Fremont County Iowa

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A View from the Attic

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A View From The Attic

Week of June 7, 2010

Historical Barns

Fremont County Historical Society

By Jim Baylor


The historical barns still standing today testify to a different way of life, the life of our forebears. Barns were the key to successful farming. Each has a story to tell.

The Baylor Barn was built in the early 1890's. My father once told me that as a child he went to school in the morning and when he came home, there was the barn. Not really, but the bents were standing, raised during the day. They'd been laid out on the ground, the tenons fitted, the oak pegs driven to secure. It was, in modern terms, a prefab, shipped in by rail to Mc Paul and hauled on wagons drawn by the horses it would stable to our place south of Thurman.

Mortised and pegged, nails only to hold the siding and roof, the feeding floor would accommodate twenty horses, the granary and mow sufficient for their feed. Hay was grass, lifted to the mow by a fork dropped from the rail along the peak. In mid summer, haying was the dirtiest, hottest, most miserably job on the farm---as my father told me, he being the low man on the totem pole worked in the mow. (He decided to become a lawyer.)

Several features of the barn particularly intrigue me. On both sides of each joist in the "driveway" there are nails exposed, about six inches apart. Huh? Walter Wright, who lived here with his family in the 1930's and 40's, described to me that "different way of life", no combines then. Before harvest he'd hitch a horse to a skid, pull down each row of corn, feel every ear as he sought the big ones on the theory that the seed from a big ear would produce another. Early hybridization! These he'd bring back to the barn, pull back the husks, tie two together and hang the ears from those nails---out of the way of the rats and mice that otherwise would devastate the next year's seed by eating the germ.

Up in the mow are about a dozen poles, apparently three or four inch tree branches in varying lengths, eight, ten and some twelve feet long, each topped by a steel cap with a sharply pointed finger extended. Huh? Yes, these are some of the raising poles used over a hundred years ago. A barn-raising was more than some neighbors lending a hand; it took a crew of trained, strong men working under an experienced foreman to do the job.

The Iowa Barn Foundation is dedicated to saving those Iowa barns in Iowa that still stand as they tell without words the story behind what we enjoy today. The Foundation will sponsor a tour of barns in our area, Saturday, June 12th, and Sunday the 13th---and a picnic here at the Baylor Barn on Sunday. Food will be catered by James' Country Grocery, attendance only by reservation---have to know how many to prepare food for! For more details, see the release in this edition.