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Skinny, the Barn Mortician

When I was faced with the decision to either restore my old barn or destroy it, I chose to destroy it. With destruction, there'd be fire, there'd be large machinery, there'd be everything a guy could want.

Let's get one thing out of the way up front. I'm not into antiques. Yeah, yeah, the GuyNo2Mobile is a 1961 Volkswagen and technically an antique, but it's modified enough that it probably ticks off antique purists. If I rub the purists the wrong way, that's a good thing, in my book.  

My antique loathing pretty much carries over to the farm in a big way. Not a fan of antique tractors. Not a fan of antique equipment. Not a fan of antique buildings. I see the things that some people do with such buildings and equipment and a couple words come to mind right away. They usually include rat hole and money in some combination.    

Case in point: barn restoration. There's a farm magazine that has a special feature on people who refurbish barns. You can get a grant to help you restore your barn to its original splendor. Or, as I see  it, get a bigger bucket and bigger shovel to help you pour tons of money down a bigger rat hole. Next thing you know, you've spent twenty-five to fifty grand or more and you have a lovely facility capable of everything you need...if it happens to be 1946 and you've just graduated from an ox to a Clydesdale.  

We had barns at both of our farms. The one at headquarters was where we milked cows until 8:35 on Thursday, November 4th, 1976. That’s when we loaded #76 and #104 on the truck and got ourselves out of the dairy industry. The barn's usefulness began to go downhill from that point. It finally met up with destiny in the summer of 2000 when it collapsed.  

The barn at my place was similar, but we never milked cows here. The small corner where the cattle were was pretty much the only useful portion of the barn, and even that was a reach. The roof was starting to get some pretty hefty craters in it. They hay mow was more or less pointless, since little square bales of hay fell out of favor years ago.  

Meteorological and actuarial fate has not smiled on me, though. Windstorms come and go with incredibly high frequency, it seems. Other buildings blow away, but my barn would still stand. All I wanted was one loud crash, one loud thud and one big insurance check. It didn't seem to happen, so I went the next best route once we decided that the landscape needed to change.  

I called a guy.  

The first guy I called was here to look at the bunker silo project. He did fine work on it. While we were exploring that job initially, Guy No. 1 and I sort of casually pointed the other direction and said, "Hey, while you and your giant excavator thumb are here, what would it take to take down the barn, too?"

"Oh, no problem. I've done a few of them. They're not too bad," he said confidently.

Good answer, Thumbpy!   

But wait, it got better. Thumbpy decided the best way to do it was to dig a big hole just south of the building site, move a few bunks from the perimeter of the feedlot, and then kinda drag big sections of the barn across the feedlot to the awaiting barn grave with his dozer and eventually have a bonfire when the hole was full. Once all the weenies and marshmallows were properly roasted, he'd push the dirt pile back in the hole and we'd get to farm over our latest Effigy Mound. We've done similar stuff with old farmhouses, buildings and even a one-room schoolhouse where GN1 went to kindergarten. (Not that I tweak, or pile on, or anything, but I have been known to say, "Guy No. 1 is soooo old, he went to a one-room school." I tend to leave out the part about it being only a few months of kindergarten while they built the new school in Ridgeway. Makes Guy No. 1 sound a bit more Depression-era.)  

Seeing as how we were planning to chop silage off the adjoining field and wean calves a week or two later, this plan was going to work beautifully. The feedlot would be vacant for a couple weeks, so the logistics of jockeying cattle wouldn't be a problem. In fact, it would be great to get this done before the barn fell on a full house, so to speak. The barn would never leave the place, so we were free to burn it at will. There'd be destruction; there'd be fire; there'd be large machinery; there'd be everything a guy could want.

Then Thumbpy called one day. Small problem. He had to do an emergency project with his toys. It may take a month to get to my barn.      

Huh. That's not good.  

So I got out my phone and dialed up another contractor from a completely different project a few years before. I got in touch with Brent, the son who is in charge, and told of him of my desires. He'd stop by the next day to have a look. "It will work out great, because _______ (I think he said Skinny) just went by with (I'm not sure what he said, but I think it was a machine of some kind) on the way past your place."  

How incredibly ironic and foreshadowing. This was late September, and my first thought was to quote one of the all-time best scenes in American cinema. It was the one where Barbara Billingsley says to the flight attendant in Airplane, "Oh, stewardess, I speak jive."  

I was pretty sure Brent just told me Skinny went by wit de the thumb, but I don't speak jive like Mrs. Cleaver did, so I waited to talk to him in person.  

Sure enough, Brent showed up and said that his crew was just a couple miles away with the excavator and they could stop by to do the barn on their way home in a couple days if that worked. They'd take it down with the excavator, load it in dump trucks and carry it to the hole so as not to drag nails across my building site.

Hmmm. A contractor wants to show up...on short notice...with better equipment...and a better do a job for which I have an incredibly tight deadline...and they've done good work for me before.  

Well, okay then, I can be talked into it.    

A couple days later, once the barn was a former shell of itself, I heard some chatter outside my office window around 7:00 in the morning. It was an excavator making its way down my driveway. My phone rang about two minutes later as I got my boots on and headed out the door. It was the infamous Skinny. He wanted to know where to dig.

Skinny, as it turns out, is an appropriate name. He's not a short, fat guy named Tiny, or a dwarf named Stretch. He's about six feet tall and maybe 130 pounds or so. Not a real chatty cuss, either. He makes me sound like a Type A. Heck, he almost makes GN1 sound Type A! Almost.   

I showed Skinny where the hole would be. It didn't take long for him to get on that project in a hurry. Next thing you know, I had a hole not far into my field that was so deep, all you could see on the giant arm of his excavator was the R and the last E in John Deere as he reached into the hole for more dirt.  

Then the dump trucks showed up. Real progress was about to be made.     

Keep in mind, this was September 30th, so we were busy combining corn at the same time. To keep ourselves from being the lead story at our twice-yearly fire station meeting for township trustees where we review fire calls, we decided that we'd combine the field next to the hole. If we lit up the barn grave and the wind changed, we'd much rather see a bunch of cornstalk residue get lit up than a field of standing corn at $5 a bushel. I always refer to those fire station meetings as The Moron Report, because we frequently hear about some of the various incidents people get into that require a fire truck to get out of, especially when the singed party is short on common sense. For instance, my round baler fire two years ago was just days before The Moron Report. It made for an interesting meeting for yours truly. Fortunately, we'd recently completed the acquisition of a new fire truck, so I turned it into more of a rousing endorsement of our expenditure and a bit of a testimonial ad.

Skinny started by taking down the sides of the structure. Then he moved to the main part of the barn. All the while, I had cameras positioned nearby, hoping to catch the moment when the big thud would happen. I was also running between the barn site and the hole, because my job was to take the tractor and loader and push the contents of each dump truck further into the hole. As a safety measure, we took a couple bucket loads of dirt and made sort of a speed bump/backstop for the trucks. They'd back up to the hole, hit the backstop and then dump their load. That kept them from backing into the hole and making this yet another story about The Snake and its incredible bungee retrieval abilities.

Here's a link to the video of the final moments of the barn's life:

It had a good life. It's in a better place now. Since I was part of the crew taking it down, it felt like I was fulfilling my usual role as a pallbearer.  

Always a pallbearer, never the ¼. Oops. Wrong quote. Whatever.       

If you're thinking of getting rid of a barn or a building of any kind, I highly recommend the work of Skinny, the Barn Mortician. He'll put on a heckuva service for you and your loved ones. Oh, and he won't hog all the weenies and marshmallows at the bonfire afterwards.

Guy No. 2  











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