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The Old Barn Model: The Swing Beam Barn and Its Challenges (Part 2 of 3)

by Hugh Fraser, OBP President for 2023-2024

In the first blog of this series, I described my serendipitous meeting with John Ness at the Outdoor Farm Show in September 2022. After studying a scale model barn we displayed at our booth, John volunteered to build us a really detailed barn. John did not grow up on a farm, but worked as a teen on dairy farms near Guelph and Brantford. He was a grad from the University of Guelph, then worked in the veterinary supply business, then the dairy equipment business the remainder of this career. For a hobby, he built scale model toy barns for children, but grew tired of building the same model over and over. For a challenge, John started doing custom model barns. Each was successfully more complicated, but he states ‘this current model has been the most challenging and given me the most satisfaction’.

But what type of barn should he build and where would he get the minute construction details? I thought on this last fall, then two more serendipitous events occurred—chance discussions with two old barn lovers Bruce and Doug.

Bruce contacted OBP in 2022 to see if we could use his architectural talents to precisely record the long-since passed construction details for special old Ontario barns. He sent me several pages of drawings of an old swing beam barn he had visited to measure, photograph and draw (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The incredible details in this barn plan were recorded by Bruce Corley. He gave OBP permission to use this information to build a scale-model old barn for display purposes. I believe this model barn will help OBP save more barns.

His details were incredible. He gave me the contact information for the owner of the swing beam barn in his drawings. The owner invited me to visit. Built in the mid-1800s, it was in tough shape, but still beautiful (Figure 2). (The owner’s name and barn location are not revealed for confidentiality reasons).

Figure 2: The old swing beam barn being modelled is in tough shape, but still beautiful.

John Ness and I corresponded over the next few months. He asked me very detailed questions about what I had seen at my visit and I sent him close up photos of things most people would never even think about unless they were trying to construct this barn down to the last pin on a mortise and tenon joint. The resulting barn model is incredible and will be revealed at the Outdoor Farm Show and in my third blog on this topic (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The skeleton of John Ness’s scale model swing beam barn.

John believes he has spent at least 200 hours on this barn, but I know this is a very conservative number, because it is obvious he spent that many more hours just planning his work (Figure 4).

Figure 4: John even shaved the components to look like they were hand-hewn!

The barn is built at a 1/16th scale, so 12 x 12 inch hand-hewn beams are only ¾ x ¾ inch in size (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Imagine how tricky this mortise and tenon joint was to construct, since the post is only ¾ x ¾ inch in size.

To demonstrate the incredible details, I asked John how many components he meticulously cut, shaved, pinned, glued and joined:

  • 15 posts
  • 14 beams
  • 82 braces
  • 92 floor boards
  • 1440 shingled (just one side of barn!)
  • 150 pins
  • 10 doors
  • 6 windows

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