Published in the Sunday Journal Gazette
TALE OF TWO MEMORABLE BARNS
By Forest J. McComb
One of my five sons, RICHARD S. McCOMB, a house contractor for 28 years, recently had occasion to drive 10 miles north of Fort Wayne to look at the site of a customer’s new house. It will be built on land next to the farm that once belonged to Richard’s grandfather, GEORGE C. GUMP (remembered as Cal). The land is on the Gump Road that leads east from Huntertown in Perry Township, Allen Co.
Richard chose the nearest route – Road 327 (it used to be 27) and is known as Cold-water Road. Eight miles out, north of the Union Chapel Church on 327, he came to the farm of his other grandfather, JOHN S. McCOMB.
The farm changed hands long ago and the west 80 acres is now the property of Northwest Allen County School Corp. The new school is up but the barn that stood there for many years, is down! Richard pulled off the road; he had to look at the changed landscape. It’s all done in the name of progress, but it was with sadness that he took it all in.
Richard and three of his four brothers were born here, and here he had both worked and played as a boy. It was here that he learned the angles when a ball is thrown against the barn siding – much the way a baseball caroms off when hit by a bat.
Practice With Barn Helped With Baseball
Undoubtedly, the many hours of practice at the barn had something to do with keeping him on the baseball team at Oceana Field, VA. The personnel was constantly changing and Richard held down the center field position on the team for two summers against all comers. This was during World War II and Richard played against many major leaguers who also were in the Navy.
This day he remembered the rich and sandy garden where many times he and his brothers had helped their Grandmother McComb hoe! And the time when putting up hay he might have been badly hurt, if not killed outright! His father (myself) was short of help and allowed a boy not quite five years old to drive a fine, well-trained team of dapple-grey horses on the hay slings.
The horses, Jay and Prince, were a small team and knew what to do and where to go, otherwise such a youngster couldn’t have handled them. The slings were put into the load of hay in the field and three pulls put the load up into the mow.
To have room, at the very last the horses passed through an open gate. When the hay hit the track inside the barn the doubletree at the team’s heels dropped and the horses turned around and came back to the barn. It seemed safe enough, or I couldn’t have allowed Richard to do it.
But on One Trip The Horses Veered
On one trip, for some reason, the team passed through the gate and veered sharply to the left. Richard, behind the team, was in danger of being caught between the rope and the large gatepost. Young as he was, he saw the danger and scrambled to safety in the nick of time. But it was too close for comfort! I immediately moved some material and gave the horses a new course that stayed from any traps.
But Richard’s mother (now deceased) had seen the near-accident and came out protesting bitterly! I assured her the team had an abundance of room, now, and she needn’t worry, but there was fire in her eyes when she said, “Well – after all, he’s only four!” But we continued to make hay with no more trouble.
Richard had a feeling of sadness when he drove away from the old place he’d known so well. What a change! But it was tame to what was in store later. Arriving at the old Gump farm, he stopped again. Grandpa Gump’s barn was also down, or most of it. What was left standing was a wreck and would HAVE to come down! It was uncanny … seeing both his grandfathers’ barns gone at almost the same time!
Both the barns had great timbers in their structures, as did most barns all the way from Indiana to the Atlantic ocean. The timber was plentiful at the time they were built and pioneers used it liberally in the structures.
A post had slipped off the foundation in the Gump barn, allowing the roof to sag for several years. And the day came when it just fell in, but not all of it.
Changes to modern farming have taken away the need of those large structures and not many more large barns will ever be built in the future.
Richard had to think of the many times he’d seen the threshing machine operating inside the two barns, with the straw being blown into large stacks outside the back doors. The men were at work pitching sheaves of grain into the great maw of the separator, while others were carrying and storing the newly-threshed grain into the granary. This might not mean much to some folks, not quite understanding, but the new grain was manna from heaven that never had been here before.
The Gump Road runs between the house and barn, with the barn on the south side. The land fronting the barn is open to the road, and here the steam engine was backed into the large red belt and delivered its power to the humming separator all day long.
What a day for the kids! DELPH PION, the engineer, had said “steam is nothing but plain water gone crazy with the heat!”
Richard though of the many times he’d helped get the herd of cows in the barn at milking time! Each cow, knowing her place, was snapped into a stanchion, fed grain, and was ready to milk. And how many calves had he helped Aunt Eva (MRS. NORBERT HUGUENARD) feed, or the horses he had led to water?
On Sunday afternoons, the times he’d played hide and seek with cousins and friends. It was a big bank-barn with a full basement for stock, two large mows above for hay and two barn floors in the center. Yes, there were many places to hide in the barn.
And when he came home from the Navy and started the construction company, grandpa had asked him to patch the barn roof. It must have been 40 or more feet high, steep and dangerous, but he’d do it for his grandfather!
There wasn’t any scaffolding so a single rope tied around his waist and the other end secured to the centerpost. It was dangerous work, for he couldn’t have been hurt much worst if he had fallen off the Empire State Building.
A barn becomes a landmark. After being built, it develops a certain character and standing. Similar to people, barns hardly ever look just alike and a barn usually gains some distinction all its own. When a stranger is hunting a certain farm and inquires directions from a native, the reply may be: “You go two miles on down the road and come to a house on the left side and a big red barn on the other. You can’t miss the big red barn.”
Over the years a barn usually has many escapes from disaster. It is subject to fire, flood, tornados or being struck by lightning. One morning on the way to Lake James we went past a farm in DeKalb County where they were getting ready to thresh. The steam engine was fired up and the smoke was rolling. When we came home in the evening we saw they’d had a fire. The barn was down and lay in a ruin of ashes! It probably caught from the threshing machine. It looked like the neighbors had done everything that could be done, so we didn’t stop.
On that day, Richard looked at the ruins of Grandfather Gump’s barn. The fateful timing almost floored him. One barn fell to progress, the other to weakness and decay. Old landmarks gone forever! The end of an era!
Richard said: “It struck me as a strange coincidence. Both barns they had built gone at about the same time. I felt as if I’d like to cry, but I didn’t!”
And now a footnote: Both barns were dogged by disaster at the last. The Gump barn is a wreck. The McComb barn was sold by the school corporation, torn down, and stored in the barn on the Wagner Farm, near Cedar Chapel. The Wagner barn caught on fire and both barns were consumed!