LOGAN COUNTY, Okla. — A curiosity rises amid the wheat fields along rural Highway 33, which cuts through the town of Guthrie.
It’s an immense, circular building — about 15,000 square feet inside — with a domed roof topped by an ornate cupola and a copper eagle. Standing at 72 feet, it is visible for miles on the flat Oklahoma expanse.
Jay Branson is building it in his backyard. He calls it his round barn, but it’s more of a prairie cathedral.
He has been working on it for seven years. As he builds, strangers come. They pull off the highway, haul up his long driveway and stare.
Some, overcome by the beauty, have wept upon seeing the inside of the dome, with its ascending rings of interlocking diamonds and octagons that Jay cut by hand from poplar wood.
At the top is an oculus, a round opening in the roof, like in the Pantheon in Rome. When sunlight streams in, the effect is downright heavenly.
BY HAILEY BRANSON-POTTS | STAFF WRITER
MARCH 9, 2023
Sent us by Maui Surfer
We moved to western North Carolina in 1974 and I probably started thinking about making a good barn early on. It finally happened in 1988, so there was 14 years of dreaming, planning, research, consulting, etc. The foundation and ground floor was made my myself and the Country Workshops summer intern, plus two roughneck professional block layers. For economy the blocks are factory seconds that I hauled from Asheville. The decking is rough-sawn oak, designed to take the heaviest truck that might possibly go into the second level loft.
I designed the timber frame, which was based on two earlier (and less ambitious) projects. One design feature is that intersecting beams enter the posts at alternate levels. There’s not problem of having too many mortises wanting to occupy the same space. We also used through tenons that are secured with wedges on the exit side of the joints. Scarf joints for the long roofing plates are secured with vertical bolts and nuts. Purloins and rafters are located using long spikes. I became a believer in using some steel fastenings after studying timber framing in the Swiss Alps.
The ground level has a central area and stalls for cows and horses. Plus a small milking area and a tack room. The upper drive-in level can store up to 1,000 standard hay bales and a tractor. There’s rudimentary wiring in steel conduit. No plumbing. Over the years a few windows have been added to the upper level.
The red oak timbers came from the same sawmill that supplied the flooring system. The actual frame was cut during a Country Workshops timber framing class which was taught by Daniel O’Hagan. The actual raising was supervised by a professional builder, John Koenig of Upper Loft Design (in northern Georgia). There were about 10 people in the class, but about 20 people here for the raising. More people made for a fun raising party, but also much more supervision for both safety and getting the task done.
23 years later. The only changes I would make would be somewhat larger roof overhangs for eaves and gables. But it’s OK as is.
The class also used a chainsaw mortiser and the big 16-inch Makita circular saws for cutting tenons.
The block work and oak floor was finished before the class. That’s our 1988 summer intern Peter Follansbee, who is now an authority (and expert) in joined 17th century joined and chip-carved oak furniture. No more mixing concrete!
The bents were pre-assembled on the safe, flat deck. The first bent goes up! For this project we bought turned oak pegs.
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Note the way the dormer roofs are on the same plane as the top of the gambrel roof.
I shot these photos in 2014, when the barn was still under construction. The owners were publicity-shy, and I agreed not to use their names, or give the location.
As I go though my digital photos (200,000+) — usually looking for something to do with the Rolling Homes book I’m working on — I run across photos and grab them to post here. As I said in an earlier post, this was on a trip to Vancouver Island in 2017.
I really like the gambrel roof, where you take the gable shape, and push it up to get more headroom in the 2nd story. Big, spacious dormer nice for 2nd story.
Though it looks like it’s not being used (and there’s krappy shed attached on the left side), they’ve put a new roof on it.
There’s a lot to learn about building framing from farm buildings. Like the gussets here; attach them with construction screws and you’ve got simple, cheap connectors.
Curved-roof barn in Willamette Valley, Oregon. What’s unique here is that the rafters are made of sandwiched-together 1 by 12s. There are similar barns in the neighborhood.
I’m delving around in the photo files from our book Home Work, published in 2004. This is the so-called round barn, built by cattleman Peter French and what is now the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon. In 1872, French set out for Oregon from Sacramento, California with 1200 head of select shorthorn cattle, six Mexican vaqueros, and a Chinese cook. He drove the cattle across the Sacramento River and then then northward up into Eastern Oregon, where he settled on the west side of Steens Mountain. Over the years, his ranching Empire grew to encompass 200,000 acres and 45,000 head of cattle, one of the largest cattle empires west of the Rockies.
In the late ’70s or early ’80s, French built three round barns for breaking horses in the winter months. This one is 100 feet in diameter, the conical roof framed with a 35-foot center pole of Juniper (about 40 inches at the bottom, tapering to maybe 28 inches at the top), 14 surrounding Juniper posts and then a third wall of posts at the perimeter about 8 feet high. It’s a breathtaking building; I spent a couple of hours there in Spring, 2003, shooting photos.
It’s a great story, with 7 more photos, told on pages 206 to 207 of Home Work.
Last month, we received this letter:
I wanted to follow up on the email I wrote earlier this week about Luke Larson, a talented historic timber framer.
Luke is currently restoring a corn crib (and several other barns built in the 1700s.) I am sure that your readers would be fascinated by Luke’s outstanding craftsmanship. He would be able to share incredible insight about his techniques, the buildings he saves and the beautiful new timber frame structures he builds.
Let me know if you would be interested in an article.
Here is the article:
Green Mountain Timber Frames, a small company based in Middletown Springs, Vermont, specializes in transforming vintage, hand hewn timber frames into custom homes, studios, additions, and barns. Luke Larson now owns the company and operates it with a dedicated staff of craftspeople and history buffs. Luke is passionate about preserving the history that resides in old timber frame structures, and digs into the generations of folks who have built, cared for, and used these buildings. The structures undergo a complete restoration and are put back up on new foundations, ready to stand tall and true with integrity for many generations to come. Luke and his team are dedicated to preserving the craftsmanship from the past, as well as being students and teachers of the crafts of yesteryear. Take a look to see his current barns for sale.