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From hog house to bunk house

Tim and Vicky Nelson convert old hog barn into nice living space

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Mar 28, 2021

Tim and Vicky Nelson stand in the kitchen area of their bunkhouse. The Nelsons repurposed an unused hog farrowing unit and utilized beams and wood from a barn which had once stood on the farm to create a comfortable living space. Since completing their project near the end of 2013, the Nelsons have used the space for many family gatherings. They have also hosted retreats, bridal and baby showers and other events.

In recent years it has not been uncommon to see an old barn which has been restored and modernized. Many have been transformed into entertainment venues while a few have been converted into a living space for a family.

Tim and Vicky Nelson live on a farm east of Blue Earth on the farm Tim’s great-grandfather purchased in 1876 from the original homesteader. It is located on land which once was on the shoreline of Lake Ozatonka, formerly Faribault County’s largest lake, which was drained in the early 1900s.

While other people have fixed up conventional barns, the Nelsons did something a little more unusual.

They converted a building once used for raising hogs, a farrowing barn, into what they now call a bunkhouse.

According to Wikipedia, a bunkhouse is a barracks-like building that historically was used to house working cowboys on ranches, or loggers in a logging camp in North America. The standard bunkhouse was a large open room with narrow beds or cots for each individual and had little privacy.

“It was an Erickson Farrowing Barn which was sold by John Plocker,” Tim explains. “It was constructed in 1979 and we “retired” it in 1999.”

Tim says he was still raising hogs but had changed his operation and no longer farrowed his own pigs.

“It sat empty for 13 years,” Tim notes.

The couple knew it was not good for the building to just sit empty.

“Back in 2005 Tim had brought up the idea of making it into a recreation room,” Vicky comments. “By 2012 we knew the building was deteriorating and we had to do something or it would not be worth saving.”

Tim recalls his comment about making it into a rec-room had gotten Vicky’s wheels turning and she had some good ideas on what to do with the space. Together, he says, the two of them came up with a plan.

“We began the remodel in 2013 and it took a year to get everything done but it was not being worked on every day,” Tim notes. “Rick Wright, who was from Frost at the time, did most of the work. He caught Vicky’s vision and followed through beautifully.”

The interior of the bunkhouse has a definite rustic feeling.

“There is new plumbing and electrical but just about everything else in the bunkhouse has been repurposed,” Tim explains. “We tore down a barn in the early 2000s and were able to salvage the beams and wood from that structure and put some of it to use in the bunkhouse.”

The ceiling is the original one which was in the former hog house.

“We put a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling,” Vicky comments. “We also boxed in the ventilation baffles which were located at the peak.”

One of the most noticeable pieces in the bunkhouse is the long table where people can sit down to eat.

“It was a camp table I found at an antique store in Mankato,” Vicky explains. “Tim was real good helping me find items to fill the space.”

The bunkhouse has two bunk bed sets at the east end of the room.

“The bottom bed has a queen-size mattress and the top bunk is a single,” Vicky says. “We have a LP stove to heat the space in the winter and a window air conditioner keeps it cool during the summer.

The kitchen, located at the west end of the room, has most modern appliances except a dishwasher, but even the countertop is unique.

“It is wood from the old barn which was covered with a clear epoxy,” Tim explains. “You can see nail heads and other imperfections under the clear surface.”

There is a cozy area for watching television located across from the kitchen. A hallway at the west end of the room leads into Tim’s office, which he uses for both his farming operation and his insurance business.

“My grandfather John actually began the insurance business in the 1930s and then my father, (Wesley), took over and operated it until I bought the business from him,” Tim explains.

Vicky says it is nice having the office adjacent to the bunkhouse.

“If there is a blizzard in the forecast we like to come out here and hunker down,” she comments. “We can watch movies and the office is right there if we want to get some work done.”

The couple share the bunkhouse has had many visitors.

“Our son John’s church from Columbia Heights has had several retreats here. Many years we have had three Christmas gatherings in a row here and we have also used it for Easter and Thanksgiving get-togethers,” Tim says. “It has also been used for baby showers, bridal showers, men’s retreats and youth groups.”

There have been as many as 13 people who have slept in the bunkhouse at night.

“Some are in the bunk beds, some on the couch and the rest are in sleeping bags,” Tim comments.

The bunkhouse is not the only project the Nelsons have worked on over the past few years.

“We built a sandbox for our grandchildren a few years ago but it was out in the sun so we built a deck over it to provide shade for the kids,” Vicky shares.

The open-air deck now connects to a small single room building complete with a bunk for one person to sleep in.

Another nearby building has room for two loft beds, a bed on the ground level, a television and a refrigerator and some unique decorations.

“Those are the shoulderpads and leather helmet Tim’s dad wore when he played football,” Vicky says pointing to the items on a shelf. “The catcher’s mask and boxing gloves also belonged to Tim’s father.”

Graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows are stored in the building so the fixings for s’mores are never too far away when the family decides to have a campfire.

“In 2012 we had to decide whether to tear down the hog barn or fix it up. We knew we could use the extra space for larger groups,” Tim says. “With grandkids showing up we wanted something outside of the house where they could play. However, it is being used far more than what we imagined and has become a place our grandchildren love to come and visit.”