Barns, for work and play

Published 10:53 am Wednesday, July 10, 2013

by James D. Howell

Our farm lot has two barns. One is a typical square structure, with a floor to keep stored products dry and off the ground. Two shelters have been added to either side of the main square structure for various equipment that lasts longer when protected from weather. Under these shelters are our lumber wagon, mule cart, plows, cultivators, seed planters, corn sheller and any other odd item or implement that can be stored in a helter-skelter manner that increases its odds of not getting wet.

Some things have to be moved around in order to get other things covered. Then some things have to be moved around to get those other things uncovered when they’re needed. It’s not confusing; it’s an accepted circumstance when the need for coverage outstrips the available shelter. Most farmers are aware; in time as funds become available in the post war period, new shelters show up regularly in our neighborhood. Most barns and shelters are built with rough cut lumber and prodigious amounts of work.

When our tractor arrives, another significant level of shelter is required. The increased productive capacity comes with the need to prevent rusting and deterioration of the tractor itself and all associated attachments. Older horse drawn equipment is sacrificed to the elements in favor of newer, more expensive, iron and steel implements.

Our other barn is for livestock shelter and feeding. It’s a long oblong structure with space underneath for cattle, and a loft for hay storage. Chutes at the center allow hay to be dropped from the loft into feeding racks below. The barn is used mostly in winter. In other seasons, pastures, permanent and temporary, meet the animals’ needs.

One side of the long barn is given to horse stalls and smaller storage rooms. Each stall has a feeding trough; each storage room has a built in floor. One room is devoted to harnesses and all other things related to horses or mules. Here are curry combs, shears, rope, brushes, ointments, liniments, rasps, horseshoe nails and leftovers of other husbandry operations. One room is devoted to bagged animal feed. One room is a catch all with small equipment parts and odds and ends that don’t fit into another category. I think most farms have a catch-all room of some description.

In the middle of the barn, on the lot side, is a loading chute, where animals can be held momentarily for veterinary work or loaded into a truck for transport. The chute is connected by a tunnel to the lower cattle shelter. It works equally well for hogs or cattle; free moving gates and ramps make animal handling easier.

When our farm is converted to peanut production, the need is immediate for a larger, weather resistant, storage barn. Peanuts are harvested into large burlap bags and stored temporarily in the “peanut barn” until a transport truck comes and hauls them away. Peanuts are sold in the field during harvest and much of the farmer’s yearly income is temporarily housed awaiting transport. As they reach the barn, my father arranges for insurance against fire. Peanut theft is also a hazard of temporary storage and the barn is highly visible and locked every night. Other times of the year, the peanut barn is used for fertilizer, livestock feed, hay, and anything else that needs temporary shelter. Platform scales, spare pea twine, hay mower blade sections, some spare boards, and kegs of nails all spend temporary time behind the large sliding barn doors.

The barns of our farm are my extended play areas. I slide down the steep tin roof of the cattle barn or square dry barn. Both have side shelters that prevent a sudden drop to the ground. I jump off the lower roof to the ground when dared by my siblings. I love to find a hidden trail among the bales of hay in the long barn loft. I spend hours lost in imagination under rusting tin. The cracks and slats permit hidden peeks out at the working world. The feel of cattle muck between my bare toes is not uncomfortable; it’s just a part of farm life. Rusty nails in bare feet is also a part of farm life. Danger is discarded along with the boredom.

The single square basic structure barn with one or two side shelters can be found on most farms in our area. Simple construction with less expensive materials is a byword of farm life.

Today, I rarely drive past a rusting, sometimes still useful barn without smiling inwardly. I am once again sliding down the roof and accepting my siblings challenge to jump.

I am home.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at