One of the more horrific events during May’s tornadoes was the complete loss of one of the oldest structures (pre-1900s) in Sapulpa. No doubt, hundreds of passers-by have noticed that the long red building on Main Street, next to the railroad tracks, was twisted sideways and spilling its contents onto the surrounding pavement. It sat in such malaise for months, while the owner and lessees haggled over responsibility and liability.
According to the lessees, Farmers Feed owners Kaye and Sam Johnston, the owners of the building, BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railways, parent company Berkshire Hathaway, and owner, Warren Buffett) ultimately stated that BNSF was not responsible for repairs or cleanup. The railroad told them the damage was “normal wear and tear,” according to Kaye Johnston.
The Johnstons understood that if they wanted their property out of the dilapidated building, it was up to them to pay for its removal. They decided not to “rock the boat” because they were concerned that BNSF might demolish the building before they were able to remove their belongings. Repeated calls to BNSF in Tulsa from Sapulpa Times were not returned as of press time.
Meanwhile, the City asked the Johnstons to get it cleaned up. After all, it was a safety hazard, an “attractive nuisance” to children, a site for easy burglaries and easier fires.
To expedite matters, the Johnstons contracted with LifeGate, the local recovery ministry run by Kevin Day, and they struck a deal. The LifeGate crew would tear down the structure, clean the area, and sell the lumber. Half the proceeds would go to LifeGate and half to Farmers Feed.
Over the course of the last month, the all-male crew worked at the site almost every day, almost all day long, piling up old barn boards painted the trendiest color of “Old Pastel Red.” Other objects of value were stacked in tidy piles nearby. Found in the rubble were dozens of unscathed tractor tires, bales of hay, tire rims, and other farm necessities. Fluorescent lights, cash registers, old car radios, plastic lattices, wiring, cages, mailboxes, plywood, cement blocks, and more, represented the detritus of many years’ storage.
Tom Whitehouse, the owner of Whitehouse Barber Shop, built a unique picture frame from the tattered boards, complete with an old photograph of the original “BNSF Barn,” which can be seen at Farmers Feed at 121 N. Main St.
Now, the site is completely cleared of debris. The Johnstons store their extra farm equipment and supplies elsewhere, and their lives are almost back to normal.
Tornadoes have devastated Oklahoma and will continue to dot so. It is a testimony to the toughness and resilience of her people that, once hit, they pick each other up, clean up, and batten down for the next onslaught. Sapulpa’s townscape has been forever changed with the loss of a decayed, yet historic, building. What we passed every day is now a lost landmark, but still a vibrant shared memory that holds our community together.
Farmers Feed owners Sam and Kaye Johnston pose with the BNSF-barn-framed picture.
Photo by Lottie Wilds.
LifeGate crew members take a much-needed break during the demolition of the red barn and its contents on Main Street.
Photo by Lottie Wilds.