Restoration of chicken coop preserves Grabau farm history
Monday, December 10, 2012 6:58 AM
The roof is falling, the roof is falling!
Marv Grabau recently completed the restoration of the chicken coop on his third generation farm. He and his wife, Shelly, have added ceramic birds inside and out to help tell the history of this building in Forestville Township.
And do Chicken Little and the Little Red Hen flee in terror, or do they prepare cautiously for the worst?
Ask Marv Grabau, it's a "coop"-erative effort.
"My chicken house has the original basswood boards on it - that's not an outside kind of wood - and the tin was put on the roof about 40 years ago, but it needed tuckpointing and all sorts of other work, so my son and son-in-law helped me fix it," Grabau explained.
"The project took me nine weeks, in moderation, because I did what my body could afford," said the rural Wykoff native, describing the restoration of the 1909 stone chicken house on his family's third-generation farmstead in Forestville Township.
"The chicken house was built from stone and lumber off the farm," Marv noted, pointing out that he still has his grandfather's 20-pound stone hammer that was used to split the limestone that forms the vintage coop.
This was one of numerous restoration projects the self-admitted curiosity collector has taken on to keep busy when it's not hunting season. His collections include barn cupolas, toy wagons, farm equipment and many other tools and farm-related items.
Though he and his wife, Shelly, do not farm the land surrounding their home, they do value the original homestead and its outbuildings and have done their best to maintain them in working order.
Discerning details from a photo dated 1910, Grabau did what it took to replicate the coop's un-weathered facade and bring a new shine to the poultry perch, complete with concrete critters to relate how his grandmother kept Toulouse geese and ducklings.
"Looking at this picture, it had the same tuckpointing that it had 102 years ago, and the window sashes are 102 years old. There are 12 built-in stone nesting boxes, and the walls are two feet thick," Grabau described. "My great-grandma got the farm in 1896, and this started out as my grandma's chicken house, then it was my ma's, but it was too cold for eggs - they'd freeze if she didn't come to check for eggs in the daytime - so later on, my ma moved the chickens to the basement of the barn, and my dad stored square bales here."
Grabau later made it into a wood shop in 1973, added concrete to the floor and heated the building. Then in 1989 or 1990, he made it his meat-cutting shop. "So this is actually the fourth purpose this building has had," he added.
In spite of having modern tools to do the repairs, finding period-accurate mortar to fill in the cracks proved to be a slight challenge for Grabau.
"It took a while to get the recipe for lime mortar because it was hard to find a recipe with the right ratios for the right mixture," he explained. "I finally got the recipe from Ernest Meyer, Jr., and mixed in some bluff sand, and after we tuckpointed, that led into painting, fixing the glass and window sashes, then we decided to do some weed control. The poultry was Shelly's idea."
Grabau continued, "Shelly decided that it needed some ducks and geese, so we put in four cement geese that are 80 pounds each, four adult ducks and nine ducklings, a rooster, two hens and 14 chicks and we put 1950s Gothic archway wire fencing around it. Since our twin grandsons are 4 years old, we had to glue the chicks and ducklings down to keep them from flying away."
While the restoration of a chicken coop might seem rather insignificant, in these days of fading farm history, it means the difference between the Grabaus' grandchildren knowing where the eggs were laid and gathered and not having a place to visit to gain a better understanding of how farm poultry was kept.
Furthermore, since Grabau is a collector of so many different items - including over 60 barn cupolas, more than 100 toy wagons of varied origin and 32 children's sleds, a Jayhawk overshot hay stacker once featured in Farm Collector Magazine, sledges, plows and parts for all of the above - he's garnered himself a following.
"I've had visitors here from six continents of the seven, people from 12 countries or territories, two provinces and 32 states. That's all not advertised, it's not on the road or the Internet. People just hear about my farm and stuff and come out here to visit," Grabau said. "One guy came all the way from Madison, Wis., just to see my Jayhawk hay stacker. That's a six-hour drive each way, which is the record for someone wanting to drive just to see one thing out here."
Next up, Grabau has his eye on the contents of his "healing bin," the rusty pile of parts housed inside the corncrib in the farmyard, which has been yearning for resolution.
Perhaps Grabau will begin with a wayward wagon wheel awaiting three others, a frame and a box. It is just a matter of finding one more wheel, making a swap for the other two, building the frame and box, trading for the brand decals. It's no problem. It should take just a few days.