Exploring barns in Hocking County

The two main structures amid the community of outbuildings on the Harold Crawford farm were built in the form of the three bay English threshing barns.

The oldest and closest to the house has a double slate roof as does the nearby granary.

Harold figured the barns had been built somewhere between 1890 and 1895. He wasn’t sure because they were there when he moved onto the farm with his family in 1923.

I stopped by one evening in May to chat with Harold and see if I couldn’t get him to give me a peek inside. It was very gracious of him to accommodate the nosy stranger presenting himself as a barn enthusiast of sorts.

Approaching the recently painted barn with its ruddy glow in the light of the lowering sun one might first notice the half dozen or so cats gathered at the door of the old milking parlor, or the swallows a-wing darting to and fro in the yard.

Or maybe the painted over 1954 license plate that his dad used to patch an old knot hole.

Harold recounted the times as a young lad he helped move the hay into the mow. He explained the job assigned to each individual.

He worked the hay fork jamming it down into the hay stack until the mechanism on the fork prongs tripped. His dad was in the mow and directed operations.

His brother guided the horse as it pulled the hay up into the barn. When the hay fork reached top center another mechanism tripped and the hay ran along the track into the loft where it was dropped and spread by his father.

“I’d like to say,” he’d often preface his statements, “we used to live just like those Amish folks up in Holmes County,” he said. “We did everything just like they do.”

They milked cows by hand and used a cream separator. They sold the cream and fed the skim to the hogs. They kept 12-14 head of dairy cows, hogs, chickens and rabbits. They had four or five draft horses and “dad always raised a couple of colts each year.”

“He’d break them and train them to work or sometimes he’d sell them.”

“I’d like to say, we only went to town once in a while. We’d take in some cream and eggs and a few other things we produced on the farm and trade it for staples like sugar, salt, and other items we needed.

“Dad would take sacks of wheat to the mill, trade for some sacks of flour and sell a few sacks for pocket money, though we didn’t need much of that.”

Harold lived on the farm until he went into the armed services during World War II. A few changes were made on the farm in his absence.

The old chestnut log that his dad hollowed out with a foot adze for a watering trough was gone. Harold recalls the many times he and his brothers were called on to work the arm of the pitcher pump transferring water from the cistern into that trough.

The cistern, made of brick but coated inside and out with cement and fed by rainwater from the two barn roofs, was still there. But there was a new clay tile pump house ‘built in 1944′ by several of the Crawfords remaining at home.

Six of them have their initials in the mortar adjacent to the date of construction. The pump fed a new concrete watering trough that is now fed by an electric pump with lots of options for flow.

The pump house now serves double duty as storage for a 3-foot stack of spare roofing slate for future repairs. The latch on the pump house door was held shut with a curious, but elegant looking artifact.

Upon inquiry I was told “it was a piece of a snap too good to throw away.” In other words, a broken metal remnant salvaged from an old harness.

When Harold returned from WWII he stayed on the farm for a few years with the family. His dad went to a ‘grade A’ dairy in ’46 or ’47.

“That’s when dad turned the old stable for the draft horses into the milking parlor and added a milkhouse.” These changes were done in cement block and painted white on the inside.

Harold pointed out the tongue-in-groove flooring put in on top of the oak planking to keep hay and dust from filtering down into the new six cow milking parlor.

He pointed out the top hinged doors giving access to feeding troughs from the central bay to the milking parlor.

The windmill, erected around 1910 and still standing, pumped water through a cooler to the milkhouse where it ran over the cans keeping the afternoon milk chilled until it was collected at 4 a.m. the next day.

Harold was anxious to draw attention to every detail and subsequent change in the milk house since it went ‘grade A’ and electric in ’46, right down to the row of offset pipes running along the wall where the cleaned milk cans were set open end down with a slight tilt that they might drain easily and dry before being put back to use.

Clearly, nothing had been done without a very specific purpose.

Harold helped add a loafing shed for cattle on the south side of the barn the year they upgraded the dairy operation. The shed roofed addition had a feed trough running the entire length of the barn.

Although a small herd is still being raised on the farm, the loafing shed seems to double as storage for the old manure spreader and housing for a community of barn swallows.

Twine from an untold number of square bales long since fed to livestock, hangs singly or in large bundles over railings or from hooks or nails in nearly every part of the barn.

The old arched doorways, once seen on the exterior, are now access ways from the loafing shed to the center and north bays of the original barn.

The second three bay threshing barn, situated at right angles to the first and about 20 feet southwest of the first, is of nearly the same age but has a metal roof; the original metal roof.

Harold has had some sheets of metal replaced but he tries to stay on top of that. “A roof in good condition keeps the barn standing” he said.

Shortly after the war, he helped take down a nearby shed and reuse the lumber to build a new addition to the second barn.

Showing some decline and starting to fail somewhat, Harold had some repair work done on that addition recently. As is often the case, the original structure is standing truer than the shed added a half century later and since repaired.

Harold has had other work done to both barns in the past year and a half. The foundations were sinking into the mud on the side where the gutters fed into the cistern.

The ends of the barn have been raised and new oak siding has been installed and things seem to be high and dry for now.

Both barns are topped with a weather vane. The vane on oldest barn sports a full racked, leaping, whitetail deer. It has, in recent years, replaced the horse which was there when Harold grew up. The cow hangs by its two front feet on the weather vane topping the second barn.

“I used to shoot at sparrows when I was younger,” said Harold. “I wasn’t always a good shot.”

He didn’t offer how long that bovine silhouette had been doing its balancing act atop the ridgeline.

Harold explained to me that the white oak in these two timber frame structures was cut from the farm by the previous owner, Robert White, who had a sawmill at the Falls of the Hocking in nearby Logan.

He pointed out that the saw marks on the wood were made by a circular saw. He’d checked on that. Harold pointed up into the darkness in the mow on the south side of the barn and said that the name Robert Brown had been painted in white with a 4 inch brush and, though fading, as still visible back in the ’50s or ’60s.

There are a number of things Harold hasn’t been doing for some time since his back went out, but when I asked him when he was up in the mow last he responded, “This morning. I had to get a couple of square bales down.”

Surprised, I was also glad to hear that he still scrambles around so well.

Harold may be all of 82 years and retired from his day job, but his enthusiasm for the old barns, visible in the care and stewardship he provides them and the entire farm, are as fresh as the morning dew.

His current list of chores makes it clear that he won’t be done farming for another 50 years.

(The author, Tom O’Grady, is a board member of Friends of Barns and is from Athens County. You can contact him by e-mail at friendsohiobarns@aol.com or by fax at 330-624-0501.)

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