Retirement years spent restoring rural past

2013-05-23T08:00:00Z Retirement years spent restoring rural pastBy Zoe Martin Iowa Farmer Today Iowa Farmer Today
May 23, 2013 8:00 am  • 

NEW HARTFORD — Lois Stork finally has time to go back in time.

She’s spending her retirement after 30 years as a dairy farmer rehabilitating a one-room schoolhouse, 142-year-old chapel and various farm buildings on her Grundy County property.

“It’s a shame — you see so many acreages now, that’s the first thing they do is go and take the trees and all the buildings down,” Stork said.

Stork started saving some of these doomed buildings years ago by making calls and making deals. She bought the old Fairfield Township schoolhouse for $500 and relocated it to her property southwest of here.

Fixing and filling it with found desks and old maps has been a labor of love over the past five years or so. But, she didn’t stop there with the hobby.

“I’ve been a single parent for 30 years, and we milked and farrowed so there was no time for hobbies except work. Now, it’s like I’m just going crazy,” Stork joked.

Projects dot her property, and each of the old livestock buildings is undergoing a makeover.

“The barn where we used to milk, I’ve turned it into a kind of museum,” she said.

“I wanted to leave it so when the grandkids come, we can still put a pail of water down, put the milkers in and it will circulate.”

Her goal is to preserve the lifestyle and old equipment for future generations and also to have some fun. The 75-year-old barn and corn crib provide spaces for her hobbies, creating floral displays and collecting knick knacks.

“Since I’m not farming anymore, I can enjoy the buildings and put them to use,” Stork said. “It’s a fun place to go, and there’s no mess in my house anymore.”

Surveying the latest project, craft rooms in the loft of the corn crib, Stork was delighted with the transformation.

“It’s nice to come down here and not have to work,” she joked. “Especially when it was snowing and icy, way below zero.”

The projects start with the idea of turning the space into something usable for humans, as opposed to dairy cows. She talks to carpenters about what she’d like to see, and they compare notes.

“Sometimes they use my ideas, sometimes I use theirs,” she said. “I don’t really have a plan. Somehow it comes together.”

In the corn crib, they boarded up the open sides Stork had used as calf pens, built stairs and two floors into the high peaked roof, one level for Stork’s floral projects and a kid-sized play area at the top.

Stork said it was a fairly quick and inexpensive upgrade to a building that had gone mostly unused for 30 years.

Upgrades to the dairy barn involved replacing ladders with staircases and installing new windows.

“I advertised for some windows and a guy brought me a whole trailer full of them for free, and they were in awesome shape,” Stork said.

That method helped her find hidden treasures and keep costs down.

“If you just decided I’m going to do this and I want it done as fast as possible, you’d bankrupt yourself,” Stork said.

“People find stuff and give it to you because they want it preserved,” she said.

“They always tell you something you didn’t know, something that your parents — or their parents — did. It’s a nice exchange of information.”

While re-doing the floor of a 100-year-old farmhouse Stork moved to her property, she discovered a grocery ad from 1913. She took it to Fareway and joked with them about matching the prices.

Her builders also found D17 Allis Chalmers tractor parts while working on the buildings and installed them on her barn wall as a display shelf for crafts.

Stork’s first lesson for renovation: “The main thing is to get roofs on everything first, otherwise it’s a lost cause.”

She’s also faced remodeling disasters, moving heaven and earth to preserve the old Fairfield Township chapel. A carpenter tried stripping it and rebuilding on her property, but the building fell apart.

“We had to replace the floor, the ceiling all fell down, the steeple fell off,” she said.

It lost its original arched roof, though she was able to preserve the pews, organ, altar and other furnishings.

It’s a never-ending hobby, and Stork keeps adding projects or making adjustments to the current buildings. Still, she’s happy with the activity.

“It isn’t something you get done in even six months, but it’s just so rewarding,” she said.

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