First Things

Restoration, the old-fashioned way

| January 2006

Days grow shorter; temperatures drop; the first flurries of the season fly by … it is a time for looking back, a time of taking stock. One hates to see the new year approach without feeling a sense that something was accomplished in the year fast ending.

One of the bigger accomplishments around here this year was restoration of a 100-year-old barn. It is a traditional horse barn, though it's been years since any animal (other than the cat fleeing from the dog) has sought shelter there. No stalls or bins remain; no interesting nooks or crannies. The haymow is intact, though, and is a good place to stash things you know you want to keep but don't need to put your hands on very often. Next spring, we'll be up there again, hanging a restored hay carrier under the peak.

Not only has it been years since the barn was home to animals, it's been years and more years since it was last painted. "That wood's so dry it'll suck the paintbrush out of your hand!" crowed one observer.

And there were lots of observers. Just as Rome was not built in a day, the barn was not painted in a weekend. The project proceeded at a leisurely pace over the course of a year. Some onlookers marveled at the structure's height, a point of little interest until you prop up a ladder and get nowhere near the eaves. Others scoffed at technique: Why use a brush when nifty high-power sprayers are widely available?

Because I am stubborn. Because I have more in common with Wilford Brimley than you'd think. Because I like being nose to wall, seeing paint soak in to bleached wood. Because I like shoving the brush's bristles up under the battens and making sure there are no missed spots. Because, really, how else could you paint a barn that turned 100 years old this summer? Does it not seem just a bit callous, almost disrespectful, to spray something that's stood solid through 100 winters?

Rumor has it that the next "big" project 'round here will be relocation and restoration of an equally aged one-room school-house. Unlike painting the barn, which tended to be a solitary activity, this project has already attracted interest from a small army of men who sense the opportunity to spend a weekend playing with heavy equipment. But I won't be lost in the crowd. I'll be the one with the 5-gallon bucket of white paint and a 5-inch brush.