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Barn Hunting for Beginners Part I: Measuring and Surveying

Just how does a barn hunter go about barning? This post will tell you everything you need to know about two of the most important tasks of any barn hunter worth her salt: measuring and surveying. The surveying should really actually go before the measuring, but in my case, it happens whenever I have some extra time. 
The “why” of measuring a barn and then creating scale drawings of it escapes me on most days. But the simple answer is: it creates a record of that building in all of its minutiae. If nothing else, just recording that data is important for the historical record. In terms of thesis-writing, the measuring and drawing help me to focus on the building more thoroughly, to “read” it in a way that would be impossible by just showing up and standing around looking at it for awhile. With the “why” out of the way, let’s get on to the “how.” It’s just as glamorous as you have been anticipating. 

Tools of the trade
 – 1 stack of grid paper of a size and brand that makes it difficult and expensive to procure. This is an esoteric enterprise and one must be outfitted accordingly
– drafting mechanical pencils. Guard these with your life
– drawing board. Staples doesn’t have them, so don’t waste thirty minutes of your life in there.
– *1 100 foot reel nylon tape measure. Only after you have measured one barn and got halfway through another will you realise it is an engineer’s tape and measures in tenths of a foot rather than inches. This will be discussed in more detail later. 
– an assortment of other tape measures in varying lengths  which may be forgotten when they are most needed, namely when inappropriateness of main measuring tape is detected.

The Barn Hunter’s Toolkit

– scale
– 1 powder blue, rusty Buick Le Sabre, ca. 2001 with three faulty electrical windows and missing cupholders. This vehicle should rarely be washed and thus in a constant state of dirtiness which endows it with a mystique of ruggedness appropriate in a barn hunter
– *in lieu of a Le Sabre, or in the event of a breakdown, borrow a 2012 Ford F-150 from your father
– 1 secondhand Nikon D60 with broken autofocus. 
1 awesome barn hunting partner who is willing to endure hours of tedium and sporadic profanity laced outburts from the barn hunter for no pay and few benefits. Enter Stacy, in this case Stacy Mackenzie. She deserves a blog of her own. 
Note: This list could also be called “Barn Hunting on a Budget”, but this would be redundant in the case of graduate students, who are always on a budget. 
Every barn hunter needs a Stacy, pictured here on top of the compost pile next to the barn we’re currently working on.


 –  Show up bright and early. If not a morning person, or if extenuating circumstances prevent a dawn-ish arrival, be prepared that it’s going to take a lot longer than you think and you probably won’t get done in one day.
          – Measure the exterior walls, and painstakingly and with much erasing, use the scale to draw the barn on your expensive grid paper. 
      – Stop often to complain about how difficult it is to see the tiny notches on the scale, to remark on the loveliness of the surrounding countryside, and to chat about topics completely unrelated to barns.
          – Climb anything worth climbing in the immediate vicinity, whether or not it is related to the task at hand. See the above photo. 
This barely discernible salamander values the ongoing usefulness of these lovely old structures. 
        – Photograph the barn and any interesting features, including reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds that may happen to be around. 
      – When the exterior has been finished, go inside. Once it is realised how much there is to do in there, be both grateful that so much of the original structure remains and intimidated by the amount of measuring and drawing there is to do.
       – Commence measuring the interior, including each and every exposed stud, stairs, wall mounted ladders, windows, doors that have been boarded over, etc. 
       – Take a kitten petting break.
              – At some point, Stacy will realise that the measuring tape does not have an 11” or 12.” Scrutinise the measure with great concentration, as if the force of your willpower alone could change the fact that this tape is completely inappropriate for your needs and not in sync with the scale you have been using. Once you have failed in this, approach the verge of a mental breakdown.
The offending engineer’s tape measure, abandoned in a posture of ignominy after its uselessness was discovered.
          – Allow Stacy to talk you out of abandoning the project altogether. Devise several different theories for how to get around the faulty tape measure without having to redo everything you’ve already done.
         – Accept failure in this regard. Find another tape measure. Make sure it uses inches. Get back to measuring.  And re-measuring.
        –   Et voila, you’ve just measured a barn and made a scale drawing of it. Fun, right?
The barn hunter’s vehicle of choice.
           Tools of the trade:
Similar to above: Buick Le Sabre, camera, pencils and notebook. One important addition is R.M. maps appropriate to the survey area.

– 1 loyal and devoted friend or grudging family member.


– Drive down every road it is possible to drive down within the chosen area. If a road looks goat trail-ish and impassable, give it a try anyway. That’s what the Le Sabre is for. You can always laboriously turn around if necessary. 

– Using the map. mark down every single barn that is still recognisable as barn, no matter what shape it is in. Photograph the barn. Classify the barn. Admire the barn, or disparage it if you must. Accept any psychic premonitions about the barn that may come your way.

– Repeat until all 324 square miles (metric-philes, do your own conversion) have been covered.

– At the end of this process, which will take a long time, count how many barns there are altogether and classify them into types.

This trail may turn back even the most expeditious explorers, but no true barn hunter would let it prevent her from fulfilling the task at hand, for she spots a barn in the distance, and it must be documented.

Congratulations, you’ve just created a historical record! What are you going to do with it? That remains for another blog to tell.

Obligatory barn photo. This beauty is the one Stacy and I are currently working on.

One comment on “Barn Hunting for Beginners Part I: Measuring and Surveying

  1. Anonymous says:

    All those saddles hanging in a row, where are the horses?

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