Exterior work completed on Iowa barn moved to new site
DUNCOMBE — When the first rays of the morning’s sunshine strike the east side of Matt and Libby Mitchell’s barn, they stream through the frost formation on the windows, casting orange spots of light onto the opposite wall.
Downstairs, where the animals were once kept, that sunshine lands on brand new wood.
Upstairs, in the hayloft, the orange morning light lands on beams, trusses and siding original to the building.
As the day goes on, those sunbeams, so beloved by cats for sunbathing, more across the wall in a pattern they’ve only been following for about a year.
Before then, they traced a different path because the barn, built in 1915, was located several miles away on another farm.
Matt Mitchell had the barn moved after he purchased it. His plans were to restore it on his own farm southwest of Duncombe after its ride across several neighbors’ frozen fields.
Today, about a year later, he’s completed the exterior work.
“We took off most of the old siding,” Matt Mitchell told the Fort Dodge Messenger. “We made all of the jams, I made all of the doors. There’s 14 doors in all.”
The goal in the work was simple.
“The whole outside would look just like it did,” he said.
He used a type of cement board siding that has an embossed wood grain pattern. The roof is now metal instead of wood shake shingles. Brand new hinges shine brightly in the morning light and a weather vane tops off the cupola on top of the roof.
“The cupola got shingles,” he said. “I did that standing up there.”
The top, a little over 30 feet up, offers an incredible view.
“We could see the Zenia water tower down by Stratford,” he said. “That’s how high it is.”
Libby Mitchell was a little less appreciative of his cupola roofing efforts.
“Don’t fall,” she said. “I don’t want to be a widow.”
The couple worked together on much of the project. She painted all the doors and helped with the siding. She’s been taking a break for a bit though, because the couple is expecting their first child soon.
They also had lots of other help.
“I couldn’t have done it without family, friends and neighbors,” Matt Mitchell said.
The project did bring one unexpected and unwelcome change to the farm.
Pigeons, lots of pigeons.
“They moved with it,” he said. “We had none before. I closed up one space with wire, they flew into it and the windows. I’ll bet we had 50 pigeons.”
While the exterior is now done, the Mitchells are far from done with their labor of love.
“As soon as spring hits we’re doing the electrical,” he said.
“We also want to put in all the milking stanchions,” she added.
When last used, she said, the barn was divided and about half was used for dairy cows and the other half devoted to the farm’s work horse. The couple plans on having animals in the barn once again. They’re planning on a couple of show calves and the couple’s horses, now living apart elsewhere, will find themselves under one big roof. They might even include a goat.
Matt Mitchell deeply appreciates the craftsmanship and history of his barn.
“My grandfather respected the old stuff,” he said. “It’s a shame all these are coming down. They’ll never build like this again. It’s part of our history, in 50 years there might not be any. Grandpa said that there was once a barn on every 40 acres. Now we build as fast as we can and as cheap as we can.”
The couple encourages others to restore and preserve their own barns. The technology is relatively simple.
“We figure it out as we go,” he said. “One screw at a time. It’s not as bad as you think, it’s a lot of fun.”
They also said that the cost, at least for them, has been pretty much limited to buying materials. The rest has been sweat equity. Their financial investment in the barn is currently considerably less than the cost of a new pickup.
It’s also a bit addictive.
“I told my wife there’s another barn I really want,” he said. “It’s twice as big as this one.”
“I don’t know about that,” she said, giving him the knowing smile that translates into, well, another barn to work on.
The project also stands as an homage and memorial to Hubert Vote. Vote owned the company that moved it and as it turns out, it was his last before he died.
“It all happened because of him,” Matt Mitchell said. “It was his last barn move.”