Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Sunday, September 22, 2011
by Deb Nicklay

A barn reborn

MASON CITY - Dean BLAKE knew he had a job ahead of him when deciding to renovate his Depression-era barn.

"It was leaning about 12 1/2 inches to the northeast," he said. "So I straightened it."

Most would be intimidated by the thought of shoring up a barn 70-plus years old, but not BLAKE. Saving the barn was motivated as much by memories of his own rural upbringing as it was by need.

Now, his barn and scores of others will be featured on the Iowa Barn Foundation All-State Barn Tour on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28 and 29.

The BLAKE barn is four miles northwest of Mason City on County Road B20.

"They all tell a story," BLAKE said, peering up toward the barn's highest peak.

This barn's tale was almost a tragedy. BLAKE, who purchased the rural property four years ago, said the strong winds and storms of this spring and summer "would have brought it right down if it hadn't been fixed."

BLAKE has worked hard over the past few years to restore the late-1920s prairie barn that, over the years, served both dairy and hog operations. He was aided by a matching grant from the Iowa Barn Foundation.

The gambrel-roofed barn was once a typical sight for North Iowans. The barn has a clay tile foundation, cement floor and wood siding. BLAKE, who owns B&J Auto in Mason City, was working Saturday to put a finishing coat of red paint on the barn.

Too many barns, he said, are dying from neglect.

"I want to preserve some of the history I experienced as a kid," he said, noting that he grew up on a farm near Stacyville. "I want this for my children and my grandchildren."

The most pressing challenge was straightening the barn. After bracing the north end, he fashioned a chain and pulley system, strung through the length of the barn to the south end.

For two weeks, he tightened the chains, slowly pulling the wall, a half-inch a day, back into its proper alignment.

Much of the wood siding had "holes the biggest bird in North Iowa could fly through," he said. He installed new plywood siding, replacing what was called "car siding," typical of the era.

BLAKE also removed the barn's old asphalt roof, tearing away layers down to the original shakes before covering them with new asphalt shingles. Some new windows were also installed.

Finally, BLAKE fashioned a new split door, created in its proper fashion - with the split cut at an angle to prevent rain seeping into the opening. He plans to house a "few hogs, maybe some cattle" to complement his crop farming.

BLAKE said he has become more attuned to the fate of Iowa's barns since beginning his own journey through barn renovation. He said barns are symbolic of a lifestyle almost gone.

"I look at the barn and I can picture kids playing in the yard, the vehicles, the livestock," he said. "It's not like that now.

"But we can preserve the buildings. Now, when I drive through North Iowa, I am always looking for old barns. And it's really sad when you see some just falling down. These old barns are almost like a lost art. It's a shame what you see."

North Iowa barns on all-state tour Sept. 28-29.

Restored barns in North Iowa will be featured on the second annual Iowa All-State Barn Tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28 and 29.

The tour is sponsored by the Iowa Barn Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving Iowa's rural buildings and heritage. All owners have received Iowa Barn Foundation matching grants for the rehabilitation projects.

The tour is designed to encourage barn preservation, to teach young people about Iowa's agricultural heritage and to renew pride in its history. For more information about the tour, call (515) 758-2878 or (641) 487-7690.

North Iowa barns on the tour are:

WEGENER BARN, 109 320th St., Fenton (Kossuth County). The barn is one-half mile north of Fenton on Highway 15, the first farm going west. Neighbors helped build the double gambrel barn for a farmer's widow in 1915. The barn is still in use today.

ROCKAFELLOW Barn, 4484 Echo Ave., St. Ansgar (Mitchell County). Go north on Highway 218 from St. Ansgar for two miles, turn left on Echo Avenue. This banked barn, with limestone foundation, was built in 1877 for horses and cattle. The timber was framed with wooden pegs.

GADE Barn, 301 230th St., Whittemore, (Kossuth County). Go west from Algona to the corner of Highway 18 and State Highway 15. Go north one mile on Highway 15, then east on gravel and down a hill. The farm is on the left. The barn includes a special room where cream was separated.

BLAKE Barn, 11670 300th St., Mason City (Cerro Gordo County). Travel two miles north of Mason City on Highway 65, turn left onto County Road B20. Go four miles; barn in on the left. A good example of a Depression-era barn.

YEZEK Barn, 22881 Vine Ave., Plymouth (Cerro Gordo County). Drive one mile north of Rock Falls on the county blacktop. Barn is on the east side of the road. The Yezeks rescued the 32-by-52 barn built in 1930.

BENNETT Barn, 1664 Eagle Ave., Latimer (Franklin County). Take Interstate 35 to Highway 3; turn west on Highway 3 and drive one mile to Eagle Avenue. Turn north and go 21/2 miles. This handsome clay tile barn with round laminated rafter roof was built in 1950.

KLOUSIA Barn, 1766 165th St., Hampton (Franklin County). At the intersection of Highways 65 and 3 in Hampton, turn east and drive two miles. Travel north for two miles and then go west 1/4-mile. The barn, copied from a Wisconsin dairy barn, was built in 1888 and is of peg construction.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011



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