Barn renovation brings family together

John O'Connell/Capital Press Greg McNabb removes a nail from an old piece of barn lumber while Payson McNabb watches. The family is renovating a century-old barn near Pocatello, Idaho.

POCATELLO, Idaho — During breaks from hay harvest, off-farm jobs or summer activities, John C. McNabb’s children and grandchildren visit the old barn and put in a few hours of labor.

Even his father, John B. McNabb, makes occasional appearances in a “supervisory” capacity.

John C. McNabb considers it fitting that four generations of McNabbs are taking on an imposing renovation project together, given that their aim is to preserve a piece of family history.

His great-grandfather, William Harrison McNabb, built the 2,500-square-foot barn in 1914, four years after he homesteaded his Pocatello-area dryland farm. Having considered renovating the barn for years, John C. McNabb finally committed to it in May as a tribute to his ancestor on the barn’s centennial anniversary.

“There’s a lot of historical meaning and nostalgia in that barn,” he said. “I appreciated my family, and I wanted to preserve it as kind of a landmark for the family.”

Before they started work, boards of a partially collapsed wall were unsalvagable, part of the roof slumped, only traces remained of the original red paint and the base beams were rotten.

They’ve since replaced most of those base beams, re-leveled a flat-rock foundation with the original stones and realigned the southern wall using two loaders with forks. Except for the south wall, they reused most of the original lumber.

Their deadline to restore and repaint the facade was prior to a recent family reunion. Work will continue for a few more years on the interior — where Douglas fir trunks are supports and the original cedar shingles are visible, covered by a metal roof from the outside.

John B. McNabb and his sons John C. McNabb, Bill and Mike and their sons and daughters farm and ranch together raising cattle, sheep, alfalfa, grass hay, oats and wheat, mostly on dry land. Supplemental income from a trucking business, tracing back to when John B. McNabb started hauling occasional loads for others in the 1960s, has helped keep the farm income stable.

John C. McNabb and his wife, Karen, have 10 children.

“Before it’s all over with, just about everybody will have a hand (in restoring the barn),” he said.

His son John D. McNabb, who runs a machine shop in Rexburg, Idaho, makes a nearly two-hour trip weekly to spend a few days helping with the renovation, which has given him a new-found appreciation for his great-great grandfather.

“We have an automatic nailer, and we have some nice jacks, and we have a chainsaw. We have a nice laser leveler, which is kind of new to me even,” he said. “What did they use? It would have been a lot tougher.”

John C. McNabb’s son David made a point of saving an original 18-foot-long floor support beam that bears the indentations of work horses stepping into their quarters.

“It still works pretty good, and we wanted to leave it for nostalgic reasons,” David said.

The honor of repainting the faded, white letters WH above the front entrance will go to John C.’s daughter Amy, who impressed him once when she repainted lettering on an old McCormick-Deering tractor.

The two letters — William Harrison’s initials — remain the family’s cattle brand.

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