I got a call a few weeks ago from a local farm lady. “You want to see our barn, it’s unusual, I think you’ll be interested,” she said in that direct local way.
Well, yes, it was different in many ways. On a sunny day I drove up the long driveway in Bentinck Township, north of Hanover, Ontario, with the barn half hidden by Manitoba Maple trees. There was Orval and Marion Becker, 83 and 81 respectively, sitting in their driveway on lawn chairs waiting for me.
They had purchased the farm in 1954, for $11,500, from the Patersons, who had taken the land out of the crown in 1855, making the Beckers only the second family to own it.
The Beckers started out farming in the traditional way , a mixed farm operation—milk cows, beef, chickens, eggs, pigs-- and crops that fed the livestock and a large vegetable garden that fed the family. “We had everything we needed at one time,” Marion said. Soon Orval purchased another two adjoining farms and expanded his operation into beef, milking cows and up to 800 laying hens.
The home farm had an unusual barn. The main barn was a 40 foot by 60 foot timber frame built in the 1880’s while the attached straw barn, 30 by 50 feet, built a few years later, was a little different. Because of the steep slope where the original barn was constructed into the bank, the second barn’s stables, were lower the main barn’s. And, it used to be a drive through barn, meaning two main doors that a horse and wagon could go in one side and come out the other, so at one time it was on ground level. Now one set of main doors are eight feet in the air! When Orval decided to go into the egg business, he built another floor in the straw barn to house his hens, with the windows still evident near the peak of the barn, making it a three-storey barn.
In about 1980 Orval sold all his commercial livestock and began a cash crop business. Although he was very busy at certain times, planting and harvesting, it left some time open for a passion he had, collecting antique vehicles. As I entered the main barn I was met with an amazing sight—the barn was full of antique cars of every description, and parts piled high in every corner. There was his first car he bought, a Model T Ford, and there was his favourite, a 1928 Erskine, so named after the Studebaker president. “People ask me what did you get all this junk for,” laughed Orval. When others heard of his collection they brought over their antiques and soon Orval had a part time business repairing antique cars and finding parts for customers. There is a field of cars behind the barn and two more driving sheds full.
When I asked him why he didn’t begin to sell some of those valuable vehicles , he told me he didn’t know where to begin. “Now everything I got makes me a prisoner to what I have collected.”
This year Orval had a local Mennonite repair his main barn as the gangway foundation was caving in. “You have to decide whether the barn is an asset or a liability,” he said. He laments the fact that so many are not being maintained and are falling down.