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Extreme makeover transforms barn

AUBURN — A walk through Jeff and Ellen Frank’s barn west of Auburn is like getting a glimpse of history up close, if you know how to interpret the clues. While the interior looks a lot different than when the barn was new in 1909, traces of the past remain.

“Horses used to be on the west side of the barn, while milk cows were kept on the east,” said Jeff Frank, who lives on the Century Farm with his wife, Ellen. “My dad had about five Holstein cows when I was growing up. I never milked by hand, but my older brothers did.”

The Frank’s Century Farm dates back to 1914, when Frank’s maternal great-grandfather, Albert Mohr, purchased 125 acres for approximately $126 an acre. The barn played a key role in the Frank family’s farming operation for decades and could be adapted as livestock production changed. After the family phased out of dairy production by the late 1960s, they converted the first floor of their barn into a farrowing house for hogs around 1972. By the late 1970s, when Frank began farming full time, the barn was converted to a swine nursery.

In more recent years, as the Franks transitioned out of livestock to focus on corn and soybean production, they decided the barn could offer more than just room for storage. They gave the barn an extreme makeover, starting with a thorough cleaning from top to bottom. They remodeled the building to include living space, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a heating/cooling system for the first floor. Pine shiplap on the walls accent the living area, along with the painted posts and beams that have helped support the barn for more than a century.

A new interior wall was added to create space for Frank’s office, which is located on the north side of the main level, back where the milking stanchions and three feed bins used to be.

A spacious wooden cabinet near the living/dining area showcases the family’s Century Farm certificates, their Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award and aerial photos of the farm through the years. The comfortable setting has provided an ideal venue for “Vittles with Von,” a meal that celebrates farmers in KCIM Radio’s coverage area for all their hard work.

In August 2019, the barn provided a convenient gathering spot during a stop on Expedition Farm Country, a two-day event sponsored by the Iowa Food and Family Project that invites 50 participants to tour Iowa farms, meet farm families and have honest conversations about modern agriculture.

Some of the gatherings in the barn revolve more around family events.

“We’ve hosted a number of parties in the barn, including our son, Mitch’s, wedding rehearsal party,” Frank said.

Memories of another son, Jon, are preserved in the haymow. Not only is this space decorated with quilts on north side, but two photos of Jon, who was killed in a car accident in October 2009, grace the west wall.

“I’m glad we kept the barn,” Frank said. “I hope it’s part of our farm for a long time to come.”