By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Jim and Becky Kiesow decided as long as they were renovating the barn that has been in Becky’s family for over a century, they may as well add a barn quilt to it.
“The main thing we wanted was a simple design to put up that she could do quickly while the lift was still here and we could get it up. We knew the design, and we knew the colors we wanted,” Becky Kiesow said.
The Kiesow farm is located on County Highway A southeast of Colfax.
Barn quilts are colorfully painted geometric patterns on wood frames.
The Kiesows’ barn quilt is eight feet by eight feet.
The painted barn quilts are done on 2-foot by 2-foot frames, 4-foot by 4-foot frames or 8-foot by 8-foot frames.
Mary Kolstad of Menomonie is one of the people working on creating barn quilts for barns in Dunn County to add to the county’s “barn quilt tour.” Barn quilts were developed to promote agri-tourism and art.
People can drive the barn quilt trail at any time of their choosing and make a day of it.
“Katie Wantoch and Mary have done a good job of promoting barn quilts in Dunn County,” Becky said.
“I didn’t even know what a barn quilt was,” Jim commented.
The Dunn County Barn Quilt Trail is being developed with the help of Dunn County UW-Extension, Katie Wantoch, agriculture agent, and the Dunn County Tourism Division.
The best place to see their barn quilt is near the intersection of County Highway N and Highway A.
“Somehow we got connected with Mary. She’s a go-getter, and she really helped us,” Jim said.
The barn quilt is one of the finishing touches to the complete restoration of the barn that started earlier this spring.
“Our barn, what happened was, the last snowstorm in February, the wind was really bad. And two of the panels on my roof blew back. I said to Becky, ‘What are we going to do now?’ The barn was sagging anyway, so we went through the options. Get it fixed. Tear it down and build a pole shed. Then we thought, ‘How do you restore a barn?’” Jim said.
The Kiesows found Jodie Dahm of Dahm Construction out of Cadott. Renovating and restoring barns is one of Dahm Construction’s specialties.
“The first thing they did was come in with a Skid-steer and get the site prepped. I tried over the years to keep the box elder down, but with little success,” Jim said.
The three sides of the barn, south, east and west, have been covered with barn-red steel siding. The back of the barn, to the north, where the wood was more protected from the sun and the weather, was in good shape, so the north side was painted.
“It looks good anyway, so we decided to just paint (the north side) with two coats. It blends in really nice,” Jim said.
Not only is the wood on the north side of the barn in good shape, but also painting it and leaving it intact preserves one of the original walls of the barn.
“It’s been a real project,” Jim said. “The main thing was to stabilize it. We figured it was worth saving,” Jim said.
The farm has been in Becky’s family since 1915.
“It was an original homestead. The Quevillons, Fred and Mary, started off across the road in a cabin. They kept their milk in the creek. Then they eventually built this. He was a logger. A French-Canadian. And Mary was a Fjelsted. Becky and I got this place 32 years ago. We bought it from Grandma and Grandpa Follingstad. Katie was a Quevillon. They really wanted to keep it in the family. Becky’s grandpa wanted it to be a hundred year deal. Of course, we’re three years past that,” Jim said.
The farmhouse has had four remodels over the years.
“But it was always a good, solid farmhouse,” Jim said.
As the years went by, time and weather began to take a toll on the barn.
“I’d look up here and think, ‘I don’t want to look up here and not see the barn.’ We figured it would be a nice legacy. The initial job was to get the place stabilized,” Jim said.
The hay mow in the barn was filled with old hay chaff and straw chaff — to the point where on one end of the barn it was stacked up to six or eight feet high.
“It started out 18 inches on one side, and the pile was huge on the other side, and I thought, ‘how am I going to do that?’” Jim Kiesow said.
“It was pitchfork by pitchfork. I had mountains out here of hay and straw. The neighbor came over with a Skid-steer and hauled it out to the woods. Then I’d go back and do it again. It took me about three weeks, by hand, getting it all out of here,” he said.
One of the first jobs was to shore up the ceiling in the barn, which is also the hay mow floor on the top side.
“When they did this, they took it up at least eight inches if not a foot. The whole thing needed to be stabilized. That’s the first thing they did,” Jim said.
They also installed cables on the inside to pull the barn together and make it stronger.
Another task was to take out the old ladder going up to the hay mow and replace it with a set of stairs.
“People ask, ‘what are you going to do with it?’ I don’t know. We’re just trying to fix it up and preserve it,” Jim said.
Kiesow said it is interesting to think how they built the barns more than a hundred years ago without the lifts and other equipment available today for large projects.
“After I got through the hay and straw chaff that was six feet deep, I found the rope!” Kiesow said.
He was referring to the rope that ran along the track at the top of the barn ceiling, either to pull the hay door closed or to haul the hay up into the barn before there were hay elevators.
The old dairy barns had large doors on either end of the mow that closed from bottom to top and had to be let down from the inside with a rope to open the door and pulled up with a rope to close the door.
Years ago, hay was hauled into the barn with a pulley system and a team of horses to raise a load of loose hay to the door and then to move a load of hay into the barn.
Up in the hay mow, after the hay was out and the construction crew started working on stabilizing, remodeling and refurbishing the interior of the hay mow, one of the crew, who was a Marine veteran, suggested Kiesow hang an American flag on the wall over the hay door.
“That’s a great idea to hang an American flag,” Kiesow said.
On the day the Colfax Messenger visited the Kiesows, the construction crew was in the process of hanging the flag.
There were times, while he was clearing the chaff out of the hay mow, that Kiesow wondered about his sanity.
“I kept thinking — I must be nuts. I would take one of those hand cultivators. (The chaff) was packed tight. I’d pull it out. And then I’d a take snow shovel and push it out the door. And then I’d go back and do it again. It’s like how you eat an elephant, I guess — one bite at a time,” Jim said.
“It is really turning out nice. When the roof is on, it will look really sharp,” he said.
Barns are so much of the history of Wisconsin and the legacy of the small family dairy farms, and so many of the old barns have fallen down or have been taken down, that the Kiesows felt extra incentive to save their barn, not to mention to saving a family legacy.
The barn also will have a deck on the front.
“I said, we’ve got to have a deck. And Becky said, ‘Jim, how many things are you going to do?’ And I said, ‘when we’re done, we’ll be happy with it. We are only going to do this once.’”
“You want to keep the character. You want to get it so its stable, so it will last over time,” Jim said.
“It’s kind of an investment,” Becky said.
“For us it was a barn, and then it was a ‘pole shed’ for storage. But my family kept saying, ‘fix the barn, fix the barn.’ I could have gone either way because it was in such bad shape,” Becky said.
The Kiesow farm also has another claim to fame.
Their home was once known as “The Dillinger House.”
The story has been passed down through the generations and occurred when Becky Kiesow’s great-grandmother and great-grandfather owned the farm, Jim said.
Here is the story:
One day some visitors stopped by the Quevillon farm to seek help.
It was in the spring of 1934, and the road running past the farm, now County Highway A, was a dirt road, and as it always was in the spring, very muddy.
The story of what happened that day, in addition to being told by Becky’s family, was told by Colfax resident Harold “Popeye” Olson. Popeye was a close friend of the Quevillons, and according to his son, Bruce, was visiting them that day. Popeye told the story often, too, and never wavered in his account, telling the same details each time he recounted the story.
On that muddy spring day, a car became stuck at the end of the driveway in a “sink hole.”
Several strangers emerged from the car and started up the driveway.
Becky’s great-grandmother and great-grandfather knew they “were not from around here” by the way they were dressed. The men were wearing well-tailored impeccable suits, and the women wore high fashion dresses.
The strangers asked Fred Quevillon if he might be able to help them get their car out of the mud.
While Fred went to fetch the work horses, Mary Quevillon invited the strangers into the house. It was time for the mid-day meal, known as dinner to the farmers of the time, and Mary, being a farm wife, invited them to stay to eat.
When the men took off their overcoats, they pulled their shotguns out from beneath their coats and set them up against the kitchen wall. It was obvious, too, they were wearing handguns in shoulder holsters beneath their suit coats.
The visitors were very polite and gave Fred and Mary a generous tip for their hospitality of the meal and for pulling the car out of the mud.
When Popeye related the story, he would talk about how polite the visitors were.
And as they left, the well-armed strangers gave instructions their visit was not to be reported, and Fred and Mary and Popeye were never to tell anyone about their guests.
The leader of the group said, “You know who I am, don’t you?”
The story did not end there.
Several days later, the newspapers were full of stories about a high profile shootout in a botched FBI raid at Little Bohemia in far northeastern Wisconsin. During the raid, an FBI agent was killed.
One account of the shootout reads, “On the afternoon of April 20, 1934, Nelson, Dillinger, Van Meter, Carroll, Hamilton and gang associate (errand runner) Pat Reilly, accompanied by Nelson’s wife, Helen, and three girlfriends of the other men, arrived at the secluded Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, for a weekend of rest.”
When Popeye and the Quevillon family heard about the shootout, they immediately knew the identity of the strangers who had paid them a visit not many days prior.
The locals began to refer to the farm house as “The Dillinger House.”
Popeye Olson always said about that day, “there was fear in the air, but I never felt afraid they would do something to me.”
Historical accounts indicate during the time period just before the shootout in Little Bohemia, Dillinger and his gang were in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area.
Becky’s grandmother, Katie Quevillon Follingstad, would always tell the story, too, about the day John Dillinger came for lunch.
The Dillinger story adds to the legacy of the farm that has been in the family for more than one hundred years, Jim Kiesow said.
Barn Quilt Trail
A map of the current Dunn County Barn Quilt Trail is available at www.dunn.uwex.edu/agriculture/dunn-county-barn-quilts.
People are cautioned to be aware of traffic behind them when slowing down to look at a barn quilt.
All barn quilts are on private property and should be viewed from a public right-of-way. Do not drive onto private property to see the barn quilt.