BEEBEETOWN, Iowa — For years, Shirley Finken looked up the hill to the barn built by her husband's family in the 1920s.
Once a majestic sight, the two-story structure had fallen into disrepair. It was full of old junk tires and rusting farm equipment, instead of the cattle that were kept there decades earlier.
There were holes in the roof. Rotting wood in the walls. The paint that once covered its sides had flaked away. All the windows were broken.
The old barn had deteriorated into such an eyesore that it needed to be demolished or fixed.
“We just kept looking up here and decided it was too good of a building to let fall,” said Finken.
Shirley and her husband, Lynn Finken, began restoring the barn just east of Beebeetown nine years ago, devoting their own time and money to the effort.
This weekend, they will show the barn to visitors during the Iowa Barn Foundation's annual self-guided tour.
Statewide, about 90 barns are featured. Nearly a third are in western Iowa. There are round barns and rectangular barns. Red barns and white barns. Wooden barns and barns made of limestone.
The barns have histories. Harry Linn, Iowa's secretary of agriculture in the 1940s, gave draft horse demonstrations at the Conover barn near Holstein. Farceur, a noted Belgian draft horse and service stud, was buried standing up beneath the small white barn on Oakdale Farm near Ogden.
The Iowa Barn Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Iowa's barns. It has provided funding to restore most of the barns on the tour, including the Finkens'.
The Finken barn is about 30 miles northeast of Omaha.
Those who stop at the Finken barn will be greeted by Shirley, 84, and Lynn, 90, offered cookies and coffee, and get the lowdown on the barn's history and the couple's efforts to restore it.
They will see bags that were once full of feed now draped over the side of wooden feed bins, held in place by giant pulley hooks. A vintage green wagon full of corn and gourds. A swept concrete floor with the base of the stanchions where Lynn fed cattle as a boy.
There is a small room labeled with the sign “Ben's Milk Room” that was used by Lynn's father.
Lynn's parents, Ben and Mabel, had the barn built in 1927. Lynn was 4 years old at the time.
“It was quite a feat to put the rafters up,” said Lynn. They used horses and a gin pole — which employed pulleys.
Lynn remembers that the barn housed 18 cows and eight horses.
Lynn left the farm in the early 1940s to join the Army, serving in the Pacific in World War II. After the war, he married Shirley and returned to the area.
Lynn's brother, Verne, once lived in the home near the barn. After he died, Lynn and Shirley restored the house, then turned their attention to the barn.
The two-year effort began in 2004. The cupola was repaired, repainted and re-stenciled. Much of the barn's siding was replaced, and all of it was repainted. The roof was replaced.
While its condition has been vastly improved, the restoration is not complete. Out of sight of visitors, the second floor remains mostly untouched.
“You have to draw a line, work-wise and financially,” said Harold Bertelsen, 63, a carpenter who helped with the restoration and now rents the home. “We didn't try to make it new. We just tried to make it in its original look.”
The Finkens won't say how much the work cost. But a $10,000 donation from the Iowa Barn Foundation helped make it possible.
“That was the only reason we'd do it,” said Lynn.
Jacqueline Schmeal is president of the foundation, which formed in 1997.
“Some of us with Iowa roots saw that barns were disappearing right before us, and no one was really doing anything,” said Schmeal, who grew up in Iowa but now lives in Houston. She is the daughter of Floyd Andre, former dean of agriculture at Iowa State University.
When newcomers homesteaded land in Iowa, oftentimes they built the barn before the house, Schmeal said.
“(Barns) were important because this is how people were going to make their livelihood,” she said. “They needed a place to shelter the animals or store the corn.”
Barns are less important these days because there are fewer traditional farms as technology has changed and agriculture has become more corporate. Cattle are fattened in feedlots. Hogs are raised in confinement centers. Corn is hauled to the co-op.
“Barns just aren't needed like they were,” said Schmeal, whose family still owns a farm in Story County.
But they remain a cultural touchstone in the state and should be preserved, she said.
“It is just part of Iowa,” Schmeal said. “If that is all gone and there are no barns, imagine how things will look.”
Many Nebraskans go on the barn tour, Schmeal said. She also is contacted about four times per year by Nebraskans seeking advice on restoring their barns. No similar organization exists in Nebraska, or anywhere else as far as she knows.
Restoration can be pricey. Schmeal cites an ongoing restoration in southeast Iowa that will cost $80,000, including some Barn Foundation money.
And keeping the barns in good condition isn't easy, even after they have been restored.
Maintenance costs remain for the Finken barn. The building still needs to be repainted occasionally, and the wood has to be conditioned. And one day the roof will have to be replaced again.
For the time being, the Finkens are happy to show off the results of their labors.
“I guess we just take pleasure in showing the barn,” Shirley said. “You get to meet so many nice people.”