Home in a grain bin

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 18, 2002

As you travel the country roads of America, one of the things that can be seen in most rural areas is a Butler grain bin.

These huge commodity storage bins began around 1907 when Butler Manufacturing Company realized the farmer's need for storage of corn and other grains harvested on their farms. Immediately following World War II their storage bins became very popular.

With the decline in farming, these gigantic giants stand abandoned and rusting near fields once green with corn, milo and wheat.

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Two of these storage bins have been salvaged and given new life in McKenzie, Alabama, a rural community in south Butler County.

Robert (Bob) Stackle has converted them into a unique home where he and his dog, Dixie, live.

Stackle moved from the fast pace Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to McKenzie where life moves a lot slower.

There, he noticed four Butler grain bins sitting abandoned on the farm of Shannon Odom.

With consent of the Odom family, Bob began his challenge of turning the abandoned bin into a house.

The house consists of two Butler grain bins that are approximately 20 foot in diameter.

A wrap-around porch has been attached to the front bin.

Bob and his companion Dixie while away the afternoons in a swing that hangs from the rafters of the porch.

A country style railing has been built around the outer edge. The crawl space is covered with latticework.

Bob eagerly greets the visitors who, like me, stop out of curiosity to look at his unique house. A gracious host, he walked us through the house, answering our questions about the construction of the house interior.

The grain bins are connected only by a breeze way or hallway.

Doors allow exit to the outside on each of the connecting room.

The idea is similar to the old fashion &uot;dog-trot&uot; of houses built in the mid-1800s.

Corrugated metal walls of the grain bins are partially covered by 8-foot sheets of pine wood paneling.

The floor is constructed of natural hardwood.

A hallway extends from the front door to the rear door located at the back of the second bin.

The first section of the Stackle house consists of living room, dining room, kitchen and den. The living room is the first room you enter. Above it, on a second floor is the den.

A curved staircase with hand rubbed rails is attached to the exterior wall of the grain bin. The metal interior walls in the den are covered with paneling. A ceiling fan that cools the entire front living quarters drops from the highest point of the grain bin.

Stackle explained that construction of the house was accomplished in about one and a half years.

The hardest part, he said, was placement of the ceiling fan.

Because of the slope of the grain bin roof, the fan had to be put together one piece at a time and lower through the grain port at the top of the bin.

It was then lowered to its present position and bolted into place.

An exhaust fan has been placed in another grain porthole on the lower side of the roof.

Perhaps the most unique item in the house is the decoration on the front interior wall.

Lights extending into the balcony, or den area, come from headlamps of a vehicle.

Protruding from the wall is the front-end of a real 1950 Buick.

A yellow hood, chrome grill and chrome rimmed headlamps light up the room.

A dimmer switch is used to change the intensity of the lighting.

Other wall hangings include part of a motor, a steering wheel, horns, and several Alabama license plates.

A breakfast bar separates the living room and dining room. Across the hallway from the dining area is the kitchen.

It consists of a full size refrigerator, sink and antique gas-burning stove.

The Quick Meal gas stove is pre-1940 and in mint condition.

The date of manufacture is believed to be about 1929.

The second grain bin is Bob's personal living quarters.

Another staircase leads to an upstairs bedroom.

Across from the staircase is the bathroom.

Fixtures include a black marble shower stall with etched glass.

A black marble garden tub is located in a separate room that joins the backside of the main area of the bath.

The last feature of this unique house is found in the rear of the second bin.

Louvered folding doors mark the entrance to a utility area that houses a washer and dryer.

Across the hallway is a linen closet.

Once towels and other bath essentials are placed in the closet, they can be removed through doors inside the bathroom near the garden tub.

A rear door, when opened in conjunction with the front door allows a continuous flow of air throughout the house.

Windows used in the construction were limited to the living room and bathroom.

It is well insulated throughout.

Bob named his house, &uot;The Two Can&uot;.

He has been living in it for about two and a half years.

When asked about heating and air conditioning, he said it needed little of either.

&uot;It is cool in the summer, and takes little to heat it in the winter.

You don't have to worry about storms either,&uot; he added.

&uot;The bins don't give to the winds.&uot;

Two more unused Butler grain bins stand nearby.

I asked Bob if he had plans for expansion.

&uot;I might add a garage and a workshop,&uot; he stated.

There was pride in his voice.

There is pride in his workmanship.

The victim of a rare disease, Bob can no longer hold a full time job.

Like his mother, Bob suffers from Ataxia, a hereditary disease that has also been passed to each of his siblings.

He spends his afternoons relaxing in a swing on the front porch with Dixie by his side.

On weekends you may find him frying fish or cooking barbeque with a crowd of neighbors gathered around.

On occasion, he will entertain curious passers-by with a private viewing of

&uot;The Two Can.&uot;

Mildred L. Brown is a freelance writer and photographer who travels rural areas in search of unusual and forgotten things of the past.

She occasional writes a column entitled &uot;Taking the Backroads.&uot;