Modern-Day Barn Raising

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barn raising

Photo courtesy of Joanie Stiers

The barn raising attracted noticeable street traffic and four times more Facebook views than residents in our tiny, no-stoplight town. I paused occasionally to absorb the historic moment, when more than 40 volunteers over three days raised a playground barn in our village’s park.

An electrician with a bucket truck prepared the barn’s center for the roof. Farmers used a tractor and lift to mount the roof panels higher than 20 feet in the air. Other volunteers worked on the ground to assemble slides and raise 17-foot poles that formed the silo for the farm-themed playground structure.

This community barn raising represented one of the most remarkable and inspiring events of my lifetime. Farmers with hay to bale volunteered their time and tractors. Carpenters with decks to build provided their expert labor and tools. Land specialists put excavation jobs on hold to offer time and equipment. FFA members on summer break helped mix 8 tons of bagged concrete. Office professionals used vacation days to donate physical labor through 90-degree heat and intermittent rain.

This barn raising symbolizes the drive and self-sufficiency of small communities, and not just ours. Across Illinois, farming communities identify a need, organize their ideas and find the funds to attain the goal. Most notably, citizens in these communities willingly give of their time, skills and unique rural resources to make life better there.

And they’re undeterred by hard work. The playground barn arrived on a 40-foot flatbed trailer full of well-secured pieces, including more than 1,600 bolts and at least 28 shiny red steel poles weighing 200 pounds apiece.

We photographed the first pole’s hole, dug by my farmer neighbor with the tractor-mounted auger that he uses to build cattle fence. What a joyous moment. Two-and-a-half years prior, the Playground Barn Raising Project represented only an idea for a town that logs a 25-mile round-trip from the nearest park with a modern playground. After significant planning, the project transitioned into an ambitious 15-month fundraising campaign jointly led by the local volunteer parks association and an FFA alumni affiliate.

Within three days, committed small-town volunteers raised a legacy landmark: a big red barn with striking white gates and a tan silo offering two levels of play. Volunteers torqued the final bolt a day sooner than predicted. The pace stunned even the playground manufacturing company, which wanted to know who was on the crew. Our consultant responded, “Hard-working farmers.”

All volunteers to boot.

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