By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

There’s nothing quite as refreshing as an pastoral view, with a campfire, and having a good time at “The Butler Bar.”

Barb and Dennis Gulbranson of Spring Grove feel at home in their newly renovated grain bin bar, affectionately called “The Butler Bar,” due to the bin’s brand name. 

The grain bin originally stood on the farm where Dennis grew up. He estimates it probably stood there from about the 1950s, when his father built it and used it. Recently, the bin was moved to Barb and Dennis’ property just over the hill about a year and a half ago. When the Gulbranson’s cleaned up the old farm site, it was the last thing to be cleaned up. 

“He didn’t know whether to recycle it, bury it or move it. I wanted it, he wasn’t on board with it,” Barb explained. However, the bin made its way over the hill, thanks to Reggie Berns using an excavator and a creative method to move it. 

Berns put a tire inside the center of the grain bin at the top, lowered a bar and chain through the center of the roof, where it rested on the tired, lifted it up and carefully drove it across the newly planted cornfield. It came home to rest for about a year and a half before Barb and Dennis started to renovate it.

Barb had seen similar designs online previously, and that’s where inspiration struck. Though theirs wasn’t quite as big as others, it would turn out to be the perfect size for family and friends to gather and for grandkids to hang out. 

“We do a lot of campfires. It’s nice to have a gathering place,” Barb said. “For the grandkids, they love to hang out here.”

In fact, the lower counter top allows all seven grandkids to feel part of the atmosphere and allows friends who are shorter or in wheelchairs to be part of the gathering as well. 

Once the idea came together, poured aggregate was used as a foundation. Then, the Gulbransons asked local woodworker Tim Blanski to find barn beams that would support the bin. Blanski also made the three hard maple countertops that weigh about 130 lbs. each and have a live edge.

The wood countertops have almost the same curvature of the bin as well. Dennis was able to make cardboard templates of the slabs and place them on a “scale” of sorts that allowed him to determine the exact spacing of the countertops. 

Barb and Dennis used another local source for beams that hold up the heavy counter tops: Iron Hide Fabrication owner Nate Borreson. 

Borreson was able to weld the beams that all had individual measurements due to the uniqueness of the countertops. He also cut out the windows in the bin itself, which can be used to cover the interior space when winter comes. A metal American flag designed by Borreson hangs on the interior of the bin. 

Finally, the last touches included electricity and water – both hot and cold – although Barb didn’t want that installed at first.

“I wanted it really rustic,” she said. “It’s gotten be bigger than what I thought.”

Inside, there’s a refrigerator, popcorn machine and cabinets and a rolling cart from the horse barn that was recently cleaned out. The door to the grain bin was preserved as well. 

Much of the decorations and accents come from old items and materials, such as a unique two-foot long tractor crank that serves as a hanging flower basket holder. The brand name sign “Butler” was found by a family member, and the sign hanging inside was made by another family member.

“It has a little bit of everything,” Dennis said. “Nothing was really planned. Everything kind of fit together.”

“The view is gorgeous. Sitting at the counters, it’s peaceful, quiet,” Barb added.

As for preserving the wood countertops, the Gulbransons called on an Amish gentleman to make fabric covers, and the countertops get covered every night. So far, the raccoons haven’t decided to host any parties in the new bar. Once winter comes, they plan on removing the countertops and storing them away for the winter. 

As for gatherings, the word has gotten out about the Gulbranson’s new hang out. Family and friends have enjoyed the new space, including a family gathering with all the grandkids in one spot in two years. Barb’s water aerobics class and their card club have also enjoyed the new space.

“The grandkids really had fun with it. Sitting at the counter serving each other, playing games,” she said. “We played bocce ball, had campfires, lots of times we do s’mores.”

Dennis said one of his granddaughters affectionately refers to him as the butler. When questioned why, she said, “Because you do whatever I need.” 

The Butler Bar isn’t completely finished yet. There’s still interior countertops to be installed too. Covid-19 has also led the Gulbranson’s to other projects, such as renovating the granary building and putting on a new roof, cleaning out the horse barn and adding a great room onto their house. 

For now, they’re looking forward to more campfires, s’mores and good times at “The Butler Bar.”

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