The End of an Era

What can you say about a hundred year old shed? You can say that it has unassumingly carried out its tasks in all weathers, keeping the contents dry and safe faithfully through the years. You can say that it probably didn’t cost much, most likely nothing, when it was made back around 1915. It has sat for a hundred years on a concrete pad that was filled with old bottles and stones and crockery to make the concrete go farther. The big 10×10 hand-hewn beams must have held up a larger building before coming to this shed. Likewise, the siding boards had clearly been somewhere else before they came to rest there. The partition gate had previously been a feeder of some sort. The small outside livestock door was a cast-off from some long-gone barn.

For the earlier farmers it was a slaughterhouse, with a chute in the middle to hoist the pig up. Part of a rectangle of sheds that defined the yard behind our 200 year old house, it was located conveniently near the smokehouse. Later it was a machine shop and storage shed. When we arrived it was jammed with the cast-offs of an old farm, old hand-made tables and workbenches holding jars and cans of nails and chains and unknown parts of long-gone farm implements. Jarvie Keyworth, the last farmer who worked this land, died thirty years ago and had been a blacksmith for his neighbors for sixty years before that, so there were various bits of indecipherable metal objects, maybe they had not worked out or they were spares. We passed most of them on to, probably, China, where their good iron molecules are still holding things up and doing stalwart duty somewhere.

When we moved in, the roof of the southern half of the shed was caved in and stood all rickety in the foreground of our far western view. We took a lot of pictures of that wonderful view, and in every one of them the shed leans gracefully in the front, lending rustic flavor to the glorious sunsets. We put all our garden stuff, cold frames and tools and potting soil, in the intact northern half, and there it stayed because our livestock and house-winterizing and cheesemaking gobbled up our time so voraciously that we could have no garden.

The first spring we were here this shed was the pig shed. Our three piglets stayed in there for the first couple of months until they outgrew it, and we moved them farther north to a larger pen. After they left, we threw a lot of straw and hay in and it became the weaning shed for our first five weanling goats. That year we only had five kids and left them all with their mothers until well into the spring. When we took them away to wean them, there was a minimum of ruckus because we had waited so long. But by the third morning, the kids had studied their surroundings with careful goat curiosity very well, and managed to leap out of the high window, easily knocking the screen out. They hung around the door of the barn trading stories with their mothers through the gate until we came to bring them back to the shed. We put a better screen on the window and they stayed put until weaning was complete and we could move them back into the herd.

The second year we were here our son brought four friends home from college and they spent an epic January day taking down the half of the shed that was falling down. In the snow and icy rain they peeled off the roof with a large rope and tore it apart. The walls were resistant, but they worked on their task with sledge and saws and lots of beer. Anything they could salvage they stacked aside and the rest they burned all through the day to stay warm. My husband kept the inside fire burning, too, and kept the stove turning out masses of food, and at the end of the day the shed was a neat stack of siding boards here, metal roofing there, beams piled on the slab, and a small hill of ashes over there. Then these five young men, instead of trooping inside and collapsing near the fire, took a football down to the pasture slopes, which were glazed with ice by that time, and played flag football until it was too dark to see. Then they took the toboggan and flashlights and spent an hour flying down the lane into the lower pasture and slipping and sliding back up. After that they played cards until midnight. Ah, to be young.

So, for five more years the north half of the shed stood alone in the foreground of the sunset view. A couple of years ago we took everything out of it, moved on a lot of the garden tools, stacked the cold frames in the old barn, and got ready to take it down. We circled it with our sledges and prybars, and after a few taps, we decided we had other projects that were more necessary. So it slid away back down the priority list and continued to stand until this week, the metal roofing gradually blowing off sheet by sheet in storms, and the connections gradually rotting apart.

As in every life, on our farm every action is connected to a vast web of other things. So we have another larger tumbling-down shed that is attached to the old barn. When we got here it was filled to the rafters with old sofas, boxes of books, a car windshield with bullet holes in it, hundreds of old window shutters, a huge stack of glass building blocks, you name it and we had it, mostly junk, junk, junk. It took us many hours and many trips to the dump to clear it out. This shed has high priority because it is potentially so dangerous. Rotten and poorly supported, it is overdue to fall down and if it fell down it is large enough to crush people or animals in its way. It also is such a potentially useful space right by the house and barn that we have big plans for it. But it had not made it all the way to the top of the priority list until last week. We decided that now as winter comes on we at last have some time to deal with it. But first, we had to take down the small falling-down shed, so we would have room to stack anything salvageable from the big falling-down shed. So the small shed had to come down. Everything in its order.

So on Monday morning the roof came off the small falling-down shed and then sides came down. It was remarkably easy because we had left it so long. Many of the joints were rotten and just came apart with a whack or two of the sledge. Now the parts are being sorted and stacked, as I write, and the beams are being piled on the slab. Soon we will just have a bare slab where so recently there was a useful shed. We hope to have another useful shed there again soon, but first it will be a staging area for the large amount of useful building material we will pull off the big falling-down shed. Soon, soon, by next spring, we will have a lot more usable space. What will we fill it with? More piglets? More iron parts? Chickens? I hope we can avoid filling it with miscellaneous stuff that will just sit there for the next farmer to dispose of. We have a lot of stuff but nothing near the kind of junk and rodent-harborage that were there before. The sheds that have been useful in the past and are now just a memory, will be useful again in the future. Can’t wait! Changes, changes! I hope we can build something for nothing that will last usefully for a hundred years!

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