Ponsford man builds barn twin to what his grandpa had
When Fred Seybert’s Norwegian grandfather and German grandmother met in Ponsford, the stage was set for two beautiful Gothic-style twin barns to be born – one in 1947 and the other is being built right now.
Seybert, a retired school superintendent, spent his boyhood summers milking cows in his grandparent’s original German-style barn, with its eight-foot walls of concrete block and huge wooden arched hayloft.
He doesn’t miss milking cows every summer morning, but he loved that barn – so much so that he and his wife, Jan, have hired an Amish construction crew to create a near-duplicate of that original barn near his rural Osage home.
Seybert wanted to make it authentic, including rough-hewn lumber (only the floor of the hayloft is planed smooth) and he made sure the 12-foot by 12-foot milking parlor addition was included, even though he has no plans to milk cows.
“I thought I’d kind of get back to the roots, I always wanted to live out in the country,” he said. “We have 160 acres here,” he said. “We want to put it into hay, do small square bales, horse hay, and then start raising grass-fed beef.”
The new barn will help them reach those two goals, he said.
But making it happen has been no easy matter.
The original barn is long gone, only a few photographs remain, and most contractors weren’t too excited about trying to re-create it, especially since the sweeping hayloft has curved rafters instead of trusses.
“The barn roof is unique, they call it a Gothic roof,” because it creates a wide-open space.
But Eli Borntreger, owner of Borntreger Construction of Wadena, tackled the project the Amish way.
“I did it all on my computer,” he joked, pointing to his head.
Using pencil, paper and the old photographs, he figured out how to build the barn, including cutting the carved, arched rafters, how much material would be needed, and how much it would cost.
They used concrete blocks made by a Menahga company and pine lumber from an Amish-owned sawmill.
Borntreger and his crew of seven men, including several of his sons, started work on the footings in September, Seybert said.
They did the block work in the fall and started on the haymow in early February.
Borntreger said he has worked on all sorts of buildings, from historic barns to metal buildings, but this is the first time he has been asked to re-create a specific type of barn from scratch.
“They’re real craftsmen,” Seybert marveled, watching the crew at work. “When I was a kid, there were a lot of barns like this all around on the Ponsford Prairie.”
But the barns burned down, or disappeared as the small farms became big farms, he said.
Seybert was born in Park Rapids but grew up in Montana, although he and one of his brothers helped on the Ponsford farm every summer.
He worked as a teacher and school superintendent in Montana (his three grown children still live out West) before moving to Minnesota to take the superintendent job in Menahga and then in Little Fork-Big Falls, where he retired in 2014.
“I’ve thought about it (re-creating the barn) for about 20 years, and I decided just to do it,” he said. “Once I retired in September, I couldn’t just watch TV, I had to do something.”
While the new barn is heavily styled on the old barn, it is not an exact clone. Seybert opted to make the block walls nine feet high instead of the original eight feet so that he could park farm equipment there.
And there won’t be shingles or paint to worry about – the new barn will have a steel roof and steel siding.
“When it’s all done it will be paint-free and maintenance-free,” Borntreger said.
Far from having to battle his wife to fulfill his dream, Seybert said Jan has been a real advocate for the project.
“She wants the grandchildren to experience farm life, too,” he said.