Nebraska family looks back on barn moving event

Published: Feb. 20, 2017 at 7:18 PM CST
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Many Nebraskans still talk about it. That time in the 1980’s when hundreds of volunteers moved a barn by hand.

1988 was a great year for Mike and Karen Ostry. A week before they got married, the small Nebraska community of Bruno celebrated its 100th anniversary.

“Bruno got put on the world map that day,” said Mike Ostry, who took a WOWT 6 News crew back to the barn that captivated the town.

What started as a promotion to bring people to the centennial took a life of its own.

On July 30, 1988, more than 4,000 people stopped by his father’s farm because they sensed disaster.

“They’ll be 328 of us lifting this barn,” said a man into a bullhorn that day 29 years ago.

The Ostry family needed to move this barn to higher ground because it kept getting flooded.

“It was something that hadn’t been done before,” said Karen Ostry.

Machines would not be involved. It was manpower. 344 neighbors volunteered to move the barn.

In 1988, a priest stopped by the farm to bless the project. “For doing something you’ve never done before – you better be praying.”

With Mike’s father Herman Ostry guiding the volunteers through each lift and each step over the course of 115-feet, the barn move was a success.

“It worked. It worked, “ said Mike Ostry, who had been responsible for constructing the handles for everyone to use in the move.

It did not come crashing down as so many in attendance expected. Those who were waiting for failure that day, ending up losing cash.

“I could see money passing back and forth behind me. Can I have my cut?” said Mike. “There were a lot of lost bets that day. They didn’t think it would happen.”

The barn belonged to Mike’s parents, Herman and Donna Ostry, who live on a farm just north of Bruno.

In his mind, there was no doubting the plan in 1988.

“100% that it was going to work -- I have faith in our maker,” said Herman as he pointed to the sky.

But for all the success that day, Herman and Donna Ostry are still irked by one thing.

“Everybody thought it was important except for the Guinness book,” said Donna.

The packet of information the Ostry’s submitted to the Guinness Book of Records – complete with verification from the Nebraska’s Division of Weights and Measures about moving a barn with human muscle only -- was rejected.

The deputy editor of Guinness Records told them barn moving was “not an activity which has shown itself to be of widespread interest.”

Reporter: “What would you say now if the Guinness people showed up?”

Herman: “It’s about time. Ha. Ha.”

But then again – who thought 344 people would move a 20,000-pound barn 115 feet?

“It’s fun listening to the new generation who didn’t experience it,” said Karen Ostry. “And they look it up and say, ‘Wow. You did that?’”

For anyone who missed out on the barn raising – the family did it again a year later in order to add a block to the base. In that case, the volunteers simply lifted it up and down a couple times.