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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Crews raise the roof on local barn

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jay Eicher, at left, and Craig Kramer, at center, worked on getting the framework straight on the Merritt barn as they progressed in setting new trusses for the structure. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
One scar on the landscape inflicted by the May 22 tornado disappeared this past week, and restoration work on Barry and Gina Merritt's barn brought the historic structure back from ruins.

The Merritts live just west of the Newton county line in Lawrence County. When the tornado passed through Wentworth, it rolled across the Merritts' farm. It pulled on their century-old house, tugging the lath and plaster an eighth to a quarter of an inch off the studs. It knocked down a mile of fencing on the 660 acres and enough trees to make 300 logs.

The biggest hurt came when the old dairy barn across from the house was struck hard by the storm. A big five-pointed star on the roof had made it a landmark. The storm caved in the roof and the front gable. The two cattle inside were fine, protected largely by the two-foot thick walls.

The Merritts had the barn restored about five years ago and didn't think this time anything could help.

Southwest Contractors, a Mennonite construction company based east of Carthage, had done the earlier restoration and had other ideas.

"The barn was built in the typical way barns used to be built with a stick frame," said Sylvan Knepp, construction foreman for Southwest Construction. "We went with a truss style, which is engineered to hold more weight. That way we don't have to do as much framing."

Knepp and his crew of Craig Kramer and Jay Eicher took off the damaged sections, leaving the rear gable and stone walls with the thick oak beams in place. Barry Merritt attributed much of the building's strength to the oak, still bearing the original square nails. Merrritt said the original construction must have been done when the wood was green. Most nails would bend in an attempt to hammer them in now.

Knepp brought a skid steer, and one by one lifted 10 trusses in place.

"The biggest challenge was getting everything straightened up after everything was messed up so bad," Knepp said.

His crew put a level on the sections as they progressed. Knepp said they preferred to use four-foot centers with two-by-four pylons on top.

In a day, the crew put up the trusses then returned a second day to lay the metal roof on the ribbing of wood laid horizontally across the trusses. They planned to return this week to rebuild the front gable.

While the barn was is disrepair, another storm had blown through with 60-mile-per-hour winds. Merritt worried that the unsupported rear gable might give way, but it held, as always.

As barns goes, the Merritts' structure qualifies as medium sized. Merritt uses it mostly for young cows and for storing square hay bales. He lost three barns and two grain bins in the storm, but the sentimental value and strategic location of the historic barn made it the biggest loss.

With the shape of the barn coming back over the farm's skyline and carpenters arriving to put drywall in the house to stabilize the displaced lath walls, Barry Merritt's easy smile came back. The memory of May 22 could begin to fade away.

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