Trials and Strong Backs – an Adventure in Remodeling

In previous posts, I’ve alluded to the fact that there’s a big remodeling project in the works here. A project involving timbers from an old barn, being repurposed in our also-old house. That’s been ongoing for a few weeks now, and it’s been interesting, to say the least.

First, play some Twilight Zone music in your head… and then imagine if you will… a world with disruption of impressive proportions…

I guess I should stop watching the HGTV shows, because all I do is criticize them. But really? Where is the reality of the challenge of the home owners and the builders harmoniously co-existing? Because it IS a big challenge. A VERY big challenge. For us, with the disruption and the mess, but also for the workers – with the obstacles they have to navigate in order to do their jobs.

The room where the work is being done here is UPSTAIRS. Not just ordinary upstairs, but through the garage, then a sitting room, then my office, past a cranky little dog, around a U-turn, up fourteen steep steps, onto a landing, past a cluster of five doors, and finally through a skinny hallway/laundry room upstairs. There are EIGHT different doorways to pass through. There is no other way to get there. Except via aerial lift through the window (but we will get to that at another time).

So here I sit working, listening to all manner of sawing, hammering and noises I can’t even identify – as well as the pitter patter of BIG feet up and down the stairs as all these guys schlep through the house for tools and materials needed. They have a big trailer parked in the driveway, containing what must be a bazillion different tools. And as life usually goes, apparently everything they need is still in there, in spite of the fact that armloads get carried up every day. As we get further into the project I will share some more revealing photos, but for today we are talking about trials and strong backs.

Stop for a fix light load 72dpi
This lovely painting is called “Stop for A Fix” – you can buy as a ready to hang plaque here. It’s by Larry Schultz; he is a master at depicting equine and agricultural subjects. You can see more of his work here

I’ve seen plenty of strong backs at work throughout this entire project. First, when the barn was torn down (details here) and now as the timbers have been processed and are making their way into our house.

Here are the salvaged barn beams being removed from storage. They had a machine on site, but a great deal of the work had to be done by hand (and strong back). This photo illustrates perfectly why so many of these old wooden barns are lost through disuse and lack of maintenance. The ceilings are too low to get machines under. It’s a great arrangement for keeping livestock snug and warm in winter, storing big tractors, not so much.

It was freezing that day, and this handful of guys extracted an entire barn’s worth of timbers from storage, carefully loaded them onto trailers, and took them back to their shop to be cleaned, de-nailed, sorted and plans made for their use here in our house. It took over a week for Rob and his crew working from sunup to sundown to get the West 20 barn torn down and the timbers stuffed into this storage barn – this crew had them pulled back out and loaded in a day.

IMG_5571beams in stove
I gained more insight on just how much work it was to wrestle these beams around every time I put a piece of this in the stove. It was all I could do to lift and carry a short section by myself. I definitely need a stronger back.

Except for this one. The crew boss (Jake) took one look at it and said they were NOT taking it back to the shop with them because it was full of bugs. It didn’t look that different than the others, but he showed me the evidence by flaking off some of a corner. He sure was right – Rob cut this up to burn in the fireplace and there was bug damage all the way through to the center – the entire length of the 30’+ long beam. Two sections like shown here would burn for about 10 hours. I don’t know the BTU rating for bugs, but maybe that contributed to the long burn time.

IMG_5556big room
I don’t have any good pictures of the workers. They don’t hold still.

Above is the room where the work is being done. We added it a few years ago after the garage came loose from the house and we had to replace it. That’s a long story for another day, but to make it short, this room was added mostly to keep the house from looking dumb (who wants a dumb house?). Rob finished the inside to this point himself so the cost to add this extra square footage was really reasonable since the footprint of the garage was already there. We had no plans for it, and never dreamed one day that God would orchestrate circumstances such that this space could look like a beautiful hay loft.

In these pictures you can see the ONLY new wood that will be used in this project. It’s tongue and groove cypress brought up from a lumber mill in Tennessee. Although we salvaged every bit of siding from the barn that was torn down, it still was not enough. The barn had been repaired and added onto over the years; none of the siding matched, although it was all painted red. At any rate, Dean at Timeless Barn Company suggested the cypress because of it’s attractive grain and the way the color coordinated with the antique beams. I was nervous about new wood going up beside 130+ year old wood, but we are thrilled with how it looks so far:

IMG_5611 big room
I missed the first part of this “beam raising” so didn’t get any earlier pictures. Someone from the shop was bringing the guys additional equipment to help lift this, but apparently they were ready to put it up before that got here so they made do with what they had. Strong backs. And they needed them as this was really heavy – 30 feet long.

This beam is called the “ridge beam” and it spans the full length of the room. Early on, I had promised Dean I would not be a PITA (Pain In The Ass) throughout the project, but I sorta was on this issue; it was important to me that these long beams were utilized in one piece if possible. The first crew worked hard to get them down intact, and there was a bit of drama surrounding their loading and transport:

IMG_0046 long beams
The Keesling’s Inc rig is normally used to transport construction machinery like bulldozers and excavators. But on this day it carried hand hewn barn beams to a fate other than that of destruction. The beam on the forks of this machine is over 60 feet long. That’s the rough equivalent to balancing a 12″ pencil on one finger. Except to move the “finger” part of the machine required use of levers and pedals like this.

A few years ago, after the barn demolition crew we hired had finished their work and left the job, leaving massive stacks of beams strewn in what was the barn lot at the site. It was up to Rob and I to load them onto his lowboy trailer. It went pretty well with the shorter, larger timbers as he fit them like a puzzle into the well of the trailer. But when we got to those long ones – it seemed there was no way it was going to work. I was tired, and had had enough. I thought it was ridiculous to keep them that long – they were protruding off both the front AND the back of the trailer. I begged him to just cut them shorter and get it over with. He refused. I was annoyed that he was being so stubborn about something that was surely not going to work. But I watched, not once, but THREE times as he balanced those 60′ beams on the forks of the machine and carried them across the rutted barn lot to the trailer.

So now, once our room is finished, we can sit in there and recollect the time we spent NOT killing each other as we struggled with this hard project, for which at that time there was NO REASON, and NO PLAN for. I am not sure if we should be embarrassed. Or proud? For sure, that was a trial before the trials that were (and are) to come…

anvil quote bc


  1. Gina, you know how much I appreciate your attitude, outlook and your way with words. I love this blog and if you don’t mind, I’m borrowing ‘PITA’ to use as my own! Keep up the great work – and congrats to you and Rob for working together and getting it done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I so enjoy reading about your adventures. My husband and I (after my first husband died at age 41) have spent many years together doing difficult projects. Times when we didn’t think we could do it, times when we differed in opinions, times when we thought our strength would not sustain us, but always stood by each other with support and love. I think that is the reward of things done beyond your imagination, The finished project complete!
    Just sitting by and staring at the finished project, reflecting all the work you didn’t think you could do, holding on to each other knowing you have someone to work with and love, as hard as you do!


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