I think I was 15 the first time that I entered the neighbor’s barn. The neighbor had hired the kid across the road to brush-hog for him and the kid felt the job was overwhelming, so he asked me to help. Using Dad’s Ferguson 40 and my grandfather’s brush-hog, I managed to get several hours of the 80 hour job. We kept our water jugs and lunches in the old barn and met there for lunch and water breaks.
It was good money for a kid, and we were at the age where our inner consumer had been awakened. We also pitched a lot of hay bales into the mow of that barn for a couple years. The neighbor kid did all the mowing the next year or two, but he was soon off to a bigger and better life and I inherited the job. I still took many of my breaks at the barn, since anything left under the trees in the fields drew the attention of the cattle.
I’m saying this from memory, but I’d say the center, two-story, section of the barn was four 16 foot square bays long, meaning it was 16 by 64 feet. Near the mid-point, it had a couple stalls and a place where a set of steps once went upstairs. For some reason, they had been removed and were laying across the top of the opening, perhaps to discourage trespassers from going into the upstairs mow. The mow was about six feet at the sides and ten feet at the center.
On each of the long sides was a 16-foot-wide shed running the length of the barn, with a two-foot-wide manger running the length of the side against the main barn. It was open along the sides of the mow, so you could drop hay into the manger to feed the cattle. The cattle could come in either end of either shed to eat, get out of the rain and snow, or just loaf in the shade on a hot day. There wasn’t anything fancy about the barn, and it was painted entirely black, probably because it could be purchased cheaply, plus would blend with any creosote put on the bottom of the vertical siding boards.
Although it was a small farm of perhaps a hundred acres, when the owner’s grandfather lived there, it was only one part of a system of farms that once held the largest herd of Polled Herefords east of the Mississippi. You don’t think of such an operation being in West Virginia.
I mowed the farm for many years for the owner, until my working at the factory began to interfere. The work then went to a local farmer for a few years and then to a neighbor of mine who’s about ten years younger than I.
The barn sat on a slight rise above the valley floor, safe from any flooding. There at the side of the end of a ridge, and not far from the interstate highway that divided the valley back in the 60’s, it seemed like a fortress guarding entry up the “bayou,” as I called it. It was a welcome stop, not just when I was working there, but also on the hot days of my youth when I fished the bayou. It was also a stop where I hid from the incessant wind for a few minutes to warm up the winter I taught myself to trap muskrats under the ice. It was in the single digits some mornings that winter, and the ice was up to ten inches thick on the bayou. That’s a real rarity for this area, so, since I was young and crazy, I wanted to learn a new skill.
The old barn had been there since the late 30’s or early 40’s. I had over forty years to snap a picture of the old barn, but I never did. It’s ironic that we so seldom take photos of the things that loom large in our memories. The only photo I have is the one stolen from the local TV station as it burned, and it shows only flame, no barn. It was decided that it was caused by a trespasser’s cigarette butt, not deliberate arson. Due to stupidity, an old landmark is gone. It will be replaced by some smaller, ugly, metal-sided shed. The fellow doesn’t graze cattle there anymore, so it will hold only a few pieces of equipment. I’ll miss seeing the old place, but I’ll always remember it. © 2015
A moment's stupidity and a landmark is gone. (Click image to enlarge.)