My grandfather, Russell Hamm, knew how to build things.
Over the years of the Hamm stewardship of the farm, Russell improved the structures or added them to suit the needs of running the family business. His passing was in 1980 when I was a kindergartener, so I only have a short window of observation with which I can make my own assessment of him. From seeing the countless tools, parts and containers in the garage alone, I figured he could do anything. It was only when I was older that I started to understand who my grandfather was, as limited as that may be. He was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and was part of the occupation forces in Okinawa after the surrender of Japan. His B-29 and crew could very well have been in line to drop another atomic bomb somewhere had history turned out differently. He taught himself how to play the organ and seemed to thrive on doing things his way, as his own boss.
He built an indoor bathroom and the infrastructure to pump water from the cistern. A detached garage, with room or three cars despite their only having one, was another notable project. I can recall the kitchen remodel done in the late 1970’s which included the addition of the dining room off of the east side of the house. Before he died, one of the last things I remember him doing was rebuilding the wrap around front porch, a job done so well it still looked relatively new more than three decades later.
In my mind, however, the crowning achievement was the seven-bent tobacco barn he built on top of the hill behind the house. From my perspective, it had always stood there, stately, guarding over the farm like a proud watchdog. On every visit, there it stood, to the north, up the hill, looking down into the small valley where the house stood safe from harm. My dad would have a different story. He watched it being built. In 1960, he would come home from school and see flatbed trucks of lumber, one after another, hauling their loads up the hill to the worksite. His father would inspect the pieces of wood for quality. I seem to remember being told that for every piece he accepted, he sent several back. More than one truck went on its way carrying the rejected supply with it.
The barn was raised quickly after the supplies enabled the framing to be done. It has been said that great architects design structures that appear as though they are part of the natural environment around it. It’s as if once there, they have always been there or meant to be there. This barn gives me that impression, that it was always meant to be there, overlooking the house on one side and the pond on another. Inside on a post near the south end can be seen the carving by my grandfather’s hand, “1960 HAMM”
Over the years I have seen many a barn in bad shape. Some were leaning, others collapsed, still some wound up as empty spaces where its structure once stood. Not this one. Russell’s barn is still as solid and stately in 2013 as it was more than fifty years ago. Along the way it has seen its share of hardships such as doors blown off their hinges by storms or hardware rusting through. Every one of them were repairable. The only difference is that nowadays, long timber, upwards of 20 feet simply cannot be found. Some of the doors used for air curing of tobacco are now in two sections where one used to suffice.
Nowadays the barn stands empty, separated from its once faithful partner. The tobacco may be gone but the barn awaits either its return, or a new teammate with which it will propel the economic stability of a different farming family.