Lanny Simpkins: Creates a model barn

Written by David Green.


Lanny Simpkins remembers the day he sat in his basement workshop, a knife in one hand and a miniature cedar shingle in the other.

He was tapering one edge, tiny shavings hitting the floor, while Chad Miller stood watching. Chad was there to go fishing, but Lanny turned him down. He said he was going to work on his barn instead.

lanny--barn Chad told him he was nuts and went off in search of fish.

That wasn’t the only time someone told Lanny that his barn project was crazy. He heard it more than once during the two winters he spent with his own private barn raising.

Although the barn measures only 22 by 30 inches, the roofing job required about 2,300 shingles—each one tapered slightly by hand so it would lay just right in order to appear authentic.

Lanny built a model barn for the Van Brandt boys years ago, but it wasn’t as detailed as his recent project. The idea for this one had been in the back of his mind when he thought about his brother’s old barn on Bryant Road near Sand Creek.

Lanny spent a lot of time in that barn during baling season and he figures he had plenty of time to look it over.

He learned it well. The details in his little barn are many and they’re impressive.

A miniature pulley to operate a hay car that moves along the main roof beam. A welding machine in the tool shed that includes a painted dial. Tiny milk pails placed in a cooler with a refrigeration unit on top. Surge milk containers fashioned out of wood and hanging on the milk house wall.

“Everything is hand made,” he said. “It was fun building it, but it took a lot of hours.”

Actually, the shingles are the only part of the project that came ready made, but then Lanny ended up shaving each one of them.

The bulk of the barn, milk house, tool shop and silo is fashioned from strips of pine wood. To cover the barn, for ex

ample, he cut thin strips three-fourths of an inch wide and added a groove in the middle. Each represents two boards of siding—130 in all.

He built the silo by wrapped a fiber tube in wax paper and gluing strips of wood around the tube. Each board of the tool shop was run through a router to give it the right look of a metal-sided building.

Lanny got some help with a few of the details. Farm toy collector Jim Lakatos bought the herd of 10 cows that stand inside the barn. Lanny’s wife, Carol, found small bales of hay and feed bags at a craft show.

Some items posed special challenges. Lanny thought hard about what to use for door tracks for the barn doors to slide along. A friend suggested using a piece of aluminum hunting arrow with a slot cut along the length.

“It was just what I was looking for,” Lanny said.

But to cut the slot, he ended up spending a long time with a hacksaw blade.

The overhead door in the tool shop was created with strips of wood held together with narrow piece of window screening. The door looked good, but it didn’t move right. Lanny finally discovered that he needed to add a spring to provide tension, just like the real thing.

The barn is on display at Stair Public Library and will remain there through the fall, until the conclusion of the Smithsonian Institute’s Barn Again! An American Icon exhibit that arrives in October.

It’s delighted visitors of all ages since it arrived at the library last year.

“Some people have to look it over every time they come in,” said librarian Sheri Frost.

That’s what makes those two winters in the basement worth the time for Lanny. This year he’s been out fishing.

   - Feb. 18, 2004
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