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“Raising the Barn, Part 1: Logging, Footings, & Posts”

It’s time I wrote out our adventure in building our barn!  I will make a video about it at some point, but for now, it shall be a series of blog posts.

We spent spring 2019 logging dead and dying trees out of our draws to use for constructing our barn.  The telehandler is a fantastic friend for logging.  We can telescope the boom out to its furthest reach and run multiple lengths of stout chain to several dropped trees at a time.  Then we can retract the boom fully, pulling them 20 feet up the draw towards the road.  I am usually on chain duty.  Running the telehandler can be dangerous, requiring cat-like reflexes and competent machine handling if things go wrong (like several tons of raw wood catch on a stump and suddenly pull the telehandler up on 2 wheels).   I’ll keep my feet on the ground, thanks.

With the boom fully retracted, after pulling the logs the first 20 feet uphill, I remove all the the chains from the boom, wrap ’em up, and get out of the way.  The boom is extended back out to it’s fullest reach.  I reattach the chains (with  20 feet of slack at this point), and we pull the logs up the hill another 20 feet.  Rinse and repeat.  Chains are shortened and/or trees are wrapped together with just one chain instead of multiple as they progress up the hill and fall into line with one another.  Once the trees are up on the roadside it’s a simple matter of dragging them with the telehandler in reverse to wherever we need them.  It’s nerve racking and dangerous, but satisfying work.  

My least favorite is when chains break.  Not only is does it cause dangerous rebound on the machine, which could cause it to tip over, but I just envision that snapped chunk of metal flying at my face.  I usually hide behind a stout tree and watch the progress carefully until I have to run chains again.  We rarely break them because we pre-plot the way we intend to pull the logs out.  But it’s happened a few times; a stump hiding in the slash or a log rolls suddenly on the slope and catches on a standing tree.

We logged several acres of all but the healthiest trees and piled our logs near the future barn.  Andy sorted them by length and girth, and by what he intended to use them for.  I was usually running to and fro with a small chainsaw working chain duty and nipping off branches  we may have missed while delimbing in on the hillside.

In July we began the first steps toward building our barn.  At some point I’ll find my original blueprints and add them to this post.  The initial work was simple ground breaking.  Andy measured out footing placements for all of the posts, we dug holes 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep for each footing, then Andy placed the rebar pins several feet long that each post would sit down on.  I dug one hole, precisely 4 feet deep, walls perfectly smooth, exactly 3 feet in diameter- a near perfect circle.  Proud, I heaved myself out of the hole to announce completion of my perfect footing hole.  “Nice hole!” says Andy, “I got the others done already.“.  
I peered into the other 8 footing holes he had just busted out; lumpy, sloppy, and definitely not perfect 3′ circles.  Some were just 3 feet deep.  “If you clarified that it didn’t actually matter that they were exactly 4′ deep and exactly 3′ wide, I would’ve been a little quicker about it.

We stuffed the bottom of the holes with hard, stout rocks, then added concrete pouring forms centered around the rebar pin.  We poured concrete over the rocks and filled the forms.

This was relatively easy work.  However, twice the curing concrete forms got bumped with a giant machine tire, which ruined the setting of the concrete.  So from the beginning of July through mid August, no more progress was made in lieu of re-pouring concrete and hoping we could go 2 weeks without running over the forms with machinery.

Once the forms were finally cured, however, we were able to begin placing the posts!    The last step just before placing posts  was adding a moisture barrier between the cement and the wooden post.  To do this, Andy cut swatches of rubber out of a blown tire.  Later on, once the barn was all framed in and I had dug out the underground portion of the barn and thus exposed the footings, Andy fortified the cement footings with additional masonry work.

Each post-tree was selected for its size and length.  We drilled a large hole in the bottom of each log where the post would sit down on the rebar pin on each footing.  This was arguably some of the most dangerous and nerve-racking work.  

To place each post, the log was chained up near the top of the post.  The telehandler lifted the log until it dangled totally upright in the air.  I had to jump in and steady it to keep it from swinging.  Our biggest posts were roughly 18 inches thick and nearly 30 feet tall.  And they were fresh, green wood.  These suckers were HEAVY.

Inch by inch the boom guided the post over the rebard pin.  I had the unpleasant job of kneeling down on the ground, face-level with the rebar pin, right underneath these behemoth trees, guiding the hole in the post directly over the rebar pin.  It was insanely tense.  Once the pin and hole were lined up, some fancy hand signals and inaudible yelling told Andy to lower the post onto the pin with me still guiding the massive log successfully down onto the pin.  Every fiber of my being was ready to bolt away at the slightest hint of trouble if the chain were to come loose from the log.

As each post was placed, it was braced with lumber to keep it plumb.  As more posts were added, each post was temporarily braced to the other posts to secure them all together as well.  For each post I had to flex my excellent plumb-eyeball from afar whilst Andy used boards to lever the upright-logs to and fro, still supported by the boom, until they were plumb.  Once in line, I gave the word, he secured them on the spot.  This had to be done from several angles, of course.  Once the post was braced and plumb on the pin, we had to drop the boom enough for me to climb up onto it (which required ladders and such since the boom was chained to the top of the post and couldn’t be dropped all the way).  Then I got lifted up to the top of the beam to unhook the chain.  

Our first post was tense, but successful.  I had to detach the chain from it.  After so much paranoia and preparedness for it to fall on me, I balanced on a fork, way up in the air, and reached out to unchain the post.  I simply touched the chain and it fell off.

AAHHHH!  Andy and I looked at each other and said.  “Woah.”  Which embodied so many mutual thoughts and feelings.  If that had happened at any point  while we were trying to place the log…  Woah.

From then on we used doubled-up twine to actually tie the chain hooks secure.  This guaranteed the hook could not slip off.  When using the boom to reach the chain and untie it, I went armed with a knife so I could simply cut the twine off and unhook the hook.

After the first set of posts were up,  Andy placed the beam (horizontal) that joins the three posts (vertical) at the height that the floor of the future hay loft would be.  This was needed now because after the other 6 posts were up, we wouldn’t be able to use the telehandler to place this beam.  Placing it also helped fortify the posts and keep them plumb (at least in 1 direction).  Permanent braces were added between the posts and beam.  Braces (triangles) help to distribute weight and load on the structure and keep it from shifting.  

We had 9 posts  to do in total.  The first 3 weren’t too bad considering they were downhill on the shortest wall of the barn, so they weren’t terribly tall. The second 3 were taller and stouter, reaching up to the floor of the top story.  The last 3 were our 28-30 foot behemoths that would constitute one solid post from the ground all the way up to the peak of the roof.  The last 3 were monsters.  Nerve-gritting monsters.  Having to crouch beneath the suspended 30 foot posts and guide them onto the pins, well, it raised my blood pressure at least.  Each of them went on clean and easy though.  Until it came time to unchain them.  

Like most sane and rational human beings, I have a thing with heights.  Being 10 feet up on the boom was fine.  Being 15 feet up with the boom was fine.  Being 25 feet up with the boom was NOT FINE.  I tried my darndest to steel myself for the job, but I swear once I passed that 20 foot mark my brain said “Nope.  Now you get your butt back on the ground or we’re passing out.”  For 2 of the last 3 posts I resigned to work the machine and raise Andy up to do the cutting.  The first huge post was unique because it’s next to our grain shed, so I just climbed up the grain shed to get on the boom and then only scaled a small distance further upward.  It wasn’t the same as balancing on a giant steel fork 25 feet off the unforgiving ground.

We did it though!  Posts up! 

As the posts went up, beams and braces also began to appear.  The work was incremental and Andy went to great lengths to ensure everything was plumb, square, or otherwise right where it needed to be.


PS – I have tried everything to get the images to fall into line properly to no avail on my viewing end, but the flow shouldn’t be too bad.