Monday, November 26, 2012


This was an article I wrote for the local paper, and I thought I would post it even though it reads a little differently. 

In its day this classic Grey County, Ontario, timber frame barn was said to be the biggest barn in the county.
This was a big achievement as there were many big and tall barns built in the late 19th century made from the thick hardwood and pine forests where there were plenty of big trees. 
Originally built by John Blyth in 1886 in former Normanby Township, south of Durham, this barn served Blyth’s 225 acres adequately. He became the MPP for the region under the Conservative banner in 1879 but suddenly died in 1895 at the age of 45, leaving his wife and nine children.
His sons James and John took over the farm and they reshaped the barn to what it looks like today. Many farmers during the early 20th century were expanding their operations, building additions to their barns or even moving neighbouring ones to be joined to their existing barns.  The Blyth children added another 20 feet to the overall length, making it almost 100 feet long, but it was the roof and sides that was quite an accomplishment. The old roof and its supporting timbers were taken down and another new set of posts and six roof purlins were assembled, raising the roof higher to over 50 feet and almost 60 feet if the foundation height was added. It was incredible how these old heavy timbers and pole rafters were first taken down and new ones erected without our modern cranes, but using the skills acquired with blocks and pulleys and by the use of gin poles. It was at this time, when some of the first rafters were being put up and men were at the top that one of them announced he could see Lake Huron, a distance of 58 kilometers.  
The Blyth’s were specializing in shorthorn cattle, but pigs were also kept in the stables under the small straw barn, which was unchanged since it was initially built. It was a busy time providing feed for the livestock.  Turnips were grown on a six acre field for feed and each one had to be pulled out by hand in cold November days and then hauled into the barn. Part of the back of the stables, a section 10 feet wide and the length of the barn was converted into a root cellar for this important feed supply. It worked so well that a silo was not built on the farm until the 1970’s.  To make the turnips into small chewable bits for the cattle and pigs, they were put through a “pulper,” which was operated by turning a large handle, a difficult manual job. But the dirtiest harvest work was threshing hard peas, which was also used for feeding cattle and mixed with oats for feeding pigs. The peas were cut with a mower bar that had a special attachment, which cut and then rolled the peas and stems into a bundle.  There was always a lot of dirt left over on the stems and pea pods and threshing the crop became very dusty work.
This farm operation used so much grain that it used to take three days to thresh the crop. The massive grain bins used to store the grain measured 35 feet by 42 feet, with two doors leading to ten huge bins. When the crop was harvested by reaper binders, the sheaves were brought into the barn and stored there until the threshing crews came. There were so many sheaves in the east part of the barn that they reached the top plate of the barn, about 35 feet.
The stable floor was different than most as it was made from short logs of cedar standing on end and then the spaces in between filled in with sand. It was quite durable, did not get muddy like a dirt floor but was harder to clean as the shovel would hit the tops of the cedar as they were a bit uneven.
The structure still stands today, a show barn to the expertise of timber framers of the 19th and early 20th centuries and can be seen on Concession 2 just west of Highway 6.

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