A Barn Raising

I’ve never actually been to a barn raising. But what we did down in Haiti has to rank as being “pretty close.” We helped repair a church that had been damaged in the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010. The front of the church had fallen, as well as the parsonage in the back of the church had sustained some damage. So they took the opportunity to extend the front of the church about 20′ to accommodate the expected influx of new attenders after the earthquake.

We were only a link in a chain you see, the teams that were there before us cleared the rubble, extended the walls, put up new columns to support the new roof trusses and started on the new front of the church. They had even done all the engineering and built the trusses (out of steel!) to fit the new part of the church building. All that was done before we ever even got there. So, when we arrived, we were presented with the pieces of the trusses, two halves for each truss, and we were told to weld them together and put them up.

It took roughly 4 days of hard work to get the truss halves welded together, painted, and blocks attached for the attachment of the purlins. We spent the better part of a day figuring how to space the purlins as the sheets of roofing tin we were to use were 12′ long, and the existing roof had 6′ long pieces. This was not really a problem, we just had a difficult time thinking and figuring in the heat down there in Haiti, while sweating gallons and working our tails off every day!

We did eventually figure the spacing for the purlins, and we attached blocks on the trusses (on the rafter surface if you will) so that after the steel trusses were in place, it would be a 1-2-3 operation to lift the purlins up and attach those as well. We were a bit set back also by the notion of “Haitian tolerances” however. In carpentry, in mechanics in general, there are tolerances for various levels of precision, and then, apparently, there are Haitian tolerances. We began to let some slack be OK in our work, as the notions of “tolerance” and “square” in Haitian carpentry are very liberal.

The Haitian people you see, are mostly illiterate, and that means they cannot do numbers either. It was amazing to watch them work with nothing more sophisticated than a level and a plumb, and they built these beautiful structures. They did occasionally use a tape measure to mark distances, but that didn’t help with squareness of anything it would seem. Anyhow, we learned to allow that little bit of slack in our own work, and that we could “fudge” things and still be perfectly fine because “This is Haiti man.”

We assembled and painted the trusses, and then worked a bit on the top of the posts to insure that we’d be able to set the trusses right where we wanted them and would be able to quickly attach them, anchor them in some fashion after we raised them into place. The thing you have to remember here is that we did have power tools and welding equipment, but we had nothing in the way of lifts and such. We had ladders, and we had scaffolds, other than that we had plenty of hands. So, we decided we’d have to do this thing the old-fashioned way – with a good old “Barn Raising.” It’s just that in our case, we were raising trusses and setting them in place. But, I guess every barn has a roof, so we were doing one part of the overall barn raising process.

We got everything as prepared as we could, and we built a model of our idea so that we could show, and hopefully teach all the Haitians who were working with us what we wanted to do. Remember now, there were about 8 of us on our team there, and roughly 24 Haitians, we did this using the “All hands” approach as we needed the widest margin for safety we reasoned. We went through the model approach with everyone, showing them how we would lift the trusses, already erect, into place and do one side at a time. We had to move the scaffolds in between each “placement” because we were maneuvering inside the church and there wasn’t physically enough space to have everything turned perpendicular all at once, until we got one end up and over the wall and on top of its post.

So, at the last minute we decided we’d tie ropes onto the “top” (apex) of the trusses just in case they got “wobbly” or something. We really had no idea what to expect, as we would be carrying these 550 lb structures by hand from underneath. We felt that we had plenty of bodies for the safety we needed though, so with everyone informed of what we were going to do we commenced lifting the first truss to put it in place. After we got it positioned near the first post, several of us positioned a scaffold and got up there to receive the truss that the others would lift to us from below.

Everything went fine up to there. As soon as they started lifting one end of the truss higher than the other, the truss started to topple one direction – it was no longer stable. Good thing those ropes were there, eh? About 3 guys on each side jumped off the truss and grabbed the ropes and steadied it as the one end was raised up to us on the scaffold. From there, it was not too difficult, grunt labor lifting it over our heads to get the end of the truss onto the post on the wall. Then we moved the scaffolds under the post on the opposite wall and lifted that end into place.

Now, we were “experts” and knew what to expect, and probably got the 2nd truss up there in 1/2 the time. Next, after both trusses were in place, we put a couple purlins up there to steady them, dropped a plumb from the top of each truss for leveling, and then we “eyeballed” the centerline to make both trusses match the existing centerline of the church. Finally we attached a couple purlins to each truss, and used temporary (wooden) purlins to attach the new trusses to the existing roof. The trusses on the existing roof were all wooden, and our “joiner” purlins that attached the new to the old were wooden as well.

The most amazing thing of all was the amount of time it took to accomplish the entire “Barn raising:” 1 hour, 35 minutes. I kid you not! I took pictures of the trusses sitting on the ground ready to be raised, and then 1 hour and 35 minutes later they were in place and I have the picture time-stamped to prove it! Utterly astounding! It just goes to show you that modern machinery may be more “efficient” at getting the job done with fewer hands, but you can do things quickly and safely with plenty of bodies there to help, if you do it the old-fashioned way.

You can see the progression on the church at Greffin if you like. I have uploaded all my pictures:


By the time our team left Haiti we had only started adding the roofing tin to the roof of the church. We did not finish, but we got a good start on it. It has since been completed, and they are completing a school and a house that we built down there for 6 families. We all of us hope to return and do more work to help the Haitian people and our church down there. It’s a long road to recovery following a devastating earthquake such as they experienced. We need to keep our dedication to them in order that our brothers and sisters down there may know Jesus, and His glory. We work for You Lord!


One thought on “A Barn Raising

  1. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


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