Local History by Ron Patch: Barn tag

Here’s another story from Lee Kendall. My generation always found ways to entertain ourselves and in the process learned cause and effect. I think it’s important these stories be recorded. If you have any such stories, please contact me. I can be trusted to tell your story.

Spruce trees for rafters. Right foreground is the built-in wooden ladder. Notice round rungs replaced with boards. Photo provided
Spruce trees for rafters. Right foreground is the built-in wooden ladder. Notice round rungs replaced with boards. Photo provided

The connected barns stretch 109 feet from the kitchen door. Soon after my family moved into the old farmhouse in the fall of 1964, my brothers and I started exploring the barns. They are 30 feet wide and close to 30 feet from the barn floor to the peak of the roof.

The four tine grapple hook, used for hoisting great loads of loose hay, hung from its trolley, on a track that ran just under the peak of the roof out to the end of the barn.

All the beams are hand-hewn with mortise and tenon joints, held together with wooden pegs. The roof rafters are limbed spruce trees about eight inches in diameter with a slight taper.

There are a few small windows with big fat grey barn spiders hanging in their webs near the light.

Due to their age there are some cracks in the old barn board siding. On sunny days shafts of golden light pierce the gloom, illuminating motes of dust and hay chaff.

In a center bay there is a ladder built into the beams that goes straight up from the barn floor to the cross beam that connects the eaves above.

There was still some old hay left in some of the haymows – pronounced like cows. Our first attempt at serious injury was to climb to the upper beams and jump into the loose hay.

One rainy summer day my brothers, a cousin and I were dubbing around in the near dark of the barns. Somebody said, “Let’s play hide and seek.” We drew straws to see who would be “it.”

That game didn’t last long. The barns were so big, with so many places to hide, it just wasn’t much fun.

Somebody suggested tag instead. Right away it got exciting. You could run across the barn floor, climb to the second level and edge out on a beam along the outside wall. If you were nervy enough you could walk across a cross beam and if some sissy happened to be “it” he wouldn’t come after you.

Insulator for door knob at Kim's barn
Insulator for door knob at Kim’s barn. Photo provided

It only took a short time to refine the rules. The rules became you couldn’t touch the floor. If you did you were automatically it.

My dad had a 200-foot long rope one inch in diameter. We stretched it around to some of the more inaccessible spots.

That game had everything boys love, a lot of activity, real danger, and a real test of nerves. Unfortunately there were falls and minor injuries. Whoever hit the floor would get up, dust himself off, and holler, “I’m OK.”

Out of the gloom above, you might hear something like, “You’ve never been OK and never will be, Sucker.”

We were playing barn tag in 1967 when I was a senior in high school. My favorite move was to get up in the peak of the barn and go hand over hand along the track that held the old grapple hook. I could kick the trolley along the track and go from one end of the barn to the other end fast. I was nearly impossible to tag.

One barn tag day I was exercising my favorite trick when suddenly the rusty lag bolts in the old dry wood pulled loose. The trolley, the track, the big rusty four-tined grapple hook and I crashed 12 feet below in a haymow empty of hay.

It hurt. I finally squirmed free from the iron and stood up. It took a minute to test arms and legs but I didn’t think anything was broken. Blood was running into one eye and a drop fell from my chin. Kim was looking at me with real concern and said, “You’re bleeding real bad.”

My mother bandaged me the best she could and drove me to see Dr. Jackson at the clinic. Two stitches above my eye, three stitches by my ear, and three stitches in my elbow and I was good as new.

Of course Monday when I went to school everybody asked, “What the hell happened to you?” I just replied, “I don’t want to talk about it but the other guy looks way worse.”

  This week’s old saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, remove any evidence that you ever tried.”

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