A new year and a new barn

We decided to start 2015 off on the right foot and have already begun our transition to life on the farm. The first order of business is to put up a 20×20 barn for storage and eventual housing of livestock. I spent many hours in December trying to figure out what type of structure to build, and decided a pole barn was the right choice for us. I’m no construction engineer or designer and after several attempts to decide for myself what I needed to buy, the decision was made to order a building kit from Hansen Pole Buildings. Their staff was friendly and helpful in guiding us to the right choice of style and materials.

Perhaps I was a bit naive to think I could put this thing up almost exclusively by myself in just a week. I didn’t achieve that goal, but here is a recap of the first week of construction:


Stuck before the work begins! I drove through the gate and made it about 100 feet onto the property when suddenly my truck sank into the rain saturated mud. I tried to dig it out and  put blocks under the tires, but everything I did seemed to make the situation even worse. I ended up swallowing my pride and paid a tow service to come out and winch my truck to safety.


I had set up the batter boards on a previous weekend, so all I had to do was verify that everything was still square and I began digging the holes for the 4×6 columns. The hand auger, which is a dream to use in dry conditions, struggled more than I expected in the saturated earth. I could get down about 2 feet quite easily, but when I hit the wet clay layer, it became much more difficult. Because my hand auger only cuts a 7 inch hole, I had to widen each one by ten inches with a shovel after the depth was reached.

This process was only supposed to take a little more than half the day, but it pretty much consumed the entire 39 degree day. I’m thankful for the cooler weather because those holes gave me a workout! Once all the holes were dug, I filled them 6 inches deep with hand-mixed concrete.

There were a few work delays throughout the day as trucks began to arrive with our building supplies. All but the steel shipment arrived on time, but more on that later.


Welcomed by another cold morning, I set to work setting the column posts in position. It was no easy task as each pole weighed around 100 pounds. Getting them upright, plumb and level was a chore that took the entire day. Our dog enjoyed watching me struggle all day and as much as I wanted his help, he was content to roll around in the grass and look at me.


The morning was spent pouring concrete into the holes and making sure everything remained plumb. Because my truck had sunk in the mud on the first day, I had to unload it half way between the gate and the barn. I had planned to use our garden tractor to truck the concrete to the barn, but was hit with another setback…flat tires on the tractor. This meant loading an 80 pound bag of cement into the wheelbarrow and carting it to the barn, then mixing it there. I did this over a dozen times that day and was glad when it was over. The poles were set just before the sun began to sink below the horizon. I had really had enough sleeping in the cold, so I went home for the night to kiss my wife and youngest son…after a hot shower of course!


I recruited our oldest son to come out with me and we got right to work putting soil back into the holes over the concrete and tamping it down. The next step was to get the skirting boards on straight, level and even. With my primitive set of tools this proved near impossible. I ended up buying a laser level and it helped tremendously in getting the boards to come out right. Following that it was time to notch the columns so we could install the trusses.

Now, back to that late steel delivery…I had lined up several friends for Monday or Tuesday to help me unload nearly a ton of steel, but the truck never came. It was on day five that I got a call the truck would be there about 2:30pm. I called all my friends and they had gotten busy over the course of the week and couldn’t make it out. Here I was at 2:15 and only me and my son to unload all that metal. My anxiety was getting pretty high…then…my son said, “Look, a tractor.” I told him it was quite normal to see a tractor come down our road now and then. But then he said, “Why is he trying to get into our gate?” I turned and saw a local farmer who a month previously I had struck a deal with to mow down our pasture so he could grow hay on our land. He just happened to show up 15 minutes before the steel arrived driving a tractor with forklifts! God is good, ALL THE TIME!


On day six, I had two wonderful friends come out to help with the trusses as I knew this was not a job I could tackle alone. Thankfully one of them has a great deal of construction background and he was instrumental in figuring out how to get those 20 foot wide, 3 foot tall trusses into the skinny notches 9 feet in the air. We got all of them into place and braced everything off for the night.


The sun shined down upon us as we spent the day installing the roof purlins. It was here I discovered a grand error on my part. Mainly due to the fact that I do not come from a construction background and am not used to reading drawings, I realized that the end trusses were level with the center truss. This was a big mistake as the purlins were supposed to install flush with the top of the center truss and extend over the end trusses for a 12 inch overhang. My mental gears began to grind trying to figure a way out of this mess. Finally I decided I would just install the purlins from truss to truss and then build out the 12 inch overhang on the external side of the end trusses. It will remain to be seen how well this does or does not work, but it was the only solution I could come up with. I doubt anything could go wrong though as our youngest son was a great supervisor. He even picked up a tool or two to help.

While I installed all the purlins, my wonderful wife cut and fit the first half of the side girts. At the end of the day it was time to clean up and return to the real world. We’ll be back to finish it up soon!

4 Comments on “A new year and a new barn

  1. It is looking great. What a job to tackle. I tried putting in the posts for my veggie cage, and after 30 mins of digging I called the fence guy and had them installed. Can’t wait to see the finished barn.

    • Thank you for the comment. Digging holes with my hand auger is usually a pretty easy task when the ground is dry, but the water-soaked clay didn’t like coming up at all and it was difficult to unload the bucket. If I ever have to do something like this again after heavy rains I will definitely rent a power auger!

  2. I admire you for tackling a job like this by yourself. I couldn’t do it. I have zero construction skills and an amazing knack for doing things wrong.
    I’m sure it’s a satisfying feeling to see that barn going up. Congrats and best wishes for continued success!

  3. Pingback: This post will floor you! Part One | WhirldWorks Farm

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