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Roofing contractor tackles a tall order

Bob Peterson (top) stands at the ready while a new piece of plywood is cut to fit a hole in the round barn's roof. The crew has been working on the project for two months and hopes to be done in the next few weeks.

A vintage round barn in rural New Richmond is getting a new lease on life, thanks to an area roofing contractor.

A four-man crew from Bob Peterson Exteriors has been working on the project at Bob and Kathy Frydenlund's farm since early November. They hope to have the job completed by the end of January.

"The biggest challenge so far has been the weather," said owner Bob Peterson during a short break. "You expect to deal with weather this time of the year, but the near record snowfall and the really cold temperatures have set us back a bit."

The crew has been continuing their work, no matter the circumstances. Even wind chills near 35 below haven't kept them off the top of the 60-foot-tall barn.

Heavy snows in recent weeks were a hassle as well, but the contractor removed the white stuff quickly with leaf blowers so that delays would be at a minimum.

The crew spent about two weeks replacing trusses inside the 94-year-old barn. The structure had a bad case of dry rot in spots, so it wasn't safe for the roofers to climb on top.

"We didn't know if we were going to be able to do the job," Peterson said. "Our first concern is always safety. That's our number one priority when we're up there."

Once they were convinced that they would be safe, the crew members had to tackle the removal of two layers of old roofing materials. The original wooden shingles, installed in 1914, along with a top layer of asphalt shingles from 1958 were pulled off the barn.

"You didn't know what kind of surprise you were going to find under each piece of old roof," Peterson said.

Once the old roofing was gone, the contractor had to install a new deck before putting up new shingles. The crew used more than 250 pieces of new plywood to construct a new roof for the round barn.

That was a huge challenge, Peterson said, because the roof isn't your typical symmetrical building covering.

"Every dimension for each piece of plywood has been different," he explained. "None of the cuts have been the same."

The crew members on top of the barn would yell out the dimensions of the plywood they needed next. The person operating the saw below would then cut the custom piece, then yet another crew member slowly walked the heavy piece up a long ladder.

Each piece took about 10 minutes to complete and eventually nail into place.

"It's been the most challenging job we've ever done," admitted Peterson, who has about 20 years in the roofing business. "It's the tallest building we've ever been on and it's got quite a pitch to it."

Previous experience working on church roofs helped them deal with the slope of the roof, Peterson said, but the round barn has presented numerous unique challenges they are likely never to see again.

"This is one of those projects that you only do once in a lifetime," he said. "When it's all said and done, this is the one project I'll be talking about for years."

Peterson said he'd never even seen a round barn prior to accepting the Frydenlund's job.

"This is something I really wanted to do," he said. "The sense of history and the historic value is really something. It gives you a sense of pride, knowing what you are doing."

Peterson's wife, however, isn't apparently as thrilled with the idea. She and the couple's four kids usually visit all of Peterson's work sites, but they have avoided coming to the Wisconsin round barn so far.

"She doesn't want to see us up on this one," said Peterson, noting that she couldn't even stand to look at pictures of the work site.

The Frydenlunds have owned the round barn since buying the Town of Erin Prairie farmstead in 1995.

They had hoped to restore the structure but high costs have kept renovation work to a minimum.

The Frydenlunds have written a couple small books about round barns and sold them via the Internet. Money collected from the sale of the books has been set aside for future work on their own barn.

But it wasn't until a serious hail storm this past summer that plans for a new roof began to take shape. An insurance settlement and money from the book fund were finally enough to move forward.

Once the roof is completed, Kathy said the couple plans to dream big about the barn's future. The Frydenlunds hope to install a new floor in the round structure so they can host reunions and weddings in the barn in the future.

"But that's a few years down the road, however," Kathy said.