It took just a minute or two for Dustin Braun to run a big 24-foot ash tree through the sawmill at Hays Planing Mill Inc., 1013 Elm St., producing a smooth plank of lumber from the giant bark-covered log.
“It’s kind of a surprise every time you cut one,” Braun said, running his hand across the newly sawed surface and swiping off fine yellow sawdust to reveal pretty blond wood.
“This is what they make baseball bats out of,” he said. “The grain is so straight.”
The log — rare for being so long and so straight — was a tree cut from a pasture near Plainville.
Braun will demonstrate how to cut boards for the upcoming Kansas Barn Fest on Sept. 21 and 22. Sponsored by the Kansas Barn Alliance, the two-day event teaches techniques for restoring and preserving historic wood and stone barns.
Now in its 13th year, Kansas Barn Fest historically has been held in eastern Kansas, said Len Schamber, Damar, an organizer of the event and co-owner with his brother, Linus, Hays, of Schamber Historic Preservation L.L.C.
“This is our first time in western Kansas,” Schamber said. “We can accommodate up to 60 or 70 people. The first day we’ll have presenters and the second day is the barn tour.”
Schamber and his brother will demonstrate how to prepare old barns for painting.
“The whole secret to painting is preparation,” he said. “Without that, you get poor quality and it doesn’t last. It doesn’t adhere properly. Preparation is the secret; you could use a poor quality paint and still get an excellent paint job.”
The Schambers have consulted on restorations of barns and other historic buildings throughout Kansas and Nebraska, including the Home on the Range Cabin in Smith County.
The event will be held at the Damar Community Center, 106 Main St. The bus tour will cover 150 miles and run all day with stops at six barns in six counties.
“We’ll hear the story of each barn and their owners. All of them are restored,” said Schamber. “Some of them are in super excellent condition. Only one is not actively being used for anything. The theme of the barn tour is adaptive re-use. These are barns that have been preserved and restored and they have new uses.”
One of the stops is the Harry Keith Barn, built in 1940, just south of Penokee in Graham County. Anyone driving by 200th Avenue can see the gambrel-roof bank barn and its windmill and the 100-year-old cottonwood trees along nearby Brush Creek.
“It was in terrible, terrible condition,” Schamber said. “Now it’s on the National Register and it’s been completely restored and is used as an event center for educational purposes.”
Another stop is at Terry Gottchalk’s near Logan.
Gottchalk finished his barn three or four years ago, just in time for a barn dance for his son’s wedding. He worked on it for three years, combining limestone from six different buildings that he hauled from his native Schoenchen, about 14 or 15 semi-loads, with the hay loft on up from a 1904 barn 5 miles east of him.
“I should have started on it when I was 50, not 60,” he says. “But if I was going to go to all the trouble, I wanted it to last.”
He confesses he likes the smell of the pine tar when cutting old-growth pine boards from trees that grew naturally over decades. And he’s definitely a barn lover.
“I hate to see them just fall down,” he said, and that goes for other old buildings too. “I’m a nostalgic person.I have an old Eleanor Roosevelt outhouse that’s in good shape. I’m just kind of preserving it too.”
Another stop is in Sheridan County, 17 miles west of Hill City near Studley, at the Cottonwood Ranch barn, which is owned by the Kansas Historical Society. The ranch was built by an Englishman who immigrated during the Colorado gold rush, and is now a Kansas Historic Site.
Dennis Braun, owner of Hays Planing Mill since 1993, will demonstrate how barns were built years ago with mortise and tenon joints that connect wooden beams for a barn’s roof and walls.
The mortise is a rectangular hole, and sized to fit inside it is the tenon, an extending rectangular tongue.
Old-timers started with rough materials, Braun explains, cutting down a tree, then sawing off the sides to make a beam 16 feet or longer and as much as 18-inches square. Working without power tools, nails or glue, they used a T-auger to hand drill the mortise. The mortise and tenon were held together with a peg.
“Even the beams in the old flour mill that used to be downtown, I’m sure that was how that was made,” Braun said. “And in these barns, the openings between the beams are probably 16 to 20 feet, so they needed something pretty massive to carry the weight.”
Meanwhile, what’s old is new again at Hays Planing Mill, makers of wood cabinets, flooring, ceilings and other custom woodwork since its founding in 1896. So wooden ceiling designs are replacing popcorn ceilings, and whitewash paint that brings out the grain of the wood is popular. But it can require modern techniques.
Slabs of wood like the ash that Dustin Braun cut will eventually go into the kiln he made from a shipping container. The container holds 3,000 board feet, and the temperature of the dryer varies, depending on the type of wood, but anywhere from 120 to 150 degrees.
The wood will take two to three weeks to dry, producing 80 gallons of water.
“Right now,” said Dennis Braun. “Everybody wants something rustic.”
Registration for Kansas Barn Fest is at www.kansasbarnalliance.org.