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"I made all these great musicals with Judy Garland. It was all about me going
into a barn and sayin, ‘Let’s put on a show.’ That’s what me and Judy did."
- Mickey Rooney
No sooner had we bought our beautiful house in Appleton, Maine, some six years ago, when I began to dream about building a barn. After all, what’s a home in Maine without a barn?
"My dream is to have a creativity barn, in my backyard, which is full of musical instruments and every kind of paint and oils and paper, and you can just go in and make something."
- Allison Janney
Ann Marie and I have owned a few properties over our 35 years plus of marriage, but we’ve never even had a garage. I wasn’t even sure why I needed a barn - it just held me in its siren’s call with romantic and creative possibilities.
I dreamt and searched for barn plans for months. I printed pictures of barns and hand designed layouts and locations to place our barn on our Appleton property. Finally, three years ago, with the full support of my wife and with very little money, I secured a local barn builder from Massachusetts to realize my dream. We had the shed moved, permits approved, and the foundation poured by a local Maine contractor, Dan Ford. We had also purchased our house from Bob and Anne Ford, and you can see how God was humorously telling me it's okay with all these Ford’s involved, even though Ann Marie Ford was pragmatically reminding me that we really didn’t have the money to build.
Alas, the dream was too powerful to be constrained by practicality - I kept imagining Andrew Wyeth in the Olson’s barn painting his work entitled, “Hay Ledge”. I imagine James Taylor in his barn recording his latest hits. But, most importantly, I imagined spending hours in the barn with my grandchildren encouraging them to use their hands to work on some creative projects - to get messy and to explore the beauty of both Maine and their minds.
"I have a studio in a barn at home - we rehearse there, we film there, and we record there. It’s fun to hang out with my guys and see what comes out next."
My lumber was ordered and arrived on site some three years ago. My barn builder started the project only to get injured on one of his builds. My lumber then sat for a long time. I was nonplussed on what to do, although my dream had only solidified more than ever.
Ann Marie would save the day. She had been riding around taking pictures on Clarry Hill Road in Warren, when she happened upon some folks building a beautiful post and beam house. (I would later be gently edified that they were timber frame builders).
I immediately went to the site and amidst the flurry of activity I shouted up to the workers on the roof. I asked if I could speak with the foreman. Two fellows called down saying that I was speaking to them. One of them was a handsome younger man. He was both athletic and lean and reminded me of the famous long-distance runner from the 1970’s, Marty Liquori. He introduced himself as Michel Bunker, Co-owner of Heritage Timber Wrights (I would later learn that Michael
was also a long-distance runner).
Over the crest of the roof appeared an older, wizen
looking man with a full beard, glasses and wiry body. He reminded me of a civil war general ready for action. He introduced himself as Bob LeRoy.
I tried to briefly encapsulate my situation and was hoping they could give me some advice. Both men took the time out of their busy day to patiently listen to me, and they even told me that they would stop in at the end of the day to take a look at what I had. True to their word, around 5:30 in the evening, Bob pulled up. We talked for about a half hour as he assessed what I had for lumber. Thus, our relationship with Heritage Timber Wrights was born.
A couple of weeks ago after spending the winter getting prepped in their Searsport shop, my lumber was brought to our site. On delivery day we worked with Michael, Jesse, Charlotte, Jerri and Alessandro. They were professional, yet also very warm individuals.
Ann Marie and I immediately knew that this relationship was going to work.
This week we were very excited to have the crew arrive and to begin the process of
assembling their handiwork. We were equally excited as to how excited they were. Some hadn’t slept the night before thinking about all the little idiosyncrasies involved, and like children anticipating the excitement of Christmas morning. I love these types of people.
People that work because of the beauty and respect for the artwork, which in this case is timber framing. We’re lucky in life when our profession chooses us, not the other way around.
Bob took charge of the site and like a battle proven general watched over every aspect of the build and the safety of those under his command. Generally, quiet, I learned that he has had a storied career working in Montana, Wyoming, up-state New York, among other places. He even had an early career as a hockey player. His lean stature assuredly made him fast on the ice, but as he self-admitted, not too good at the rough and tumble checking style of the 1970’s. Bob is a self-made man and a person that knows how to lead and mentor people through example.
There were two women workers on site, Jerri, a tall, agile, and incredibly hard worker with a very noticeable sensitive and caring side. And, Charlotte the thinker.
Charlotte not only works on site, but she also helps in the design and development of construction plans. Her stature belies her enormous physical capabilities, and you can tell that both Jerri and Charlotte have earned the respect of Bob. To make matters even more sappy - they are both genuinely nice people. I am also pleased to imagine that these two women could capably pull off this build just by themselves.
Then there’s Jesse. Where do I begin? He is young, in his early 40’s, with a long scraggly Maine beard and a personality cross between philosopher and comedian. I joke to Bob that I would pay just to hear Jesse talk about life for hours at end. Jesse appears to be Bob’s right hand man, anticipating every next move with agility and tons of knowledge.
Bob tells me that Jesse has had other very successful careers, and when the time comes, he will feel the need to embark on some “new” creative venture. I only wish I could have been like Jesse when I was younger.
Alessandro may be the youngest of the crew and most likely the least experienced. What he may lack in the building experience he readily makes up for in the technical end of media production of the crew. While helping through the build, he is simultaneously taking photos, videos, running their drone and capturing the magic of a timber frame build. He also has a wonderful way of connecting with clients through his affable and warm demeanor.
Last on site, but certainly not least is, John. He is a big strapping six feet four inches. John easily and adeptly positions timbers, tools and his equally big personality, like a ballet dancer. Bob jokingly tells me they needed a “moose” on the job, that’s why they hired John. But John is far more than that, you can see that in the reluctant smile that he gave Ann Marie for a requested photograph at the end of the day. His graying beard and wry smile can’t hide the hardworking and sensitive heart within. I overhear him talking to his better half and says, “Not on the phone with all these guys around….. oh, okay, I love you, see you later”.
This crew creates art, but it also simultaneously creates memories and relationships. The only thing that will make this build better is if they randomly stop in and talk about whatever. That’s what building a barn does for people. It realizes dreams but also generates connections with people.
Anyway, the dream isn’t finished yet. And really, is it ever? Lately, I’ve been dreaming about donkeys in the barn and Charlotte said she’d design a small church for me, too. Just don’t tell Ann Marie about the donkeys - let me break that to her . Oh, by the way, I'm told that Bob IS smiling in this picture.
Don’t let a flattering woman coax and wheedle you and deceive you,
she is after your barn.
At the end of the day Bob gave Ann Marie and me two hats that display the Heritage Wright Builders logo. I’ll wear my hat as proudly as the police chief’s hat that I wore for twenty years.
After 31 years of teaching, I have decided to retire and start a new chapter of my life as a photographer. It has been my passion for about 7 years now.