An Amish barn raising

Amish-barn-raising-Randy-Mc Kee

Randy L. McKee photo

One by one, Amish buggies and work vans pull into farm. There the women unload pans of roasting chicken and baskets of other food and lug the containers into the house, where they'll spend the rest of the morning cooking dinner. Meanwhile, the men and boys take off their jackets and fold them neatly on the buggy seats. Then, clutching hammers and saws, they head for the barn . . . or what will be the barn. (Right now the soon-to-be structure is still only a concrete-block foundation).

The men — gesturing and talking quietly — gather into little groups. After a few minutes, the small knots of laborers break up and everybody starts to work.

Some of the men begin to saw floor joists to length with raspy strokes, others hand the boards up to men already standing atop the foundation. Soon all the rest of the sounds are drowned out by the increasing rat-a-tat-tat of hammers toenailing joists into position. It is apparent — even to the casual observer — that these Amishmen know how to build barns!

The Amish are also highly advanced farmers. They were routinely practicing crop rotation long before there was any such a thing as a county agents in this country, and the yield per acre

The Amish may handle their tasks the hard way, but they definitely do get them done. They make their own clothes, grow their own food and sell the surplus, pass along useful items such as furniture and harness from generation to generation, work hard, speak softly, and live very well. They like to work with wood, and they learn the niceties of barn-building at an early age.

This day, nearly a hundred Amish families are donating their time to raise a barn. And the structure is going up fast. It isn't even noon yet and, already, the main framing timbers are in place, with 50 men clinging to them like flies, nailing down rafters, and sawing off ragged ends. Older gentlemen on the ground make themselves useful by passing up a stream of boards to the more agile members of the crew.

Inside the farmhouse the women are chatting happily as they roast mountains of chicken, boil bushels of potatoes, and prepare the rest of the midday feast . . . Amish cooking cooking at its best! As the steaming dishes come out of the kitchen, the young girls begin to shuttle huge plates of food out to the long table set up in the yard.

At noon everything stops, and the men come trooping down the lane to the farmhouse. Laughing and joking, they pile their plates with chicken and potatoes and vegetables and pies and cakes and an almost bewildering selection of side dishes. Between bites they swap stories about other barn raisin's, and livestock auctions, and who had a buggy wreck last week, and who's courting these days, and at the end of the hour, the men plunk down their empty plates, pat their bulging stomachs, and head back to the barn again.

That's the signal for the women to gather up and start washing the acres of crockery, while the girls fill milk cans with fruit juices and load platters with cookies in preparation for a 4 p.m. "mid-afternoon" break. Small children play in a nearby, there is no fighting or crying and no need for an adult to supervise them.

All too soon the day ends, and the sun slides down behind the horizon. In front of the farmhouse, Amish families regretfully wave goodbye, count children, and climb into their buggies. A stocky, bearded farmer clicks his tongue, flicks the reins, and the first horse-drawn vehicle moves off down the lane. Within minutes, the yard is empty.

But — in just one day — the farm has gained a structure . . . a brand-new barn which stands silhouetted against the afterglow from the west as — if you will — a monument to the brother- and sisterhood of (Amish) humankind. And all it cost the family was a little money for a concrete block foundation and some lumber.