Good Enough for Chickens

My new barn doors are securely in place, and a passerby might take note of them for a second or two in passing. They might remember the original doors, weathered and worn as they were, or perhaps that we now have color coordinated doors hanging in their place. Like a book cover, there is bit more there than meets the eye. And, I can blame that on my dear mother. Here is why:

As a college graduation gift, my mother and a handful of her women friends climbed into a sedan and motored off toward the Carolinas  on the first leg of a cross country, two-country car trip. They ventured north along the coast to New York City, then north into Canada, eventually making it back safely to Missouri. In our family this was known as the “Trip of ‘39” and was a defining experience for more than my mother.



The original doors were in rough shape, and were too short to keep the chickens at bay.

That spirit of adventure, that doing something even if you don’t know the eventual outcome, was a defining characteristic she passed along to her children. Women just didn’t do these things back in 1939. Besides being “unladylike” and dangerous, cars, and the tires they rode on, were quite inferior to what we now have, and there was certainly no interstate highway system. Blue highways and back roads. Little did these hurdles matter. That, as many have said, was my mother. Why let a little thing like not knowing you can do something stand in your way? “You won’t know unless you try,” she was fond of saying. If there is a problem, then figure it out.

She also insisted on constantly having a “hand hobby” … for if you work with your brain, use your hands for relaxation. So we grew up with hundreds of hobbies, various puzzles, and a growing checklist of odd skills. She cautioned against worrying about what others might think because you had to be true to yourself. Oh, and always be curious.



The components were sawn and pre-painted before being put together.

As I sturdily stride into my 70s, I still find much blame to place on my mother. And, I should add, my blame comes not from one of those soul searching therapy sessions but rather from another jump into something I have not done before. This time it was building that set of barn doors.

Over my many years there are numerous things I’ve done that started simply as a whim if not a necessity. Because either I didn’t have the money to buy something, or to have someone else build it, or that I just wanted to see if I could do it. Rarely did I know what I was getting myself into, or even if I had the skills to do a passable job. Take remodeling houses, each with unique projects and jobs that needed to be accomplished. Hanging and mudding drywall, for example. Laying tile, or putting down a hardwood floor. What about building of my own fly rods, and wood strip canoes? Or, to be highly specific, even becoming a writer and photographer simply because I wanted to.

And now, building barn doors.

To be frank, this wasn’t a task I was either anticipating or yearning to do. When we bought Listening Stones Farm, the previous owner told us that if we ever replaced the old barn doors on the “goat barn,” that they wanted their doors back as keepsakes. They’re in rough shape, actually. And, they were too short to keep chickens out of the barn, so we have kept a large cattle fence panel across the front of the opening to discourage their attempts to get inside.

It was not my intention to build them. Initially I meant to simply install an ordinary overhead garage door in the space. I just happened to mention that idea to Rebecca moments before calling our local lumber dealer for a quote. Apparently our ideas for filling that opening were quite different. Since there didn’t appear to be much room for compromise, I ended up with the task of building them myself.

On a morning when our internet was actually working, a search secured a simple concept of a plan, and before you could start and finish a marathon I was outside with my trusty tape measure and a blank sheet of paper writing down measurements to go along with my scribbled sketchings. Yes, I did call the lumber man, and a few days later their muscular “grip”, Lyle, arrived with a pickup load of one by fours and two exterior wall panels. Paint and screws were fetched and off I stepped into the blissful tape measured abyss.



Finally painted and pieced together, the doors are about ready to be placed on the barn.

Among the oddest aspects of any of my new projects are the visualizations, particularly those that come sneaking into my consciousness in the darkness of night! This happened once again, and I actually confidently began sawing the pieces that would become the framework over the wall panels thanks to those sleep distractions.

Some of those midnight visualizations was in making a secure framework. Long impact screws might work, although even my longest ones were too short. A builder buddy told me when we were remodeling the house that the strongest ties using the screws was to put them in at an angle. The first corner was perfect coming in from an angle. Strong and secure. The second, though, caused the pine to split so much that the cross piece had to be replaced. Longer screws that would cover the width and secure the distant boards came in the next midnight awakening. My hardware people over in Milbank had five inch impact screws which would get through the 3 1/2 in. width with enough length to pull the two boards securely together. Great in theory, wrong in practice, for each of the long screws would ricochet somewhere in the drilling and come blasting through the wood somewhere. So much for midnight visualizations.

In the end, the panel pieces were simply scrunched together and screwed onto, and partially through, the panels from both front and back. It seemed to work, as did pre-painting all the wood components prior to piecing them together. Finally the framed doors came  together, and my friend Rick came over to help hinge them onto the support beams of the little barn.


almost after

The new doors are now up, and “good enough for chickens.”

I can look at them in pride, and note the mistakes without knowing exactly how to cure them. Several years ago back in rural Hastings, I was shadowed constantly by a neighborhood girl before she was stricken by puberty, who had a saying I’ve used numerous times since: “Hey, John,” she’d say. “It’s good enough for chickens!”

From the vantage point of the deck I think my mother would be proud of how those new barn doors look, and of the various puzzling challenges that were overcome in the building. It wasn’t as adventuresome nor as dramatic as her  Trip of ‘39, but … as little Naomi would say … they’re “good enough for chickens!”


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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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