By Karen Flaten
When Jason Peglow of South Haven first saw the old corn crib on a neighbor’s farm, he had thought it might be usable as an enclosure for his goats. He asked if the neighbor was using it or even still wanted it on his land. He made a deal and planned to move the corn crib onto his own property where it could be “a play pen for the goats.” But when he looked at it a little closely, he found that the floor wasn’t quite as stable as he had thought. So he shelved the idea, and found a different type of pen enclosure to use for the goats.
A few months later, Jason tore down an old shed on his own property. Looking at the timbers he could salvage from that shed, he had a brainstorm. The next project he had in mind was an update to his garage, including adding a man cave. He envisioned a rustic kind of space, perhaps with old barn wood, or some tin from an old roof, that could be attached to the wall like wainscoting. With lumber very expensive – and also hard to get since the pandemic started - he thought maybe he could find some barn wood and salvage some of the wood from the shed he had just taken down to create the look he wanted. The rustic barn wood idea put him in mind of the old corn crib he had already planned to move to his property.
It was January when Jason and his buddy Jeff drove over to the neighbor’s farm to check out the corn crib. “It was supposed to be warmer today,” said Jason. “But the wind picked up….it’s not feeling too warm!” he growled.
The two men tromped around in the snow, hoods up, looking at the building and the possible ways to pull it out. The corn crib had been moved before, but that was probably four decades ago, when the farmer had put in a new metal silo and moved the corn crib farther away from the barn. Set on rocks and logs, it had been fairly well supported in its new spot.
Most likely built by the landowner many years ago from white oak off the land, it was still a fairly sturdy structure. The roof had some spots that had been patched, and some that had not held up. But the exterior wood slats looked strong and most parts seemed well-connected to the frame.
The men were putting their heads together, but when asked what he was going to do with it, Jason said, “I’m still thinking about it, turning it over in my mind, but I’ve got some ideas...” Later he explained that they were hashing out how they could put the barn wood to use, and which pieces would be best for which purpose.
Another issue the men were working on was the best way to get the corn crib off the property. Jason had moved small buildings before – in fact, he had moved the chicken coop at his own farm a few times until he had it where he wanted it. But the corn crib was located on the edge of a hill, and trees had grown up around it for quite some time, so there would be some tree removal involved. The old building hadn’t been used for anything in at least a quarter century – and before that, a previous owner’s grandchildren had used it for a fort or clubhouse. There were a few kid-oriented things inside, as well as some cast-offs from days gone by. But the part Jason cared about, the exterior wood, seemed to be in pretty good shape.
It was another cold winter day when Jason finally decided to go ahead with the operation. He drove over to the neighbor’s farm in his pickup, towing a large trailer with his skid loader safely stowed on it. The first step was moving a large pile of snow that had been pushed to the end of the driveway, blocking access to the corn crib. Getting in the skid loader, Jason pushed the snow back behind the barn, creating a pathway to get at the corn crib from the back, if necessary. Then he pointed his Bobcat towards the trees. Some could be pulled over with the skid loader, and some would be cut down with his chainsaw. Soon the sound of a chainsaw could be heard, then the skid loader moved in and trees crashed down. But none hit the corn crib - perhaps a miracle, or perhaps Jason’s gift with a skid loader and a chainsaw. Jason then cut the corn crib in half with his chainsaw and, using the pallet fork attachment to his Bobcat, moved the half-corn crib up onto the driveway.
A short while later, a second half-corn crib sat on the driveway. Success! The entire corn crib was out of its treed area, and the two halves were ready to be loaded onto the trailer.
It turned out that getting it out from the trees that were growing all around it was not as big a deal as he thought it would be. Explaining how he did it, Jason said, “It’s a gift I have, I guess. I just looked at it. I can visually see where my path is,” he explained, putting it down to the many times he has hauled trees out of the woods in order to bring them to a spot where he could easily cut them and split them to use in his wood burner. “That way, I have less trips to make,” said Jason.
As far as figuring out the best way to move the corn crib was concerned, Jason said, “I looked at it, I thought about it…I knew I could cut it in half, because I looked at the structure of it – how it was built – how the beams were, how the floor went. And I measured it,” he said, to make sure it would fit in his trailer. At one point the men had discussed taking the corn crib apart, and just hauling the barnwood back to Jason’s house. But, said Jason, he decided that pulling the entire corn crib back to his place rather than taking it apart onsite would be the best way. “All the mess would be at my house,” he said, “and I can take it apart at my convenience.” Also, he said, “I can go into my garage and warm up!”
After extracting the corn crib from the trees growing around it, the next step was getting the two pieces onto the trailer. At first, Jason used the fork extensions on his skid loader to try to pick up one of the half-corn cribs and place it onto the trailer. But the structure was a little too wobbly, and threatened to fall over. Next, he created a ramp of sorts, setting his fork extensions at an angle between the trailer and the corn crib. Using his skid loader, Jason tried to push the half-corn crib up onto the ramp and thus onto the trailer. But the building did not cooperate with this plan, and (again), looked like it might wind up in pieces on the snowy gravel driveway. So, after a couple of attempts, he called on his friend Jeff to help.
“Jeff used to do a lot of carpentry, so he has the carpentry solutions,” said Jason. It was Jeff’s idea to use straps to hold each structure together before trying to get it onto the trailer. “Corner to corner – that’s the right way to do it, too,” commented Jason. “That way they would be pulling against each other.” Once the corners were strapped together, Jason backed the trailer up as close as he could get to the corn crib. Supporting the front end of the half-corn crib with logs from an adjacent wood pile, Jason then operated the hydraulics on the trailer to raise the front of the trailer up at an angle. Then backing the trailer up slowly, he was able to insert the edge of the trailer under the edge of the corn crib. Getting back into the skid loader, and using his fork attachment, Jason then pushed the half-corn crib onto the trailer. The men tied the corn crib down so there was no chance of it coming off the trailer, and then tossed the borrowed logs back on the wood pile. Then they drove the few miles back to Jason’s farm – very slowly.
Strapping worked well on the first half-corn crib, but the second half was a little weaker than the first one had been. The second half would need some bracing. “It was a little easier to pound a couple boards in there than to use the straps,” said Jason. This half-corn crib seemed to list a little, so the bracing would keep it steady, keep it from leaning too far to one side. After they had braced the second half of the corn crib, the men used the same technique of backing up the trailer, operating the hydraulics to raise the front up at an angle, inserting the edge of the trailer under the half-corn crib, and then pushing the corn crib up onto the trailer with the Bobcat. The second half-corn crib was soon strapped onto the trailer, and the truck and trailer moved slowly out of the driveway. Jeff followed Jason in his truck to make sure there were no problems with the trailer from behind.
“We never went faster than 15 miles per hour,” said Jason, when driving the few miles back to his farm.
Soon the strips of exterior barnwood from the corn crib will be on the wall in Jason’s garage, along with the salvaged wood from the old shed, creating the rustic man cave he has been wanting.