An old-fashioned barn-falling

Posted on December 17, 2008


Last Wednesday Mark White put his beef cattle in the big barn that has stood along US-31 for 90 years and left to do some errands. When he came back an hour later, it looked like a giant had taken a bite out of his barn. The roof had collapsed under a heavy load of snow, leaving jagged edges at both ends. As he sat there in the driveway, stunned, Mark’s cellphone rang. It was his mother, Margaret Van. “It’s down,” he told her, and headed over to assess the scope of the disaster. By the time he got the barn door open, Margaret was there, and the neighbors were beginning to arrive.

Big bite

The Big Bite, a few days after the collapse, after the warm spell that melted the snow . . . and on the day when it got really, really cold again.

For a wonder, no one was hurt and none of the cattle were injured, either. But the barn . . . would they be able to save it?

Barn interior

A view of the damage from inside the barn. That's a long way up.

Never underestimate the Antrim County farmer. The neighbors kept coming. And coming. They brought heavy equipment. They brought a can-do attitude. They set to work clearing away the debris. “Just like an old-fashioned barn-raising,” I said. “Yes, I guess so,” said Mark. “More of a barn-falling maybe!”

Mark White

Mark White feels like a lucky man. No one was hurt, and they're going to fix the landmark barn.

Under the direction of Mike Derks (Mark calls him “the lead construction guy on this project”) steel cables have been strung to stabilize the structure and make it ready for the repairs. “We’re going to fix it,” said Mark. “We have to. It’s stood here since 1918.”

Mike Derks and his steel cables

Mike Derks and his steel cables

Asked if any of the old roof timber was salvageable, Mark and Margaret grinned. “Great-Grandpa’s special board! Want to see it?” Of course. Off we went to the shed where the special board lay in state. “I remember my dad pointing way up in the barn at that board when I was little,” said Margaret. “He’d tell me it was special because it came from Great-Grandpa’s hardware store.” The board is in pieces, but Margaret’s putting the puzzle back together. When she’s done it will say Elk Rapids Hardware Store and have a place of honor inside the barn once more.

Margaret Van and Grandpa's Special Board

Margaret Van puts Great-Grandpa's special board back together again.

This is a big barn we’re talking about. Four haymows, each able to hold 25 tiers of square-baled hay, 100 bales to a tier, 60 pounds to a bale . . . “Well,” laughs Mark, “60 pounds give or take, depending on what kind of mood Grandpa was in when we baled it!” It’s a strong old building, and with a little help from the people who love it, and their neighbors, it will stand there another ninety years.

Great-Grandpa's Special Board

By the time I saw the Big Bite and stopped to inquire WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED??? the snow had melted off the roof and the Whites had made a lot of progress.  They were feeling great, thank you.  They were still marveling at their good fortune.  No one was hurt.  The cattle survived.  It was so nice of all the neighbors to come so quickly to help.  They can fix the good old barn. 

Caeden's waiting for his new tooth to come in!

Caeden's waiting for his new tooth to come in!

Caeden Charlan wanted me to see that his front baby tooth had come out. Life just keeps on keeping on, doesn’t it? These are some of the people who make me glad I live here.

Note: This story will also appear in the Elk Rapids News next week, unless something even more interesting occurs. Whichever photos Tom Vranich decides to print with it will almost surely show off to better advantage when he’s finished with them!

Update January 9, 2009: The story ran in this week’s ERN, and there’s an update on Torch Lake Views today, too.