John Foster: Barn building, free from instructions

My son-in-law and I got entangled in a storage barn “character-building” exercise recently, and the challenge was trying to follow the instructions that came with the roughly 8-by-8-foot structure.

In the deep, dark recesses of my mind, I recalled a version of that old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The version I had in mind was, “If at first you don’t succeed … read the instructions.”

It sounded like something my dad would have said.

I am convinced there’s a lot of money to be made by actual people who have done a project being the ones to write the assembly instructions.

This barn would still be a pile of unattached parts and bags of pieces and screws if we finally didn’t scrap the instructions and resort to common sense and experience. The barn is standing, but there was a time that I wondered if we’d ever finish the project.

We started in the early afternoon and by the time we finished, darkness was closing in and we had no lighting.

We were also fighting wind gusts to 40 mph, which made securing the various side panels an adventure. Throw in malnutrition and dehydration with instructions that had very little rhyme or reason and you can see the challenge.

There was a point where I made up my mind that we were going to finish that barn that day, with or without the instructions, come hell or high water.

This was after getting conked on the head by one of the metal trusses while having leg and hand cramps attempting to hold side panels in place in the swirling gale. Tools were tossed and words were uttered that might make sailors on shore leave blush.

At one point, I suggested separate from the instructions that we might screw some of the side panels to the wooden deck that we had built earlier in the day.

Suddenly, the wind became less of a factor.

Then, after several attempts at attaching roof panels following the printed guidelines, I suggested attaching one of the roof panels to the truss while it was on the ground.

Voila! Instant stability!

We had the roof and doors on in minutes.

The project was complete.

It was finally time for a cold beer.

I have an observation regarding pre-packaged kits like this. Folks at the factory seem to enjoy putting extra hardware in those nicely lettered plastic bags.

We had small, metal washers that seemed to reproduce once exposed to air.

I always suspect there’s a tiny camera somewhere in the kit so those factory workers can watch us try to build this thing, using their step-by-step guidelines, as they laugh deliriously.

Well, factory workers, we won.

Instruction writers? We overcame … by ignoring you.

So, if at first you don’t succeed, follow the instructions on where to send complaints and figure it out!

John Foster anchors “All-News-in-the-Morning” weekdays on 1010 WCSI-AM and 98.1 FM. You can read his weekly blog at and monthly in The Republic. Send comments to [email protected].