MIDDLE LAKE, Sask. — A labour of love — that’s how brothers Lorne, Brian and Murray Schmid feel about saving their farm’s old red barn.
Painted bright red with a green metal roof, the barn is once again a beacon for travellers west of Middle Lake.
“Dad always used this as a landmark when he was getting somebody to come out here. ‘Watch for the big red barn on top of the hill,’” said Brian.
As they sat in lawn chairs in the barn’s northside shade, with the smell of fresh paint in the air, the brothers recounted how their homesteading grandfather, Louis Schmid, and hired carpenters built the hip-roof barn in 1935. Wood from trees felled near Melfort was hauled by horses during the winter and milled in the farmyard.
A water well was hand dug before the concrete footings and floor were poured by hand.
“It took them a whole year to do the foundation before they even started building. They hauled all the gravel up here with just a little wagon and horse,” said Lorne.
The brothers said it was always a working barn to hold cattle, horses, a few milk cows and pigs. The hay loft still contains original hardware.
“I was just five or six years old and can remember Dad coming with the hay wagon and the Clydesdales. He opened up the two big doors and then took the work horses around back, hooked on to the rope and pulled the hay up into the loft,” said Brian.
Over the years, nature exacted a heavy toll. Besides lightning strikes, hailstorms, heavy winds and the bending weight of snow, many boards had rotted and the foundation was crumbling.
“The cedar shakes were so thin you could see through them,” said Murray.
Every opening on the building had failed due to years of wet chaff and straw lodged inside the walls, which rotted the structural posts including window frames.
They feared the listing barn would eventually be taken down in a big wind.
The brothers’ father, Wilfred Schmid, died in 2005 and the old barn, long empty of animals, stored out-dated farm equipment and boyhood odds and ends.
“Drove out here and I was kind of upset at the way it looked. Within two years it was overgrown and trees were falling onto buildings,” said Murray, who lives in Calgary.
The decision was made to put time and money into stabilizing the barn instead of bulldozing it.
“The family farm and heritage are important for us, so that’s the reason why we put all our collaboration of money and time into this to save it. It’s part of the yard,” said Murray.
Added Lorne: “It was something that Dad didn’t get around to doing. We had to make the decision to either save it or let it go. So, you either pump the money into it and put the effort into it or it’s garbage.”
The three self-taught handymen recall how the barn seemed to sigh with relief as they slowly and delicately hoisted sagging support beams back into place using 20-tonne jacks.
“We raised the building up at least four inches above where the foundation should be and the whole building creaked and groaned as it goes. Six by six beams were put in there and then we settled it down and put it all back together,” said Murray.
The brothers found the long-fallen porcelain lightning rods stored in different outbuildings. And like the restored brass weather vane, a horse, the items now stand proudly on top.
The barn’s brittle tongue and groove siding also soaked up about 100 gallons of red barn paint.
“The first coat, you sprayed it and then you’d move over and you’d start spraying…and (the first-coat) was gone. I had to give it three coats to get it to look like this,” said Brian, pointing to the flaming red sheen.
Each brother brought his own tools and skill set to the project.
“Everybody’s got their own forte out here. Brian runs all the equipment. Lorne’s a surveyor and fixed the yard because it used to flood all the time. I run a laptop better than a gravel truck, but that’s what I did,” said Murray.
During the winters, Lorne also rebuilt and painted each window frame and door.
Younger members of their family were also recruited to lend a hand.
“One of the reasons that we do this is so that these kids get a tie to the land,” said Brian. “This is purpose. This is set up for that reason. Otherwise, they have no reason to appreciate what this is … and the family heritage.”
All told, the brothers said they collectively invested about $40,000 and over 1,000 hours of working vacations during the past 15 years.
“We’ve come leaps and bounds, spent a lot of money and time to get it the way it looks now,” said Murray.
“Every summer I’d come out here with my vacation time. It’s kind of self-serving too. It’s so quiet and peaceful here. I live in Calgary. It’s a busy life and I unwind out here. That’s part of it.”
As boys, all three remember Saturday night socials, with the farmyard filled with cars as friends and relatives gathered for music and food. The ever-present beacon-on-a-hill watched over it all.
“Summertime it was a party and everyone would come over with their instruments. Dad played accordion and would lead the band. That’s what they did for entertainment because they didn’t have a lot of money back then. So that’s why this property is important to all of us,” said Murray.
“It gives me a reason why we’re here. It’s definitely not for the money.”
Added Lorne: “The farm wouldn’t be a farm without this building. It’s where everything started.”
They have reached a point in the project where the building is structurally sound and they can take satisfaction in a job well done.
More important is the legacy the old barn represents for their family.
“It’s nice to come to the point where it looks like it did when we were kids, and that’s one of the things that means a lot to me,” said Lorne.
The three brothers were also focused on maintaining the memories and legacy for their father.
“This was something that he would have wanted. Dad would be proud of what’s here,” said Lorne.