From: Alan Skeoch
Subject: Barn Building – a skill I seem to lack
Date: January 5, 2018 at 3:01:48 PM GMT-5
To: alanskeoch


alan skeoch
january 2018









“Marjorie, stand  beside the car…Pregnancy getting close to term…we  are going to have a  baby!”“Alan, when  the baby arrives you will have  to pay attention to other things.”
“Meaning what?”
“Meaning,  I will need help.”
“Right!  You can count on me.”
“We can  no longer pile farm equipment and planks on the roof rack.”
“Why not? The baby isn’t going be put on the roof rack, is it?
“Think…think…think, Alan.  Or is that too much to ask?
“Act like an adult for once  in your life.”
So that is when  the great idea came to mind…like  a flash of  lightning.

Our car in 1968.  Loaded with Tara, our coonhound…a set of  cultivating discs  on the roof…and  Marjorie  who  was very, very pregnant.


“Alan, you have to stop.”:
“Stop what?”
“Stop bringing all  these driftwood planks here?”
“Mr. and Mrs  Coyne, our wonderful landlords,  won’t say anything but they are worried? beginning to think their tenants  are odd.”
“I’m stacking the lumber neatly in the laneway…can’t resist grabbing the stuff…good wood.”
“Where do you get it?”
“Sir Casimir Gzowki park…lumber pilesup there in a jumble like  pick up sticks all winter”
“Are you allowed to…”
“Never  gave that much thought. Easier to get forgiveness than permission you know.  A couple of city workers pulled up he  other day while  I was taking apart a smashed up picnic table.”
 “Are you in trouble?”
“Nope, just told them the law of the sea…right of salvage…I was doing a service to  society.”
“And they believed that?”
“Yep…they even pointed  out some  big planks  frozen in ice that we could loosen.”

“The pile is now 7 feet high and three feet wide, ten feet long”
“Some  2 x 12’s, lots  of  2 x 6’s, some big timbers…”
“But what is the purpose??”
“Well Marjorie, spring is coming. “
“So what?”
“Birds built nests,  groundhogs dig borrows, fish find  gravel beds, flies cluster at windows, frogs start to sing”
“Stop being silly…What are  you going to do with all that water beaten half splintered junk…”
“First, I am taking all the big spikes  out of it…”
“And  you are pregnant…big as a  house…”
“So, I am going to build  a barn.
“A  barn?”
“As I said…spring is building time…birds  are building  nests  for their eggs, snakes are  finding spots to root around  together, …”
“Alan, stop talking drivel.”
“OK, you are very pregnant…baby due in May…so I am going to build a barn.”
“Makes no sense…nonsense…why build a barn…do you expect the baby to live in the barn? Do you thinks  you are Joseph and the baby will be called
“Now, there’s an  idea…Jesus.  No, I think Kevin is better or Morgan.”
“Get back  to this  barn foolishness. “

Note: This  was my idea  of a barn frame.  The kind Alex Skeoch built back in the 1890’s.  Mine would have to be a little more modest as my lumber supply was limited to the boards floating down the Humber River and  washing up on Sunnyside  Beach in the  winter of 1968.  I was convinced that barn building was  part of my genetic  makeup.


“Marjorie, Alexander Skeoch built barns At Corrunna a hundred years ago.”
“So what?  You  are not even sure of that…”
“So, people must have called him Al, which is what some call me… I must be  genetically destined to be  a barn builder…must come naturally…”
“Where is this  stupid  barn to be built?”
“On the old  foundation of grandad’s  barn…in the hollow between the farm ponds.”
“Who is this barn for?”
“For me…and  my collection of  abused farm equipment.”
“Nothing to do with me  or the baby?”
“Well,..No, guess not…but should  keep me busy…maybe by the time the baby comes I will have a  manger built though. “

“So how does all this  lumber get up to the farm?”
“Bought a roof rack for the  car…take a  few planks  at a time…good  springs on the car…” 

How  does one fool build  a barn.  With care?  Note the long rope to hold the beams near to vertical.  But not quite vertical unfortunately.  As a  barn builder I felt I was gifted.  Certainly agile.  Note there is no ladder and the beam  is  aslant  In my defence it was  very difficult to keep the upright beams straight while pounding in the angle braces. Alex Skeoch, the builder of the Cruickshank barn at Corunna, had the help of  100 men and  as many women.  I was alone most of the time.  Got advice from Marjorie and Dad occasionally.  “You are going to kill yourself, damn  fool.”
“Alan, we  have a child coming and you are risking your life.” “Are those nails long enough?”  “Alan, those nails are bent…don’t tell me
you are using the old spikes?”
And so the  new barn began to rise from the ashes  of the old Freeman  barn.  As planks  arrived they were cut and hammered  to posts, then plywood pieces were nailed  to roof trusts…all cut to length with a  skill saw.  Being a  lone  builder was  not as easy  as it seemed. Dad came along occasionally to add  his  comments which usually started with “You  are a  goddamned  fool!’  And  then he did his part to help pulling spikes out of the battered  planks and muttering choice phrases while huffing and  puffing on a White Owl Invincible.

We had the  family farm but the barn had been lost decades ago.  Now a farm without at barn is like horse with out harness or a cow without an udder or a swamp  without frogs or a sky without clouds  or a house without a stove…Get the point.  You can probably add a host of other examples.  Do so, by all means.

This is (was) my barn.  You will note the lone surviving piece  of Granddad Freeman’s barn was the stone stable wall at the front.  All  the other structures I built myself.   I  did not have enough of the rescued green asphalt roofing so had to dip in our savings for a few squares of  brown  shingles which were on sale.. NOTE the farm field. Try to pretend  you do  not see  the weeds.  Look at the spring toothed cultivators and the big drag plow. Not seen is the International Formal A tractor.
These  were  glorious days.  Then everything went wrong.  First was the tractor.  No anti-freeze in the radiator.  First freeze-up  split the engine block converting a  great machine  into a  pile of scrap iron.  Whose fault?  Mine, I suppose.
The barn would be a perfect place to keep all the rather neglected farm machines  I had  been collecting.  Much to the humour of the real farmers  on the Fifth Line.  And  to Dad, trapped above on an old  horse drawn corn cultivator that made a lot of  noise when pulled through the weeds  but
did little that was  positive.  Dad  loved fooling around and  cursing me  for a damn fool.  But he was  around  a lot that summer.  I think He liked the barn building idea.  Or just cursing was therapeutic making up  for bad days  at the racetracks of Southern Ontario.

“Alan,  get me  off this  son of a  bitching bastardly machine.”

“Dad, it will pull the switchgrass.”

“the  hell it will. It was last used 100 years ago…a piece of  junk. “
“That’s  what you said about the barn…look at it…a thing of  beauty.”
“Waste  of  money.”
“Cost nothing…gathered  up the wood from Toronto beaches.”
“Waste of time.”
“Now our farm is  a real farm again, Dad…grandma  and granddad  would be proud.”
“Good  joke.”
(Dad laughed  so  hard there was danger he  would swallow his cigar stub.)



“ALAN, you might like to come up to the farm…surprise awaits you!’

“and sure enough, there was a big surprise..
“Alan, the barn has collapsed!”
“SO SORRY…maybe the wind blew  it over.”
And  there is  was.  Like the House that Jack Built in the kid’s story.  All asked…worse  than flattened.  The barn that took months to build using every free scrap of lumber thrown into the Humber River bye vandals or construction crews.  Once more a helter-skelter pile. All that beautiful wood was now splayed  out like a frog on a dissection board.  I think my love affair with metaphors goes beyond common sense.
“Nothing we can do  about it. Gimme the crowbar!”, said Dad  later that day.  No expletives immediately.  He loved our creation as  much as  I did.  Did not want to hurt my feelings. At least not right away.  When we got into the demolition phase he reverted back to his old self.  Speaking in opposites.
Dad got as much kick out of the demolition of  the barn as he  did the construction.  He grinned a lot and  let fly with his compliments such as ‘goddamned fool’, “you don’t know what the  hell you are  doing.” “let’s set the whole thing on fire and  be  done with it.”  “here give me that crowbar, you don’t know your ass from your elbow.” etc. Etc.  In short, we  had a good time both  building and demolishing the barn.

“You know  Alan,  it would  probably have come down anyway,”

“Did you get a building  permit?”
“Building permit?”
“Yes…need one from the township before any construction.”
“You must be kidding.”
“Not kidding.”
“No permit.”
“Then the township would make you tear it down.”
“How would  the township know?”
“Usually a neighbour phones them…”
“Nobody objected on the Fifth line…not the Kerrs, McEcherns, Saunders, Leitches,  Freemans, …no  one.”
“Wonder why?”
“They were likely too busy laughing.”
“ I wonder if lottery tickets were sold guessing how  long the barn would  say  up.””
“How long did it stay up?”
“Nearly two months.”
“Fastest way  to clean  up  the site is by having a fire.”
“Good idea,  Set it ablaze.”
“Wow! Does it ever burn.”
“Alan, we have to get back to Toronto…baby is coming soon…and you have  work tomorrow.”
“But the fire is still going.”
And so we  went home to Toronto.  The fire had died down  somewhat.    BUT NOT ENOUGH.
“Marjorie, get the phone…my arms  are loaded.”
“Alan, that was Art Saunders.  The fire has spread   beyond  the barn.  The
back field is burning.  Ron has done  what he  could but you better get up to the farm now.”
And so I did.  The backfield was  blackened and  a  few red pines had become
skeletons but the fire was out.
I had to face a bitter truth.
Barn building is  really not part of my genetic makeup.
We did build barns. Really Alexander Skeoch did.  Or is that a Legend  passed  down from generation to generation.  That was a long time ago. Precious little  evidence remains.    Even our huge  cattle barn on grandfather James Skeoch’s farm is  gone.  Not by fire.  it was taken apart carefully by Mennonite  farmers then stored as  a potential wedding gift for a new young couple  or a replacement barn should a fellow church member lose his farm to fire.   This barn stood for nearly 100 years.  Now it is resting somewhere cosy.  Waiting for its resurrection.
“Marjorie, I have an idea.”
“I hesitate  to ask.”
“How  about converting?”
“We  could  become  Mennonites.”
“Why in Heaven’s  name would we  want to convert?”
“We could prove that our  barn burned down and then maybe 100 mennonites  would rebuild the original  Skeoch barn
on our farm.”
“Stick your head in a pail of  cold water, Alan.   Hold it there.”
“Mennonites have lots of children.  We are just getting started.   how  would you like ten kids?”
“Dimwit…just as your dad says.”
The  real  James Skeoch  barn…built around  1900 with timbers cut and  hewn on the farm.  In the background is the Skeoch stone house made with fieldstone  collected  from the fields.


P.S.  JUST a  little post script.  I decided to check the driftwood lumber on Sunnyside Beach  today…January 25, 2018…more than half a
century after my plank collecting back  in 1968.  Guess  what?  No lumber. Only a few red bricks from some  demolition long ago.  Why tell you this?
Simple  answer.  If you decide to build  a barn like I did, you will have to find another beach.

alan skeoch

january 2018

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