Food, fun and old-fashioned music await those who visit the historic round barn near Mullinville.
Built in 1912 and restored in 1995, the Fromme-Birney round barn near Mullinville was meant to house up to 25 field-working draft horses. It served that purpose for only four years, but stands tall and proud on the Kansas prairie ready for visitors to pass through May 3-6, 2018 when Big Kansas Round Trip participants tour the area.
"We really have no idea what to expect," said barn caretaker and local musician Norval Ralstin. "We've been cleaning it up regularly and it's ready. We will just be there serving biscuits and gravy in the morning and playing some good old music in the evening."
The Mullinville Recreation Commission will prepare and serve sunrise breakfast of biscuits and gravy on Saturday, May 5. Other events scheduled for that Saturday at the barn, located 3 1/2 miles south and 1 3/4 miles west of Highway 54 and the Mullinville Main Street, include a book signing from 1-4 p.m. with Trudy Weaver Flowers, who tells about the 1930's Depression and Dust Bowl in "Storms on the Prairie." At 4 p.m. the will be a barn restoration and tips presentation by Len Schamber, a historic preservation contractor with Schamber Historic Preservation, Damar, Kansas. Tamina Fromme, the great granddaughter of both the original round barn owner (HW Fromme) and the builder (Pat Campbell) will lead a tour at 5 p.m. and talk about the history and architecture of the barn. Musical entertainment begins at 6 p.m. with Rastin on the wood saw, Wilma McChristian and Tracy Weaver on accordions, Eldon Weaver blowing the harmonica and Trudy Weaver Flowers on the ukulele.
At 7 p.m. Jeff Davidson, a Kansas singer/songwriter will perform his original works as well as vintage songs of old to lead audiences through the history of the "Winnin' of the West" which shaped the economy, ideology and heroism of a young nation at the time the round barn was built.
"If we have a hundred or so people, we'll give our show up in the hayloft," Ralstin said. "If more than 150 turnout, we will have our program in the bottom of the barn. There's plenty of room."
For Ralstin, playing in the round barn is something he's enjoyed before and is glad to do again. He began playing on the musical saw when he was in college at Kansas State University more than 60 years ago.
"A couple of my friends played some instruments. There was a guy on the banjo, another had a ukulele, and the star of our band had a work-up bass. That's a wash tub with a broom handle and a bass fiddle string," Ralstin said. "I had heard a guy strumming a saw before so I just picked it up and tried it. Been playing it ever since. It sounds kind of like a violin, but my range is only about an octave and a half."
Ralstin has taken care of the Fromme-Birney round barn for more than 25 years, picking up trash from visitors, working the fences and mowing grass. He remembers stories about when the barn was built and the magnificent horses that used to reside there.
"It really wasn't for keeping the horses in," he said. "There was a big box stall for the fancy French stud they imported, but mostly it was created so that they could bring the big teams in there to harness them up in the morning. Then when they took a break at noon, they could bring in the horses and get them in the shade to feed them. There are actually 16 sides to the barn and they have big doors they could adjust to get a nice breeze going through there."
Ralstin said the barn became obsolete, or more accurately farming methods changed so drastically when the tractor was invented in 1915, that draft horses were no longer needed.
"They did keep the hay mow busy and stored hay up there for several years, but after 1916 it wasn't used for it's original purpose any more," he said.
The barn did not stand empty however. Ralstin said one person used it for cattle for awhile, another cowboy broke horses inside, using the round inside as a corral. After it was restored in 1995, it became a popular place for weddings and receptions.
Another interesting note Ralstin said is that Bob Neier, also a round barn caretaker and Kiowa County native, began storing antiques or just old stuff there after the 2007 Greensburg tornado took his family home. He put price tags on things and found that visitors to the round barn liked to buy old items.
"He's kept a few things in there to look at through the years and it has been interesting to see what people like," Ralstin said.
The round barn is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Architecture. It has been a long-time tourist site in Kiowa County and visitors are always welcome. It will be interesting to see how many visitors pass through the weekend of May 3-6. Ralstin and the old barn are ready to find out.