The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek

Our story so far: We found some good-looking, affordable manufactured stone veneer for the fireplace in the great room of the old Methodist church we were converting into a home.

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You know how when you’re looking for something, you tend to find it everywhere? In that way serendipity works, we happened by a fireplace store on the way home from the manufactured stone showroom. The young salesman was well-informed about all things fire (including some envy-worthy outdoor grills we’d like to own at some point when we had free time to drink red wine and grill juicy steaks), and he was happy to show us some heavy-duty manufactured wood fireplace mantels. Unfortunately, the longest one he offered measured six feet; we needed seven. And his price was appalling.

Tyler began asking around for barn beams he could repurpose into a mantel, but he met with little success. We weren’t the only people who aspired to a rustic look, making barn wood beams all the rage and therefore, pricy.

So Tyler once again turned to Craig’s List, and before long, a real barn beam turned up. The seller was asking only about a quarter of what we would have paid for the too-short manufactured beam.

But he lived in downtown Chicago. Ninety minutes of high-volume traffic away.

My kind of town, Chicago is, if you’re content to ride the “L,” the city rail system. Or flag down a rude taxi driver. Or take your chances with Uber. If you’re driving a car, it’s a video game of narrow one-way streets filled with parked cars and obnoxious jay walkers who pop out of nowhere in the middle of the block.

And driving a nineteen-foot extended cab pick-up through Chicago’s residential streets only amps up the stress.

Well, the seller lived on a street like that.

But we managed to connect with him in front of his brownstone where we double-parked briefly, and he showed us to the alley behind his house. As he flipped open his garage door, the barn wood beam inside seemed to glow. I swear could hear the sort of cinematic music set to Bo Derek’s beach scene in the movie “10” (am I dating myself?).

This hand-hewn barn-wood beam was perfect.

Eight feet long and ten inches square, this beam could have been a model for an authentic looking manufactured wood mantel. Because it was as authentic as it gets. It even sported a rusty nail.

The seller told us he personally removed the beam from the peak of a 122-year-old barn near Dyersville, Iowa, and transported it to Chicago to use part of it in his house. If Dyersville sounds familiar, it’s because “Field of Dreams” was filmed there in the midst of America’s most iconic corn fields.

“What do you think?” Tyler asked me in a tone of voice he used when he didn’t want to show the seller how much he really wanted it.

“Sure, if that’s the look you’re going for,” I equivocated.

“Will you take $200?” Tyler asked the seller. He only asked this so he could say he tried.

“$275. Firm. You won’t find another beam like that for less than three times the price.”

The seller knew his product.

“Pay the man,” Tyler told me.

Now we had to get the beam home. It weighed two hundred pounds if it weighed an ounce.

Fortunately, the seller was willing to help. He and Tyler wrangled it into the back of the truck (tailgate down), and we secured it with a tie-down. But let’s be honest. If the beam was going to fall out of the truck when we were driving down the interstate at seventy-five miles an hour, no puny ratchet strap was going to stop it. We would have just kept going.

As we were driving away through the narrow alley, our perfect fireplace mantel in tow, Tyler marveled at his exquisite find.

“Kinda crazy though,” Tyler mused. “I thought I’d find one way out in the country, and I ended up finding one in downtown Chicago.”

beam post presure wash
We successfully transported the barn beam home, where Tyler pressure-washed 122 years of dust off it. Here, it’s drying in the sun outside the church.

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Tomorrow: What a home without a hearth? Read about it here.

3 thoughts on “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek

  1. Glad you found it! Too bad we don’t have our sawmill running anymore. Mitch could of cut you whatever you needed. The Kirkland Sawmill in Kirkland, IL would of been able to cut you something too.


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