One of my fondest childhood memories is playing in a gigantic white barn on my grandmother's farm in Ohio. It was like exploring the ruins of a Mayan temple. The huge main floor seemed like a dusty cathedral. The understory where many cows had lived was dark and mysterious. The pigeons flapping away in the rafters thrilled me. My grandmother's barn is long gone, but that experience has always stayed with me, which makes the story I am about to tell you all that much more special to me.
An amazing old post-and-beam timber-frame barn is on the outskirts of the little town of Chester, California. As you drive out Highway 32 on the east side of town, you'll turn your gaze south toward Lake Almanor and there, in a large meadow, is an imposing structure way back off the highway. You can tell it's a huge barn because it looks huge even at that distance. It's like some farm country Taj Mahal. The setting helps. It's smack dab in the middle of a wide open field. The field is flat as a pancake.
This timber frame barn, nearly 150 years old, is a celebration of wood on a massive scale.
The steep pitch of the roof enables snow to slide off easily. (Photo by Jan Davies)
I talked with Marilyn Quadrio, co-director of the Chester-Lake Almanor Museum and a local historian. Vanessa Vasquez of the Feather River Land Trust drove over from Quincy to give us a tour. It turns out the FRLT is making a campaign to buy and preserve the land and the barn so it was good timing.
Marilyn, who is a wonderful storyteller, told us the fascinating history of the early settlers. One of them was Melissa Bailey Olsen. Melissa was the matriarch of the family and a founder of Chester. Her husband, Peter Olsen, was a Norwegian immigrant who made his way to Plumas County via Pennsylvania. He was a master barn builder.
Have you ever thought about what goes into making a barn of this size? As I stood in the center of the barn gazing up into the rafters I was struck by the size and sheer volume of material needed to build it. Except for using the steam-powered saw mill, everything was constructed through manual labor. Even at the height of the industrial revolution of the 19th century, mass-produced materials had not reached the farm. The farmer found happiness through making things we get from catalogs today. Real joy came from designing and doing.
It almost goes without saying that the effort to raise this barn was enormous. The trees were felled by hand (they did not have chainsaws in 1870). The beams were hewn out of a single tree trunk with broad axes and adzes. The broad axe was used for chopping or notching and hewing square timbers. The adze was used for smoothing the timbers. Drills, chisels and mallets were used to form the mortises and tenon joinery. Very few nails were ever used. A maul, which is a heavy wooden mallet with iron reinforcing, was used to pound beams into place.
With pike poles and ropes, a team of laborers lifted the enormous bents. Bents are handmade prefabricated framed units of the barn that form the bays. The Olsen barn is a "basilican" plan. This plan was devised for barns when the span was too great for the rafters to take the load of the roof and too wide for a single horizontal beam. They used what are called "purlins." A purlin is a longitudinal member that supports the rafters in between the plates and the ridge. Posts and braces supported the purlin. Because of the size of the barn, purlins were used in the Olsen barn. The result is a central space called a "nave" – like in a church – and the galleries at the sides form the aisles – also like in a church. Depending on the purpose of the barn, the central area might be a threshing floor or, in the case of the Olsen barn, hay was stored there. The dairy cows were milked and fed in the aisles.
A cathedral of wood. (Photo by Jan Davies)
The mark of the adze. (Photo by Jan Davies)
A great horned owl says, "Thank you for my barn." (Photo by Jan Davies)
I made up my mind to calculate a rough estimate for how much material might go into a barn of this size. We didn't take our tape measure to the barn so we made an educated guess as to its size. We decided to estimate that the barn is 50 feet tall, 80 feet long and 50 feet wide. We estimated that the sides of the barn were 15 feet high and the roof is 80 feet long and 45 feet tall.
This reads like a book from the Bible. The book Numbers comes to mind. There would have been about 3,600 shake shingles that needed to be shaved. They would have needed about 376 boards for siding, and 82 individual lodge pole pines trees dressed out for the rafters. For the main beams, 40 trees would have had to be felled and made square. The trees would have been Douglas fir, red cedar or yellow pine. For the posts, they would have needed 54 more trees. Each post would have also been carved out of a single tree. Then they would have needed 54 braces, but they would not have to be from a single tree as they were smaller. Finally each beam and post would need to be carved to fit the mortise and tenon joints. In addition to all this, dowels were hand carved to fit the joints.
The mortise and tenon joints are invisible, but you can see the anchoring dowels.
Marilyn said, "The siding came from a 10- to 29-mile radius. There was plentiful timber everywhere, and sawmills processed the wood. The original roof was covered with handmade shake shingles. During the 19th century and even the early 20th, there were shake makers traveling up into the forests and shaving shakes all summer, but Peter made his own. The latches and gate hardware used on the barn were hand forged by local blacksmiths."
Here are some photographs of the Olsen family. Unfortunately there are no surviving photographs of the barn builder himself.
George Olsen, second from left, with milk pails, Maude Gay, Ed Olsen's baby Freda, wife Carrie and son Bill.
Back row: George Olsen, Melissa's niece Blanche Stuckey, granddaughter Edith Martin, son Frank Bailey, niece Maude Gay, son Ed Olsen. Front row: Melissa Bailey Olsen, grandnephew Randall Gay, sister Elizabeth Stuckey.
Marilyn said, "The people living on the slopes of Mt. Lassen were isolated so they had to be self-reliant, and also reliant upon their neighbors. All this knowledge does not have to be lost. All we have to do is take an interest and it can be preserved."
by Dean Hughes
It stands today
As strong as six-score memoried years ago;
A big barn built to last the long rows of sleek cows,
In the stables underneath,
The long dark winter through.
Examine, if you will,
These giant plates and beams,
These stalwart loins and limbs and thighs.
Each one was once upon a splendid time
A giant pine
Singing a hundred feet towards the skies,
Then topped to sixty feet of needed length,
Hewed from the round to fourteen inches square.
The marks of the hewing axe and adze,
Swung straight and true.
Read there the tale
Of toil and sweat and a fine pride
In shaping these great timbers.
Stand with me
A wondrous moment.
In that crafted tree
Is history enough of old great-grandsire times
A century ago and more.
Those sheathing boards,
Those tenons, mortices and dowels,
Those thews and sinews,
Those mitres beveled true,
Fitted in tight embrace to fight the winds
And the strong side-thrust of the sheaves and hay.
There stands my barn!
Monument to the past!
Feast for the present!
Song for the future!
From the "The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America" by Eric Arthur and Dudley Witney. Published by Galahad Books in 1972.
If you feel inspired to help save the Olsen barn, please contact Feather River Land Trust via the website, by phone at 530-283-5758, or via email.
We just got back from a much needed, long-awaited road trip to the Southwest. It's great to live on a ranch or homestead, but it's also important to get a change of scenery! We usually go to Hawaii because we love it so much and because it's completely and 100-percent different from where we live.
However, we could not afford it this time, and so we decided to go to see the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Sedona. We had never been there as a couple. It was pretty different in the sense of the spectacular scenery and because it was still late winter or early spring – depending on which side of the coin you're viewing it from.
We actually had one day where we came out to a snow-covered car. Anyway we had a Grand Time, but we're glad to be back.
There was an old farmer named Martin,
From his many shoes you can't part him,
Wife says, "They must go!"
He shrieks, "No, no, no!"
This stubborn old farmer named Martin.
My husband said, "Come here. Look at this. Don't you think this would make a good story?" He was talking about his footwear. He's finally gotten it that any and everything on this ranch is a potential subject for a story. I've often thought about writer's block and it ain't here, folks. Just swing, well, a dead anything, and you'll hit a story in the making. That's just how it is. There, I've said it.
So on this particular day the husband says, "Get out your camera. Take a picture. I bet you can think of things to say about my boots," and I think, well, yes, the first thing I can think of is you have too many! Then he goes on to describe what they're all for and in a minute I can clearly see why he needs them all.
Going clockwise starting at the top:
- Tennis shoes also known as sneakers – worn when he wants walking comfort and he doesn't need ...
- Cowboy boots – his all-time favorite. They're work boots for work that isn't gross and disgusting.
- Insulated waterproof boots – worn for work and riding in wet and cold conditions.
- Navy SEAL combo boots that are 100-percent waterproof – worn when wading in really deep water such as when he's putting boards in the weir. They are also easy to walk in.
- Totally worn out cowboy boots – worn for work when the work is gross and disgusting. Like walking in cow poop.
- Shearling boots – worn when the tootsies feel cold.
- Cheap-o water shoes – worn at the lake for swimming and bobbing around in the water. The wade to shore is rocky.
- Rubber boots – for wading in the creek so your pants don't get wet.
- Dress cowboy boots – worn for nice occasions.
- The cat doesn't care about any of this. He's only interested in licking his leg.
- Don't you love the cast aluminum boot jack in the upper right corner? I'm not sure what it is. A big ole stag beetle?
My husband is Imelda Marcos in work boots. I bet Imelda could come up with an explanation for why she had all those shoes, too! I think of the day my grandmother explained to me how, when she was a girl, they had two pairs of shoes, period. One for working and one for church. They got a new pair when the old ones completely wore out and could no longer be repaired by the cobbler.
Don't you think we're a little bit spoiled?
I have many memories of my grandmother. One of them centers around Easter Sunday. My grandmother was a devout Christian and went to the Lutheran church. We were all Lutherans. Even her father-in-law, our great-grandfather, was a Lutheran minister. Some cousins in Iowa endowed the Lutheran Seminary at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, and the library was named after my grandfather's family. So, of course, we grew up as Lutherans. Easter was a big deal. Every Easter we'd get new dresses, hats, shoes and little handbags. We even had new socks with a little bit of lace around the cuff.
Me, my sister and our little brother in our fancy duds.
Then we'd get in the car and drive to the service, which was grand and glorious, but a little overwhelming to us little ones. Mrs. Melvin played the enormous organ. I think I loved church mostly for her playing. The altar would be arrayed with pots and pots of Easter lilies. Everyone was on their best behavior. It felt a little like I imagine the festivities at "Downton Abbey" might have felt. The weather was always gorgeous and then there was Easter dinner afterwards.
This is where Grandmother came in. She was always the consummate cook. She put up most of her own food, and she baked such good angel food cakes that the people in town came to her with requests, and she'd bake the cakes and sell them for a little side money.
Easter dinner always included home-cured ham and fried chicken from chickens she raised herself. She baked Parkerhouse rolls and, even though she didn't have a cow by that time, her butter was the best tasting I've ever had. Maybe she got the fresh churned butter from some of the cousins who still had a dairy cow. There would be mashed potatoes and green beans with almonds. There was always the ubiquitous jello mold with lime or orange jello and carrots and pineapple.
To go along with the ham, my grandmother made the best sweet pickled corn relish. And at the end there would be the angel food cake with strawberry preserves spooned liberally over it all. It's a wonder we weren't all obese. Well, some of us were a little, as they say, hefty, but I guess with all the work that was done before and after dinner we had a chance to burn it off.
After it was all done and my mom and Grandmother retired to the kitchen to clean up a bit, we children would go out on the front porch where Grandmother had a porch swing and we'd just crank that sucker up. Looking back it's wonder we didn't fly off the porch and land in the doctor's office. Sister and brother would get on and I would get in back and push like my life depended on it. We didn't have a concept of danger, and we never looked up to see if the screws eyes were holding. It was just great fun.
Now those days are long gone. Grandmother passed away years ago. Even Mother and Dad are gone now. We "youngsters" are still here, and someday we'll be gone, too. In the meantime those wonderful memories will live on and, if I can, I will try to make Easter Sunday for my family the way Grandmother would make it.
Happy Easter to everyone!
You know that book called All Creatures Great and Small? Actually, I never read it. Did it mention ticks? They are definitely small. However, not being a biologist I guess I just don't have the awe and appreciation of the lowly tick. I don't think the ticks think much of me either. They just think of me as a meal.
I picked the first tick of the season off me the other day. I'm sure you know the feeling. First you feel something tickling you just at your hair line so you reach up and the first thing you feel is a tiny little thing that has movement. What is that? Your eyes get wide. So you pick it off and you look down to see this little black thing pinched between your fingers and you immediately recognize it for what it is.
Then the next thing you think is how did you get there? You rascal you! Did you drop from the sky or did you make your way up my pants all the way to my neck undetected? You're an amazing critter of stealth. If you're like me and have had a little education on the tick you will know they can't really bite you quickly. So like me you might get a piece of toilet paper and examine the bugger a bit before you dispatch it down the toilet. I always dispatch it down the toilet because I don't want it resurrecting itself a la Fatal Attraction in my bed later.
Photo: Dermacentor variabilis or American Dog Tick (or wood tick) | iStockphoto.com/stevelenzphoto
I'm looking at it to see if I can determine if it's a dog tick or a black-legged deer tick. If it's a dog tick, I breathe a sigh of relief. It's almost always a dog tick. If it's a deer tick I will keep it in a jar of alcohol and if I ever get symptoms of Lyme Disease I will have that sucker tested. And me, too! Lyme must be taken seriously! I have at least one friend, the redoubtable Robert Cowart, whose personal blog (BobCowart.blogspot.com) is all about Lyme. He got it as a young boy while tramping the woods of eastern Pennsylvania. Years later it came roaring into his life mimicking the worst case of Parkinson's Disease, and it's wreaked havoc on his life. Yes, Lyme must be taken seriously. So I do.
Photo: Ixodes scapularis or deer tick | iStockphoto.com/tuzyra
You can see that the dog tick is opposite – in general – from the deer tick. The carapace of the dog tick is light colored and the body is dark. The deer tick is opposite of that.
Dog ticks don't carry Lyme. Deer ticks do.
Now the other thing about ticks is that they're not like mosquitoes. A mosquito will land on you and instantly bite you. A tick, on the other hand, will crawl on you and take its time looking for the perfect spot before it starts biting. This is why if you have the bugger in hand you can safely examine it. Just don't let it get away from you and disappear in the cracks of the sofa. You might have a hard time finding it again.
Since we're all outdoorsy people and we don't want some little insect telling us where we can and can't go, there are some things we can do to thwart them in their mission. I don't have to do any research into this subject. I was lucky enough to live in a house that had a tick field researcher from the University of California at Berkeley. She disabused me of a lot of notions and informed me of some important facts.
Wear light colored clothing so if the buggers start crawling up your pant leg you can see them. I once picked four or five ticks off this way.
Tuck your pant legs into your socks. They'll still try to burrow into your socks but let's not make it easy for them to crawl up the inside of your pant leg.
Spray tick repellant on your clothing. Liberally.
Try to wend your way in areas where there isn't a lot of high brush. We were at Ano Nuevo once for an elephant seal viewing and the naturalist all of a sudden said come here and take a look at this. At the tip of some tall grass she pointed out a little cadre of ticks hanging out on the grass end by their back legs with their little front legs outstretched in full Flying Wallenda position to catch whatever passerby accidentally brushed up against them. We gave them wide berth. We couldn't squash them on the spot. It's a preserve thing.
Take a shower immediately upon your return home and wash your hair. You still might get the odd tick (Don't ask me how. Remember, they are the definition of stealth!), but you'll feel a lot better.
What happens once you pick a tick off yourself, among other things? You start to itch all over and now every little itch is a possible tick. Taking a shower seems to alleviate this weird response. At least it does for me.
What should you do if, God forbid, you find an embedded tick? Well, just like anything, don't panic. Just get it out of you as soon as you can. Turns out there's a right way and a wrong way. Forget all the advice to smear it with petroleum jelly or burn it with a cigarette or match head. I remember once as a girl watching my dad take a lit cigarette to an enormous engorged tick that was on our dog's ear. It worked. The tick fell right off. That may work for dogs but not really, because what you're trying to do is not stress the tick out so much that it (and here we'll warn you for an imminent gross description) regurgitates saliva into the bite. The saliva is filled with bacteria and nasty things including the possible Lyme. No, the best possible plan is to get flat end tweezers and with great care slide that puppy underneath the beast, clamp down and pull straight back firmly. Don't yank. Don't wimp out. Just do it with purpose. We want to get the whole tick including those nasty mouth parts.
If you don't feel confident, go to the doctor.
Now that you're properly grossed out, there's one last bit of advice. Put some antiseptic ointment on the bite and prepare for it to get red and itchy. When the tick bit into you (actually the truth is they DRILL into you because they have corkscrew mouth parts), there is always some contamination of bacteria. Then watch for the tell-tale signs of the Lyme flu-like symptoms or the red "bull's eye" that may form around the bite site. Or if you're very cautious, send that tick to a lab to be analyzed. Again, if you can identify it as a dog tick don't worry. It's only if you can identify it as a deer tick.
I grew up in the Midwest. Mom always had tick patrol when we'd come back from a romp in the woods. They didn't know about Lyme at that time. Mom just thought they were nasty. Therefore, I have to honor the memory of my mother for that caretaking alone. I'm sure she saved us kids. It's Tick Season. Do you know where your children are?
Kefir is like buttermilk. That is to say, it tastes like buttermilk. It also has the consistency of buttermilk although the batch I made recently was a little thicker than ordinary cultured buttermilk you find in the grocery store. If you like buttermilk, you will love kefir!
The early beginnings of milk kefir are a bit of a mystery. Most all research points to kefir originating in the Northern area of the Caucasus Mountains, between Russia and Georgia. It was there that a tribe of people first figured out how to use kefir grains to ferment milk in simple leather bags. It's hard to say what these highlanders did with kefir or how they first came by it. Unfortunately, there were no written records, only a story passed down.
We do know that kefir grains were regarded as part of the family's wealth and they were passed on from generation to generation. The kefir was made from cows or goat's milk in sacks made from the hides of animals. Occasionally it was also made in clay pots, wooden buckets, or oak vats. In some areas sheep milk was also used. Usually the kefir sacks were hung out in the sun during the day and brought back into the house at night, where they were hung near the door. Everyone who entered or left the house was expected to prod the sack to mix the contents. As kefir was removed more fresh milk was added, making the fermentation process continuous. For many centuries the people of the northern Caucasus enjoyed this food without sharing it with anyone. Strange tales spread of the unusual beverage which was said to have 'magical' properties. Marco Polo even mentioned kefir in the chronicles of his travels in the East.
However, kefir was forgotten outside the Caucasus for centuries until news spread of its use for the treatment of tuberculosis and intestinal diseases. Russian doctors believed that kefir was beneficial for health and the first scientific studies for kefir were published at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, kefir was difficult to obtain and commercial production was not possible. Traditional home-style method always produces the best kefir. And luckily for us, kefir grains are not hard to find. I found mine at the Chico California Natural Foods Store. If you look around you will find some, too.
Kefir is really good for you! I started looking into naturally fermented products when I heard that pro-biotic supplements could be contaminated and actually make you sick. And since I am a "natural is best" kind of gal I started the research into alternative sources. It is said that lacto-intolerant people who drink kefir will notice an improvement in their digestion. After a lifetime of taking antibiotics at one time of another I developed an inability to eat certain foods that I used to enjoy immensely. Beans, for example. However, I can now say that I am back to enjoying beans and everyone else is happy as well.
Here's how to make kefir:
No special equipment is needed. All you need is good quality milk and your kefir grains. I used St. Benoit (of course!) whole Jersey cow milk. You can also use 2-percent milk. It can be raw or pasteurized.
Heat 1 quart milk to 180 degrees. I used a candy thermometer on the side of the pan. Take it from the heat once the temperature is reached and set it on the counter to cool. Cool until it reaches room temperature. The ideal temperature is about 75 degrees. Dissolve 5 grams (5 grams of grains to 1 quart milk) of culture in a small amount of the cooled milk in a cup. Pour the mixture back into the quart of milk and put into a clean container.
I just pour the milk back into the glass milk bottle that the milk came in. Why not? It just has to be a clean container. I figured the remaining milk in the jar would mix with the other milk and I was right. Mix well.
Cover the container and let stand at room temperature until curds form. That is about 24 hours. My curd formed at about 20 hours. Then refrigerate about 8 hours to stop the fermentation process. Stir to liquefy and enjoy! After that, store your kefir in the refrigerator. You can add strawberries or blueberries or whatever fruit you like and blend.
Research came from Yemoos Nourishing Cultures.
My husband is the king of re-use. As a matter of fact, we are kind of amused at all the hoopla surrounding the renew-reuse-recycle movement. Successful ranchers, homesteaders and small farmers have made this a way of life for years if not centuries. Glad the rest of the world is catching up! I have written before about our "junk pile," which is not junk but actually a storage yard for things that can be re-purposed into useful items with a little ingenuity, the right tools and a bit of skill.
One of the most ingenious things my husband has made are our livestock feeders. When I first saw him make one I was a bit non-plussed as to how they would work but now I am a 100-percent convert.
The happy recipient.
A pick-up truck to transport the tires or a really sturdy car with a big interior or trunk
3 truck tires all the same size (22 to 24 inches is a good size) with an opening that isn't collapsed
A drill that can reach in tight places
A drill bit that can drill rubber and is two sizes larger than your bolts
Nuts, washers, bolts (one feeder requires 6 sets of nuts, washers and bolts)
A piece of OSB board or other lightweight board the size of the circumference of the tire
Here's how you go about doing it:
First you go down to your local ag tire store or any tire store that services trucks. Depending on how many feeders you are going to make ask them for three tires for each tire feeder you plan to make. They will give them to you gladly because they have to pay to have them hauled away. Basically, you are doing them a favor by taking them so they won't charge you for them. If they ask you to pay, I would find another place, but that's just me. If they only want something small then I wouldn't quibble, I guess, but you really should be able to find them for free.
When you get the tires and you're ready to start, assemble them where you intend to use them. Once you've assembled them you won't be able to move the feeder without mechanical assistance or Arnold Schwarzenegger!
My horse JB wants to know what's going on.
If your board is not the right size use a Skilsaw or some other cutting tool to cut your board down to roughly match the circumference of the tire. Drill about 10 holes in it in the middle. This is for drainage. The bottom of the feeder won't be sealed so you'll have some additional drainage there, too.
Cutting the board to size.
Then position your board over the bottom of the tire and drill a hole all the way through the board and the tire. Don't move or jiggle the positioned board at this time. If you bump it you will probably have to re-drill the holes because it will be too hard to line up the holes.
Hardware and a drill for small places.
Drilling the holes.
Put your bolt through the holes. You might have to tap it in. Put in another bolt same as you just did but this time across from the first one. (We have found that the weight of the tire and two bolts is enough to make it sturdy.) Carefully turn over the tire/board assembly and get your washer and nut tightening started on the inside.
Tightening the bolts takes a contortionistic style.
This is why you don't want tires whose openings are collapsed. It's too hard to get into. If you have to, you could use a small jack to hold it open. Best if you just get tires where the opening is wide.
Turn it back over and use a ratchet to finish tightening the bolt/washer/nut.
Finish tightening nice and tight!
Now turn the whole business over so the board is now on the ground in the place where you will be using it and place your second tire on top of the first lining them up.
Place No. 2 tire.
Drill your holes through both tires and place your bolts.
Drill holes inside the tire through both and assemble it the same way as you did before with the bolts, washers and nuts. Once all is tightened, place the last and third tire on top assembling it the same way you assembled the other.
Stack on No. 3.
Drill your holes again and tighten your bolts ....
If you're taking photographs, don't forget to give your sweetie a big hug and kiss!
We have tried less than three tires and I suppose, depending on the livestock you have, you could make a feeder with less than three tires. For horses, which is what we have, we have found that three tires works best. They can't pull all the hay out and dump it on the ground.
The beauty of this system is that it's virtually free, the animal can't move it, and the feed stays inside (for the most part) so less hay gets wasted. Also the animal isn't eating off the ground so there's less chance for them to pick up sand or rocks. If you're feeding good quality hay – which you should always do anyway – you won't have a mold problem. But just in case you have a picky eater, check from time to time and clean the feeder out if you're concerned about moldy hay.
We live in rattlesnake country but we have never had a snakes get in the feeders. They are too securely attached together and the snakes find it too hard to get in. Some people might think these feeders aren't attractive but when I think of the expense of store-bought feeders, these feeders start looking real good to me. I must mention they don't have any parts an animal can get injured on, too. Yes, they are very attractive indeed.
Additional note – For people who live in wetter climates: You can consider using some kind of welded wire on the bottom. If you live in a very wet climate I suppose these feeders would be better suited for use inside a roofed structure.
And as a final note here's something fun I noticed as I stood there taking the photos ....
Where's Waldo? First prize goes to the person who can find the Jerusalem cricket.