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    Relics From Yesteryear

    Nebraska couple turns historic granaries into antique shops

    By Marti Attoun

    Photography by Gerard Attoun

    The grain bins at Lori and Pat Clinch’s farm used to hold wheat, grain, and milo. But now they hold thousands of treasures — hand-cranked wooden washing machines, Hoosier kitchen cabinets, and horse-drawn farming implements.

    “I like saving history,” Lori says.

    Adds Pat, “And repurposing. We don’t throw anything away.”

    That’s how the couple ended up restoring 19 Depression-era octagonal wooden grain bins to create their Antique Grain Bin Town near North Platte, Neb.

    During the 1930s and 1940s, the government issued the prefabricated bins to farmers in the Midwest to store grain and other commodities for times of shortfall. Some were manufactured in Wahoo, Neb., and were shipped by rail in kit form to be assembled on site by the farmers.

    “They’ve got some nice age and patina,” Pat says about the 14-foot and 20-foot-wide granaries, which have cedar walls. Originally, they had cedar shingles or rolled roofing, but Pat added steel roofs with an overhang. He anchored them on concrete piers and cut two windows and a full-size door into each bin. The originals had a half-size door for scooping out grain.

    But the Clinches didn’t set out to create a one-of-a-kind antiquing paradise. In 2012, they bought their first tumbledown bin on a farm near Paxton, Neb.

     

    Pat, who’s been in the construction business for 35 years, repurposed it for a sitting room for their farm. It was such a cozy country retreat that friends wanted one.

     

    On the lookout for more of the eight-sided bins, Pat and Lori found 14 on a farm in Palisade, Neb. and wrote to the farmer to see if he’d be interested in selling one.

     

    “Most farmers just bulldoze them over and shove them in,” Pat says. “If the roof gets off, they rot and are ruined.” The farmer was eager to get rid of them.

     

    Lori assumed that they’d buy one bin, but Pat hatched a grand plan to repurpose the whole bunch.

    “He said, ‘Let’s keep them all and make an antique shop.’ I think he wanted to make an income off my hobby,” says Lori, an enthusiastic picker. “My great-grandmother sold antiques and I grew up with antiques.”

     

    Open for Business

     

    In August 2013, Pat and Lori opened the Grain Bin Antique Town with six restored bins on their 50-acre farm perched atop scenic canyons. Pat salvaged Douglas fir lumber from a 1916 grade school being demolished and built a boardwalk to connect the bins.

     

    Motorists by necessity slow down as they travel the bumpy country road, once traveled by horse and buggy, to reach the Antique Grain Bin Town. Some folks bring a picnic and relax on the grounds.

     

    Vendors keep the bins stocked with relics from yesteryear: kiddie pedal tractors, primitive wire garden gates, oak pedestal tables, oxen yokes, delicate linens and beaded purses, and massive cabinets and back bars from defunct hardware and general stores.

     

    “The neatest thing is when the farmers come here and tell us what we have,” says Lori.

     

    One old-timer reminisced about farming as a boy with a horse-drawn grain drill, which they have for sale, and being scolded for trying to hitch a ride.

     

    “His father told him, ‘That horse works hard enough. You walk behind that drill,’” Lori says.

     

    Lori’s best friend, Terrie Mooney, has helped from the start. However, the Clinches never imagined that they’d need to hire help.

     

    “We thought we’d be open once in a while,” Lori says. Then one of their sons created a Facebook page and interest began to grow.

     

    Today, Antique Grain Bin Town stays open year-round. Bins are unheated, but customers warm up and shop some more in the huge barn-workshop that Pat built.

    “People say it’s the neatest antique store they’ve ever been in,” Lori says.

     

    Shoppers arrive from near and far.

     

    As Michelle Mattick, of Glendive, Mont., browses the bins, she snaps a photo of an old farmhouse sink mounted on a treadle sewing machine base.

     

    “I’ve never seen one like that,” she says and smiles. “I’m actually shopping for furniture, a corner piece.”

     

    But getting distracted by primitive bed springs reborn as candle holders, windmill blades as wall décor, rusty tractor seats, and gas-station signs is much of the fun.

     

    Teresa Schroder, of Stapleton, Neb., marvels at the sheer variety of items as she moseys from bin to bin.

     

    “There’s always something new to see here,” she says. “I love the grain bins. It’s such an awesome way to reuse them.”

     

    Pat is finishing the restoration of the 19th bin, which the farmer used for several years to raise chickens. “So this is the second go-around for this bin,” he says.

     

    For the Clinches, being able to save a bit of rural history and share it with visitors and treasure hunters has proven to be a load of fun — make that bushels of fun.