Barnology Lessons At Highway Speed
Published: May 13th, 2020
By: Joe Angelino

In the old car collecting hobby, a barn find is an antique vehicle that was put aside by the owner, usually in a barn or garage, and more or less, forgotten. Car collectors search diligently for barn finds, hoping to locate an original, near-stock vehicle for restoration.

I caught wind of a barn find 1950s pickup truck some time ago, and just like the owner said, it was in a barn. But the owner’s description of the vehicle was certainly not as accurate as was the truck’s location.

My most striking memory of that barn finds venture was the barn itself. It no longer held animals, hay, or machinery. Its white-washed interior was now a cob-webbed storage facility of dust-covered relics from the days of hard work. There were leather harnesses for draft horses, a metal wheeled hay rake, and a variety of hand tools hanging on, and leaning against the walls.

Farming in central New York has obviously evolved, and the barns, which were once symbols of the state’s most significant industry – agriculture –, are beginning to show their age. It is such a shame these ubiquitous buildings of yesteryear, and their past uses, are now nearly obsolete.

A large painted barn with roof ornaments and cupolas served as a point of pride for the owner and a guiding landmark along a route for motorists before GPS. When I was a deputy sheriff, a long time ago, directions to a specific rural location could include “turn left at the red barn with the new Harvestore next to the Craine silo.”

Today, a drive on any state, county, or town road will show various examples of the different styles of barns in our area; all you need to do is look. Out of use, or seldom-used barns dot our countryside as reminders of just how many farms used to surround us. Here are some prominent points of interest I look for when passing an old barn, particularly when driving by at 55 miles per hour.

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Starting at the bottom, look at the foundations, if visible. The oldest barns in our area have a stone half-wall foundation (not blocks). The rocks were obtained from clearing nearby fields. The wood used for the oldest barns, like the stone foundations, came from trees that were felled on the property to make the pastures. Some barns were built upon stone piers, with very few of those examples remaining.

Next, check for the entry doors; most barns are rectangular in shape, with large entry doors. Sometimes these doors are on the “ends” or the short sides, and large double-doors are found on the long sides. Not always, but sometimes the end doors swing on hinges, and the side double-doors slide on tracks like the doors on railroad boxcars.

One of the most visible, but often overlooked features of an old barn is the earthen, grass-covered ramp to the second floor. This dirt incline may occasionally be fortified by mortared stones on either side for stability. Sometimes a wooden gangway from the edge of the ground to the barn door creates an overpass. Also, look for the tell-tale sign that a barn once stood on a particular plot by observing the remains of the earthen ramp leading to nothing.

Looking up higher on the barn, you will notice roof styles come in a variety of construction methods, all to provide strength for winter snow loads and usable interior space. Our area has the basic steep-pitched roofs (inverted “V”) of Dutch-style barns and the iconic Gambrel roof style with two distinct slopes. Other common roof styles are the rainbow arch and the Quonset roof, with the rainbow arch being much steeper than the Quonset.

An added feature to some barn roofs is the “hay hood,” which looks like the prow of a ship extending from the center rooftop out over the haymow door. The hay hood protects the rigging used to lift hay bales into the haymow. The hay hood might be hard to see at highway speed, but it is an interesting detail when you spy it.

Topping off the roof of any quality barn from the 19th and 20th centuries was the weather vane, usually mounted on a cupola. These are rare and seldom seen on a rooftop nowadays because of their value. However, something from the same era and still visible on many old barn roofs are lightning rods and grounding cables.

The most distinctive barns in our area are the two round-barns on Route 12 south of Greene. They are in a class unto themselves. If you’d like to see an example of the current state of the art dairy barn, travel to Route 8 between County Road 35 and Rockdale. On the east side of the highway, you can marvel at the size and construction of the Hanehan Family Dairy barns. Their barns are long enough to cover an airport runway and currently being enlarged.

Old farm barns are everywhere, and now that you’ve read this column, you are going to have a hard time not seeing them in your travels. These old barns are worth the look.