November 2017
Howle's Hints

Barns are Noble

"I was so naïve as a kid, I used to sneak behind the barn and do nothing." ~ Johnny Carson


This barn was designed to house mules on the lower level and hay and other feed in the loft. There is a creek directly to the right of the barn to provide easy watering for the livestock.

Barns have been around as long as farming has been an occupation in America. George Washington built an elaborate round barn where horses would run around the perimeter of the slatted floor in the upper level beating wheat seeds off the stalks to fall through wooden slats to the basement level to later be gathered for separating the seed from the chaff. This barn stands today at Washington’s farm in Mount Vernon.

Thomas Jefferson recognized the importance of barns as he saw our new country as a "nation dependent on citizen farmers for its stability and its freedom." Early barns on homesteads were designed to house the family’s milk cow and feed. It is sad to see many of the old-style barns of Alabama falling into disrepair. The few we see remaining, however, tell a descriptive story of the farmers who built and used them.

All of these barns were built with a specific purpose in mind and many barns were even considered more important than the family dwelling. One thing many of the older barns of Alabama had in common was being built near a water source. This made common sense for watering the livestock in the barn, whether it was a couple of family mules or the milk cow.

Hay and tobacco barns would often be built on higher elevations with plenty of sunlight. Finally, the traditional X we see on some of the old barn doors wasn’t for fashion, it was for function. This cross-bracing on the door helped prevent sagging and made the door itself stronger.

This is a roadside view of our old log barn before the roof was replaced.


In Alabama, if you go down any rural road, you’ll see the remains of old barns withering in our humid atmosphere. Most of the barns in Alabama were designed with a loft for storing hay or other feeds and a bottom level for housing livestock. I’ve seen quite a few barns cut into a hill where the farmer could unload hay or other feed directly into the top level by backing a wagon directly up to the door of the hay loft; the livestock would be on the lower level and enter from the downhill, slope side.

Today’s barn design depends on the individual. They may be equipment barns with welding equipment, tools and machinery or they may be simple structures designed to hold hay and other livestock feed. It would be great to see a few modern barns built to house the family milk cow and a couple of mules for plowing.


My ancestors in this picture had their family photograph taken 100 years ago in front of their log barn.

On our family farm, we have a log barn built over 100 years ago. To preserve the log sides, we replaced the tin on top and put in trusses to support the roof that was about to collapse. My ancestors were so proud of the barn that they had their family portrait taken in front of it instead of the house.

Right the Sight

November is here and firearm deer season is getting underway. One of the most frustrating things that can happen during a deer hunt is to have a trophy buck walk into range only to miss the shot on that one chance. It is possible that adrenaline caused you to miss the shot, but it’s also likely the gun scope is off.

The easiest way to sight in the rifle and not waste a ton of bullets is to set the target at 25 yards. This close distance allows you to roughly sight in your rifle in six shots. With your gun in a shooting vise to prevent any bobbling or movement, fire at the 25-yard target three times taking careful aim each time. With a sharpie, circle the three shots and put a large dot in the center of the three shots.

While the gun is still secure in the vise, adjust your windage and elevation until the crosshairs are on the dot in the center of the first, three shot group. Finally, fire three more rounds and, at this point, your rifle scope should be roughly sighted in for that trophy buck this fall.


Winter Prep

November gives us a clue that cold weather, even in Alabama, is around the corner and many things can freeze up. Here’s a general checklist:

  1. Make sure all fluids are out of herbicide and pesticide sprayers. The water in the hoses and wands can freeze and burst, ruining expensive equipment.

  2. Put some petroleum jelly in outdoor padlocks used to secure gates or barn doors. Moisture can freeze the locking mechanisms, but a little grease will prevent freezing.

  3. Make sure tractor tires have plenty of nonfreezing ballast inside them. The ballast prevents freezing and gives additional traction and stability on muddy or rough terrain.

  4. Make sure all exposed water lines around the farm are protected with insulation and a heat source to prevent freezing.

  5. Don’t forget to take care of your barn. November is a great time to fix any leaks and replace any rotten areas or rusted tin so your livestock and hay will stay dry and warm this winter.

This November, as you are traveling the roads of Alabama, take a long look at some of the old barns. See if you can decipher some of the stories they have to tell of Alabama’s rich, barn history.


John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.