As the Story is Told: The Barn Raising

As the Story is told: A history of Morpeth and communityThis week’s excerpt from “As the Story is Told” was actually a memoir written by my great aunt. She would have been about five when the big barn was built.

Duck family barn raising 1921 OntarioThe Barn Raising
by Helene Duck

One of the most important and special “Bees” on the farm was a barn raising. As I was growing up I often looked at the huge barn on our farm and wondered why it was so big and how it was built. I remember playing in the piles of gravel before the barn raising and in the left-over gravel after the raising.

When I was older my dad told me bout the hard time he had trying to decide whether he should build a large new barn or not. Finally after many discussions with my Grandfather, Dad decided to go ahead and build. He planned to have the basement outfitted to feed cattle during the cold and stormy fall and winter weather. The huge lofts above would be used to store hay and straw for the cattle. Part of the space would become three large granaries and the grain would flow down through chutes to feed the cattle below.

Rondeau Park wasn’t very far away so the year before the raising my dad and a helper cut several dozen very tall trees to be used as pike poles. He also bought some logs to be sawn into lumber. These poles and lumber were brought home with teams and wagons.

another big job was getting the gravel for the cement walls for the basement from Lake Erie. Many wagon loads were needed and it was all pitched onto the wagons with shovels – a good way to work up a sweat! It was dumped and shovelled into big piles ready for the cement mixer later.

horse team pulling wagon

The barn was to be built into the slope of a hill so the floor of the barn would be at the same level as the driveway making it easier to pull heavy loads into the barns for unloading. In the spring two teams and iron buckets were used to scrape out the earth from the slope of the hill so that the forms for the cement walls could be erected as needed.

As early in the spring as possible the cement walls of the basement were made. Each wall was ten feet high and one foot thick. After the walls had hardened enough and the lumber and timbers were ready, my dad sent for the Head Carpenter. He had a great deal of work to do and sometimes needed helpers too. Since the whole frame would be held together with wooden pins they had to make all the pin holes in the timbers as well as the pins. They cut the timbers, girts and scantlings into the different lengths that would be needed for the frame of a barn 40 fee by 92 feet. When everything was ready it was time to call in the men for the raising.

Meanwhile my mother had been very busy making plans for preparing huge quantities of roast beef, potatoes, pies, etc. to feed all the hungry men. Relatives, friends and church ladies all helped. The spirit of co-operation was very high – everyone, both ladies and men were willing workers at a special occasion like a barn raising!

Early in the morning of the day of the raising men and women appeared as if by magic and the work was soon underway. The framework was constructed on the ground. The various pieces of timbers were assembled into seven bents – each bent is a section of the framework. Each piece was fastened together with wooden pins. Then the first bent was moved into position to be raised by the men who used pike poles for the purpose. The pike poles varied in length from 10 to 30 feet. Bents are very heavy so many men were needed – perhaps seven or eight on each pike pole.

When each man was in his place the Head Carpenter gave the command to “lift!” Every man must lift or push together at that command. After each lift the pike poles were lowered one at a time to their next position when ordered to do so by the Head Carpenter. This process was repeated until the first bent was in position where it was steadied by ropes and pike poles until the second bent was up and the two could be connected by girts, braced and pinned. Another bent was added and another until they were all up.

After all the bents were in place there still remained the job of placing the top timbers (plates) on the side walls and the purline plates to support the rafters. Key men were on top of the walls to place and pin the wall plates when they were pushed into position. Mr. Jim Buckler was one of these high workers. Four men were also astride the mow beams in the middle to pin the purline posts when they were hoisted up.

The rafters were positioned by the men on the ground. Then they were passed up, placed and fastened securely by the high workers.

I’ve been told that one hundred and twenty-five men worked the first day of the raising but because the barn was so large, seventy-five men had to come back to finish the job the next day – then everything was done except the galvanized roof and siding which were put on by skilled metal workers a few days later.

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2 thoughts on “As the Story is Told: The Barn Raising

  1. Pingback: As the Story is Told: The Threshing Machine | The Farmhouse Chronicles

  2. Pingback: As the Story is Told: Howard Agricultural Society | The Farmhouse Chronicles

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