My great-grandfather painted two and three story barns and built furniture to recover after the Great Depression, and World War II. He used “Barn Red” thick, smelly oil-based paint and large, cumbersome brushes.
He worked from heavy, hand-made wooden ladders, and self-made plank scaffolding. According to a family biography, it took over a week to paint one barn.
Starting after the Korean War, my other great-grandfather turned over the painting of his three massive barns to a group of young Amish – that “moved like lightning.” They used the “Barn Red” paint.
They worked from heavy wood planks hung by ropes and pulleys from the roof’s edge. Also, they worked from 12-foot wooden stepladders, placed on the flatbeds of hay wagons.
My grandfather repaired tires, tuned pianos, and tested soil for the State of Indiana to supplement the farm income during lean, low-yield years in the 1940s. Also, he painted large two and three story barns. Many had attached “worksheds.”
He used an upgraded “Barn Red” oil-based paint. He stood on three or four sectioned, wooden extension ladders. Sometimes, he rigged his own scaffolding: 12-foot stepladders, 18 to 24 foot extension ladders, wide wooden planks.
He operated a “weighted down spray gun, that clogged up and stuck half the time.” He said it had to be flushed out and cleaned every two hours. “If I was lucky,” he told me. “That’s why I invested in a second one.” Hundreds of feet of gray or red rubber hose trailed from the spray gun, down to the tank compressor/engine on the ground.
My grandfather said that it took him two days to spray out one large, three-story barn. It took an additional day to trim out the structure, using a three or four-inch brush. “That’s from dawn-to-dark…with fifteen minutes on the ground eating the lunch your grandma packed me…”
My father painted groupings of wood or steel barns and other outbuildings on large commercial farms. He applied top-quality “Barn red” or white semi-gloss epoxy – or a special metal paint.
He used one or more of over a dozen precision spray gun systems that he owned outright. He used two-inch to six-inch wide brushes, and four-inch to 12-inch rollers. He maneuvered around on industrial pipe scaffolding systems, or inside hydraulic lift bucket and spider systems.
Also, he used six-foot to 24-foot wood and aluminum ladder systems.
On the average, it took him two days to spray out two huge barns. Usually, it took two more days to paint the trim and frames, using brushes and rollers.
I helped my father paint a few huge steel buildings. Each of us used a state-of-the-art airless spray system, with an adjustable nozzle, to apply two coats of special metal coating.
Each spray system was powered by a variable speed compressor, that could be controlled from a custom button, built into the spray gun’s handle. (For more about airless spraying, read the January 2015 blog: “Painting It: The Advantages of Airless Spray Systems.”)
We used brushes, with 2 to 6-inch wide bristles, to cut-in corners and edges. Both brushes and rollers were used to paint trim, window and door frames, gutters, soffetts, etc. We worked from industrial steel scaffolding, erected by hand.
Florida does not have many big barns left. In 2012, however, barns owned by a fourth-generation ranch family, in northwest Florida, needed extensive repairs and repainting. A team of carpenters and masons repaired the structures, inside and out.
A crew of four, including the rancher’s two sons, sprayed out the barns with white high gloss, weather-resistant exterior paint. They worked from rented hydraulic snorkel lifts.
It took two days to spray out the three barns, each two stories in height, and over 500 feet in length. It took another two days to spray, brush and roll out the trim, frames, gutter systems, etcetera in the same custom forest green used throughout the large property, and in the ranch’s logo.
Today, the outside of a barn is reasonably easy to paint or finish. “Barn Red” and “Barn White” paints are still around. Also popular are heavy-duty coatings, in a spectrum of colors: rusts, greens, blues, tans; even eye-catchers such as yellow, orange, purple, pink. Special exterior wood stains and clear coats are used, too.
Barn painting/finishing products are formulated to spray on easily, with minimal hassle. They’re much safer and much more durable than ever.
Spray system equipment is well-made, very adjustable, easy to operate, and reasonably simple to clean and maintain. Scaffolding and hydraulic lift and scissor systems come in different sizes, appropriate to the size of the job – and the site. (Check out Kropp Equipment, www.kropp.com.)
One thing remains the same: Barn painting is a specialty. It’s a unique craft in its own way. It’s suited to a special breed of exterior painters that carry a special respect and nostalgic fondness for those huge structures. All of them utilitarian in design, and purpose.
Built to serve, built to last!
Is a big, old “RED BARN” barn visible in your horizon, or rear view mirror, as you drive between cities and towns? You might know someone that played there as a child.
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Have a restful week. Thanks for visiting “Painting with Bob.”