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Repurposing 1904 barn

By Staff | Apr 30, 2014

BILL WATSON FIRES up his tractor and prepares to pull the roof of his barn down onto the ground. He took the structure apart board by board. Almost all of the wood has been purchased to be used in everything from picnic tables to picture frames. With little to hold it up, Bill Watson has little trouble getting the old barn roof to begin toppling.

MOORLAND – Firing up his 1952 Allis Chalmers WD on Aug. 9, Bill Watson, of Moorland, was hoping his tractor had enough horsepower to pull his barn down.

His concerns were unfounded.

With the slightest of tugs from the tractor in reverse, Watson’s 105-year-old barn’s frame crumpled, trusses in intact, falling within a foot of were he wanted the structure to rest.

A year ago, Watson, 53, the assistant court administrator for Webster County, started systematically dismantling his 1909 gambrel-roofed barn, which he’s owned for 27 years.

He’s been denailing and trimming the lumber, and selling it to others who are recycling the wood for other uses.

BILL WATSON lets one of the last few splice plates between the upright beams and the rafters fall to the ground.

The decision and process to tear the barn down was a hard one, he said, but knowing the wood is being repurposed, makes the job easier.

Watson said he applied asphalt roofing tiles over the original cedar shakes during his first year of ownership. Over the years, he kept sheep, goats and poultry in it.

A few siding boards he removed had names, written in pencil, and hard to read after more than a century. The names were scrawled before the boards went onto the frame, Watson theorized, because truss braces covered some of them.

A homemade basketball hoop was in the hay mow, used by the youths of previous owners.

In the roof’s apex was the original track, pulley and rope system, used for lifting loose and baled hay into the loft. Watson said he expects this system will be of interest to someone, too.

Bill Watson knocks an upright beam off the corner of the foundation to help make it easier to pull the roof beams and rafters over onto the ground.

His decision to raze the barn was tough, he said, preferring to restore it. But after making several roof repairs over two-plus decades, he was unwilling to crawl back onto the steep slopes.

Two years ago, the barn was home to 20 poultry animals, until a family of minx invaded and killed every bird.

Since then, he said, “every time I drive in, the barn was almost like taunting me.”

Friends and neighbors suggested he bulldoze and burn it, but that’s not his style.

A man who stacks downed tree limbs and brush along his fence line as a natural snow fence and habitat for ground-nesting birds, Watson was reluctant to release that much carbon monoxide in the air.

Bill Watson surveys the pulled over roof of his barn after pulling it down. The rafters will be taken apart board by board and sold for use in other projects.

“I was still tormented,” Watson said, “while gutting the swine pens and horse stalls.”

While wearing a safety harness removing the two layers of roofing material on the steeper of the two gambrel sides, Watson said he was still questioning himself.

“But I knew it would soon go from looking rustic to run-down,” he said.

Advertisements announcing his growing piles of denailed and trimmed lumber found there is a big demand for barn wood.

“Knowing that the lumber parts are being recycled,” Watson said, “makes it a lot more bearable to take down.

The roof rafters of the old barn rest on the ground, about 14 feet lower than where they’ve spent the past century.

“About 75 percent has been sold to people for furniture.”

Some of the furniture pieces can be found at LilyGrace on Central, in downtown Fort Dodge.

Shop owner Laurie Hagey said timber from Watson’s barn was used for a pair of harvest tables, a coffee table and kitchen island, all of which sold quickly.

“You can’t get wood like this anymore,” Hagey said. “Wood today is farmed and not as dense.

“It’s wonderful he didn’t burn it, but let it be something else for another 100 years.”

Watson said his barn had an estimated 1,200 linear feet of dimension 2-by-8-inch boards.

“They were heavy,” Watson said. “You had to literally manhandle them. They’re still sappy inside.”

The 20-foot nailers the cedar shakes were secured onto have nail rust stains that increases antique value.

“I counted one board with 175 nails in it,” Watson said.

Looking over the two-story bare frame of the 35-by-45-foot barn, Watson said, “It’s been a lot of work.”

Watson said he had long feared the barn would fall down when the wind blew hard, as it often does in the open prairie spaces of Webster County.

But he found the trusses were tied well down the sides, keeping the barn as sturdy and square as the day it was built.

Watson said his initial plan was to save enough lumber for himself to erect a new garage.

“But I’m selling this lumber for the price of new,” he said, “so I don’t have to keep piles of wood around.”

And the barn space that will be left when the last of the structure is removed?

“I’m turning that into a garden,” Watson said.

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