Hand-Hewn Log Dairy Barn - Part 17

(Written by Kit as he was timber cruising this summer)

As I looked below me into the Fish Hook Drainage, my mind reeled through the memories of the past six weeks, trying to absorb all that transpired during this compressed period of time. I ate a quick lunch, composed of my wife's perfected energy bar, and an apple. I started examining my first stand of timber at 6 a.m., and it felt good to rest for a half an hour in the shade, taking in the gorgeous mountain view and contemplating the barn building event spent with my family over the summer.

I reflected on Uncle Peter's arrival and the long grueling days he faithfully put in - cutting, chiseling, and planing each dovetail notch of our barn, course by course, slowly moving upward. We had discussed this project for years via e-mail.

And no less inspiring was my father, who had helped me gather and hew the timber for our barn the past couple winters. We made a lot of wood chips fly together.

Uncle Peter and my father started working together as aspiring carpenters nearly 50 years ago for Peter's older brother Thomas. Years later, the three of them worked together again, hired by my grandfather to build an English tudor style home.

Hagerstown Construction Crew - Kit 11 Years.jpg

My parents insisted that I too, at nearly 12 years of age (second from right in photo), be involved in the construction of my grandparents' retirement home for the period of time our family could participate in this event. The hardwoods on my grandfather's property were milled and used in part of the construction. Uncle Peter left his mark on the timber framed beams joined together over my grandfather's fireplace, and the perfectly constructed circular staircase to his bedroom.

Uncle Peter & Uncle Tommy.jpg

A recognizable block and tackle with newer rope was used to raise the second story walls, and my Great Uncle Tommy and Great Uncle Peter, stood on the ridge of the finished roof and shook hands near a small tree nailed to the top (forgive the graininess as this is a photo of a photo!).

Now, 26 years later, we worked together again, but regrettably without Great Uncle Tommy. The combined years of carpentry experience between my father and his Uncle Peter were more than a match for our barn project. I was able to observe the precision of their finish carpentry skills adapted to rough hewn beams. Most were twisted to one degree or another creating an additional dimension to struggle against for a tight final fit. It is truly a talent to be able to compensate for such gross inaccuracies when one is used to thinking in 32nds of an inch.

What a time we had together. Humorous times listening to my father and Uncle Peter banter back and forth in frustration with each other, pretended or not. Stressful times, like after Uncle Peter and I had become weary of two days of prep work in carefully lifting and stacking rafter pairs and collar ties in the correct order for their final raising. We had moved, disassembled, and reassembled the shear legs, along with other monotonous tasks. We decided to just "go ahead" and lift the first set of rafters before dark, so we could see some visible progress for the time spent so far.

He started pulling with the tackle and I pushed slowly upward with 2x4s until we ran out of space for the tackle to function, but were not quite high enough to put them into a final plumbed position. For the moment we could not go up or down.

Just when we didn't think we could hold on any longer because we didn't have an extra hand to keep the pair up ourselves, my oldest son CW stopped milking the cows and came promptly with a cordless drill to relieve us of our near fate in losing the battle with the first pair of rafters.

We eventually developed an efficient system as creative minds blended new and old techniques, using new and old tools to solve difficult problems using what we had on hand.

Last, but best of all came "smoothie time" near the later half of the day when my wife, Bridgett, rewarded us with delicious deserts and a cold smoothie while we took a moment to sit, relax, and kill off the never ending yellow jackets and hornets plaguing us much of the time. I don't know what we would have done without her extra help when we needed one more person to guide a beam into place or apply the timbore treatment to the barn walls, not to mention her and my mother's culinary skills put to use in feeding a houseful of famished men and boys day after day.

I was gratified to see our boys involved in one way or another with the building project, even if it was to literally run around like wild Indians, dressed in nothing but war paint and breech-cloths, enticing us to trade with them, or waging war on us as we worked on our log "stockade". Other times the older boys were exceptional helpers, making memories of happy times working with family and learning new skills from their elders which they have incorporated into their present building projects and will surely use in their future lives.

Our friends and neighbors were at hand to help us out at critical times. Thank you so much for being there for us when we needed you. Food was brought over, and tools were loaned. Neighbors dropped what they were doing to skid extra logs, and mill them when we ran short of building material. Another neighbor finished cutting and baling our hay during this busy time. Thank you.

Some of the unforeseen benefits in our work together were the moments when oral family history and events of the past were shared with the younger generations. These moments are important in shaping and grounding a family's philosophy of life. This gives them the tools for their future survival by gaining a clearer view of the past's problems and solutions.

I will never forget seeing the silhouette of Uncle Peter on the wall with the rabbit plane finishing up a dovetail notch as the morning sun rose behind him, or watching my father carefully cutting out and fitting the mortise and tenon joints for the top of our rafter pairs. There is a feeling of assurance and affirmation when you are surrounded by your elders, working side by side with them through the day's struggles, taking into consideration their advisements to help reach a successful outcome.

Thank you Dad and Uncle Peter for investing your time in us. Yes, our family has been given an inheritance along with many treasured memories. Most of all, we are thankful to God for surrounding us with family, friends, and wonderful neighbors. He gives us the strength to carry on and blesses us in the tangible form of creative talent and materials to give us the desires of our hearts.

I finished my lunch overlooking Fish Hook Creek and, eight weeks later, I took one last look around at the fiery red brush mixed with the bright yellow of the young western larch surrounding me on a perfect, warm, autumn day, somewhere east of St Maries, Idaho. I pulled off my work boots, thankful I didn't need rain gear that week.

I started the truck down the rough logging road, then over Whitepine Pass. In several more hours, as darkness set in, I stopped at our driveway gates and admired the outline of our barn penetrating the shadows. Hay is in the barn, the firewood is split and stacked, and food is in the cellar. But best of all - I am home! It's been a wonderful year!

I hope your Thanksgiving was blessed and your Christmas is Merry!