No battens

WHAT? There is space between the boards in this Madison County barn. Covering the gaps are often long thin strips of wood called battens. Battens keep out rain, snow, and wind, but not in this barn. No battens, maybe just a few flying bats. Was this intentional? No one is left to ask, but some say this provides better ventilation. It could be desirable in summer but drafty in winter. 

This is a Pennsylvania-Dutch style bank barn, referred to as a Sweitzer (Swiss influenced) design, built around 1876. A view of it, seen below, doesn’t give an appearance of spaces between the boards.

Inside, on the basement level, is an amazing 40-foot-long 12” x 12” hand-hewn beam that supports the loft floor. See photo below. Finding a tree this size to make a 40-foot beam would be almost impossible today. One of the hand-hewn support posts, also pictured below, would also have been quite a task for a pioneer builder.

William and Mary Seerley settled on this 200-acre farm in 1856, built the barn, an elegant home, and the combination limestone smokehouse/milkhouse seen below, still in use by the current owners, although not for milk storage. The house has been replaced but the other two buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. They are treasures and a tribute to our Iowa pioneers.

New Year Greetings

No pigs at your house? Then how about making a snow pig to celebrate the New Year like these German boys are doing on this vintage New Year postcard? Of course snow is needed.

Pigs are big business in Iowa. Over five thousand hog confinement farms exist, raising millions of pigs every year. Not many farms, however, use an older barn like the one pictured above in Mills County. After the Sell family sold their Century Farm several years ago, the new owners, Seth and Ashley Warren, remodeled the barn and are now raising “show” pigs.

There’s a big market for these pigs today, sold to those who are interested in raising them for fairs or other special events for prizes. The competition is keen and the rewards great for those who win.

This barn, either a Louden or Gordon-Van Tine Company design, has wings that might look like it is ready to fly. Below is a view inside minus the actual pigs, as visitor access inside is not permitted to prevent pigs’ exposure to diseases.

Christmas Greetings!

Christmas Greetings! During this Christmas season may you find peace and love and joy. I look forward to sharing new discoveries and stories with all of you in 2022. (Note that the children are feeding the cows in a barn. Maybe the barn cats got dressed up just to go caroling.)

Note: The cat postcard ­was printed in Bavaria and mailed in America in 1904. Best Wishes was printed in Germany, and Frohliche Weihnachten was printed in Austria and mailed from Hamburg to St. Louis on December 11, 1912.

Kirchhoff’s Mini-Farms

Every building is built to scale, over 125 of them, bringing back memories of bygone days. He was active in the family farming operation for decades, and in later years loved to be at the museum to share the history of his creations with visitors. He still hoped to be involved in some aspect of the fall harvest in 2019 but died in August at age 84.

Wayne’s creations are housed in a special room at the museum, except for a few his nieces and nephews have inherited. Below are four of the five tractors, made of wood of course, that he built one year when he wanted a break from building barns. The museum is closed from mid-December until early May. Check the website for details.

Update on Unique lofts barn

Remember Blog #25: Unique lofts. The above photo of this barn in Madison County was part of the story about the loft that had soybean stalks between beams in the flooring dating back to the time it was built in 1880.

At a recent antique show where I was a vendor, Larry Gilbert, also a vendor, saw my book and told me he would bring some family photos the next day. Below is his photo of this barn on the farm where he lived in his childhood. Steel siding has changed its present appearance. To the right of the barn is a corncrib, although the visible section was not part of the corncrib, now gone.  His grandfather, J. Frank Gilbert, is on the right, and his great-grandfather, Joe Gilbert, is on the left. The date this photo was taken is not known.

He also shared the photo below, taken in 1950 when he was 10 years old, posing with his Red Poll bull named El Paso Model. His grandfather was standing behind him and his father, Al Gilbert, was to the right. The bull was very gentle, he said, and every morning he would jump on his back and ride him down to the water tank.

 Thank you Larry for sharing this family history and the photos. Amazing discoveries surface when least expected.

Thanksgiving Greetings

The corn stalks shown here were bundled together and tied up to dry before harvesting the corn, once a common practice before mechanical harvesters were invented. This photo was taken on an Amish farm along Highway 34 west of Murray in Clarke County in 2012.

A corn story

Today’s feature will focus on various types of corn (maize) which have been grown for thousands of years and is cultivated worldwide. Much of the corn grown in Iowa is field corn, also called dent corn, because every kernel has a dent. (See photo below.) It is destined for livestock feed, ethanol, cereals, and many other uses.

A favorite summertime food is sweet corn, a variety that contains more natural sugars than other types of corn.

Indian corn (flint corn) might be red, white, blue, black, or multi-colored and is used by Native Americans for food. It is also often used for fall decorations. Note that it is not dented. See examples below.

Nebraska is the number one producer of popcorn in the country today. It contains water stored inside that expands when heated bursting the kernels. Shown are strawberry popcorn and several other varieties.

Pod corn, a heirloom variety believed to be a spontaneous mutation, is unusual because each tiny kernel is enclosed in a husk. It is not grown commercially but seed can be found if you wish to grow your own. See photo below.

The Cracker Jack story

Cracker Jack made Odebolt famous. In 1911, 12,000,000 pounds of popcorn were shipped, making it the “popcorn center of the world,” and in 1915 local farmers produced three-fourths of the world’s supply.

Back in 1890 A.C. Petersmeyer of Odebolt started a grain business and contracted with Rueckheim Bros. in Chicago to supply popcorn, and it was even sold at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The name “Cracker Jack” was registered in 1896, along with the slogan ‘The more you eat the more you want.” It wasn’t long before improvements were made in packaging and developing a seal to keep the popcorn fresh, making it available in stores everywhere. Each box contained a toy until 2016, when it was replaced by a QR code used to download a game.

Two gigantic cribs built in 1922 to store locally grown popcorn still stand on Highway 175 at the northeast corner of Odebolt. There were six more cribs at one time in other places around town and some were in use until 1964. All of those are gone. Only the two shown above still exist.

Nine barn quilts, 8 x 8 feet, plus two smaller versions were added about six years ago, paid for by the advertisers shown, and are a focal point as one drives north out of town on County Road M43. The second crib, with a steel roof, is being used for storage.

Pictured below is the “barn quilt” advertising Cracker Jack. The Cracker Jack product was purchased by Borden in 1964 and sold to Frito-Lay in 1997. Popcorn is no longer a product stored in Odebolt, but its legacy remains. It is available online or in select stores where candy is sold. Below is a bag purchased in Omaha for $1.78, one of several varieties available today.

Creekside e-bikes

This 1931 barn in the Kalona area still says “Joe P. Gingerich,” but it has a new use and a new owner–a shop where you can buy the latest electric-assist bike from Victor Yoder. Victor introduced e-bikes to the area in October 2020 and caters to the general public as well as New Order Amish, of which he is a member. Assisting him is his brother Eric. New Order Amish make use of power sources off the grid: solar power, a bank of batteries, and a diesel generator for their farm operations.

Victor has transformed this 90-year old barn from a home for livestock to a showroom and a workroom where repairs and adaptations are made, even converting an ordinary bicycle to an e-bike. To go 30 to 60 miles on a single charge is a convenience when visiting friends and neighbors, as well as a time saver to get bike supplies, food, and other necessities.

In addition to this new business Victor joins the list of over 50 goat dairies in the area, where he milks 300 goats twice daily and also raises about 300 goats for milking stock. He’s a busy man.

Above is a view of the barn and the new dairy buildings. The evolving story of this 90-year old barn is detailed on page 149 in Iowa Barns yesterday and today. Need an e-bike? Victor would be happy to assist you in your selection at 5592 Sharon Center Road SW, Kalona. (2021 photos)

Commercial seed corn production

Seed experts they were! The McGreer brothers, Joe, John, and Frank, owned the 1200-acre Sunny Side Seed Farm in Montgomery County near Coburg. Corn was one of their specialties and high quality seed was essential. In the above photo, we see men who were hired to harvest corn on four separate farms. This enabled a number of varieties to be grown without a concern for cross-pollination.

Here is a brief description of the harvesting process as written in their seed catalog:“Between September 15 and October 15 we take a big bunch of men and go down the corn rows, pulling open the husks, looking at the ears and stalks to see if the ear will do to carry to the seed house. We only examine the large ears in the field, of course, and only bring in about 1/3 of those we examine.” 

The corn was then loaded on wagons and hauled to the seed house. Imagine the work required for drying. “Our picked in a sack and dried on a rack” describes the corn seen in the postcard below. 

Based on dates in customer reviews printed in the 1913-1923 catalogs, the company probably was in existence at the turn of the century. A farm of this size with so many products for sale in this time period is an amazing feat. They sold a number of varieties of seed corn, with yields from 60 to 100 bushels per acre, as well as oats, barley, maize, red clover, timothy, many garden vegetable seeds, baby chicks, and more. 

In 1900 Coburg was a thriving town of 164 persons. A CB&Q branch line passed through the town, and was known for shipping of grain. The crates of corn shown below probably were shipped by rail. 

(Note: A man who lives in the area saw my barn book and offered to copy several McGreer seed corn booklets he owned. I am grateful for his offer, as it enabled me to write a more complete story than what is found in my book.)

On a smaller scale, a Union County farmer impaled ears of corn on nails for drying, but would have needed a ladder to accomplish this feat. Not many ears remained in the barn in this 1980 photo but maybe he had removed enough for spring planting. Since the kernels were not yellow, but white and varying shades of red, it appears to be popcorn.