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Barn Raising… I mean Watching

Tags: , , ,     Categories: barn design, rural culture

This week my region hosted the International Plowing Match in Roseville, a small rural intersection town I often cycle through during the summer. This year the Mennonite Disaster Relief organization hosted a barn raising demonstration for which I volunteered for many months ago. As the day drew nearer I was very excited to participate in my first barn raising. However, as fate would have it, I broke my collarbone a week before the event (more on my skills as a one-armed draftsperson later!) and was not able to assist. So I sent my husband in my place and participated vicariously through him!
The barn was taken down from a nearby town called Paris, it was assembled and disassembled at the Plowing Match, and reassembled in Collingwood as someone’s storage shed. Although, not my ideal final use and resting place for a barn, it is a preferred fate to many bank barns today.  The barn is a post and beam frame, with post around 12″x12″ (those would be expensive timbers these days!). There were 4 bents (frame that spans the short width of the barn) 40′ wide, and spaced 20′ apart.

The process was quite fascinating. There were about 40 volunteers to do the heavy lifting. When we arrived at 9 (as my father would say, the day is half over already) the 4 bents were lying on the ground ready to lift in place. There were 4 tasks to be assigned, ‘on the rope’, ‘on the pike pole’, ‘lifting the bent’, and ‘at the foundations’; not to mention the conductor of these amateur barn builders (most had never done this before). At the start of raising the majority of volunteers stood along the bent, poised to lift on the “he” of “yo-he”. One person was assigned to a rope on each side of the bent, just to steady the frame and prep the rope as the frame lifted. Another volunteer was given a long crowbar and was in charge of ensuring the frame stayed on the seat of the prepared foundations (done by krinner ground screws, a unique and efficient foundation product). And finally 2 people were assigned to each pike pole, for a total of 4 poles. A pike pole is a long 6″ pole with a thick nail on the end, used to push the bent upwards after it is no longer in reach of the people on the ground.  The process went something like this:
Ye-ho, ye-ho, ye-ho, the bent is now at its highest point within reach of the lifters.


Pike poles are stabilized and lifters who are too short, move to the poles to push.
More people move to the pike poles, while others move to the ropes, now two attached at each end.
The pike poles continue to push, but volunteers move to the ropes to ensure the bent are stabilized as it reaches its vertical position.
The post are leveled into position on the foundations, and spiked temporarily in place until the second bent can go up and cross bracing attached to both bents.
Girders, braces, and pegs are installed using the frame itself as a pulley. assembling a barn is a bit like a puzzle and a few pieces don’t quite fit right the second time around…
but, with a bit of convincing the cross beams go into place and the frame can now support itself.


Unfortunately, this is where our day ended with the remaining work to be completed in the following days of the Plowing Match.  My family attended the last day and this is what it looked like.
Check out this video that has some more barn raising action.
This experience only reinforced my obsession with barns and reinforced my ideas about barn architecture;
1. that wood is extremely strong
2. barn raising is a wonderful community building event
3. aside from the nails at the foundations (which was temporary) the barn did not have any mechanical fasteners, only tension and wood joints!
4. timber barn structures have many lives ahead of them, and fire wood is not one of them
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