Our old faded barn doesn’t get used as much these days as it did years ago. We don’t calve in cold weather anymore, and we don’t ranch with teams of horses needing stalls to eat their oats and a place to hang their harness.
But I get into the barn enough to still appreciate it, even if it’s just the short time it takes to saddle a horse or find a place to store the trappings of animal husbandry. The kids and I have been spending a little more time in there this winter, as they play in the hay mow and I play with a weanling colt we raised this year.
It’s a cozy place to be, despite the missing windows and a few holes in the siding. It’s warmed by nostalgia, a couple of horses chewing on a manger full of hay, the blur of kids discovering new adventures in it, and those five 100 watt bulbs strung along the beams of the hay mow floor to light it on short winter days.
I always appreciated the history of our old barn. I had seen a photo of the barn in its early days on the ranch when the white painted lettering was still legible, “Livery Feed and Sale-Barn.”
My great grandfather had owned the barn as a livery business in bustling little Towner, N.D., before it was moved out to the ranch. If you needed a place to park your horse, get a gallon of oats or a manger full of hay, the Taylor Livery was the place to go. Chances were pretty good you could do some horse trading there, too.
My great grandfather died in 1922, and the barn came out to the ranch in 1927. When I asked dad how they moved that tall, 32-foot-by-60-foot barn out here, he said he’d heard it was broke down into seven pieces — two side walls, two end walls, the hay mow floor and the two sides of the roof — and each piece was skidded with eight horses the 16 miles out to the ranch. It took some effort, obviously, but the ranch had a decent barn when it was all tacked back together.
When Dad came home from World War II, he poured concrete footings under the 184-foot perimeter of the barn. When I asked how he did that he said he’d jack it up a bit, dig a 4-foot deep trench in the sand, form it up, mix up some concrete, pour it, let ’er down, then jack up the next several feet and do it again. One guy, 184-feet of 4-foot footings. It took some effort, but was maybe a little therapeutic for Dad after spending three winters in the jungles of the south Pacific.
He put tin on the roof and built a gate inside of it from cottonwood lumber milled from trees about to be flooded by the dams on the Missouri River. The tin is still there, and the gate is too, as are the stories I find myself recounting to our children as we hang out in the barn.
I’ve always heard it said that our pioneer ancestors often put more immediacy in getting a barn built than getting a house built. As the saying went, there were a lot of barns that paid for a house, but not many houses that ever paid for a barn.
Maybe the structure itself is less important with the way we ranch today, but what it stands for, I think, is more important than ever. The barn may not pay for much anymore, but what our family has invested in it, over the years, is worth remembering.
At least one colt, related to some of the very horses that were tied in that barn more than 50 years ago, still appreciates the grain box and the manger we tie him to. And, one family, related to those who owned it a hundred years ago, still appreciates it, too. ❖
The barn may not pay for much anymore, but what our family has invested in it, over the years, is worth remembering.