- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

JASPER, Ind. (AP) - Mike Bailey makes for an interesting “where are they now” subject, especially for voters of a certain age.

Between 1992 and 2000, he was a Republican contender for Indiana’s 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, running in those races against Democrats Lee Hamilton and Baron Hill. Back then, the 30-something Georgetown advertising executive arrived in a BMW along with the national attention that came with a conservative, born-again, pro-life background and graphic anti-abortion commercials.

Today, the BMW has been replaced by a beat-up Ford pickup truck hauling chain saws and pry bars. Blazers and bright ties have given way to soiled flannel and dungarees. And the once-immaculately coiffed hair is longer, grayer and beset with unruly tufts.

Mike, 59, earns his living today by the sweat of his brow as a builder whose business - Bailey Construction of Corydon - specializes in repurposing southern Indiana’s oldest and most historic barns and cabins.

“I’m one of those guys who radically changed careers,” Mike says of his 180. “During the eight years I was running (for office), I got mad that I didn’t know how to build. I’d never built anything.”



He and his wife of 34 years, Lori, decided to move the family to the country. They bought a farm 10 miles south of Corydon that came with a barn that they turned into their house.

“Every morning we would pray, ‘Lord, we have no idea what we’re doing. We’re going to kill ourselves unless you send angels.’”

Mike paid tradesmen he’d met during his campaigns to come out, sit and talk him through as he tried to do the carpentry and masonry work they had already mastered. Eventually, he built a grand stone fireplace inside the 8,500-square-foot, repurposed barn from the 1890s. Its 20-foot-wide chimney has three flues, a cooking area and is connected to an indoor pond in the living room.

“It’s beyond cool,” Mike says. “Once I learned to build, I went nuts. I love it. There’s nothing like creating stuff out of salvaged material.”

All of his 10 children, who range in age from 33 to 10, have helped at one time or the other in the building, renovating or repurposing at home or the work that has gone into moving 50 assorted pioneer cabins and 20 or so old barns the last 15 years.

“If you give your kids a work ethic, you’ve given them a great gift,” Mike says. “I believed that even when I was a city guy.”

The move to the country and Mike’s new career has transformed everyone’s lives.

Three of Mike’s sons went on to become U.S Marines, with one having served two tours in Iraq in the special forces. Another served two tours in Afghanistan as a machine gunner. Another was an officer who served two tours in Afghanistan. A fourth teenage son wants to follow in his brothers’ footsteps and join the Corps.

Two of Mike’s sons - eight years apart - were each the honor graduate during their training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C.

Earlier this year, Mike and his sons took down a barn between Dale and Mariah Hill and re-purposed it as part of a pioneer village being constructed by Willett Distillery of Bardstown, Ky. The barn was 105 years old but it included some 150-year-old logs repurposed from a family cabin.

Mike’s current project is taking down a 20-by-36 heritage log cabin on Jim Wenzel’s family ground a mile east of the Dubois County Highway Garage off Schnellville Road, not far from St. Anthony Road West.

“The first time he saw it,” Jim, 62, of Jasper, says, “he fell in love with it. It’s been kept up.”

Mike’s best guess is the cabin was originally built around the 1830s and moved to its current location in the 1860s. It had Roman numerals scratched into hand-hewn logs as a coding system for reconstruction, written materials inside dating to the 1840s and five ancient mattresses filled with corn husks. Jim says his great uncle John Wenzel was the last person to live there in the late 1950s.

The Wenzel cabin will also be rebuilt in the Willett Distillery pioneer village. Mike says the Kentucky distillery has inked him to a three-year contract that makes the pioneer village his primary - but not only - project.

Mike says the Wenzel cabin has some of the best poplar wood, tongue-and-groove flooring he’s come across. Each board is more than an inch thick. A 13-foot-long, hollowed-out log found inside the home that was used to feed livestock will be hung upside down inside in the Bailey home and be repurposed as a primitive chandelier.

A lot of Civil War-era medicine bottles are found in the heritage cabins the Baileys move and restore. Mike has given a lot of the best old medicine bottles to Butt Drugs, the hometown pharmacy in Corydon.

“They have a display of old remedies and old bottles,” Mike says.

One old cabin that had people living in it up to the 1970s produced a windfall: 400 original albums featuring artists like Peter, Paul and Mary and Simon and Garfunkel.

Mike’s specialty is the formula and style he has developed for chinking, or sealing the joints of log homes.

“I get hired for that, even on buildings I don’t personally build myself,” he says.

The original chinking in heritage cabins often included soft packing of horse hair and straw, as was the case in the Jasper cabin.

That is not what Mike uses.

“I could do an authentic building but we’re repurposing them for somebody to live in and nobody’s wife will let them put chinking in the building that’s mud and horse hair,” he says.

Mike combines heavy sand, mortar and Portland cement to create modern chinking that is then applied in a way that it sticks out, allowing water to shed.

Mike’s plan for retirement is to host weekend seminars at his barn house where he’ll teach young couples to re-purpose old cabins and barns. He’s about two-thirds done writing the manual that will accompany that.

“We’re real big on teaching kids to be debt-free,” he says. “Our culture says, if you’re not an expert, you can’t do it. The pioneers never thought that way.”

With today’s building codes and “ridiculous government regulations,” Mike says, “people go, ‘I can’t do this …

“They’ve lost the skills of how to be self-made and not in debt.”

He says the Jasper log cabin he is moving will be rebuilt with a fireplace and exterior stone chimney, like it had when originally constructed. It will be rented out to guests at the Bardstown village and Jim Wenzel says he can’t wait to spend the night in it.

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Source: The Herald, https://bit.ly/1QBQ1ve .

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Information from: The Herald, https://www.dcherald.com

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