I overheard Gary Nofsinger say that the siding of his shop for the Woodshaper contracting business came from the family barn in Illinois. This siding ties Gary to over 130 years of barn history and his childhood memories of storing hay and shooting hoops in that same barn.
I overlooked the obvious: his home. The post and beam structure was also a recycled barn from nearby Jones, MI. Unlike the Lind home and St. Joseph’s Barn at The Hermitage, Gary did not design the home to obviously replicate barn style structure. He used the beams for their strength to support the home, leaving the hewn textures to show their character. Gary and Chris designed this home for the kind of open space and light in which they wanted to live. And Gary was able to use many other recycled elements from materials available from his carpentry work.
The stories of both barns intertwined on a snowy Sunday afternoon the week before Christmas.
I was the Jones Barn. That means I stood in Jones, MI. Don’t know the last name of the man who raised me. But in the 1980’s a man came to take me down. Gary Nofsinger.
I stood on a neat and tidy farm, and I was well preserved. I had been painted and repaired over the years, right up until then. But finally I was deemed, well, useless. There were no animals to shelter, no hay to store.
At no cost I was given away. To make the farm look all the more orderly. Gary took a whole summer, working alone, to take me down.
While you may think this an affront, beams know when they are seen, touched, dismantled, and re-created, re-born, with what you can only call love.
“Why did you decide to build your home from these old beams, Gary? Is it less expensive than conventional building?”
“Oh, no, it’s not less expensive.
Why did I do it?
I love wood,” Gary said.
“See those ceiling boards. They were the floor of the main level of the barn. On the other side you can see the pokes of the pitch forks that were used to move the hay around. But this side, the side we see, is the same wood the cows looked up at when they were being milked.” Gary beams.
Gary chose me, the Jones Barn, for my southern pine horizontal siding. He knew what he was looking for, the texture and design of the wood that would mark his home. He could see the subtle variations in red brown colors. He could see my straight boards.
And he recognized in me a unique character. I was built as a bank barn, pretty typical of this are. The ideas was that the bank of earth that came up to my main level could be used to make easy access for hay wagons as they backed up there for unloading. But for some reason, my bank of earth was never built up. So for years my long hay hooks had been lowered to ground level in order to grasp hay, raise it up, swing it over the hay mow, and drop it down.
Gary knew all this, could see all this, after growing up doing chores in his family barn in Illinois. He and his dad and brothers spent hours in the same process, hitching up long ropes to raise the hay hooks, lifting, rolling the hook back over the track until, click, it stopped, the rope was pulled, they hay released, and it fell down into place, thunk.
“Just like that,” Gary said.
“How old were you when you started doing chores with your dad?”
“I don’t know. As soon as I could walk. But I loved it. None of the other kids really loved it. But driving the WD Allis Chalmers tractor, making hay, feeding the hogs and cows, being out there alone in the fields. I always loved it. Sounds silly, I guess….”
“Did you think about farming?”
“Well, you know my dad worked full time.”
“On the farm…”
“No, he had a regular job. He did farm work after work. But he made money off of it when other small farmers were struggling to survive.”
“How did he do that?”
“Well, he had the one tractor for planting, WD Allis Chalmers, all the years. Just four plnaters, that's all. Oh, and it broke down. But he didn’t go with the trends for bigger equipment and more and more chemicals. He figured he was running the farm just fine and did not need all the rest. And he made good money off his soybeans and corn.”
“So, to follow his pattern, you would have to keep doing Woodshaper work and run a productive farm in your spare time.”
“You got it. Besides making some hay and gardening, a few goats and chickens, that’s enough for right here.”
“And what about the family farm in Illinois, now...since your dad died.”
“It’s rented. Still stays in soybeans and corn, like my dad grew. We keep talking about when my mom will want to sell. They always saw this as their ‘retirement fund.’ They were right. Land serves as a great investment. It is worth, I guess, $7,500 an acre about now. But it has not been time to sell yet.”
“And the barn is gone.”
“Dad took it down. And when I saw the siding I asked for it. That’s what sides my shop. Not southern pine, like the Jones barn, but some other pine. I don’t know what kind. I just know, from the way the home barn was built with hewn beams and some of the rafters half rounded, that it dated from the 1880’s. That makes that siding, that wood, at least 130 years old – from when it was cut down for the barn.”
“So you work in there, surrounded by the boards and the memories of that home farm, home barn. I never knew….”
“But if you want to know what I really love, look up there. See those ceiling boards? That’s what really excites me. Those are the same boards the cows looked at when they were being milked in the barn at Jones. Isn’t that something?”
Gary loves wood.