Your Dilapidated Barn Is Super Trendy. Just Ask HGTV : The Salt Small firms are popping up in the rural Midwest that buy old barns to feed remodelers' demand for weathered wood. As more historic barns come down, is the iconic American rural landscape fading away?
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Your Dilapidated Barn Is Super Trendy. Just Ask HGTV

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Your Dilapidated Barn Is Super Trendy. Just Ask HGTV

Your Dilapidated Barn Is Super Trendy. Just Ask HGTV

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Reclaimed barnwood - it's big these days. The business of deconstructing old barns and selling the wood for fancy, new homes and condos is booming. Kristofor Husted, of member station KBIA in Missouri, reports that trend has a secondary effect.

KRISTOFOR HUSTED, BYLINE: Drive anywhere out in the country, and you're likely to see lots of old, wooden barns, empty and crumbling in place. For most farmers, these barns have lost their function. But for contractors and designers, there is some stuff worth salvaging. Old barnwood is so hot right now that it has its own show.

MARK BOWE: My name is Mark Bowe. And I'm the host of the DIY show "Barnwood Builders."

HUSTED: Bowe takes old barns apart for customers willing to pay top dollar for the wood, turning barn siding into brewery bars or restaurant tables.

BOWE: Most people want the accent pieces, you know? They want to have those pretty beams in the ceiling or they want to have, you know, the barnwood walls or the tables and the furniture.

HUSTED: Bowe says we're in the midst of a barnwood frenzy right now, but it can't go on forever. And every barn that's torn down, changes America's farm landscape. Danae Peckler is an architectural historian with the National Barn Alliance. She says these barns tell stories.

DANAE PECKLER: Preservation, in the past, has really sought to preserve the great, grand mansions of important white men. But we are so far beyond that, now, as a discipline. And we start to look at average, individual landscapes that really tell the American story, and the farm is one of those.

HUSTED: Peckler hopes people at least take time to document their barn's history before razing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) It's a beautiful morning.

HUSTED: Workers are taking down Larry Gerdes' barn today in central Missouri. It's about the size of a three-car garage, but stands much taller. Its exterior is gray, and there's a gaping hole looking out from the hayloft. Gerdes figures the barn is about a century old and would cost him tens of thousands of dollars to fix up.

LARRY GERDES: It doesn't fit into the modern farming, unless you got two cows to let them loaf inside. Nothing fits, and it's just obsolete.

HUSTED: So Gerdes hired Mike Hudson who deconstructs dilapidated barns for a living and sells the salvage to homeowners. And while he's taking down the Gerdes barn for free today, he sometimes has to pay for the privilege.

MIKE HUDSON: These were built with a lot of two-by-sixes, a lot of two-by-fours. Everything is rough sawn for the roof, truss. And that all looks to be oak.

HUSTED: Hudson says it costs him about $500 a day to pull apart a barn by hand using nothing but hammers and crowbars. Even this small barn will take two weeks. He'll sell the wood for between five to $10 a square foot, depending on species, size and condition - black walnut fetches the highest price. Once the wood is sold, Hudson might earn a few thousand dollars profit. He says he respects the craft and history of old barns. And he takes pains to photograph each one.

HUDSON: That's the thing that we take into consideration when we come in because we're just as passionate about bringing it down properly, respectfully, as the pioneers were back then to build it.

HUSTED: Hudson says only a few years ago, most farmers didn't understand the value of their own barns. Today, they know the dilapidated structure taking up space on their farm is worth something to people who cherish old wood and want a piece of Americana. For NPR News, I'm Kristofor Husted in Columbia, Mo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: And that story comes to us from Harvest Public Media, a public radio reporting project that focuses on agriculture and food production issues.

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