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Moving Barns : River Valley edition : Tuesday, 25 February 2020 00:05 EST : a service of The Public Press
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past events that people
have decided to agree
– Napoleon Bonaparte

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Moving Barns

     by Ken Epworth

(Looking for an unusual holiday gift? Imagine the look on that loved one's face when they look out the window and see the towering framework of a 40 x 60 foot barn. Just kidding, of course, but there's no limit to the romance and nobility of resurrecting a barn. SM)

It's true, they're not making 'em like they used to. If you've always dreamed of owning or living in an old barn, take a look at what it takes to make that dream come true.

The frame is the essential and most interesting component of any barn's construction and character. Frames can survive the ravages of time if kept dry and supported by good foundations. The materials that enclose the frame (the flooring, the siding, and the roofing) take the real beating. A barn is basically a framework of solid timbers clothed with a replaceable exterior skin that when carefully dismantled and restored, can be given a new location and a new life.

Barn frames are one-of-a-kind, vintage antiques. With graceful proportions and simple lines these honest structures offer an integrity of design not available in standardized construction. Tasteful additions of wings, sheds or ells only enhance the character.quiet zone

Moreover, barns create a settled feeling on the land, as if they have always been there! A well- designed barn conversion, utilizing space-age components, such as stress-skin insulation panels, can provide energy efficiency and low maintenance to satisfy the needs of modern living. With their warm, mellowed timbers and traditional profile barns provide a romance and charm that cannot be duplicated. This same charm has proven highly effective in the resale of many of our completed projects. Plus, when you relocate a decaying barn to a choice site, you have saved a piece of our architectural heritage.


The first step in dismantling a barn is photographing the structure as it originally stood. Next very carefully measure the barn and make sketches to record its essential character. Blueprints are later drawn from these sketches of the original framework, stating the location and size of each timber. These drawings are then labeled for coding purposes.
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The exterior roof cover is then removed. The roof may be slate, old tin sheeting, asphalt or wood shingles. These materials generally cannot be reused. The roof sheathing boards are then removed, exposing the rafters which soar high above the ground floor. The exterior siding is then removed. This may be clapboard, wood shingles, or vertical boards often commonly referred to as "barn board". Save as much of this barn board as possible, but due to years of exposure to harsh winters, the yield is often small. The premium antique boards require considerable labor to restore.

Farmers seldom had the time or the money to replace the exterior skin, so many old barns have a decidedly seedy appearance. But within the tattered shell with its leaky roof and brittle barn siding, is the exposed splendid framework of solid, warm, mellowed timbers that succeed functionally as well as aesthetically. This framework is wire brushed by hand to dislodge hay, cobwebs, and years of accumulated dirt. All nails and hardware are removed. The entire frame is now exposed, always an exciting sight. Next, the frame is braced for dismantling the large sections with a crane. All wooden pegs, which hold the timbers firmly in place, are removed. Missing timbers from the original frame are drawn on to the blueprints for later replacement in the shop. The entire frame is then labeled to correspond with the labeled blueprints. The rafters are lowered to the ground by hand. A crane lowers the large heavy sections of the frame to the ground. These are carefully taken apart and loaded onto a flatbed truck for shipment to the shop. All during this dismantling process great care and attention to detail is been taken to assure that there won't be ugly scarring or breakage to the timbers.

Restoration and Repair

It is a rare barn that requires no structural or surface repairs. The restoration phase is what separates the amateur from the professional. It is not unlike the restoration and refinishing of a fine antique.

When the barn frame arrives at the shop, the labeled parts are carefully sorted according to placement within the barn's framework and to condition and overall appearance. The beams are then stacked under cover to protect them from the sun's damaging ultra-violet rays which will gray the honey-colored timbers rapidly.

Meticulous attention is given to the original beams that require repair due to blemishes or deterioration. Whenever possible the original beam is kept intact and sections of wood that match in color and character are spliced in to replace deteriorated or unsightly areas. Repairs are done utilizing salvaged beams from other barns that could not be saved. Space-age epoxies and hidden steel are sometimes required to make repairs go unnoticed and to insure the timber will be as strong as it was originally intended.

When structural elements meet standard, they are laid out on the ground and preassembled into large wall sections. Each large section is then "squared up." Measurements are again taken to make sure all the posts are the same length. Any corrections to measurements are now made to a new set of blueprints.

At this point missing beams are replaced, using beams that match in color, character, and joinery those of the original frame. The preassembled large frame sections are now ready for the often utilized "adaptation phase". This is the time that changes or additions to the original frame are made. These may include new lofts, doorways, windows, or additions. Sometimes the owner wants a shed or "saltbox" addition to serve as a bedroom, office, or dining nook.

Hand Washing

The entire frame is now hand washed. Each member is first placed on a set of saw horses and sprayed with a hose. A nylon bush is used to scrub off accumulated dirt. It would be faster to pressure-wash the beams, but this tends to fuzz up the wood fibers and removes some of the honey-colored patina so important to the frame's appearance. It is recommended to use environmentally friendly TSP-PF, a phosphate-free detergent mixed with water for the hand scrubbing. Besides removing barn dirt, this process also insures that the barn will not smell like the barn it once was, once the new furnace is turned on. Hand washing is essential!

Insect Treatment

No one wants to think about bugs in the beams. Beams that appear to have been damaged by insects or dry rot are replaced with beams that match the color and character of the original. However, just to be on the safe side the entire frame is then sprayed twice with Bora-care, a state of the art treatment, which kills anything living in the wood including mildew, but remains non-toxic to humans and animals. Two coats are recommended to insure there will never be an insect or mildew problem.

The "Finished" Look

Our barn frame's timbers require no further attention. They have been fully restored, hand washed and treated for insects and mildew. The splendid honey-colored patina is as good as it gets!

Reassembly phase

Once the site and foundation have been prepared, the frame and materials are loaded onto a flat bed truck and shipped to the new site. When the frame arrives, so does the crew to off-load the frame and assemble the large sections on the ground. A local crane contractor then lifts these heavy sections onto the foundation platform. Next, the entire frame is squared and plumbed, then braced and pegged with hand-made hardwood pegs.

The next step is to enclose the frame. If the frame is to remain a structure for agricultural purposes, or perhaps a garage or outbuilding, sheathing the walls and roof with either old or new boards similar to the original barn will be sufficient. However, the majority of frames are now used for residential or commercial use and enclosure requires a more finished

(This information used by permission of Ken Epworth, Owner of The Barn People, Windsor, Vermont. For more information, www.thebarnpeople.com)

Barn Bibliography

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River Valley editor: Stephen Morris
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