Lynn Boadwine got on his cell phone to summon help moments after his barn roof collapsed on Christmas morning. “It was incredible,” Boadwine said. “Less than two hours after the barn went down, we had several loads of lumber here and about 25 neighborhood volunteers.” (photo by Jerry Nelson)
Lynn Boadwine got on his cell phone to summon help moments after his barn roof collapsed on Christmas morning. “It was incredible,” Boadwine said. “Less than two hours after the barn went down, we had several loads of lumber here and about 25 neighborhood volunteers.” (photo by Jerry Nelson)
BALTIC, S.D. - The Christmas Day blizzard that blasted its way across the Midwest left towering drifts of misery in its wake. Up to two feet of heavy, wet snow combined with gale force winds to shut down airports and interstate highways all over the region.

There were several reports from dairies in the region that suffered barn roof collapses. One such calamity occurred at the Lynn Boadwine farm.

"It happened at about 7:30 on Christmas morning," said Boadwine, who is currently milking 1,460 head on his family's dairy. "One of our hired guys who was in that area heard a loud pop, which was the first truss giving away. He said that was followed shortly by a deep roar as the other trusses broke like a row of dominos and the roof caved in."

When it was over, 330 feet of the roof on an 8-year-old, 780-foot long loafing barn had collapsed. While there is no final tally regarding the cost of this misfortune, Boadwine estimates the bill for cleanup and repairs could run as high as a quarter of a million dollars.

As bad as the disaster was, it could have been much, much worse.

"There were hardly any cows in there at that time as it was milking time for that pen," Boadwine said. "If it had collapsed an hour later, we would have had 340 head of cows in that area. It was breeding day, so many of them would have been in the headlocks, which is where most of the roof landed. We could have also lost some people. An hour later and we would have had men in there doing AI work on those cows."

As it was, Boadwine lost only ten head of cattle.

"That initial pop spooked most of the remaining cows and caused them to run out of the pen. There's still one cow that we haven't accounted for. We're pretty sure she's somewhere underneath that pile of rubble."

Boadwine immediately got on his cell phone and began to summon help.

"We could see that the top cord of the trusses in the west part of the shed were starting to crack and break," he said. "We quickly evacuated the cows from that part of the shed. One of my first calls was to a carpenter friend of mine, followed by a call to the lumberyard. I knew that if we didn't shore up the roof on the west part of the shed, it wouldn't be long before it also collapsed."

Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead soon arrived on the scene, along with a fire and rescue team.

"Once we convinced Sheriff Milstead that there were no human casualties, he asked how he could help," Boadwine said. "I told him we needed to get some lumber from the Dell Rapids lumberyard. He called out the snowplows and had them break a path from here to the lumberyard. I-29 was closed down, but he ordered a short section of it opened so that we could get the lumber here as quickly as possible."

As news of the disaster at Boadwine Dairy spread, neighbors began to arrive and volunteer their assistance.

"It was incredible," Boadwine said. "Less than two hours after the barn went down, we had a couple loads of lumber here and about 25 neighborhood volunteers. Some of them used cutting torches and chop saws to free cows that were trapped in the debris while others formed a team that built a system of posts to shore up the roof on the west end of the barn."

The volunteers worked straight though the entire day, not even stopping to take a break for lunch.

"Many of the guys commented that this was a lot different than any other Christmas they'd ever had," Boadwine said.

Boadwine's nightmare was far from over once the shock had worn off and the initial crisis had passed.

"We had to keep on milking cows the whole time," he said. "We were also suddenly short of housing for more than 300 head. Fortunately, we were able to move some heifers over to a neighbor's place. We then retrofitted the heifer barn to accommodate milk cows."

The snow load on the roofs of the buildings at Boadwine Dairy continued to hang dangerously overhead. Some sections of roof held snow that was as much as three to four feet thick. A cubic foot of snow was retrieved from a shed roof and weighed. It tipped the scales at some 41 pounds.

"The roof was engineered to hold more than 30 pounds per square foot of snow load," Boadwine said. "There's no way it could have withstood that amount of weight.

"We had a fire truck come out the day after the collapse to try to blow the snow off the roof with water. It worked, but 4,000 gallons of water cleared only about 14 feet of roof."

Boadwine then had a machinist rig up a homemade snow rake to attach to his telehandler. The rake allowed Boadwine to scrape the majority of the snow from his sagging roofs.

"The emergency posts that we installed aren't even touching the ground anymore," he says. "The trusses sprang back up once the bulk of the snow load was removed."

"What I find is that most roof collapses occur about two to three days after a heavy snow," said Jeff Roerick, Loss Control Inspector for Elmdale Farmers Mutual Insurance of Upsala, Minn. "This is because the snow tends to pull in moisture from the atmosphere and gain weight."

Roerick said there isn't much that can be done to prevent a situation such as Boadwine now faces.

"You should obviously rake the snow off as soon as you can," said Roerick. "I have heard of guys pressure washing their roofs in the fall of the year to help make the snow slide easier, but there aren't a lot of dairy farmers who have the time to do that. Otherwise, I would recommend that they check and repair their lateral bracing, which helps keep the trusses from kicking out under extreme loads. You would also want to repair any broken rafters.

"Most local zoning ordinances require that roofs be able to withstand 35 pounds per square foot of live snow load. We don't often get a snowstorm like the one we had at Christmas. It's very difficult to plan for an event such as that."

Boadwine has a couple of lessons to take away from this experience.

"First is that I would be a lot quicker about inspecting my barns," he said. "Anything that looks even a little bit off would receive attention. We are going to reinforce all the gusset plates with plywood and we're looking at installing a post and beam system to help the trusses carry the roof load.

"But above all, I am deeply grateful for all the help we received from our neighbors. We're so lucky to live in the kind of place where people simply show up, roll up their sleeves and pitch in!"