A Barn Raising Experience
By Heidi Brown-Drumhiller
Five years ago, my husband and I bought a farmhouse and dilapidated barn in Homer Michigan. The house, not more than a shack, needed immediate attention. The barn would have to wait. Over the next several years contractors came and looked at the barn. I would see their looks of bewilderment as if the building was just too enormous of a job. They would look at the huge 35' x 60' building from almost every angle possible and then, with a look of complete confusion say, "I think we can make this work," or "I can build you a pole barn, but this building needs to be torn down."
The barn was in bad shape. After years of abuse the barn was jacked up in several places in a desperate attempt to prevent it from falling. It was leaning terribly. The barn was built into a hill and had a big basement. All the windows were broken and their frames pushed out and twisted from the weight of the leaning structure. The stone walls in the basement were 100 years old and the mortar had become powder. The condition of the mortar, coupled with the leaning, caused the walls to cave in and the basement was full of huge stones. You could see daylight through some sections of the wall The back of the barn had no siding and the sliding doors had been completely pulled off. Some of the siding at the back of the barn had blown completely off exposing the inside of the barn to the weather. The metal roof was terribly rusted with kinks and bends in it from the shifting structure. The front doors swinging in the wind were barely functioning.
The situation looked hopeless. I felt sentimental about the old building and imagined the stories it could tell. I hated to see the majestic structure fall to the ground, however this seemed inevitable. I was just waiting for the next strong wind to come and blow it down.
Then one day while driving through the country we saw an old barn being restored. The crew working on it had done a good job so we asked them to come and look at ours. We assumed these men were local, but they were from Fremont Michigan, over 100 miles distant. That week, Pat Stilt, from J.P. Stilt Barn Restoration came to see our "dilemma." As he gazed at the barn, it was as if he were looking at something totally different than the other contractors. He had a confidence and self-assurance about him and an obvious love of old barns. After all, barn restoration was his speciality. He said he had never seen a barn that he couldnt repair. He gave me a reasonable price and as a last attempt to save the barn, I gave him the okay to get started.
One spring morning Pat arrived. Everything imaginable was parked around the barn. Trucks, trailers, a 42' semi, and all sorts of equipment. Pat showed us the semi. The front of the trailer had bunks, a kitchen, TV, microwave and even a woodstove. The back of the trailer was an immaculately kept tool crib. This is a family business - we met Mark and Wes, Pat's two sons and later a grandson Matt. Immediately after getting their equipment situated, work began. The three of them worked methodically....knowing exactly what to do with no hesitation. They worked 12-14 hour days Monday through Thursday, then returned home to spend time with their families. The work was being done so quickly I had to go out every couple of hours, afraid I would miss part of the transformation. Concrete floors were dug out; new floors, foundations and walls poured; caved-in walls replaced; doors built; the roof repainted and the barn lifted up and leveled. Nothing seemed impossible! Trees were cut around the barn and it seemed almost as if the barn stood higher and prouder.
There were setbacks. I remember one instance when a wall caved in unexpectedly. Never a harsh word was spoken. It was just taken in stride and redone. I was so impressed with the attitude of these men. Always a smile on their faces and a willingness to please. They took pride in their work. What a rewarding talent I thought to be able to restore these old barns to their original splendor.
Their success is attributed to their honesty, faith and family togetherness. How refreshing to see a family working together in harmony! Incredibly the whole project lasted only three working weeks. When the job was over and all the equipment gone, I felt better for having known them and becoming a part of restoring a bit of history. They taught me that with strength of family, faith, and hard work, anything is possible. This experience has changed the way I look at barns. I see them as beautiful pieces of architect and am saddened when I see one in disrepair and delighted to see one standing tall and proud.
Read more about the Stitt Family in this biography in the Barn People section.