Out on the prairie, east of Stonebridge where our highway meets the interstate, a granary sat empty for years. Granaries are structures for storing grain, in this case a wooden building once filled perhaps with wheat through a door in the roof. Where I’m from in North Dakota, “granary” is pronounced “grainery,” but there “threshing” is called “thrashing” and a “creek” is a “crick” too. I prefer the older pronunciation, with “an” like “grand”; it lends elegance to the building’s simple construction and mundane use. Today grain elevators have replaced farm granaries but many still dot the countryside in this part of the country. You may have passed one without even noticing.
At Stonebridge, we like making old buildings useful for our needs as a small commuinity farm today. After renovating the few built here a century ago—the chickenhouse turned guesthouse, the hog barn turned community room, the farmhouse refurbished, the barn repaired—we were looking for another old building to restore. We wanted sleeping quarters for friends to visit and writers to retreat, so we asked our friend and scavenger extraordinaire Jon to keep an eye out for us.
On one of his jaunts out east, he found the granary on an abandoned farm sold for development that hadn’t yet reached the eastern edge of its forty acres. The houses are coming its way, though, and we thought we might as well move the granary to our farm than let it be bulldozed for subdivision sprawl. Jon found the owners living down the road and asked their permission to take the granary to a new home at Stonebridge. They’d bought that old farm at the edge of the highway a couple decades ago to try their hand at farming and raising hogs. But as the edge of the city moved closer, they were ready to sell when the right offer came through.
The granary sat empty for years, but it isn’t the worse for wear. The building houses three rooms: a center room for storing grain; a small side area with a ladder for checking the grain at the top of a wall that doesn’t quite reach the ceiling; and a larger storage room on the other side with a chute near the floor on the inside wall for filling grain bags.
Besides the door in the roof through which grain could be poured into the center room, the building has an outside door to the storage room and a small door into the space with the ladder. Despite sitting unused for years, the building is pretty clean. We found some grain sacks and a wooden box, a little dust, and some old lumber. A few mice have undoubtedly made their home inside but no one has bothered the building, graffitied the walls, or been up to mischief there as far as we can tell.
Moving an old building requires a lot of effort. Jon, Joe, and Peter spent hours on cold, windy days in February and March removing the roof shakes and rafters so that the building would be low enough to fit under wires as it came down the highway on a flatbed trailer. While they were at it, they took down 200 feet of old board fence as well, using some of the pieces to panel the outside of the “bluehouse” they reconstructed this winter for growing this spring’s lettuces and next year’s winter greens. They’ll use the lumber to rebuild the granary on its new site at the edge of our meadow too. You can’t buy wood like that anymore, fine-grained and strong without chemical toxins, sounder and safer than the lumber euphemistically called “pressure-treated” today. A couple of the boards may even become a guitar someday.
Roof and beams removed, the granary left its original home last week to make its way down Highway 66 toward the foothills for its new life at Stonebridge Farm. The team jacked the building up on old beams four feet high to allow clearance for the 30-foot-long trailer.
The young man we hired to move it down the highway slipped the trailer underneath and belted the building from top to bottom, making sure each chain or buckle fit snugly around the frame. It was as wide as legally possible without requiring a special permit and, we would soon find, as wide as would fit through the space between buildings on the road at our farm. With the old building secured to the trailer, John and Jon loaded the extra beams into their trucks for lowering the granary at its new Stonebridge site. And then, we were ready to chivary down the highway.
Which didn’t take long. A granary on the back didn’t slow that truck down. I stopped for a picture of it coming west towards me on the highway but had to jump back in the car and speed to pass in the only multi-lane stretch so that I could catch it turning onto the farm. I don’t think anyone gave the granary a second thought, if they noticed it at all. Just an old wooden building coming down the road, not a piece of history moving from times past to a new home going forward.
Our young trucker started driving machinery on his family’s farm at age nine but had never moved a building like this before. Nor had he navigated his trailer through such a narrow path as between our barn, community room, and glass greenhouse. He even stopped a couple times to take pictures of how tight it all fit, but by pulling a few fence posts and turning up the corner of a metal roof just in case, he got granary and trailer through without a scratch.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when he pulled the trailer out into the wide meadow, hauling the granary as close as he could to its future site. The crew stacked timbers underneath onto which the building could be set as the trailer moved out and then they jacked the whole thing down onto longer beams newly milled for the foundation. As soon as we can, we’ll move it with the tractor to its proper angle facing the meadow.
The granary doesn’t look like much right now without a roof or proper windows or doors. In time, we’ll clear it out, hose it down inside and out, rebuild the roof, remove the low wall, cut another outer door, add some windows and a porch, and paint it white like it used to be. I think it will be prove a quiet space for writers and friends to relax and work and listen to the birds in the old willows along the ditch at the edge of the meadow. No one will suspect that it didn’t begin its life at Stonebridge, although they might wonder why there’s a door in the roof. We’ll leave that, evidence of its former purpose, to remind us how close we once lived to our food.