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.