Barns filled with childhood memories

When I was a youngster, one of my favorite places to play on a cold winter day was my Uncle Joe and Aunt Anna?s faded red barn. Uncle Bernie had one too and it was also a must stop when we went to see our cousins.

This warm, cluttered sanctuary served up a smorgasbord of playing opportunities. It was also a relaxing place, especially if it was raining or snowing outside and the weather was too bad to work. During winter, time usually wasn?t as pressing as it was during fall or spring planting, wheat harvest, haying or crop cultivation time.

About the time I was growing up, the popularity of tractors following World War II marked the end for many barns. Some were taken down while others were abandoned or replaced with Quonset huts made of plywood and galvanized steel.

We didn?t have a barn on our farm in Sheridan County. Instead, my dad built a machine shed and what we called ?The Big Shed.? It was 90 feet long and housed our tractors, grain drills, trucks and other farm equipment. When we had a bumper wheat crop, all the machinery was cleared out and it was filled with golden grain.

But back to Uncle Joe and Aunt Anna?s barn?the old red structure was made of wood. Unlike some of the earlier barns, it wasn?t built from lumber sawn from timber on the farm. Heck, on the prairie where I grew up, farms didn?t even have trees until folks drove down to the creeks and dug up cottonwood saplings and carried them back home and planted them.

Why were so many barns painted red?

Probably the biggest reason was the ferric oxide, which was used to create red paint. It was cheap and the most readily available for farmers.

Barns that dotted the prairie countryside weren?t generally a good example of housekeeping. In my uncle?s barn, old, dusty horse blankets and cobweb-covered horse collars hung from wooden pegs or rusty nails. Hay tongs also competed for space. Here and there a busted plow stock leaned against a wooden wall.

Some barn corners were crowded with pitchforks and an occasional come-along. Tangled, broken bailing twine littered the damp dirt floor mingling with the smells of rusting iron, manure and mildewed leather.

As youngsters the hay mow (rhymes with cow) or hayloft was where our parents searched to find us when we were hiding in the barn. While there were always wooden steps or a ladder to crawl up to this upper floor, generally used to store hay, we?d try to find new routes to the top.

We?d risk life and limb crawling up the side of the barn grabbing onto anything that would hold our body weight or lassoing a post or board above and climbing the rope, hand over hand, to the loft.

Once inside this cavernous space, we?d marvel at the wooden pattern of the rafters high over our heads. We?d yell out at the pigeons or starlings that tried to invade our private world of kid adventures.

If there were bales or scattered hay outside one of the two large doors at either end of the hayloft, we?d often make the 15-20-foot plunge into the soft landing.

Hay was hoisted up and into the barn through these doors by a system containing pulleys and a trolley that ran along a track attached to the top ridge of the barn. Trap doors in the floor allowed animal feed to be dropped into the mangers for the animals.

As youngsters of 9, 10 or 11, these doors also made a perfect getaway during hide and seek as we jumped through and made our escape.

Exploring the tack room with all of the bridles and saddles was my favorite. Before I could ride, I?d struggle to take one of the saddles off the wall so I could place it on a sawhorse and pretend to ride like my hero, Roy Rogers.

And finally, who could forget the many idioms we heard about barns as children. You remember: ?You couldn?t hit the broad side of a barn.? ?Were you born in a barn?? and ?Your barn door is open.?

Today, many of the old fashioned barns we knew as children are gone. They?re mainly memories when folks with farming backgrounds visit at reunions, weddings, etc.

Still, these memories provide a warm glow of yesteryear reminding us of long ago on a bitter cold day in January when the winter winds whistled under the eaves of my Aunt Anna?s barn and the icy rain played tic-tac against the cobweb-blotched windows?.

Barn Fest ?08 was held in Goessel Sept. 26-27. It?s a gathering of barn owners and all who value barns. If you have an interest in barns contact the Kansas Barn Alliance at www.kansasbarnalliance.org.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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