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Published July 09, 2012, 09:42 AM

What use are those old barns?

My parents’ ranch is big enough to include three original homesteads, upon which there are still two old barns standing.

By: Rita Brhel, Agweek

YANKTON, S.D. — My parents’ ranch is big enough to include three original homesteads, upon which there are still two old barns standing.

One is still used well and often. Its large sliding doors open into various rooms, one used as my dad’s shop, one as a tack and feed room, one where the sheep are shorn and wool stored and another for the replacement heifers. There is a set of stairs leading up to a huge haymow where a pair of barn owls calls home but I can easily imagine as a favorite locale for country dances back in the day. My parents have recently re-roofed it with tin and touched up the red paint with white trim.

The other one is, well, standing. It’s been hit by a couple tornadoes through the years, and while repairs were made to the also red exterior, the structure has been twisted on its foundation. In time, it’ll render itself unusable and will have to be razed for safety reasons. Until then, it makes a nice home for a couple cats and miscellaneous farm equipment, and a place to get out of the rain.

Old style, new age

On the smaller farm where my husband and I live, we don’t have any original barns.

Even our house, originally built as a homesteader’s house, has been renovated so many times that it no longer resembles any style older than the ’90s — that’s 1990s — from the inside; on the outside, you might guess it to be from the 1960s. But if you sit on the couch and look up at the ceiling in the family room, you can see in the ceiling where the house was expanded. And some of the original woodwork is included in the windows and door frame. And while our barns aren’t original, they look the part. They’re styled as an old barn colored the traditional red with white trim and even are adorned with antique weather vanes. But their tin siding and cement floors give them away.

Old, iconic barns with the cupolas and peaked roofs are disappearing rapidly from the country landscape. Sometimes, it’s to make way for more corn in a field, but often, it’s because they’re such a headache to try to keep maintained. Like an old house, there are just too many holes to patch to keep it efficient and safe.

But the new, steel Quonsets just seem so sterile.

Appreciating ag’s past

There is something to be said about our heritage and nostalgia and genealogy and knowing our roots.

Farming is a business, of course, but it’s also a lifestyle. And when we keep a link to our pioneer past, it gives our choice to continue in this business more meaning, more muscle. It’s not just about money, about making a living, but about continuing a legacy of hard work and faith and all those parts of character development we hear about so often: honesty, patience, perseverance, dedication and so on.

Imagining what life was like back then helps us to be appreciative of what our ancestors did for us, as well as what conveniences we have now, and the memory — whether real or conjured — helps link us to the sweat and tears that have always come with this profession.

Remember that the next time you see an old barn still standing, whether being used or left to wear.

Editor’s Note: Brhel is a correspondent for the Yankton (S.D.) Daily Press & Dakotan. This column originally appeared in the Daily Press & Dakotan.