Monday, February 25, 2008

This Old Barn

Since the recent fire that destroyed the barn that had been in my family for four generations, I've been looking at the old pictures. While I understand intellectually the barns were obsolete, and in fact they didn't belong to us any more, emotionally I feel there has been death in the family, mourn being able to look across the field and see the red barn, symbol of rural Wisconsin that is passing away.

This photo shows my grandfather in the 1920s with corn he grew. He was a seed corn salesman for Simons Seeds, Walworth County family company. I believe the business was sold to Shepherd Seeds. Behind the corn stands the older, smaller barn. It had two open hay mows, great fun for a child. I'm unsure of how it was originally used, perhaps for housing horses or heifers.When I was in elementary school it was home to our Shetland/Welch stallion, a devil named Timmy.  After the dairy operation stopped in the 1960s, the smaller barn deteriorated, the roof caved in, and the boards were sold to be recycled into flooring, furniture, or something similar. This is the fate of many old barns. It's simply too expensive to repair them just for their sentimental or even historical value. Behind the smaller barn was the larger dairy barn, with an enclosed mow. This, according to my uncle, was built around 1900. It also featured huge hand-hewn beams so hard a nail couldn't be driven into them, held together with wooden pegs.

This photo shows the old wooden stanchions that held the cows for milking, also the old wooden support beams Around 1958 or so my father added on to the barn, replacing stanchions, adding more of them, adding a modern milk house and a better automated system for cleaning the barn.
This shows the addition with the up-to-date stanchions and the gutters. Not shown here is a large sunken pen for holding calves.
My clearest mental image of my dad is him doing this, milking. I picture him walking down the middle of the two rows of cows, flinging down clouds of lime to keep the barn floor fresh. I see him with a big metal scoop, distributing feed, going down each side of the aisle, giving each her share. I see him breaking light bales of straw for bedding, or heavy hay for feed, or in the milk house sinks, washing the stainless steel milking machines and hanging them to dry. Knowing the barn is forever gone feels like losing him again after more than twenty years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing.

It does seem nowadays the idea of place is lost in the sense of having a personal emotional identification.

I can understand how you feel.