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Pennsylvania Amish Barn Raising, Day One

We are lucky to have several Amish families as friends. Sadie and Sam are
the parents of eleven children. The oldest three are boys. Two of the brothers have built a shared home. Shared in the Amish sense means, two houses connected but totally separate. Two kitchens, two living rooms, etc. It makes for a very large house.

One of the brothers is a dairy farmer. He needed a barn for his cows. In the Amish way, the neighbors, friends, men of his family, cousins, uncles, brothers, his father and father in-law worked together to raise the barn.

We were invited to watch. The work started in late November, at first light.
Not only were the men gathered but also Melvin’s Mother, wife, sisters, sister-in-law and Grandmother.

The men, each have a specialty. For some it is bringing the materials to the site, by hand. For others it is nailing the lumber and others still it is walking the beams into place.

To watch the men walk across open beams with lumber in their hands and no safety lines, is scary. They are able to walk the joists easily partly because they are accustomed to the work and partly because they have exceptional balance. Still it is scary. The sight of young men, straw hats rather than hard hats with their black pants tucked into work boots, was almost mythical.

Amish barn raisingThis barn is more than two stories tall. The first story went up quickly with long, straight boards. They had built scaffolding to be able to raise the second story.

As they completed one section, the scaffolding was disassembled and moved to another section.

For us, not accustomed to building and certainly not accustomed to watching a large barn go up in front of our eyes, it was amazing.

The women had been preparing the noon meal as the men worked. The women served black coffee during the morning, offering us coffee and pastries.

At noon the work stopped. The men washed up, pouring water from a bucket over their hands. They came inside, went downstairs to the basement. As they descended they formed a line according to age. A long held tradition of respect.

In the basement were long wooden tables. The same tables are used for the meals served after a Sunday service or a wedding dinner. All the important functions of a family’s life are held at home.

After lunch, the men returned to work.

Amish barnraisingWhat we have learned from the Amish is a real sense of family and community. They work together to complete any project.

Because they work generally for themselves they do not have to take “a day off” to help with such a project. They do choose the time of year when other important tasks such as cutting the hay or bringing in the crops are complete.

In a real sense the Amish don’t put a dollar value on their labor. For them the labor is a given. In such a system, a barn can be raised in a short time. The materials to complete the barn are not purchased on credit, so when the barn is complete so is their expense. It may have taken years to accumulate the required funds to build this barn.

Over a morning break, the Grandfather, who watched rather than worked, told us they would have insurance on the barn because of the expense to replace the barn if it burned to the ground. The Amish in past decades didn’t have insurance. Today, there are Amish owned insurance companies.

Their “Old Order ways” have been shaped by today’s economics, without changing their way of life.

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