March 2 , 2020 /


When we moved to the River House in Abiquiu, New Mexico, in 2005, we found ourselves with a wonderful house on the banks of the Chama River which we remodeled completely. It was about a mile south of the village and Georgia O’Keefe’s studio.  When we surveyed the entire property I thought we needed a barn, a building that would provide indoor storage for our motorhome, a workshop, a place for a tractor, mower and other tools. I added a chicken house and a shed later elsewhere on the property for our miniature donkeys.

I looked at old barns, new barns, plans for building barns and one day I saw a 100-year-old post and beam barn frame being auctioned on ebay.  I called my friend Hugh Lofting, an expert in timber frame construction for many years.  I asked him how much it might cost and he said that architects were paying $25K and more for these and using them in new home design and construction.  I asked him if I were successful in the bidding would he come to NM from PA and help put it up.

He agreed and the bidding started low at $1K and advanced rapidly to $5K and I entered around $6K when other bidders began to drop out. I advanced my bids incrementally and reached $7K where the bidding stopped and I found myself the owner of a dismantled, tagged, numbered and lettered, post and beam barn frame measuring 36’ x 54’.  It was a story and half tall and weighed over 20,000 pounds.  Now I had to figure out how to get it from Minnesota to New Mexico.  I found a trucker with an empty flat-bed returning to Texas from Minnesota and he agreed to get it loaded and hauled to Abiquiu for $2400. On August 2, 2006, unloading the frame, posts and beams, was a project in itself as the truck was too large to get into our narrow, twisting lane. Thus far, I had kept the cost of acquisition just under $10K.

The rest of the barn story includes four to five of us putting up the frame on a 4” thick, reinforced concrete pad with the help of a high lift and some extraordinary, talented workers.  I had another crew and contractor put on a metal roof and rough sawn pine, boards and batten siding. Doors were added on both ends and a very large door on one side to accommodate large equipment.  The total cost ended up somewhere just south of $40K and that includes some donated labor of friends and family.

LESSONS LEARNED that can apply to life, work, projects and communities.

1 – Complete plans and total costs are better to know in advance when possible unless you are very comfortable with the unknown.

2 – Be sure you have the necessary talent, expert advice, counsel and support for any significant addition, change or project to increase the likelihood of success.

3-  Enhancements and improvements are good investments for increased future value when undertaken with thought and care.

4 – Watching and participating in a design that started only as a dream become a reality is an exciting and rewarding experience.

5-  The answer to the question, “Would you do it again if you could?” will reveal whether or not you consider what you did worthwhile and successful.

6.  It’s important that you have some kind of timetable from start to finish even if you have to make some adjustments along the way.

7.  There is a difference between what is necessary versus what would make things easier and better just because it’s convenient.

8.  If you are willing and able to pay a fair price for what you want you can usually have it. What is important is to be clear each step along the way.

9.  Life is a series of plans and projects involving relationships, work, health and adventure.

10, What else is important is what your intentions are, how much time is required, how many and what kinds of resources are needed, what you want for the eventual outcome and how you and others will benefit in the end.

Would it have been easier to just have someone else do the whole project, start to finish?  Perhaps, but it would not have tested my ingenuity and creativity.  Nor would it have been as much fun.

Comments (4)

  1. Amazing! And I love at the end of your post… there’s the barn! I love that you called a friend, got advice, and enlisted others to help build your barn. Sure, you could have bid and hired a random company and it would have looked good and served its purpose but you chose another way forward with the donated labor of friends and family. When you looked at your barn, it held so much more than beams. Thanks for sharing this story and lessons!


  2. Thanks. You inspire me with your stories and this is one of many which are part of my life and learning. I forgot to mention that I found a sawmill that provided the rough sawn lumber for the exterior and it is a story in itself, herewith: https://www.spottedowltimber.com/about.html
    Both the barn and the 10 years there at The River House were such good experiences and now great memories. So glad you enjoyed the story and the process.

  3. Gary,
    I love this story both because of the parallels to leadership and because I find myself with an old timber and peg barn on a farmhouse I am trying to rehab in Michigan. I am looking for Amish carpenters but maybe you are available?
    Tom Rosenbluth

  4. Tom, I would love to help and do it all over again but alas, I am in NM. It was a great project, one of many in my lessons of leadership. If you can’t find some Amish in Michigan there are some in Ohio, not all that far and they often travel via van. Try looking around Middlefield, Ohio. They are excellent carpenters. We lived in Lancaster PA for seven years and plenty of Amish families there. I don’t know where you are in Michigan relative to Gladwin County but I did find this: One of the largest Amish auctions in the region is held twice a year on a farm bordering Gladwin and Clare Counties. Good luck with your project. I hate to admit I’m a bit jealous as I like both challenge and reward and there’s nothing better than hands on.

Please share your thoughts and opinions