Monday, December 21, 2009

The Barn Man

Meet Ernest Lee Breger, known by everyone as "Butch" but also affectionately called "The Barn Man". Butch has been around these parts of Oklahoma most of his life. Born in Seattle, but raised locally, he knew the barn when it was in a state of disrepair, before it's beautiful dome glistened in the sun as it does today. He was around during the entire restoration and has entertained the thousands of visitors that make the famous Route 66 trip across America.

He's an artist and a storyteller who in addition to throwing in a few personal tidbits, concentrated primarily on recounting stories relating to the barn. He told us of his father being in the military and how because of that he got to travel around a bit before settling in Oklahoma, how the original owners of the barn, the Odor's, got teased from the locals because of their odd name and how Luke Robinson took the restoration of the barn into his own hands and with the help of local retirees, restored the barn over four years for only $65,000.00 - which was a real bargain considering the estimates they had initially gotten hovered around $165,000.00!!

His rickety handwriting covers everything in the gift shop, from signs displaying prices to handmade wooden plaques to descriptions of what you're actually looking at, like this picture of him hanging out one of the barn windows.
The next picture, which is the bottom part of the sign above, tells you something he's already mentioned in the first ten minutes of talking to him; the books and movies he's been in. He's appeared in the book Route 66: The Mother Road by Michael Wallis (page 112, as you can see) and three movies; Route 66: Return to the Road with Martin Milner, Route 66: An American Odyssey and Route 66 – A Road To Remember. He wasn't aware of the barn being filmed in the movie Elizabethtown, but maybe that's because he never made a personal appearance in that flick!He walked the entire circumference of the barn with us, pointing out old farm equipment, pictures of the barn's original owner and builder, and an entire wall displaying pictures of round barns from all over the country and the world. Apparently, a round barn is not all that unusual, and this one is certainly not the first, but this round barn is the only one in the United States that sits directly on Route 66, making this architectural masterpiece one of the most popular attractions along the way and one that becomes an iconic piece of American history by mere location.

In this picture, on the wall to the left of the Route 66 map, you will see a collage of photographs:
Butch has collected these photographs from people all over the world who send them in to add to his collection. According to his account, he believes he's found all of the round barns in the country and whenever he hears of a new one, or someone brings it to his attention, he sends a letter requesting more information on it and a picture. Then the picture goes up on the wall.

Some of the earliest round barns were made by the Quakers. Butch said, "They made 'em round so the Devil couldn't corner you." Makes sense. He also told us that although many barn dances were held in the Arcadia barn, they never held any square dances.

Wait for it....

...because you can't hold a square dance in a round barn! You're killing me here, Butch.

I shopped around a bit, bought a few postcards, a piece of
Rose Rock and a book about the history of the barn. I asked him to sign the book for me, which he readily did.

When he handed the book back to me, he said, "You know, I've signed over four thousand books in my time...."

I'm certainly glad he was up to signing one more. Now I feel like I have a little piece of history and having the signature of "The Barn Man" makes it feel a bit more authentic.
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Gil said...

How do you always come up with such interesting and educational stuff to write about? I bet you can make a nice book or text book by combining these interesting posts and pictures.

Unknown said...

Priceless.... Got to love a profession where you can travel the Country and learn so much about it.

Ed Winkle said...

I was doing a search on the Barn Man in Barnham Minnesota. He restores old barns, Interesting rant you have!