May 9 2024 01:58 PM

Every old barn you drive by has a past and adds character to the countryside.

You know what I love to gaze at while driving around the countryside? Sure, I like to see pretty houses, cool landscaping, new farm setups, the vast fields, and so forth, but I think my absolute favorite thing to note as properties pass by the car window is the character of old sheds, barns, and other outbuildings.

While many of these buildings are past their prime and may even be sitting vacant, I cannot help myself as I ponder what used to be or is currently housed in each and every one of them. Is that small shed out back really a makeshift chicken coop? Does that odd-shaped dwelling contain straw-bedded pens for calves? Is that barn brimming with hay, or might you find a group of goats in there? Is that little shack for storing horse tack, rabbit hutches, or the lawn mower? Or perhaps it’s bicycle storage, a potting shed for gardening, or possibly a playhouse for the home’s children.

While I, of course, appreciate all the nice, new freestall barns, feed lots, pole sheds, fancy machinery shops, and so forth that you’re sure to pass by on a drive through the Midwest countryside, they just fall short when it comes to the charm and storytelling of older buildings. Those aged structures, nestled between all the new ones, are so very interesting and fun to hold onto.

That weathered paint, rusted sheet of steel, missing board, faded sign, and slight sag are all indications of a rich history on that property. All these little quirks are much like wrinkles on us — they’re beautiful because they mean a life was truly lived. These barns and sheds have surely been on different journeys over the years as they’ve morphed and shifted for an array of uses — from machinery storage and animal housing to kid play areas and full-on toy warehouses. The possibilities of these unique buildings are truly endless and intriguing.

My parent’s farm still contains a few of these mature dwellings, including a corn crib used for storage and a small shed that has been used as a chicken coop, a cousin club house, and a hiding place in ultimate games of hide and seek. The old barn still stands and continues to hold some small square hay bales in its mow, while also providing shelter on the main level for our dry cows. The little pump house stands strong after shifting into a playhouse for my siblings and I, then a spot to raise our 4-H project rabbits, and it is now filled with outdoor toys for our own children to enjoy.

This is my nod to those loveable, character-brimmed barns, shacks, and sheds. May they live on in all their chipped paint and rusted roof glory. They really make properties interesting and hold some treasured stories spanning generations.

Molly Ihde (Schmitt)

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.