APPLETON— It sat atop a tall rock foundation for more than a century, but when the boulders sank and its massive gable walls bowed, Jim and Angie McKenna knew it was crunch time for their big red barn in Appleton.

Angie and Jim McKenna stand just in front of where their barn used to be. It’s now to the far right and their house at Maple Bend Farm in Appleton is on the left. That’s Shih Shu mix Lucy with the couple.

The eye-catching focal point of the couple’s Maple Bend Farm on Appleton Ridge Road — aside from a brace of stately maples — is the timber frame structure 40 feet by 50 feet and stands three stories tall from sill plate to the tip of its cupola.

Its builders more than a century ago hefted into place thick old growth timbers, many hand hewn, then clad walls with rough sawn boards edged by ancient bark stain and up to 30 inches wide before fitting the exterior with vernacular cedar shingle.

Altogether, it weighs about 75 tons, or 150,000 pounds — the weight, scientists say, of the largest ever dinosaur.

It’s also almost as heavy at the space shuttle and, for its day, just as skillfully crafted. Its timbers, rafters, joists, and beams are joined tight as a windjammer’s hull and held fast and unyielding to wicked winter winds and snow by scores of mortises and tenon joints fastened with knot-hard, sledge-slugged trunnels, or wood pegs.

But like a tired old dinosaur in the death grip of a tar pit, the barn was in imminent danger of collapse from the ceaseless sinking of its foundation into the sucking slurry of soggy earth below.

To the McKenna’s, however, it was “a barn worth saving.” New Hampshire-born Jim, 56, noted as he pointed out some of the things besides its age that make the behemoth so special.

There’s the place on one interior wall, for example, where someone scrawled the date 1911, next to what looks like the name “Leroy Moody.” It’s the best clue found so far to when the barn might have been built.

An example of the several notes and names from last century that still adorn the walls of the McKenna’s old barn in Appleton.

And another spot emblazoned with the name “H.G. Wright” and the place “Gardiner, ME,” beneath which someone wrote as World War I was being fought in Europe, “1915,” over two sets of 3-letter initials. Each has the same final letter: W.B.A. and C.J.A. The initials are flanked by a slew of penciled-in number calculations of long forgotten purpose.

There are two rows of old heavy timber stalls, because it was used as a horse barn when farmers still depended for their livelihood on muscled equine help to plow furrows and pull wagons, clear land, and haul the earth’s unrelenting crop of rocks and boulders that still make up stone walls that enclose parts of Maple Bend Farm.

And on a nearby wall the hand painted date “1938” along with the names “Amos and Andy” — the name of a nightly radio serial of the era — over what apparently were once side by stalls for a pair of draft horses.

Overlooking it all is the gaping maw of a second-floor hay loft with its angled wood trusses to keep the sprawling roof from sagging in midspan when the snow piles high and heavy.

And all of it eminently worth saving, according to Jim, but “dying a slow death” as year after year the foundation continued to sink with no way to stop it.

So, what’s to be done with a dying old “barnosaur” beside letting it sink slowly into oblivion and rebuilding anew?

Well, as it happens, letting the noble structure crumble to the ground along with its perhaps never-to-be-replicated craftsmanship and all that Appleton history was not an option for the McKennas, who aren’t farmers although they once ran a few head of chickens on the place. When the barn’s finished, it’ll house not critters and hay bales but Jim’s woodworking shop and the couple’s 31 foot 2006 Holiday Rambler Atlantis motorhome.

Indeed, the couple own and operate Redzone Wireless. They have grown the company Jim founded to be what he says, with obvious pride, is the only Maine-owned internet service provider that operates in all 16 of the state’s counties.

Photo courtesy of Jim McKenna

So the place is more of a “gentleman’s farm,” Jim says, but they adore their great red barn and believe it deserves the TLC with which it was so expertly built, and needs to survive and continue to sit atop the gentle knoll beside their white, antique-like house that overlooks Appleton Ridge and the horizon beyond the tree tops.

“It’s not about having a tree farm or cattle,” Jim says. “We raised our three boys here. We’ve grown attached to it.”

Angie, also 56, said, “For me, the hills remind me of my childhood in Vermont. I love walking in our field everyday with our dog, and I am thrilled knowing that I will be able to enjoy their beauty even when we are snowed-in in the depths of winter.”

And after years of fixing windows, painting walls, tinkering with the plumbing and all the other things that come unrelentingly with a farm, Jim summed up the why of what he calls the place’s long languishing “big project” — the rescue and resurrection of the old barn.

“We don’t own it as much as we are caretakers. We have a responsibility to make sure it lasts the next 100 years — and it wasn’t going to.”

Not, that is, until they came up with just how they’d go about making sure it lasts into the 22nd century.

Let’s lift it up off its failing foundation and turn it like a top, back it up a way and ease it down onto a concrete slab, and then fix it up like new, is what the couple decided.

And while we are at it, they decided, let’s move that five-car garage the previous owners built, put it, too, onto a concrete slab and sidle it right up against a long end of the barn so it’s not such a walk from the car to the house when the snow or rain’s coming down hard.

And so began a project that, after four months and 70 yards of concrete, continues and will go on for a while. Jim figures the final cost will exceed $100,000.

Jim McKenna and Bob Stackpole of S & S Excavators of Cushing. Jim calls Bob “a magician” uniquely skilled to lift, spin and back his old barn onto a new foundation he hopes will last at least another 100 years.

It started in earnest in May when the McKenna’s hired Bob Stackpole of S&S Excavators out of Cushing. He’s an expert in doing just what needed to be done — as evidenced, the McKenna’s were shown, by previous jobs Stackpole had undertaken.

Jim cannot speak highly enough of Stackpole’s skill and knowledge. “He gave me the confidence to do this…he’s a magician,” he says of the master building mover.

“I want to emphasize that Bob Stackpole is the real story here,” Jim said. “It takes a special set of skills and a unique personality to tackle a project of this scale and pull it off so smoothly. Bob is a problem-solver, and he has a real passion for saving old barns. Our ancestors built these barns with only the help of horses, oxen, and hand-tools. They would be proud to see what Bob Stackpole has accomplished with steel beams and Ivory soap.”

For his part, Stackpole seems to have an old square-rigger captain’s eyes, ears and sixth sense for keeping track of every little part of the very complex and tricky navigation — in his case what’s needed to lift and move a huge structure never built to be mobile.

The big barns are a challenge, Stackpole says, especially when you have to turn them 90 degrees. “It’s easy to figure where the front is going to be, it’s a little harder to figure where the back is going to be,” he says with a laugh.

At one point early on when he determined a shed was in the path of the barn and had to be moved first, there was concern, he said, about why attention was being given to the shed.

“Well, if the barn falls in the hole, it’ll all be for naught, so we be better make sure we get the shed first,” was his response.

As for comparisons between the Appleton barn and other jobs, “It’s pretty good size, but not the biggest building I’ve moved,” Stackpole says.

Of course, everyone knew the whole idea was a risky undertaking from the get-go, Jim noted while walking recently through the couple’s 20 acres of hay fields along a path mowed specially for their short-of-leg dog Lucy, a friendly mix of Shih Shu and West Highland White Terrier.

And the risk was not only to the building, whose old timbers could snap and implode when moved, but also to Stackpole, his crew, the McKennas and anyone else standing around.

Jim McKenna inside his barn’s massive 2nd floor hay loft flanked by angled trusses designed to keep the roof from sagging. The beams, joists and rafters all are joined by wood pegs called trunnels. The barn was moved without losing any of its parts. Photo by Jack M. Foley.

To Jim’s surprise, the barn did begin suddenly to move, cracking and creaking and popping like a rusted old nail being pulled as he negotiated his way inside the place, over and under massive I-beams and rough rafters and joists.

No one warned him the crew would be moving the hulking structure a bit at that moment. It sounded like in war movies when a submarine dives beyond safe depth and its outer hull begins to fail. Unnerving at best for those inside.

But Jim’s familiar with being in challenging spots: After graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, he served as a U.S. Navy Officer onboard nuclear submarines. After that, he went into telecommunications and, he says, “supervised the building of metro-area fiber-optic networks in the southeastern U.S. — Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Memphis — for many years.”

The couple moved to Appleton in 2002 and, until he founded Redzone Wireless in 2006, Jim worked as a telecommunications consultant and was chief technology officer for two firms.

In the 90s, Angie taught elementary school then became a homemaker as the couple raised three boys to adulthood in Appleton. She also served as library director in Appleton and then at Vose Library in Union. She works part-time these days as a field marketing specialist for Redzone.

They’ve also learned it’s not only the barn structure itself that’s massive, so is the list of what’s needed to lift, spin, relocate and settle it back down in one piece.

Here’s a partial accounting of ingredients: About a dozen reinforced steel I-beams, one of them 60-feet long; big flatbeds to haul them up narrow twisting roads; scores of wood chucks to hold up the barn like giant toy stacking blocks; bolts the size of sledge hammer handles; lots of bars of Ivory soap; heavy chains to pull, hold and lift; an excavator to nudge the barn along; a truck filled with gauges and tanks and what looks like a mile of black hoses splayed about like ropes, each attached to a precisely placed, heavy-duty hydraulic jack — enough of them to lift 75 tons as smoothly and delicately as if it were a clutch of precious dinosaur eggs.

Not to forget the Ivory soap, which by the way was invented in 1878, probably not too long before the barn was built. Jim figures that was around the turn of the last century. Here’s why the soap’s the key.

The big picture plan was to lift and turn the barn 90 degrees in order to change its front facing orientation from slightly northwest to slightly southwest. That opens up the great views of the mountains to the southwest from the kitchen and other windows, particularly enjoyed by Vermont-born Angie.

At the same time as it was being turned, the barn would also be pulled backwards, ultimately its entire length and then some, before being set down on a newly hardened 40-by-50-foot thick concrete slab designed to match the barn’s footprint.

Jim McKenna stands on the door sill of his old barn shortly after it had been moved to its new foundation and while a work crew continued to edge it onto just the right spot. Nearby is one of the many I-beans that were run though the structure side to side to secured it with braces for stability during the tricky moving maneuver. Behind is one of two rows of horse stalls that run almost the 50-foot length of the barn. Photo by Jack M. Foley.

The trick was getting the huge building to move backwards about 100 feet, from where it had been over its gaping basement hole to over and just above the length of the 50-foot-long slab, and then let it down gently and precisely onto a narrow wood sill set atop the edges of the slab.

The barn first was lifted on I-beams that ran its length. Another set of I-beams was set on the slab perpendicular to the first set. The idea was to nudge the barn along the second set, sort of like a grid, with one set of beams sliding on top of the other.

The slipping and sliding were accomplished with Ivory soap — lots of bars of Ivory soap rubbed and rubbed along the I-beams to sort of grease the skids and allow the barn to slide slowly and gently into its new, forever resting place.

And with a few gentle nudges and pulls from the excavator and some tweaking of the hydraulics — and hours of scrambling about and careful maneuvering — the barn was down once again on something solid, this time concrete, and for a long time — hopefully, to 2022 and beyond.

“We expect the project to be mostly wrapped up before the snow flies,” Jim says. “The garage will be put in place this week, and landscaping will commence.

“Angie and I are thrilled knowing that we’ve done our part to preserve Maple Bend Farm for the enjoyment of future generations,” Jim says.

Angie says, “Maple Bend Farm was a special place to raise three boys. They’re now grown and moved away, but they hold fond memories of their childhood here, and they always look forward to coming home.

“I have always loved our property, and now I can enjoy it in all four seasons, with views of the fields and hills from most every room of our home. I’m in heaven.”