Razing a barn, raising a teepee

PALMER – When Leonard Olson’s barn was blown over by strong winds during a storm last month, he was wondering what he should do about the structure.

Olson, of Palmer, said the barn hadn’t been used for anything in years because it had been leaning, and he was mostly just harvesting the wood from the structure to use for the future.

But after talking to his cousin, he decided to gather his family together and have what he referred to as a “barn razing.”

“There are barn raisings, but you’ve never heard of a barn razing before,” Olson said.

About 40 members of Olson’s family showed up to the farm on Sunday with hammers and gloves, prepared to take down the barn one piece of wood at a time.

Olson said he uses the wood to make signs.

“I airbrush them and I use a router,” he said. “They’re made with actual barnwood, and they’re priceless. There’s no end to the creativity.”

Some of Olson’s signs were given to family members as door prizes.

Olson said it was nice seeing family again.

“We don’t get together anymore,” he said. “We usually just get together for funerals.”

Dave Hammer, of Pocahontas, is one of Olson’s relatives.

“Leonard has done good turns to me,” he said. “I’m just here returning the favor.”

Mike Zahm, of Fort Dodge, also came to Palmer to help with the barn razing.

“It’s just old-timey fun,” Zahm said. “It certainly is fun here.”

His wife, Patty Zahm, agreed.

“There’s a million jobs and a lot to do here,” she said. “It’s a multi-generational event.”

Even the children, including Brock Hessenius, 8, of LeMars, wanted to help out.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said as he walked up to the barn with a hammer in his hand.

He decided to join several other children and making sure all the loose nails had been put safely away.

“This is easy peasy!” he said as he worked.

While several family members were working on razing the barn, others were on the other side of the property to help construct a teepee.

Olson said the teepee is part of a plan he has to open up his property to the public.

“My plan is to rent it out to people as a teepee timeshare,” Olson said. “My vision is to let them rent the whole place and have some solitude. You can’t buy that.”

He’s also fixing up the house on the Palmer property and plans to turn it into a “lifelong learning center.”

“I’ve become enamored with what people have done to the Native Americans,” Olson said, and he wants to help educate people on that part of American history.

One of his goals is to use modern technology to educate children.

“You see the kids today with all their technology,” he said. “We’ll be feeding them knowledge through that. We’ll trick them into learning.”

The teepee was built by Dick Bennett, of Marathon, who said he used 90-year-old Balsam wood for the structure.

“It can be used for a Christmas tree and it’s up by Canada,” he said. “I drove nine hours up there and nine hours back for it.”

Bennett said the bark needs to be removed and the undercoat needs to be smoothed before it can be used to build a teepee.

The skin of the teepee is wrapped around the structure.

“If there’s a problem, we’ll pull it down and redo it,” Bennett said.

Fortunately there were no problems Sunday and the skin was able to be attached without having to redo the structure.

“Eventually there will be rope beds similar to pioneer beds,” he said. “They’re actually really comfortable.”

If properly maintained, Bennett said a teepee can last 15 years and can sustain winds of up to 100 miles per hour.