Barn Busting White

If there’s one thing Jess Alway loves, it’s old wood. Weathered wood. Used, serviced, nostalgic wood. No one can truly copy rehabbed barn wood—the kind that reeks of character and history. Thus, there’s only one place to find barn wood: in a barn.

This brings us to John Robinson. A professional ‘Barn Buster’. A man with an eye for beauty and a heart to salvage what other people have labeled as garbage. When he sees a barn abandoned, he saves it: one board at a time.

Alway Homes has had the extreme pleasure of using some of John Robinson’s barn wood—and since we are so often complemented on the character detailing of our interiors, we thought you might like to meet the source, himself.

Q. John, tell us about yourself and family.
A. I am 35 years old, married 15 yrs to my best friend Lindsey, and we have 4 kids: Corban-12, Javan-10, Olivia-9, and Eliza Rose-1. I grew up in the Willamette Valley area, primarily in Springfield, and Monroe. My wife and I have lived in Idaho, Alaska, Florida,Tennessee, Washington, and we have finally returned to Oregon where I pastor a start-up church in W. Hillsboro and now work bi-vocationally at Intel. Currently we are living in Scappoose, trying to move in closer to Hillsboro.

barn busting windows

Q. How did you get into ‘Barn Busting’?
A. Fifteen years ago my [then future] father-in-law had me carefully dismantle an old horse corral in Western Idaho. I thought he was giving me busy work until I saw how he used the wood to make us a nice coffee table. Fast-forward to 2010 when we moved back to Oregon. The recession was on and construction work was scarce. Together with my inlaws, we started hunting abandoned barns and buildings that needed to come down. What started out as a part-time endeavor to provide wood for my father-in-law’s furniture building hobby turned very quickly into a full-time salvaging business that supplied premium reclaimed lumber from the NW for a handful of quality builders in Idaho and Oregon (including Jess Alway).

Q. How hard is it? How many days does it take to disassemble a structure? What do you do with the material afterwards? Clean it?
Almost every aspect of “barn-busting” is difficult. First of all, to even find a prospective barn requires a LOT of hunting and research. Most barns that are in bad enough condition to justify removal are almost always out in the middle some big field in the middle of nowhere. Every barn is unique in the sense that they were all built in a time when there was no uniform code, so dis-assembly is basically a matter of figuring out how to take the barn apart from top to bottom. Some were expertly assembled using mortise and tenon; others were cobbled together with whatever means were available at the time of construction. The average barn dismantle requires 3 guys for about 10 working days. I work directly with my 2 employees, and our average working day stretched 12-14 hrs. If we are working out of town, we work everyday until the job is complete. It is tiring, nasty, and dangerous work.

(This interview will continue in Barn Busting Part II)