Barn owners: ‘It feels almost like a death’
By KAREN SCHWALLER
Farm News staff writer
DICKENS – Sharon Von Ehwegen couldn’t help but feel a little sad. After all, farewells are seldom easy.
She and her husband, Craig Von Ehwegen, sat on the porch of their farm home drinking a morning cup of coffee, awaiting the man who would come with equipment to demolish their barn.
The barn, which served as the defining structure of their farm, had been standing since 1914. Ninety-eight years later – ironically, on National “Make A Memory Day,” it came down in only 30 minutes, and without fanfare.
“It feels almost like a death,” Sharon Von Ehwegen said, as they waited. “It gives you such a sense of pride when you drive in and see the barn standing there so proud; like a protector. It’s majestic. There’s just a presence about it when you drive into the yard.”
Craig Von Ehwegen added, “It will change the whole dynamic of the way the farm looks. It’s been a stable part of the farmstead. When it’s taken down, it will leave a big hole. There have probably been a lot of life lessons told in there, some good, some maybe not so good (and) the miracle of birth and death.”
The interior of the barn was built on a square, with an area on the west side for milk cows, complete with stanchions.
The east side housed the horses, with a lean-to in the north portion, which housed the cattle.
The hay mow, which went from the ground to the ceiling in the center of the barn, was such that producers could drop hay directly into the livestock feeding areas into the middle of this square, where all the animals in their appropriate sides could be fed without having to be moved.
Wilbert Bielfeldt, 87, a previous owner of the Von Ehwegen farm, took possession of the farm in 1944, at age 19. He quit farming in 1990, when the Von Ehwegens moved onto the farm. He said he remembers putting up loose hay in his earlier years.
“There was a lot of sweating in that barn,” he said after he watched it fall. “We (put the loose hay up) with slings and ropes then -it was quite a project. When there were young kids here they could play in the barn in the hay mow … and there was a rope in the middle for kids to swing on.”
Bielfeldt built a grain bin of sorts in the center square of the barn, keeping some grain for the cows so grain wouldn’t have to be hauled at chore time.
He said the barn’s use changed over the years.
“During the winter, we used to get the cattle all inside,” he said. “Today they all just stay outside for the most part. There was room in the back to hold 30 head of cattle.”
The large drop-down hay mow door on the front of the barn was destroyed when a straight-line wind came through the farm one year, Bielfeldt said. The Von Ehwegens covered it up, rather than replace something they would most likely never use.
Bielfeldt said that over time, the barn was beginning to “spread,” so he secured cables to tighten it up.
Van Ehwegen said his family worked calves and loaded cattle out of the barn, but that the last few years the barn has been empty.
“Age and weather have taken its toll on it,” Bielfeldt said, adding that they have used the barn most recently for hay storage only. The barn had a dirt floor, and the cement foundation was becoming unstable and was breaking off. He said the wood was also rotting.
The Von Ehwegens decided to take the barn down for safety reasons.
“I could see some strong wind coming up and the barn laying over on the house,” Craig Von Ehwegen said.
With no wood that was worth keeping, the entire pile of barn wood was pushed into a hole and will be burned as soon as weather allows. As Sharon Von Ehwegen was walking around the barn seeing what there was to salvage one day, she came across a barn window frame that was in good shape.
“I’m going to take this into town and get some new glass panes put in it, and then put pictures in those panes,” she said. It will be her way of having a little bit of the barn in her house.
While Bielfeldt said he didn’t have a wealth of knowledge about the craftsmanship of the World War I-era barn, he alluded to the fond memories he has of it, and said that farming needs to remain progressive.
“I hate to see it go, but I’m aware that progress has to happen,” he said. “What one generation sees as important, the next generation (changes because of progress). I can see where some people save their barns for historical purposes, but when it gets beyond that, then I understand the need to just take them down.”
A machine shed and shop will replace the barn someday.
But it won’t replace the memories of a barn that has, in essence, become part of the family, no matter where that barn stood.
The Von Ehwegens shared the memory of their son, Taylor, 24, caring for his calf in that barn when he was very young.
“He wouldn’t leave that calf for anything,” Sharon Van Ehwegen said. “We found him asleep with his arm over the baby calf. He was in his glory taking care of it. But in the end, the baby calf died. It broke his heart, but it was one of those life lessons – the hurt of losing something you love.
“When I was growing up I remember swinging on the rope in (our) barn,” she said. “We played Pom-Pom Pullaway in there, and since we had only one channel on our black and white TV and no video games, we went outside to play. We didn’t go to town.”
She added that she used to play with her paper dolls in the hay mow. She would look forward to spring every year and the discovery of a mama kitty and her babies, usually somewhere in the barn.
“When no one understood us when we were teenagers, it was a great place to go and just be alone,” Von Ehwegen said. “This is really kind of sad – I feel like I lost a friend when it came down.”
Craig Von Ehwegen added, “It was a good place to get in shape for sports, throwing all those heavy hay bales. It’s going to feel naked now without the barn. It’s going to be cold this winter.”
Contact Karen Schwaller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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