’s amazing!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taking Down 12-Sided Barn

I have taken down barns before, usually to use some of the timbers for another building project. But last winter I was asked to take a barn down this summer (August) and put it back again five miles away. (Here is the original photo of when it was built in 1919.)
This was no usual timber frame barn but a 90-year old 12-sided historic barn located up north on the north shore of Lake Huron near a little town called Sowerby, which is near and politically part of the bigger town of Iron Bridge. There are only three 12-sided barns left in Canada, and two were located 1 mile apart (one of which I was taking down) and the third is in Mystic, Quebec, which is on the front cover of my second book, Barn Building.
I accepted of course, for here was a challenge and a chance at discovering how it was built and how I was going to rebuild it, which was to be in the summer of 2010.
I drove up with a car load of tools and stayed with Will and Elaine Samis, both wonderful, intellectually stimulating people, who also farmed 100 head of beef. Boy we had some great conversations around the dinner table late into the night.
The barn is 62 feet in diameter and about 40 feet high. Not a small building. It was situated right off the Trans-Canada highway, was owned by a family who had given it the Municipality of Huron Shores to have it put back up and used as a meeting and dance hall, museum, art exhibition, sales barn, auction house, farm market etc.
Luckily some of my Amish neighbours from where I live had moved up in there and were willing to help take it down, along with some volunteers. I drew up a schedule of what I thought would be a reasonable time to do things and got to it the second day I was there. With three Amish on the roof, Toby, Mehlan and Joseph and volunteer Gary, and others on the ground we began taking off the sheets of steel. We finished that day and it was hot work. The next day we finished banging off all the boards below the metal that were covering most of the roof. Third day, still hot, we took off all 26 tamarack rafter poles, about 28 ft long each and another 24 rafter supports. That was a fun day, as we lowered one side of the rafter by rope to the floor and then the other side. Some of the rafters were thicker and I flew into the air, holding on to the end of the rope a few times, as it was heavier then me as I lowered them down. Whee!
That was the end of that week and on Monday, an extremely hot muggy day, we managed to bang off all the outside barn boards. Now it was time for the crane.
Kelly and his dad both volunteered their time to operate the 110 ft crane, which was donated for free for 2 days. We began by tearing off wall sections as they were nailed (I later found out with 8 inch nails!) at many different places. We got a method going and finally finished that day. All that was left standing was the tower.
The tower is a 35 foot timber frame structure in the middle of the barn, 16 ft square, which was made up of mostly 10 by 10 pines. The next day Kelly clambered up (I had to convince him to take a safety line up with him!) and he hooked it up to the crane , got off and we slowly began to lift the whole thing up. No problem. The tower was then lowered onto the grass on its side and we began pounding the pins out and lifting off by crane each piece. But in the middle of all this, when we had lowered the tower, Kelly said why don’t we transport the ring on top to the new site today. Now. He had a transport truck and flat bed trailer and he could do it.
The ring is a 22-foot wide 12-sided top to the tower which takes in all the rafters and could be disconnected, which we did promptly. It weighed about 400 pounds and Kelly guided it onto the flat bed with the crane. Now the problem is that usually a 22-foot wide object transported on the road is too wide (lanes are 11 feet wide) and you need permits and a police escort to do this. And also we had to travel on the Trans Canada highway, for just one kilometer and then take side roads, but still. Anyway, this is the north after all, and everyone got busy, Kelly got into the truck and pulled up the highway, while Will went to the top of the hill, cell phone in hand to tell me when Kelly could pull out. “OK, after this white truck,” he said. Looking the other way though was a Winnebago approaching. Gary quickly ran out into the middle of the 4 lane road (passing lanes on both sides) and stopped the Winnebago, who was not happy, and Kelly pulled out. From there everything went smoothly and they unloaded at the other end. Yay! Meanwhile we kept on working and finished taking apart the tower.
The next day we pulled out the sleepers (joists) and were officially finished after stacking and covering all the material. I had a lot of laughs with the Amish and great cooperation and help with all the volunteers, including David, Ron, Will and others. Thanks for a good job. Now we wait until next year to put it back up, with lots more new lumber and more adventures, I’m sure.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Third Reprint and Photo Show

Spring in Grey County and so far it’s been a cool one. Every time it rains, which we need as it has been dry, it gets cold, and our shiitake mushrooms stay in the logs, waiting for warmth. Lillian is planting the last of our dry beans today, and even though it’s sunny it’s only 7 degrees Celsius now!
Last week my Brucedale Press publisher, Anne Judd, came out with the third reprint of my first book, “Barns of the Queen’s Bush.” There was a re-launch at an author’s get-together in Port Elgin and I have to thank Anne so much as it was she who took a chance on a first time author.
As well, my photo show from my second book, Barn Building, can be seen all summer at the Wellington Museum and Art Gallery, between Fergus and Elora. The museum building is a remarkable three story stone building that used to be the House of Refuge for the poor and disadvantaged people during the 19th century. There was a barn built there in the 1870’s where the people who lived there could also raise livestock and grow food. The barn is featured in my second book.
The photo show is of 12 colour prints, one of the rural landscape in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, some of round barns (such as the photo above in Ohio), and another of our friends farm in Vermont and their sunflower field, wind tower and timber frame barn built in the 1980’s. The photos can be seen in a room upstairs until the end of September. There are many other interesting art and historic shows to be seen there also and Elora is a great one day get-away, although the week-ends are getting a little too crowded for me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The PEG in Thailand

Rushing into spring work here-- shiitake mushroom log inoculation, cutting firewood, field and garden work-- has given me time to sift my thoughts about the timber frame buildings I found in and around Chiang Mai and Lampang, Thailand.
There was an abundance of them and so many historic ones. It must have been amazing there when teak trees were in abundance and the houses were being constructed by craftsmen using timber frame joinery from that resilient wood. Joinery that I have not seen here in Canada or the USA, but nevertheless, different forms of tenons, mortises, scarf joints for long timbers, braces, all pegged with a hardwood I didn’t know. And then the adze marks, just like here, but made there by skilled hands hundreds of years before we even came to what is now Grey and Bruce County in Ontario’s Georgian Bay/Huron Lake region. I was thrilled when I saw this on the outside wall of a 400 year old temple that was being renovated. And a wooden PEG on another temple where the outside timbers were exposed due to repair.
Richard, our friend who also came to Thailand with Lillian and I, did kid me a bit that I got excited about adze marks on old wooden beams and finding pegs in timbers, but, oh it was everything for me.
The century old teak house residences that have survived, either as a museum or built by a person of means, were all wood. And I mean everything from the walls, floors, ceilings and outside porches. All a deep, luxurious colour red of the teak, resilient to wind and water for decades, even the monsoons of late summer.
Our timber frames here in the snow farm belts, had to withstand just as extreme weather-- blizzards, wind and rain, and withstood the test just as well I think. No, the most dangerous enemy of historic buildings is not weather—but us. But, I’ll talk about that some other time.
Even with Thai governments of the time having protectionist practices for its immense forests, the outside world, China at the beginning and England later bought out the lumber and created such a demand that by the 1950’s, it was all mostly gone. But, wow, the wooden buildings from that 500-year era of building is still to be seen from the hundreds of incredible column temples dating back centuries, to the small city downtowns lined with century-old two-story wooden row buildings.
In Chiang Mai I discovered that along the river were some of the oldest and most preserved historic teak buildings. At Wat Kate I found an old teak temple, in rough shape holding not the statue of Buddha anymore but a museum of just about everything—from Thai lettered Underwood typewriters and radios to amazing silk cloths and old hand tools and hundreds of other relics. Plus hundreds of old black and white photos all nicely pinned up on boards. I went there three times!
In the famous river districts of the towns of Lamphum, and especially in Lampang, a small city about 100 kilometers away from Chiang Mai there were rows and rows of 100 year-old wooden 2 and 3 story building with store fronts on the street level still preserved and being lived in. Most of the buildings are like our post and beam style using smaller beams and some regular 2x4 lumber. The second and third floors were residences with long wavy balconies filled with laundry hanging on inner lines, plants overflowing below the rails and people sitting and talking. The bottom of the buildings, which were protected from rain by the balconies above, had rows and rows of louvered wooden doors opening as stores during the day.
There is lots more, but I have a good idea now of what each day would look like for a week-long timber frame and historic building tour of the area, and am working on shaping that tour to a nice workable form.
But today it’s spring work here on the farm, so much green.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bus Trip In Thailand

After three weeks in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where there are over 300 amazing post and beam type temples, many hundreds of years old and mostly teak, I decided to take a bus trip to the smaller town of Lampang, about 120 kilometers to the south to see if I could find post and beam houses that people lived and worked in.
There are many types of taxi and public transportation here, beginning with the rickshaw, where a man cycles a two-person three-wheeled taxi. The next is the auto rickshaw, or what they call here a tuk tuk. This is a three wheeled motorcycle, an updated version of the rickshaw and is good for two or three people to ride in. The next step up is a pick-up truck, with a high top on the back, where people riding sit facing each other and can take up to a dozen people, and when really full, passengers can also stand on the back bumper. Not for the feint of heart. The pick-ups act as local busses with regular routes or can be hired as taxis.
Busses in Thailand come in different shapes and sizes. First there are the modern tourist ones, that don’t have any regular routes, but are for hire and carry tourists in air conditioned coaches with TV’s and tinted windows that pick you up at your air-conditioned hotel and usual drop you off at another. I don’t prefer them because a person really doesn’t get the benefit of experiencing a country this way. You might as well stay home, avoid all the costs and watch a documentary on that country on the Discovery channel. Enough said.
On my trip to Lampang I took all the above mentioned transportation, except the tourist one. First thing in the morning I stopped one of hundreds of tuk tuks in Chiang Mai, and got a ride to the Lamphun bus stop, another smaller town where I would look at buildings and spend my first night. The “bus” was a red pick-up where I sat facing a woman Buddha monk, all dressed in white and hair shaven. She was a university graduate who spoke some English. We travelled the 25 kilometers along a road that was lined most of the way with 30-meter high teak trees on either side. Just beautiful and great photography material.
When I arrived in Lamphun the only taxis were the rickshaws, and I hired one to drive me to a hotel I had found in a travel guide I carried with me. The driver was older, skinny, almost toothless, but with legs that were like small tree trunks. It was about noon, sunny and about 38 degrees Celsius. We drove out of town along narrow country roads for a while until we arrived at what seemed like palatial grounds, with lots of trees and lawns, not what I expected of the hotel from the travel guide. After I paid the rickshaw driver and he left, I discovered it was not a hotel at all but a Buddhist sanctuary!
There were some exceptional buildings there though so I took the opportunity to photograph them and then took to the dusty road walking with a backpack and soon found a busy highway. After about one-half hour of walking and sweating I spied a pick-up taxi, hailed him down, and through mostly sign language he took me finally to the hotel I was looking for, where I found a good shower and some rest.
The next day, after I photographed an exceptional 550 year old wooden timber frame temple, I found my way back to the bus station where I took a Thai public transport bus, running on diesel and painted with bright colours. It cost me 36 baht or about $1.20 to go to Lampang, some 100 kilometers away.
The bus was full-- older folks, teenagers going to a bigger city and lots of children who were all well behaved. Recessed into the ceiling of the bus were about six small fans, which quit working every time the bus slowed down and began to climb a hill. The windows all opened and you could stick your arm out like a car, which was nice as it was really hot. At the front of the bus there were all kinds of good luck charms dangling from the ceiling, including a disco ball, a stuffed tiger, keys, and rubber dolls. Pictures adorned the sides, with the king of Thailand most prominent (the people of Thailand adore their king), a monkey, photos of the driver’s family I presumed and a kitchen clock showing the right time with a picture of, what else, the king on the face.
Climbing the hills (the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains) was slow but barreling down the other side was scary, so I wasn’t sure what I preferred. But I did like travelling like this, as it showed the true human face of the country I was privileged to be visiting. Oh, and the wooden buildings in Lampang, where I stayed for four days, were definitely worth taking a Thai bus to.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In Thailand

After 2 weeks in Chiang Mai, Thailand, one of our favourite things here is the food. There is quite a large variety in vegetable, fruit and meat. But what really counts is freshness. In our restaurants back home the food comes mainly in pails from Sysco or some other corporate giant. Here, it comes from the farmer’s markets that abound, from the markets gardens that are everywhere, supplying the type of food that everyone here expects to eat—fresh. Try and put some pailed food in front of them and I am sure it would be unanimously turned down.
So, every day, we go out to eat, because it is cheap, but excellent in quality. And people here are eating small amounts but more often. Little sidewalk food vendors with Pad Thai, grilled chicken, pork on a stick, mango shakes blended before your eyes, papaya salads, stir fried red rice with bits of sweet pea stalks, garlic and one of our favourites noodle soup with veggies, bits of chicken and seafood balls. I am gaining weight!
The other amazing thing is here is the cloth. Silks made in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and China. Cotton from the same countries, bright colours, batik, dyed with indigo and other natural dyes, and intricately embroidered Lisu handbags, dresses and tops.
Chiang Mai is certainly the hub for the 6 tribal areas in the north who come down to the markets in this city and sell their crafts and art. And we get to benefit form their wonderful, sometimes centuries old traditional wares. This morning we walked through the day market part of CM and found a small street where there must have been about 30 stores piled high with hundreds of varieties of material, from silk to hemp. Lillian had a hard time choosing, but boy did she have fun. Will write more next time about buildings. So much to get excited about.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Leaving for Thailand

Well, the day has finally arrived and Lillian and I are off to Thailand tomorrow. I am staying until the end of March and Lillian until the middle. The first thing is to have a good, relaxing time. Have some fun, sit in cafes, listen to music and smile a lot.
The other thing is to go exploring. We are based out of Chiang Mai, in the north and staying at Jeffrey and Naomi’s condo there. So many thanks for letting us stay and introducing us to Thailand. I had such great experiences there last year—the food, the people, the weather, especially the food, wow.
And for me one of the best discoveries was the timber frame buildings in Chiang Mai and surrounding area, from temples to ordinary wooden teak houses. I plan on taking a lot of photos for a possible book in the future and to possibly lead a tour of the amazing buildings in that region.
Our friend Richard Spandlik is coming with us and staying at a hotel next door to our condo. Should be fun. I can already picture us sitting at night, outside in the Sunshine Café, eating sandwiches and having abundant conversations with all the interesting people who come there every night. Oh, the air will be so soft and warm, looking forward to it.
As well, Chiang Mai is known for its markets—the day market, the night and Sunday market. Tribal people come down form the north and sell their wares and food. So amazing. Talk to you from there next time!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Terrible Barn Wind

Mid December, 2008, was a terrible day. The snow wasn’t falling for a change but the wind was blowing and gusting up to 100 kilometers per hour. Trees and branches broke, roofs blew off older buildings and many century-old barns were damaged or destroyed.
Just in the Grey county area of Ontario where I live, I have come across many barns that were affected and had many calls after that windy day. A brand new metal roof blew away from a barn I had worked on in Euphrasia Township, near the Beaver Valley. The barn next door to the west side had completely collapsed. In my neighbourhood, two barns were damaged between Scone and Elmwood. On one the straw barn fell down completely, tearing away from the main barn and another, just down the road, collapsed. The problem was that there was a large amount of snow on these barn roofs, combined with the fact that it had gotten warmer and so the snow became heavy. It was actually top heavy and for some of those barns with rotten posts, either at the top or bottom, or girts that were pulling out of their connections, the snow load and wind became too much.
On that day I happened to be at my neighbour’s farm, storing one of my tractors in his barn for the winter. The wind was creating a lot of noise inside the 128 year old structure, which I had repaired a few years ago. I was looking up at the inside of the roof when I noticed that a large section, including the rafters and boards, about 30 feet long, was being lifted up by the wind. Every time the wind gusted, the roof lifted. The owner was there, as well as two of my sons, and we quickly tied heavy ropes to the inside of the rafters and then down to a solid post. Just in time, otherwise the roof would have gone. Funny now, but when the owner was hanging on to the rope, while we were nailing supports for it, he was being lifted up with the wind gusts.
There are many more barns I have seen damaged or collapsed since then, and I have realized it was a memorable storm that leveled many a historic barn. The one in the photo is near Berkley, Ontario. If anyone else can tell me about their area and how many barns were damaged, it would be greatly appreciated.