The Shed

Today’s guest post was written by Ed Ammons.

The Shed by ed ammons


The Shed written by Ed Ammons

It wasn’t exactly a wood shed although we put wood in it. It wasn’t exactly a tool shed but we put our tools in it. It wasn’t a meat house either but it had a table of sorts inside where hams, shoulders and sides were salted and cured. A multi-purpose storage unit might be the best description in modern terminology but in the mid 1960’s it was “The Shed.”

The vast majority of the materials that went into building it were obtained right there on the property. The rafters and joists were made from long straight poplar poles cut in the spring. Some of the siding and flooring boards were left over from building the home. Some from the reclamation of lumber from the old home further up the valley. The metal roof came from a chicken house that was torn down. Even some of the nails were pulled from old board and timbers, straightened and reused in The Shed.

Daddy was a woodsman from his youth as his father before him had been. In the spring they cut acid wood which was several species of trees whose bark contained a good deal of tannic acid. Tannic acid was used in the tanning of leather. In the spring when the tree start to put on new growth in the cambium layer, the bark becomes loose and is more easily removed.  Daddy knew when the trees were ready and that is when we set about to build this shed.

Harold and I each had our own axe. Stephen was only seven or eight but he was part of the crew. Daddy was the supervisor while Harold and I did the felling, trimming and peeling of the poles. Stephen piled brush and bark but his main job was to stay out of the way. Daddy had lost a little brother in 1926 in a sledding accident and he wasn’t about to lose a son if he could help it.

Poplar is not a very dense wood therefore easily cut with an ax. Daddy would point out which trees to cut. Harold or I would cut a notch at the base to the tree to lead it in the direction we wanted it to fall. When the cut was sufficiently deep enough we would go to the opposite side and began another cut a little bit higher on the tree. Hopefully before you cut through, the top would start to move in the intended direction. That’s when you yell “Timber.” More likely than not the tree wouldn’t fall where we wanted or would hang up in a nearby tree. They were small trees and with a little blood and a lot of sweat we managed to wrestle them to the ground.

Next comes trimming the tree. If you are going to peel it, you have to get the limbs off first. There is an art to cutting limbs off a tree with an axe. You don’t aim for limb first; you aim so that the flat of the blade hits the trunk of the tree and bounces as it cuts into the limb. It’s like skipping a rock on water, if you miss the limb, the axe doesn’t cut into the tree, it bounces back up and you’re ready to try again. If you do it right the axe cleaves the limb flush with the trunk of the tree. Most of these long slim poplars grow close together and have few live limbs on the usable part and most of those are so small you can pull them off with your hands or kick them off with your feet. That leaves only the lap.

Now comes the peeling part. You start back at the butt and use your axe to loosen the bark. Next you use the axe as a wedge and a lever to start a strip. When you have pried enough loose to get a handhold, you set down the axe and start pulling. If you are lucky the bark will peel all the way to the other end of the pole.  If it breaks, you get your axe and start over. There is a tool called a bark spud made just for peeling bark but in small timber like this is not really necessary.

When we had finished trimming a pole, we had to get it to the building site. The poplar, still being green, was too heavy to shoulder up and carry. It wasn’t big enough to bother harnessing up the horse and swamping a trail to it. Harold and I became draft animals. We made what we called pull ropes. Pull ropes consisted of a short piece of rope tied around the middle of a wooden handle with a slip knot on the other end. We would loop the slip knot over the end of the poles and off we would go. The harder we pulled, the tighter the knot. (This same device served to snake out dead chestnut trees for stovewood.)

When we felt we had felled enough timber to build the framework for our little project, we focused our attention on cutting it to length and notching it. Peeled poplar poles are not like dimension lumber in that nothing is the same size. You can’t make a pattern and repeat it throughout. It takes a little visualization and a lot of trial and retrial. The advantage is, if you completely ruin a piece, you go cut another one. The disadvantage is you can work on only one piece at a time. How you shape each piece depends on how you shaped the one before.

As you can see in the picture The Shed has a cantilevered roof in front. That was an afterthought. I don’t remember who, but one of us came up with the idea of adding that feature as a protected place to park oneself during a sudden summer downpour. As first constructed, the addition wouldn’t hold its own weight so we added the angled braces which seem to have served well. You can also see that some of the poles have splits in them. These were forming even before we started the building. You would think that the splits would severely weaken the structure but it doesn’t. The splits follow the grain of the wood so if it were split from end to end you would have two pieces of wood instead of one. If you used sawn lumber of the same size, it wouldn’t be as strong because the saw cuts in a straight line, cutting through the grain wherever it has to.

We moved into our new house in the fall of 1963. We started building The Shed the following spring. Our parents both died in the mid 70’s. Harold had already married and moved away and I soon followed. The rest of the kids stayed around for a while but moved into town and rented out the old home place. The rent money went toward paying off the mortgage. Sometime in the late 80’s we finally divided up property and the decision was made that the part with the house and The Shed should go to the youngest child. She didn’t want to live there so she sold it. The house was remodeled and a second floor added making it unrecognizable. Much of the craftsmanship that Daddy put into it was covered up. The Shed was left untouched. This picture was taken last fall. It looks dilapidated but that is only clutter that has been piled against it. In fact it looks pretty good for a 50 year old. With a little TLC it might make it another 50.

I wish I could go back and tell the present owners to clean up around it but I can’t. Neither physically nor introspectively. It was my efforts that created it and my mistake that let it slip away. My only consolation is that most of the joy of creating treasures with my own hands is in giving them to someone else to enjoy.


I hope you enjoyed Ed’s memories of the shed. Something handmade, from a shed to an item of clothing and everything in between, gives one a satisfied feeling of accomplishment once it’s completed. And as in the case of the shed, a home crafted item typically lasts longer than a store bought one.



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  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    May 22, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    So then we needed a bigger chicken house, and the one they built was strong and sturdy. I remember the first time we heard one of the little ones crow. It sounded weak and hoarse like a boy going through puberty, and made us laugh.
    Later came the building of a lean-to off the back of the chicken house for two pigs. and then another pen to the side which were for the ducks we got at Easter (which were suppose to be “pets” but ended up getting hauled off after they got into Dad’s cucumber patch to someone who no doubt ate ’em).
    Such was life on a farm…always busy, never certain of what the weather or tomorrow might bring.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    May 22, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    I am a day late reading this, but I loved the post so much just had to comment anyway. So many back then had one of those multi- purpose sheds.
    Reminds me so much of an old shed built on our old home place…served once as a chicken house, storage for feed, and finally was storage for old dishes my Mom had collected. I learned an exercise called “skinning a cat” (not sure if that is Appalachian expression)on a bar that had served as a chicken roost.
    Nobody was brave enough to retrieve the dishes when farm was sold due to possibility of Copperheads. So, sadly the collectible rooster dishes were left–the building later caved in and they were broken. My sis, being the wise sister, insisted on having an acre of roadside land kept for her in separate deed.
    We have never visited it, nor do we ever mention that little acre. It is there as a part of our family should an ache to sit upon it ever occur. We could take a lawn chair or have a picnic perhaps, but maybe would be too sad to ever go back there. Thanks to Ed for letting me ponder a bit on sweet memories of our old homestead and our old shed.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 21, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    and Ed…I loved this post.
    I wonder if you approached two or three young men…had them put down their Ipods….gave each an axe with a hammer end…sent them to a wooded lot and told them to build a shed…if they would know where to begin. I wonder if their minds would be creative enough to even get the frame in place with poplar logs….or stack rock in corners to make a shed raised off the ground…Nope…they would go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and get one of those how-to brochures and purchase the corner squares…four by fours, two by fours, and nails….LOL
    Thanks ED…great post…hopefully some young person will read your post and get a notion to build a shed the olden way!

  • Reply
    muskat antonopolis
    May 21, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    well…im gonna raise a couple of hogs starting about September..little piggies into hawgs..about 200> lbs….then to see the butcher..and then into the smoke SHED….got plenty of oak along with some pecan. pear, cherry and hickory depending on
    what we want to use…..pigs don’t
    gain much weight in the summers in no fla…too hot…best time to start is when the weather starts to cool….feed em until about about march…and they should be about 220> lbs….

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 21, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Ed brings back many memories of projects my Dad and I did just a couple of ridges over from his “Shed”. We built a Smokehouse where we cured and smoked several hogs each year, the Hickory Smoked Hams were sold to bring in needed cash while the Smoked Shoulders & Middlins was table fare. We also built a barn from Locusts for the framing and Poplar poles for the rafters. The Tin roof and lumber for the siding came from an old Chicken House my Grandpa wanted torn down, my job started out removing and straightening nails which we re-purposed in the barn. The Locust for the frame were thirty feet long with a diameter of around twelve inches at the base, lacking nails or bolts long enough to connect the frame we drilled holes through both poles then drove rebar pieces Dad had procured somewhere, through them and bent the ends with a go-devil. This created a very sturdy two story barn. Thanks Ed for showing how country folks were talented and could survive even though money was short, sweat was plentiful.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing your memory Ed and all the comments that followed.God Bless.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 21, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    I remember my Dad showing me a shed he helped his uncle build when He (Dad) was still a boy. His uncle Dewey, my great-uncle, told him, “This will be here when we are both long gone.” They are long gone now but unless torn down I expect that shed does remain.

  • Reply
    Shirley B
    May 21, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks to Ed for that well written story full of wisdom,instructions,and memories.I think I will look at sheds a bit differently now.We too have one.It has some useful stuff,some junk, but a lot of memories,like a chair from our very first dinette set.We laugh sometimes and say that some of the things that we cherish ,our kids will probably sell at a garage sale someday!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    May 21, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    We called it the smokehouse but I never remember anything being smoked in it–there was a rough box built in that meat was salted in & there were remnants of salt there for years. I remember hog killing when I was pretty little–the hanging carcass & cutting up the meat, etc. but anything being put in the salt is gone from my memory.
    It was used for storage & my older brother used it for a shop & later it was a hunting dog house with a pen attached. Before all that, Mama’s clotheslines were attached to one outside wall. I remember the older boys playing outside at night & one jumping off the smokehouse roof & landing straddle of one of the clotheslines–makes me think of Funniest Home Videos.
    The smokehouse is long gone–hadn’t thought of it in years. Thanks for the memories.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 21, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I very much enjoyed this tale.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 21, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I very much enjoyed this tale.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 21, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I very much enjoyed this tale.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 21, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I very much enjoyed this tale.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Gosh! I really enjoyed Ed’s story
    and memories of The Shed. Our life was a lot like this and it brought back wonderful memories as I was reading. I had a brother named Harold too, just a couple years older than me. Daddy had built us a shed too, for the animals and as
    a corn and fodder shed about 200
    feet from the house.
    Ed’s description of life when
    we were all young plants those
    special memories of childhood.
    Thanks Ed! …Ken

  • Reply
    May 21, 2015 at 10:15 am

    We had a barn Dad built from hand cut timbers and bought tin, it also had a storm pit in the bottom on one side which the top served as a work shop inside the barn.. Then he built a smaller shed in which one end he cured meat and the other he parked his lawnmower and other tools.. Good story, brought back memories..

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    May 21, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Essential to country living, sheds are important – this one especially so to Ed, for he had a hand in building it. And I like sheds for their honest architecture – pure function with no pretension. Ed’s shed is beautiful.
    We also always called the Tulip tree a Poplar, or a Tulip Poplar, as people always have. I wonder how the Poplar moniker started, the tulip tree being in the oak family rather than the poplar family.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    May 21, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Tipper, I really enjoyed Ed’s post. It is amazing how much knowledge has been lost in the past fifty years; the economy of how to do certain tasks, the knowledge of different woods at different seasons in their lives, the way to live with our environment and from it. All of these things depend on somebody passing down this information to the next generation and showing them how it is done. I am thankful there are still some people who have that knowledge.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2015 at 9:09 am

    I hope Ed or someone shares this story with the current owners. They might appreciate knowing a little of the history of their place – I know I would.
    There were several outbuildings on the property when my daughter and son-in-law bought their lovingly used home. After a lot of clorox, the old chicken coop became a playhouse for their girls, the partially closed in pole barn (which had become shelter for a car when the original owners closed in the garage for a playroom)became a shelter for their sunfish sailboat, the former playroom became my daughter’s studio. The small “barn” became a workshop and storage unit. Finally, the horse barn retained its original use – as storage for lawn mowers, tillers, weed eaters, and anything else with horsepower.
    Seems most places have a story. The place we lived before now was left with a big hole in the back yard. The kids and their friends made it when they were in elementary school. They had been digging for about a week when I noticed the area seemed to be expanding toward a utility pole. Seemed a good time to ask what was going on – – they were “digging a hole to China”. We got them to move by telling them if they kept digging there they’d run into the Himalayas, the world’s tallest mountains and that would take them even longer. They moved to a more acceptable location (also, away from my roses and vegetable garden and worked for a sold summer. Neighborhood kids joined in making our yard full of laughter and dirty kids and several water “fights” essential to cleaning up. Other parents were thrilled to have their offspring occupied elsewhere and some even unscheduled assorted camps at the begging of their little miners.
    A time or two, rains turned the hole into a swimming pool which yielded mud covered “monsters” from the “deep”. One particular evening, a few of our summer residents were staying over for the night so I herded them into the bathroom for a final clean-up. As I went to check on those waiting their turn in the back yard, I heard sounds (squeals of delight and soft thuds)which make any parent hustle to the point of origin. There I found yet another mud fight(gleaned from mud packed long hair of little girls) underway. They weren’t quite as gleeful as they cleaned the walls, floor, cabinets etc. They couldn’t reach the ceiling and for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to clean it either.
    15 years later, when we sold the house, the realtor insisted that we clean it up. By that time, the stain was well set and we ended up just leaving it. I would have loved to have cut that out and brought it with me.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Thank you for sharing your story, Ed.It reminds me so much of the tales of my Dad’s way of life cutting and milling lumber with his family from a very young age, before he left Arkansas.
    Also, we need to appreciate the time, effort and love which went into building in those long ago days to provide for their families, only to be disregarded by others later on.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2015 at 8:59 am

    My ex-husband had two sheds torn down before we moved in the farmhouse. He rented the house to a strange couple only days after we bought it. I didn’t get to pick through the antiques stored in the sheds, but later heard the renter took a GE fridge with a round top that is still in use. One of the remaining sheds used to be a chicken house and is now stuffed with junk. The two back supports have rotted and left the back of the shed on the ground. I had some repairmen take a look at raising it and adding new supports. One gentleman said, “Mam, leave it alone and don’t weaken it. I can only wish to find another shed that is built as sturdy as this one.” Another “Ed” has probably told stories about building my shed that is similar to this beautiful post written by Ed Ammons.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    May 21, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Ed’s post brought back many memories of our shed on the farm in the Matheson Cove. Every thing we needed to store for a time would be placed in ‘the shed’ until it was needed. THANKS!
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Author “Fiddler of the Mountains” on AMAZON.COM

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    May 21, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Really enjoyed Ed’s story it just goes to show you the younger generation doesn’t care like we do.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 21, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Thank you, Ed! That’s a wonderful story that clearly depicts our country beliefs and values along with our self-sufficiency and independence.
    I bought a little old house out in the country and I love it. There are three sheds in back. They are attached to each other, built on as needed. One is for fire wood, one is a workshop, and one is tool/lawnmower storage. The last two have locks but the woodshed does not.
    The workshop had a work bench bench, tools, and storage cabinets. I like to tinker sometimes and an thrilled with the work space….it even has a vice. I’ve wanted a vice for years.
    Sheds are important to country life!

  • Reply
    May 21, 2015 at 7:35 am

    I really enjoyed reading that memory. It reminded me of the house my dad worked on with one of his brothers so we would have a summer home along the Jersey Shore. It had been sold to a family member and then he sold it for a newer home. The house originally belonged to my grandfather and rooms were added as needed. The main structure is still there, but changed a lot on the outside. Thanks for creating a pleasant memory. Maybe someday you will tell the new owners your story.

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