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I Am Still Seeing Red!

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Jun 29, 2012
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So as we travelled through the Michigan countryside last week, we saw so many old farms and historic buildings. I really enjoy seeing the rich architecture in these small towns. From the old Main street buildings to the town halls, the rich cultural impressions from Europe are evidenced all over.
One thing we saw a lot of was old barn buildings. We took many pictures of these structures, as they appeared to be crying out to tell their stories. Stories of harsh winters, and big harvests, Stories of young lovers in the lofts, new tractors, baby livestock. All this rich history bound in the ghost like stance of a building being reclaimed by the lands it once served.
I couldn’t help but notice that so many of these old buildings still had the tints of red clinging to their ramshackle walls. I wondered aloud…why are all barns red? Was it some sort of spiritual tradition from a forgotten lore? Was it a safety beacon for those harsh winters to beckon travelers to shelter, red in a sea of white?
It turns out there is a very simple explanation for this. In the days of old, farmers would mix linseed oil (which has a reddish orange tint) with milk and lime to form a sort of paint sealer combination to protect the barn’s wood from the elements. An additive often added to this mixture was rust (of which many old farms had plenty) as it would inhibit the growths of mold and fungus on the wood, further protecting it. The combinations of the rust and linseed mixture create a sort of burnt red coloring to the barn.
As society evolved, and technology grew, paints and sealers replaced the need for this linseed cocktail. Out of tradition, most farmers continued the use of red tinted products to build a bridge between then and now.
And now I know why I still see red in those fields a plenty!

Evan McGee


Faster horses

Well-known member
Feb 11, 2005
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NE WY at the foot of the Big Horn mountains
Thanks for the info. And here all this time, I thought they were red
because red barn paint was cheaper.... :p

Nice old barn you pictured. We have "Old barns" as one of the
catagories in our Photo Contest, in case you might remember to enter
this one or another one.


Well-known member
Feb 21, 2005
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We have a friends with no connection with ranching who have several photo albums of old barn pictures they have taken pver several years time.

We have hopes of getting some photo's of some in our local travels to add to their collection, since they are no longer able to travel much..........and this area is dear to his heart, having spent several years of childhood here.

The old round barns are very interesting to us. Some were quite 'mechanized', with a track and bins on chains to travel around the perimeter to move grain in and manure out with less effort than the conventional ways.

There are very interesting barns built into hill sides with entrances on more than one level/story of the barn. Some are made of local stone.

It's interesting to see the different solutions people in areas of differing local materials came up with in 'the olden days'. Ingenuity and natural engineering talents of those old time farmers was impressive....and still shows up in 'modern' times even in those who haven't had any formal education.