Volume VIII, No. 1, Fall 1980
by Mark Engsberg and Mary day
Barns, if they could talk, would have much to say. They witness birth and death and the never-ending struggle for survival. Their wisdom is the wisdom of life. A foal on unsteady legs, struggling to its feet for the first time, is tied to the barn throughout its life. It eats, sleeps and grows old amid the bleaching timbers and cobwebby rafters to finally die quietly in its familiar stall. Kittens, born in a hay nest, grow up to vie with barn owls and snakes for the mice. Barns are an institution in themselves, places of business and livelihood, yet they offer solitude and refuge, too. Nowhere else can one find the same air of security, feel the same atmosphere or find the same pungent odor as in a barn.
The barn is an ever-present marker of farming, possibly the longest surviving occupation of man. There have been some forms of barns for thousands of years, and that they still exist today is evidence of their necessity to the farmer. The barn has also played an integral part in Ozarkian life, its presence a natural addition to the landscape for generations, rising from humble log barns when farming was on a small scale, to the mammoth, metal structures of today.
Barns began, as a rule, as log pens with lofts on them. Sheds were often added around the perimeter of the structure. Sometimes, there would be two log pens with a breezeway roofed between them. Often shedded from the wind, especially on the north and west sides, they served as shelters for cattle or machinery. This protected area was handy during bad weather when the farmer could drive his wagon into the breezeway to protect its contents from a storm.
Early farmers raised many different kinds of crops rather than being specialized. The farmer would raise a few acres of wheat and oats as well as corn, and, of course, hay. Each crop needed a different storage space. Animals also inhabited the barn and required separate stalls. Maybe the farmer would have mares with mule colts which took a separate place to sleep at night. One log shed might have all sheep and the other all calves. Mules needed a special place to stay as they would kick everything else.
As the farm operation began to grow the farmers needed bigger and better barns. Improvements in agricultural research enabled the farmer to raise more crops per acre. This greater productivity allowed farmers to buy more land so herds became larger.
With the increase in farming, the building of barns from oak lumber instead of logs became widespread. These barns were also all-purpose with places for animals, crops and machinery.
Inside the lumber barns were much the same as the log barns. Outside, though, the architecture of
the barns varied greatly. Tall, smooth structures quickly replaced the low crude log barns. Every
farmer who could afford it had a new lumber barn. Though the bigger barn was more costly, one
could build a much larger barn than a log barn with the same amount of timber. They were also
sturdy because they could be braced, whereas log barns weren't braced. Sawed lumber barns soon
took their place on the typical farm, but even with the changes, the barn has such a basic use that
the same styles used years ago can still be used today.
LOG BARNSGrant Tunnell remembered much about the days of log barns since he helped to build several himself, the last in 1920. "Barns were built quickly and efficiently,'' he said. "The speed relied on the amount of people working on the barn. It took some engineering to get that thing together. We didn't have any blueprints--didn't need blueprints. Ail you needed was some good axes.
"There would be four, maybe five working to raise a barn. Most generally the farmers would
come in. In other words, you wouldn't have a crew that you went in to work with. The farmers
would help one another just to be helpful. It was the same way with hay at haying time. I was
roofing a barn with shingles and a neighbor was cutting oats and couldn't get his binder to run. He
wanted a person that was helping me to help him get his binder to work. He came over to help us
shingle, and the man I was building the barn for went to fix the binder. They just swapped.
"There was usually a good turnout for a barn raising. The word would get out around for a week or so before it happened. When the farmers had their logs in and ready for the raising, they'd notify their neighbors and the whole country would come in. They had lots of chicken and dumplings. It was kind of a thrill, because people would look forward to helping one another in those days. They looked on it more as a visit than they did labor, for they always had a good time. It didn't matter if it was a barn raising or what it was to be done. If people needed help, they didn't have any trouble getting it."
The log barn could almost be built in one day. The main walls and rafters would be done so that the farmer could use it, but there would be several details to finish such as building doors, finishing the roof and cleaning up. But usually after two days the barn would be finished.
"All of the barns in this area were built of oak. There wasn't a pine tree within thirty miles, I don't guess," Grant continued. "It was all oak--black oak, white oak, whatever they could find that was smooth and straight. Usually, the logs were eight to ten inches in diameter, but some were up to sixteen inches. It depended on the farmer, the size of barn he wanted to build and the timber he had to work with. The logs were much prettier then. The timber has been cut over now until it is not nearly as straight and good as it had been. There was some timber on government land and the government would sell you what we called board trees which had to be perfectly straight and have perfect grain in them. It was virgin timber, a dollar a tree. They bolted that out like you would stave bolts. It all had to be done with a wedge because you couldn't hit it with an axe. It might crack that way. If you made a crack in it, you ruined it."
Often enough the timber needed was close at hand, though, due to the varied Ozark landscape suitable timber could be miles away. "You didn't have to ask anybody where you'd go cut, just wherever you wanted to and people would be three or four days on the road to get it. It might take two or three teams. They would cook up enough food to last, because there wasn't anywhere along the way to buy it.
"They took some of the logs, which were to be used for the doors, the loft floor and other inside finishing work to a sawmill where it was sawed into lengths with a crosscut saw. About three logs were all they could haul on a wagon at one time.
"Before I started building barns, the farmers had a driveway through the barns for their wagons and what-have-you. It went right down the middle with a door at each end. Then, by the time I started building," Grant recalled, "it was changed to a feedway for the animals. Now, they're nearly all pole barns. They put the hay in the middle and the cattle or stock go in from either side to eat. Also, with the big round bales, they're just drug into the pole barns or sheds for the cattle to feed on, or even just left out in the field."
Virtually all log barns were built the same way. They started with the foundation which was four large rocks, placed at each corner of the barn. Later, if more ground support was needed, more rocks would be added to the foundation area.
The log walls were constructed next by notching the ends of the logs and placing them one on top of the other. Most often the farmers used the dovetail method of notching to fit the logs together. Usually after the second log was in place, the workers would start cutting a door, but sometimes they built the walls all the way up and then cut the door out. As a rule, the door would face the south to give added protection from the chill north and east winds.
Since one end of the log is larger than another, the logs were placed large end on small, and vice versa to keep the walls level. When the walls became too high for the workers to lift the logs into place, they leaned slats of wood, or skids, on the top log of the wall and rolled the logs up these. There would be workers on the top of the walls to receive and place these.
Some men were skilled enough to score the logs. Scoring the logs was chopping off all of the bark and making the log as square as possible. The builders used a broadax or foot adz, which is a tool with a thin arched blade, sharpened on the concave side and set at right angles to the handle. "Some of the old men would just knock that stuff off and make it look as if it had been run through a mill. Of course, it took them forty years of practice to be able to do it," Grant said.
Scoring was also used when building log houses. Probably the main difference between the outside wall construction of a house and a barn was that houses were chinked, whereas barns usually weren't. Chinking was the practice of filling the cracks between the logs. Barns were pretty warm though, because the logs were hewed to fit snugly.
Rafters in the log barn were pole rafters. They were supported on joists or log braces, which also supported the sawed lumber floor of the loft. The rafters joined at the comb, which is the very top of the roof. They weren't nailed, but were held in place by wooden pegs driven in drilled holes. Shingles too, were held with pegs. There wasn't a nail in the old log barns until later when square nails became available.
The roof was usually covered with hand-hewn shingles that were fastened to 1 by 4 slats of sheathing spaced approximately six inches apart. Shingles, about sixteen inches long and tapering to about three-eighths of an inch thick at the small end were usually made out of red or white oak. "When the roof was finished, the shingles overlapped each other so that each shingle showed about five inches to the weather. They were pretty good roofs. They turned water pretty well, but sometimes the wind got in and blew them off."
Almost all of the old log barns had several compartments in or around them. There were pens built for the team of mules or horses, as well as other animals. The inside of the barn was partitioned with cut poles or sometimes with sawed oak lumber. Most often the majority of the animals ran loose on the farm, except perhaps for the team. But animal stalls were needed for special needs such as sickness, weaning young animals or temporary shelter from storms. In general, a log barn didn't house animals as much as it did the feed for the animals. Even chores, such as milking, weren't done in the log barns.
"I remember seeing folks going out to a corral to milk with a bucket in one hand and a chair in the other. They'd sit down and milk a while. The old cow would move up and they'd have to move up with her. Then they'd let the calves in to nurse for a while. Then they would drive them out. Sometimes when they milked, they would tie up the calf. Oh, it was kind of funny. I'd like to see a movie of those days," Grant said.
To increase the capacity of the barn many farmers built sheds out from the roof, often going all the way around three sides of the barn. The building was almost perfectly square when they finished it.
All feed storage was in the barn or its surrounding sheds because silos didn't come into use until log barns were obsolete.
Feed was stored in the barn loft in the form of either loose hay or fodder. Hay was hauled up to the barn on a wagon. From here it was pitched into the loft via a small door where someone would throw it to the back and stack it. Corn was stored in a crib, or small room built in the barn or in one of its surrounding sheds to keep off the rain and snow. When the corn was gathered, farmers stored it in the crib without shucking for later feeding. The fodder, the stalks and leaves of the corn plant, were kept in the loft for feed.
The log barns were solid structures, "The log barns would stand for ages. I could show you today some old barns that have been there for over seventy-five years. They were very sturdy."
ROUGH OAK BARNS
However, things must change to accommodate the changing times and technology. Bigger farms, larger numbers of stock, more markets, the availability of sawmills for sawed lumber and better economy persuaded the farmer to improve his buildings in many aspects. The barn was the first structure to show the improvement of the economic situation. "Old timers built the barn first, then they built the house," said Stanley Ruble.
The most obvious change was the leap from whole logs to milled plank lumber.
The cost of building a barn naturally depended upon its size, and some farmers in later years would hire a man to head the construction. If an experienced carpenter was hired, his approximate wages in the 1920's were about a dollar and a quarter an hour, and, if he were unmarried, he would stay overnight on the farm until the barn was completed, eating meals prepared by the farmer's wife. If the farmer was handy in building, instead of hiring a team of builders to raise the barn he and his sons might build it with help from his neighbors and relatives who would usually come to help build the barn in exchange for the farmer's help for a job on their own farm. But building these barns was too big a job for a two-day neighborhood barn raising.
For a standard sized barn, the time that it took to complete a raising was normally about three weeks working six days a week from sunrise to sunset. Naturally barn construction was not carried on the year around as it was difficult to accomplish much work in the bite of winter, but it did continue as late into the year as possible. Each individual farmer would time his building for slack farming times or to meet a specific need, such as getting it done before haying.
It was not always necessary to locate the barn close to the house, although it would have been more convenient that way. In fact, the majority of these barns were built anywhere from fifty to two hundred yards from the house simply because it was nearer to the pasture or fields and easier for wagons to gain access. There was also the necessity for proper drainage on higher ground which was not always available near the house.
Lumber was the most important material needed in the construction of a big, general purpose barn, but other items were also necessary, such as nails, bolts and other hardware, cement and roofing. Oak lumber was used for all of the barn except occasionally the door which was sometimes made of pine. The gray weathered oak barns are somewhat a trademark of the Ozarks. Oak is odorless and its strong resistancy to rain and weathering makes this type of wood a good choice. The lumber was used while it was still green as it was easier to work with than seasoned lumber. Seasoned oak is very hard, making it difficult to saw through or drive in a nail.
Getting the lumber sawed posed different problems to different farmers depending on where they lived, whether they had their own timber and how far it was to a sawmill. The Ozarks was basically a wooded area, yet there were some prairie and savannah regions without saw timber. If a farmer had no timber of his own, he would either buy standing timber, cut it and haul it himself or buy the sawed lumber from the sawyer. The farmer who had his own timber, to get it cut, could either cut and take the logs to a mill or have the sawyer move his mill onto the farm. The latter was better as the farmer could haul only a few logs at a time on his horse-drawn wagon to the mill site which was sometimes many miles away. In some wooded areas there were several mills making it easier for the farmer to get his logs milled. When the farmer had his timber at the mill he would specify the sizes and amounts of boards he wanted cut from his logs.
The boards that were milled were measured by a board foot. When these barns were first being built, a hundred board feet, ten feet square was priced at only seventy-five cents. These days farmers are paying at least thirty-six dollars.
Just as the use of logs gave way to sawed lumber which was a faster and easier material to build with, the wooden pegs also gave way to the nails. The farmer would purchase these common nails by the keg in sizes of six, eight, sixteen or twenty penny using different sizes depending upon the part of the barn being constructed.
With all of the building material ready, the actual construction of the barn could begin. The first job was to dig the footing with a pick and shovel, and then construct forms for the foundation.
Next came the arduous job of mixing the cement. Many Ozark farmers were fortunate to live near deposits of sand and gravel on the many creek and river gravel bars. Usually all that was needed was the permission of the owner to let the farmer haul out whatever gravel and sand he needed.
In the earlier period of building this type of barn, since there were no powered cement mixers, the farmer usually mixed it all by hand. He constructed a wooden box approximately three feet wide and five feet long with one end slanted. He shovelled in five parts of the small river gravel and sand to one part dry cement. He would then combine the two ingredients in their dry state by turning the mixture over several times with a hoe, then mixing again after adding water until it was of the correct consistency for pouring.
Without cement mixers, hand mixing the cement made the foundation the most trying part of barn building. After digging the footing, to save cement, the farmer would fill it almost full of rocks which he would pick up in fields, barnyards or wherever he could find them. He then poured the cement mixture into the forms that continued above ground from the footing to form the foundation.
While the cement was still wet, to fasten the barn to the foundation bolts were sometimes placed head down into the cement every four feet or so with a few inches of thread projecting up from the foundation. The forms were removed after the cement dried and the wooden plates that were often the width of the foundation with holes bored for the bolts to go through were positioned on the foundation through the bolts. A nut was then screwed down tightly over the bolt.
The studs, often 6 by 6's, were toe-nailed vertically to the plates at each corner and every eight to ten feet. On top of these studs was another plate on which the beams were nailed to support the floor of the loft. The rafters were supported on this plate, or for larger barns, more studs were added and another plate as support for the rafters.
When the entire framework was up, horizontal cross pieces of 2 by 4's were nailed between the studs about four feet apart onto which the one-inch siding was nailed.
This siding was nailed vertically with boards as close together as possible because oak, as it aged and weathered, would shrink leaving a slight gap between each siding plank. Though these openings did not let in too much wind, some farmers still felt the need to cover the gaps on the lower level with wood stripping.
If it were possible, the farmer would locate the doors on the south side of the barn. The southern exposure protected the animals from the north wind and the drifts of winter snow which piled up on the north side. The doors, either single or divided doors, were of a simple construction. Most farmers made their doors by nailing cross pieces and braces across oak siding cut to size. Sometimes they used tongue and groove pine to make a tighter door.
Depending upon the farmer's personal preference and what he could afford these doors were kept shut by latches which varied from simple homemade wire hooks or slabs of wood to complicated store-bought latches.
Windows were used for light and ventilation where livestock were kept or for openings for shoveling in grain. The openings usually measured two feet square and were placed about ten feet apart down the sides of the barn. There were usually no windows on the back and the only one on the front would be the large one in the loft for hay. These side window openings were usually not glassed in, but were open for summer ventilation. During the winter or for other protection they were closed with wooden sashes which were built like the doors and could either be held in place by wooden knobs that pivoted on a nail or bolt or could slide back and forth.
Topping the barn was the roof which was usually tall and arched. Only a few of these big barns were covered with shingles, for the great majority from the early 1900's on used galvanized tin which was about 26 inches wide and came in lengths of 8, 10 and 12 feet. This type of roofing took a lot less labor to put on than the individual 6 inch shingle and would last many years longer. The galvanized roofing was nailed onto sheathing boards with a special lead headed grooved roofing nail that made a waterproof seal over the hole when the lead head was hammered down. The grooves helped to keep the wind and other pressures from pulling the nails out. If the metal roofing strips were blown loose by the wind, someone would climb onto the roof to fasten them down again. These repairs usually involved tying the sheets down with wire after they were re-nailed to prevent their blowing off again.
Into the barns were built many compartments for the many uses of the barn just as in the log barns, except these larger barns housed animals more regularly than the old log structures. The most obvious compartments were the animal stalls that had in the corner of each a manger for hay and a box for grain. This is where the animals would sleep and eat. There were no certain sizes for the stalls except to fit the type of animal it was to keep. If the stall was for a team of horses or a mare and colt, it would be larger than one for a single animal, and a big stall for the animals to have free access to come in for shelter would be even larger. Usually the stalls were down one side of the barn separated from the milking stanchions on the other by a feedway. The stanchions, resembling a large wooden crate, would hold the cow's head in place while she was being milked. When the cow would place her head between two of the slats, the farmer would slide the top of one of them against the cow's neck and then he would drop a block of wood against the slat, thus imprisoning the cow's head in this stanchion. There were usually from four to eight stanchions in a row.
Beside stalls for animals, the barns were also used to store feed--corn, wheat, oats and hay. The corn bin had a much different construction technique than any other compartment. It measured approximately ten or twelve feet, but of course, the crib size would depend upon the amount of corn the farmer expected to raise. The crib had wider spaces between the partition boards to allow more circulation for proper grain drying. Without this extra air the ear corn would more readily mold and spoil.
Similar in usage but made in another different construction technique was the granary, used for small grain such as wheat, oats or shelled corn. For this the partitions were made of tongue and grooved lumber to prevent the grain from spilling out. In both the corn bin and the granary were openings for the farmer to shovel his grain through. These windows were located at the top of the bin or granary to allow the farmer to fill it to the top with grain.
A sight well noticed and towering above the cluster of other farm buildings was the big hay loft of the barn. Though the loft was high, the farmer had an ingenious system to get the loose hay in. At the apex of the roof was a large window with a hood tapering out over it.
Before the days of baled hay, hay was stored loose in the barn lofts. To save labor of pitching each forkfull of hay into the loft, ropes, pulleys and big forks powered by horses or mules unloaded the wagons of hay into the loft. Here is a picture of the pulley, cable and runner which is now unused in the apex of the barn roof.
Through this window a big hay fork was lowered by ropes and pulleys onto a wagon loaded with hay. The rope of the hay fork was powered by a mule or horse which moved on command to pull the load of hay from that wagon up to the end of the hood where the fork mechanism fastened to a metal runner which ran the length of the barn loft. The person driving the horse would go forward until stopped at the yelled command from a man in the barn when the load of hay reached the correct position. The hay would then be released from the fork by a trip rope, another rope would pull the empty hay fork back to the hood, the horse would back up and the whole process would be repeated.
When baled hay evolved, this hay loading device was no longer used. To continue using the loft of these barns as a storage area the farmer, at first, threw each bale up from the truck into the loft. Later to save labor, many farmers used powered loading ramps for the bales. Recently, though, farmers have been baling their hay in huge round bales which can be left out in the pasture and not be loaded into the barn, thus eliminating expensive hired help. Because of the change in hay harvesting, it has been many years since any barns on this style have been built, but the barns are still being used. As more and more use the huge bales, the tall lofts will probably stand empty.
The high hay loading fork sometimes had other uses than filling the barn with hay. Because it was out of reach of varmints and farm animals, a farmer might hang a freshly butchered beef from the fork. This was done only in the winter when the beef would not spoil.
Besides sheltering animals and feed, the larger barns provided protection from the weather for the farmer's wagon, plow, harness and other farm implements. Because of the tall walls and high roof, it was easy to build a shed on either side or sometimes across the back of the barn for storing machinery and for extra space for animals to loaf out of the weather just as was done on the log barns.
The whole barn was quite a fire hazard so in the 1940's when electricity reached the farms farmers were quite anxious to put electricity in their barns, thus ridding themselves of the worry induced with kerosene or gas lanterns as their source of light.
The worries never seemed to amount to much in the adventurous minds of farm children. They were constantly inventing new games to play in the barn. It was no surprise to find children in a barn sliding down loose hay or swinging on a rope hung from the rafters.
Children also had their share in most of the chores done in the barn. Milking cows, cleaning out the pens and compartments, gathering eggs, shucking corn to use as feed, loading hay and feeding the animals were chores that were common to farm life.
There was also other life in the barn. Mice and rats ran across the tops of feed sacks and helped themselves to a free meal. Small birds nested in the rafters and pigeons made the loft a permanent home. Children hunting for hidden hen's nests sometimes found they were preceded by a black snake.
Though strong and permanent looking, the barns were vulnerable. It took only minutes for a dreaded tornado to flatten a barn or for lightning from a summer storm to strike it and burn up the barn along with the year's harvest. But in case of disaster, the farmer had no choice but to rebuild, making whatever changes in design his changing farming needs dictated and using whatever materials were available to him in a different economy and technology.
A few log barns still standing are relics of the pioneer past. The tall general-purpose barns, better designed and adapted to increased agricultural needs, dominated the farm scene for many years. Now they, too, though still numerous and useful, are rarely being built. They have given way to one story, specialized barns constructed of metal, plastic or composition siding. The scarcity of good timber, the high cost of labor and the fire-proof qualities of this newer siding have made these materials desirable. Changing materials and needs are continually changing the appearance of the barns scattered over the Ozark countryside.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.