Columbia man salvages boards to preserve memories

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:06 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Ben Colley drives to the barn at Brushwood Lake Road on Friday morning. Colley's grandfather bought the barn in the 1950s and sold it to Columbia in 1983, when the Columbia Regional Waste Water Treatment Plant was built.

COLUMBIA — It looks like little more than a heap of wood and rusting corrugated roofing. Saplings have sprung up around its base, and only from one side is it easily recognizable as a barn.

“A lot of hay went into that barn,” Ben Colley said.


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Colley, a resident of Hallsville, is salvaging the wood from the exterior of what used to be his grandfather’s barn on land that's since been purchased by the city of Columbia.

The collapsing structure is located south of Columbia, next to Brushwood Lake just off the MKT Trail and Perche Creek. 

When Colley’s grandfather owned the barn, it held a couple thousand bales of hay in its three-story loft. On the ground floor, his grandfather raised pigs and stored corn to feed the hogs.

These days, the barn sits crumpled and listing to one side. The only inhabitants are the swallows that have nested inside and a critter — Colley guesses an opossum or raccoon — that has made its home under the old corn crib.

Colley received permission from the city to salvage what he can from the barn before it's demolished next year. The only requirement from the city was that he have adequate insurance.

“I grew up as a youngster and a teenager helping my grandpa farm,” Colley said.  “I grew up on the Allis-Chalmers tractor.”

Colley’s grandfather bought the farm in the 1950s when his family moved to Columbia from Harrisburg. 

The barn and the 300 acres that surround it were bought by the City of Columbia in 1983, when the Columbia Regional Waste Water Treatment Plant was built.

“It’s good farmland down in this bottom,” Colley said as he surveyed the fields he once helped his grandfather cultivate.

The entire barn is made of oak timber that was cut from surrounding land, Colley said, as he scratched at the wood with his pocket knife. Exterior boards, including ones that Colley helped his grandfather repair, have turned a dull grey from 60-plus years of exposure to the elements.

“Some of these boards I am taking down are probably some of the boards I put up,” Colley said.

The boards are one of Colley’s retirement projects, he said, adding that he has been looking for some bigger wood working projects.

“I think it’d be neat to have some of that old barn in my garage,” Colley said.

Colley plans to use the rustic siding to build a replica train depot where he can set up his model trains and other railroad memorabilia, which is another one of his hobbies.

Sheila Christy, Colley's sister, said she wasn't surprised at all when he told her about his latest project.

"This is typical since he has retired," Christy said, adding that it was not the first wood working project Colley has undertaken with old wood from the farm.

Colley used remnant wood from an old farmhouse that the family still owns to make recipe boxes for Christy and their sister Leah Rennick.

"I am sure the boards don't have any value to anyone else, but it is part of our history," Christy said.

Salvaging the oak siding from the barn is no easy task. 

The barn is over a half mile from any serviceable road, and Colley had to cut a path just to get his red pickup down the trail that his grandfather once traveled on his tractor.

The path is more suited for all-terrain vehicles than cars. Thirty years of growth has turned what was once pasture land into a young forest with dense undergrowth, but that isn't stopping Colley, who plans to make several trips to the site. 

The wood siding is about more than decoration, Colley said. "Pretty much all of it is about preserving memories."

Colley would spend a couple weeks at the beginning of every summer helping his grandfather plant the soybeans and corn, and he would return later in the summer to help during the hay season.

“I remember hauling hay into that barn on a 90-plus degree day,” Colley said, “and coming out of there just covered in that red clover chaff.”

“Sometimes grandpa would stop the bailing, and we would cut two or three fresh watermelons right out there in the field,” Colley said.

Other times, “when it was well into the evening, grandma would bring sandwiches and soda down and we would have supper,” Colley said.  “That doesn’t happen for every hay crew in the county.”

“I can tell you one thing," Colley said. "I didn’t have a problem finding a hay crew.”

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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