I was walking through the Hay Barn the other day when something caught my eye. I looked up and discovered that one of the girts, a vital, long horizonal beam was bending dangerously and had sprung from its connecting vertical beam. My first reaction was “Oh, that’s not good.”
This 3-story barn is comprised of repurposed, hand-hewn beams. As far as I can tell it was built about 100 years ago, probably reusing the beams from a different barn that was taken down around that time. We have a 1920’s photograph showing the farmhouse and a corner of this previous barn.
The Hay Barn has always reminded me of a Gothic cathedral with its delicate tracery as the sun shines through the upper slats in the peak, and thin columns stretch up into the high rafters, home to myriad pigeons and other birds. The lofty structure is kept together with steel cables.
Now a critical section has detached, is bowing under stress and a third of the roof is very close to collapsing. Did I mention this was a couple days before high winds were forecast? Winds that would slam into this old, exposed building. Oh, this is not good.
So I called in a neighbor, who has lots of experience dealing with old barns. After putting up staging so we could reach the girt, we used large straps and come-alongs, a hand-operated ratchet, to winch the girt back in line to the vertical post. It was nip and tuck for a while as we kept ratcheting the come-along, but the beam refused to move. A few more clicks. Then another click….click. Was it enough to move the beam? No. Suddenly, we heard loud cracks as the tension released somewhere in this rickety barn. It was nerve wracking as we had to work inside the building. Finally, we were able to get the beam mostly back in place. We then fastened 2x8 planks on either side of the vertical beam to hold the girt in place. And we left one of the straps to prevent the beam from bowing again.
The wind howled across the farm all the next day. But the Hay Barn is still standing.