I grew up on a dairy farm a little west of Sparta, Wisconsin – in fact, we’re located on part of that farm now.
My Dad was raised during the depression era and learned to save EVERYTHING because it could potentially have another use later. If there was a building on our farm that was no longer needed, we took it apart and re-used the wood in a fence or a new silo room or somewhere else. My siblings and I grew up with a pretty good work ethic on the farm. It seems like we were always busy doing something productive! Including… if it was a rainy day, Dad would have my brother and I sort through the nails we pulled from the recovered wood. We’d straighten some out by rolling them on a board and hitting them with a hammer on the bent parts until they were straight enough to use again! We’d sort them into coffee cans according to size. That’s how conservative my Dad was – or maybe that was just a good way to keep us busy and out of his hair!
Fast forward to many years later. My folks had sold the farm and retired, saving out an acre where they built a small ranch style home to retire in. Dad had passed away. LuAnn and I were living in South Dakota but Mom’s health was deteriorating and it was clear that she needed help so that she could stay in her home. We were super fortunate to purchase some land back from the family farm and built our house on the hill overlooking the farm and Mom’s home.
We left a large area above our garage for a future vacation rental apartment but hadn’t done anything with it, when shortly after the farm changed hands again, a large elm tree in the farmer’s yard blew over in a storm, damaging a 1907 granary the farmer didn’t intend to use. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could use some of the wood from that old building on our family farm in the apartment we planned to build above the garage?” The farmer agreed to allow us to do just that.
We were thrilled with the look of the old wood in the apartment as it took shape. We used the granary floor for our living room and bedroom floors. I used the siding to make bead board for the ceilings in two bedrooms and for wainscot on living room walls. Moldings around doors and base trim were also made from the siding. I used roofing boards (naily wood) to make shelves and benches, and 2x6’s from the wall studs to make the kitchen table, work desk and vanity tops. Guests who stayed in the apartment gave the “look” rave reviews! We were on to something!
We had leftover wood from the granary after completing the apartment so I listed it for sale and sold it to a wholesale buyer who would consolidate my wood with that of his own and from others to sell to a furniture builder. I deposited the check thinking, that maybe we could make some extra income taking apart old buildings and selling the wood.
Coincidentally, I started getting emails from a Colorado company called “Repurposed Materials” and liked their concept of acquiring from big manufacturers unwanted materials that could be repurposed as something else. Wide rubber belting could be used to line truck beds or as cushioning on the walls of horse stalls. Obsolete billboard vinyl’s could be used as tarps, gymnasium flooring could be used to make tabletops and benches, etc. Having that “use everything” background from life on the farm, I REALLY liked that out-of-the-box thinking – that if we could help people “repurpose” various things rather than throwing them away, it would be a fun exercise in creative thinking, and more importantly, would help keep good materials out of landfills or from otherwise being wasted!
Someone saw our story about using the granary wood for finish materials in our vacation rental apartment and called to tell me they also had a granary that needed removed. Were we interested? Yes we were! We tore that down and sold the wood. Our neighbors who have an excavating business caught wind of what we were doing and told a landowner that wanted a building removed that he should call us. We tore that building down and sold the wood.
And that’s how it all began!
With an eye for turning this into a business I flew to Seattle to attend a conference of the Building Material Reuse Association and learned how larger, more metropolitan areas were promoting the concept of deconstruction of their unwanted houses to keep useful materials out of the landfill and instead, putting them back into circulation.
I came back from that conference, determined to learn how to take apart a house. Our first house was a rambling two-story farmhouse that needed removed to make way for a commercial venture near West Salem. It took us several months to do it but we learned a lot! Our first large barn took way too long, as well. We climbed on the roof with fall protection equipment and took it apart from the top down. The next one had a rotting roof and we decided we needed to find a better way to deconstruct it than working at heights. We invited an experienced deconstructor to visit some of our potential sites with us to give us some pointers. Over time, we modified his techniques and developed our own. Likewise, we found better and safer ways to deconstruct houses.
At some point, with an accumulation of materials the wholesale buyers weren’t interested in, we began seeking new markets for, and more uses for the less commonly sought after materials. An Amish furniture builder visited us in search of materials and we developed a rapport. After visiting his shop and seeing the high quality of his workmanship, we asked if we could represent him online and to our growing customer base. From that connection we began speaking with other Amish craftsmen about making flooring from some of our reclaimed wood. Our conversations led to one man making the decision to install a sawmill exclusively to re-saw barn beams, and another man who had a molder for producing flooring from new wood, to consider producing flooring from reclaimed wood, as well.
As our business expanded, continuing conversations lead to development of techniques to produce additional products, including our ½” thick tongue & groove options for wall and ceiling treatments. Another Amish connection is our source for rough sawn wood and another makes shiplap for us from new pine.
Over the years since officially starting our business in May of 2013, we’ve grown to provide jobs for up to 10 full or part time staff at a time, and have saved hundreds of tons of wood and other materials from being wasted.
Lu and I often talk about how fortunate we have been to find a business we love and believe in, and to have the opportunity to meet and support the hundreds of like-minded people who have become our customers and friends.