Farm Horizons, November 2011

Silver Lake barn is symbol of four generations of farming

By Linda Scherer, Staff Writer

The Vorliceks’ 100-acre, century farm just east of Silver Lake is called Pleasant View for a reason. With its brick home, huge bright yellow barn, two tall silos, and a herd of Herefords close by, it provides a picturesque farm setting.

The barn, built in 1930, is especially eye-catching, and looks like new since it was re-roofed and received several coats of paint this summer by its owners, Henry and Shirley Vorlicek, and their son, Kevin Vorlicek.

Kevin estimated he purchased between 30 and 40 gallons of paint for the barn and some other outbuildings that were also painted.

“When we were done painting on the south end (of the barn), it was like ‘amen,’” Kevin said.

“I would raise dad up in the lift to paint and then I would be out raking hay,” Kevin said. “He would call me on my cell phone when he was ready to move the lift.”

Henry, who is 77 years old, said the height didn’t scare him, even though the lift didn’t have any sides to it. Enjoying painting and not minding heights must have been something Henry inherited from his father.

“My dad painted the whole barn on a wooden extension ladder, right out to under the peak,” Henry said.

“When we got married 51 years ago,” Shirley said, “his dad was always with the paint.”

When people ask the Vorliceks why they painted their barn yellow, Henry’s answer is, “The barn was always yellow and we don’t know why, it always had the green trim, too. It isn’t any different then, from the day it was built.”

Of course, Henry would know, since he has spent his entire life, minus the years he was in the Army, from 1955-57, on the farm. He is proud of the farm, its history, and how it has accommodated four generations of farmers.

Henry’s grandparents, John and Josie Vorlicek, originally from Czechoslovakia, homesteaded the land. Later, the farm was taken over by Henry’s parents, Henry Sr. and Anna Vorlicek.

The barn, which is 34 feet wide, 82 feet long, and approximately 35 feet high, was constructed four years before Henry Jr. was born.

“My dad took down the old barn and built this new one in the same place, using some of the old lumber,” Henry said.

The exterior of the barn is beautiful, showing craftsmanship remarkably advanced for its time. The barn was built by a man named Harlow Jennings from Hutchinson, according to Henry. Jennings also built another barn exactly like it just east of Hutchinson on the north side of Highway 7.

“I don’t know who designed this barn. There wasn’t modern engineering like there is now, but Charlie Radtke and his son Brad, did the roof, and Charlie was amazed at the structure of the barn all the while he was working on it,” Henry said.

The foundation and all of the brick around the base of the barn has withstood the test of time; nothing has crumbled or cracked. All of the lumber had to be cut by hand, and yet, the Radtkes said the walls are straight, and the corners are square. Even the detailing on each side matches.

Inside the barn, are all the modern conveniences any farmer could have wanted for dairy farming in the ‘30s.

The barn was first built with iron stanchions for 16 dairy cows, wooden stalls for 10 work horses, a bull pen, and a calf pen. There is a drive-through on the end of the barn into which loads of hay were driven.

A hayloft to the south of the drive-through stored loose hay that would be lifted up by several ropes and a pulley, pulled by horses from the other side of the barn. The hay was stored in the loft until needed.

“My job was feeding the cows loose hay,” Henry said. “We had chutes up there (in the hayloft) and I had to go up there every night and send the loose hay down. Then, they opened the doors below to let the hay down.”

A cement manger was built with a curve to allow the hay and feed to continually fall toward the cows.

“Brad and Charlie were amazed how the mangers were made,” Kevin said. “Charlie didn’t think you could pour concrete like that and get a nice curved form.”

Above the drive-through, built into each side of the barn, are slanted grain bins, so the grain could easily fall into a chute. The grain was hauled up from the outside of the barn, into the bins, through two separate windows on the north side.

From the chute, the grain was carried, by hand, in metal bushel baskets to the manger.

“That is why we all have a lot of back problems,” Henry said.

He remembers being in the barn helping with chores “from pretty small, on.”

Henry’s dad hand-milked 16 cows to begin with, and he remembers when his dad got milking machines, which made life so much easier. A large outdoor cement trough by the barn was used for keeping the milk cool in cans until it could be taken to the nearest creamery.

When loose hay was replaced with bales, a motorized hoist replaced the pulley system. It could lift eight hay bales at a time, storing a total of approximately 3,000 bales of hay stacked all the way to the top of the hayloft.

In 1960, Henry married Shirley, who is originally from Renville, and they moved to the farm and shared the workload with his parents. Soon after they were married, Henry started working at Green Giant as a mechanic to supplement the family income, and he worked there for a total of 15 years.

In 1972, Henry and Shirley bought the farm from Henry’s parents.

“We milked cows, unloaded hay until midnight many times,” Henry said. “We also unloaded many loads of small grain into the bins above the drive-through area. By spring, the barn was always empty.”

When milk cans became a thing of the past, the family made the decision, in 1980, to reinvest in the dairy farm, and bring it up to date. They purchased a bulk tank, and a pipeline milking system, built a milk house, a bigger silo, a feed room, plus a 34-by-44 foot addition to hold a total of 50 dairy cows.

But milk prices weren’t the best, and by 1987 Shirley also got a job, leaving Kevin to milk the cows himself.

“He was about 13 or 14, and he milked those cows every morning and every night,” Shirley said.

Kevin graduated in 1990 from Silver Lake High School, and continued to help on the farm full time until 1992, when milk prices went way down. Then, he, too, got a job at Hutchinson Technology to help supplement the farm income.

“Kevin and I were on one 12-hour shift at night at Hutch Tech, and Henry worked a different shift,” Shirley said.

“If we were baling hay, she could quit and get ready to go to work and I could finish,” Henry said.

“There was no time for sleep,” Kevin said.

Finally, the Vorliceks had enough. They made the decision to sell their Holstein dairy cows in 1992.

Today, Henry and Shirley are retired. Kevin works at 3M in Hutchinson, and has switched to raising beef cattle. He has about 40 head of Hereford beef cattle.

The barn roof, which had been reshingled over the top of the original wooden shingles in 1980, had started to leak. The barn needed to be reroofed, and two layers of shingles needed to be removed first. It was an expensive project, but maintaining the family barn with so much history was a priority for the Vorliceks.

They hired CR Radtke of Winsted to do the reroofing. After the two layers of old shingles had been removed, approximately 175 sheets of plywood were used to cover the roof, which had holes left from removing the original cedar shingles. On the outside, a layer of tar paper was used to cover the plywood.

Once the asphalt shingles had been installed, the Radtkes restored the cupolas, with weather vanes, at the top of the roof, and finished the roofing project by returning the original lightning rods to the roof’s peak.

What is the next project for the Vorliceks? Kevin answered immediately, “fishing.” “I missed out on a lot of it this year,” he said.

Henry and Shirley also have two other children, Ron Vorlicek of Silver Lake, and Rhonda Decker of Waverly, and two grandchildren.

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