Wilker barn restoration nears completion

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The Wilker family of rural Guttenberg worked hard this fall to restore their historic barn, originally built using all wooden pegs instead of nails or screws. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

The grass is still green, but the autumn leaves are aflame at the idyllic rural Guttenberg home of Jim and Joan Wilker. A small stream flows along the edge of their backyard and a weeping willow tree hangs low. The Wilker family, which includes five children (and their spouses and children), has spent the past several weeks restoring the historic pin barn on their property. 

Jim and Joan moved to their Jasmine Avenue home in 1978. "It was the Dutka farm at one time," Joan recalled. The barn that stands near the house contains no metal fasteners; its sturdy beams are held together solely by wooden pins. According to the Dutch Barn Preservation Society, "Instead of using metal nails or spikes to secure the joints in timber framing, the carpenters of the past relied on the time-honored, long established tradition of tree-nails: that is, all wood connections. Trenails (or treenails) were hardwood pins or pegs whose use involved profound consequences." 

Those consequences can be seen in the Wilker's pin barn, where individually made treenails are wedged into individually bored holes. The resulting structures, while more expensive due to the skill required, can be much stronger than modern construction with nails and screws. Over the years, steel screws or nails expand and contract at differing rates from the wood they're joining, nails working loose and rust damaging the wood. Wooden pegs swell and contract at the same rate, making the connections tighter over the years.

"It's neat for me to come down the hill and see the barn painted and finished," said Joan. Since August, her children and their families have been traveling to Jasmine Avenue to replace windows, add batten between the boards, and replace bad boards with wood salvaged from other old buildings. The outside of the barn has been repainted as well. 

"It was a learning experience that tested the family," Joan laughed. In 2013, she and her husband hosted her son's wedding in their large yard with the reception held in the barn. "You didn't even know where you were," she remembers. "It was like being transported." Her family continues to enjoy the barn, and plans a reunion there in 2016.

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