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Barn Restorer Brings Old Structures Back To Life
Professional barn restorer Bruce Willemsen says if people aren't going to fix up their old barns they should tear them down and use the lumber for other purposes. What the builder hates to see is barns left to rot and fall down.
"We have more than 70 barns on our list to be restored," says Willemsen. "We also build new barns."
Willemsen has torn down barns in the past, numbering each beam so it can be reassembled in the future. "We have a pile of old barns, down and labeled, but there's not much of a market for them," he says.
While some people want to remodel a barn for other uses, many simply want to restore old barns to their former glory.
"We tighten up and refit beams," says Willemsen. "We use steel brackets to replace joints where pins have rotted out or the tenon gone bad. Often the roof goes bad, and then you get rotten spots."
Willemsen notes that old barns, especially large ones, were built to be filled with hay, which put down pressure on all the joints. Without the hay, the joints spread and the barn loses its spring. He notes that straight and gambrel-roofed barns can often be straightened as long as the foundation hasn't gone bad.
Knowing when to tear down, when to restore and then what to use a barn for when restored are all difficult questions to answer. Each barn is unique, and so is each barn owner's situation. One thing Willemsen doesn't care for is trying to turn a barn into something it isn't.
"I had one owner who wanted me to put 18-ft. doors in an old barn so he could drive a combine into it," recalls Willemsen. "I told him to build a pole shed. It would do the job better and at less cost. Take a big old barn and put an airplane door in it, and it just looks stupid."
Which isn't to say he hasn't turned old barns into machine sheds. When he does, he tries to do it in a way that preserves its style.
"When we work on a barn, we do everything historically correct up to and including using hand cut nails," says Willemsen. "We try to use new wood, all solid hardwoods and big ponderosa pines. We get our wood from small family-run sawmills. We also use a lot of local hardwoods."
While every barn is different, the barn builder/restorer says the average barn restoration will run about the cost of a two to three car garage, or $20,000 to 30,000. How historically accurate or elaborate the restoration is determines the price, along with the shape the barn is in.
"There is no right or wrong answer to when to restore," says Willemsen. "Sometimes it's because Grandpa built it 100 years ago. Sometimes it's because people bought the place and just want to fix it up. It's great when they can be put back to work. Everybody loves an old barn."
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Bruce Willemsen, Barn Builders, Inc., 656 Hwy T14, Pella, Iowa 50219 (ph 402 286-2276; toll free 866 572-9910; michelle@barn-builders.com; http://www.barn-builders. com).

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2007 - Volume #31, Issue #1