• LOCATION 38 | Interstate 55: St. Louis, MO to Springfield, IL

    Red Barns

    Barns are a common sight along our tour, but they are quickly fading from the Illinois landscape. It is estimated that less than 10% of the barns that were standing in Illinois 100 years ago, are still standing today. While once essential for the earliest farmers, most of the older barns have become obsolete however, barns still dot the Illinois landscape because it is sometimes more costly to tear them down, then to simply leave them up.

    During the next two miles, we will pass several red barns, some more than a century old. And no doubt the question on everybody’s mind is…why were these barns painted red? Well, it is not so the cows could find their way home after a night of partying, cows don’t see the colors red or green. The real answer…dying stars.

    When stars die and explode, they spew out a bunch of atoms, including iron atoms. About 6% of Earth’s crust contains iron, and when this iron combines with oxygen, it forms iron oxide, and iron oxide gives off a reddish-orange color.

    Originally, farmers did not paint their barns. But they discovered that if they mixed skimmed milk, lime, and soil, which contains the iron oxide, that this created a reddish-brown substance that not only protected the wood of their barn from mold and other types of fungi, but the dark color absorbed the sun’s rays during the winter months keeping the inside of the barn warmer. Because this substance was so cheap and easy to make, red became the popular color for barns. And the real reason that the color is red, is because of the iron which came here from dying stars.

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Interstate 55: St. Louis, MO to Springfield, IL