Salvaging At An Old Barn


By Nancy Ranchel

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Some people think the best day of their life was the day they got married. Sap-py! Others have best days that relate to their kids, or milestones achieved, or perhaps when they took a bucket-list trip. Me? I’m not nearly so lofty in my aspirations, and I’m not sappy. At all. The serendipity of a good day that appears out of nowhere really appeals as an alternative to those aforementioned “big” days. My favorites usually involve some mix of the following: sunshine, sunglasses, my mom, friends, shopping, salvage, or trash. And guess what? Last week another perfect day happened. Out of nowhere my friend Kris and I went to check out the old tools and accumulated stuff in her family’s barn. And it was heaven! 


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Kris’s family has had farmland in the Albany area for years; probably 100 years or so. When you’ve lived on a piece of property for a century, you collect a bit of inventory. And if you have an old barn and several outbuildings, there’s salvage in them-thar outbuildings. Like gold in those hills! Think about your junk drawer and multiply it by three giant storage areas! Due to dreaded life events (they suck and no one’s immune), the family is working on cleaning out the property. Family members have been taking what they want. There was a sale, too, and many trips to scrapyards already. But there’s still a lot left. A. LOT. Yours truly got an invite to shop the remainder. Yes, folks, shopping an old barn is just like winning the lottery. Maybe better! 


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On the show American Pickers, the guys are out looking in barns and attics for specific categories of goods: old toys, bicycles, old radios, hardware, and more. When I hit a barn, I want vicious tools and implements, plus pieces of cool machinery that I can hopefully fit in my car. In other words, I’m looking for the stuff that is one step from the scrap yard. I’m the American Picker gone slumming. Of course, the day Kris and I picked for our road trip was one of those really hot days we’ve been having. Inside the barn and outbuildings it was approximately one million degrees, dirty and dusty. Heaven – just heaven. An old barn on a hot day. Does life get better than that?  


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On to the loot. The barn itself is half collapsed (Pics 1 and 2). While the idea of converting an old barn to a loft is a recurrent dream for many people, it probably won’t happen with this barn. But it’s beautiful enough to understand how those dreams come to be. Check out the barn foundation in Pic 3. The big beams sit on stones – not a foundation. Problematic for a house. Inside the barn, however, there were stacks of wood and metal fence gates, rolls of fencing, old doors, milk cans, and the gorgeous shelving unit in Pic 4, undoubtedly made by a family member. Wouldn’t you like to have that in your kitchen, craft room, garage, pantry, anywhere?  


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In one of the outbuildings I hit the jackpot with old tools and chain. I also found the fantastic pulley system in Pic 5. Whaddya think? Best clothesline system ever? Plus if I use metal cord instead of clothesline, it would also work as a zipline. And the chains! On a super-practical level, the amount of chain I brought home is awesome (my inventory has been running low). Some of the chain even has hooks already attached on the ends! (FYI: On Apartment Therapy I recently saw that they believe the most important and overlooked decorating item is plants. I disagree – it’s chain!) And there were also old farm equipment tire chains! I’ve never had chain like that come my way. Have no idea what I’ll do with it, but something creative will emerge. 


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There was tons of stuff that wasn’t for me: a great old box spring skeleton, a green one! Mason jar lids, cider jars, nails, equipment jacks, an old stove without its interior, farm wagons, plus a knock-off Saarinen tulip table. With four chairs. How that table and chairs got all mixed in with farm tools, I have no idea. I think Kris should take it home and clean it up. Where’s the down side? If she doesn’t want it, she can sell it.  


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I suspect Kris’s dad was hoping I would buy everything in the barn and outbuildings and finish the job for them. I was very disappointing in that regard! Though my purchases filled my trunk, plus required a second load, they barely made a dent in the remaining barn inventory. I’m going to send them names of deconstruction services, and I’m curious to see how that turns out. Will there be enough good wood that the service buys the barn wood? Will one of the salvage companies buy some of the miscellaneous inventory as well? I don’t know. I hope the family has a couple people look at the property in order to get a first and second (third?) opinion / options / bids. I’m excited to hear about these conversations, as I want to report back about how deconstruction services work from an owner’s standpoint. Inquiring minds don’t just read news at the grocery checkout line, you know. We buy salvage too. (If we’re living right.)